Filmed: an alpha bad boy romance (city series book 3)

This is a work of fiction. Similarities to real people, places, or events are entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2015 B. B. Hamel.

City Series




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Opening Credits: Noah

“Noah, come back to bed.”

I paused outside of the bathroom and looked over my shoulder at the blonde through an early-morning hangover, her hair doused in weak dawn light, and I had no clue what her name was. Jackie? Jessa? It was something with a “J,” at least. Déjà vu flooded through me, and I had to physically shrug it off. I grunted at her softly, hoping she’d understand what I meant, stumbled toward my toilet, and began pissing for what seemed like ten minutes. I could practically feel the toxins flushing out of my body, and it felt horrible.

It was the same way I had started the morning nearly every day for the past few months. There was almost always some strange chick in my bed and my head always felt like a truck was driving around in it.

The night before, after the grand opening of the new student movie theater my father had purchased for Temple’s campus, I had gone out with my coworkers to a club in south Philly. Everything was on my dad, of course, and we overindulged: shot after shot, beer after beer, and eventually I found myself hitting on what’s-her-name.

Like every other vapid club slut I met, she was easy to draw in as soon as she figured out who my father was. I hated playing that card, but I was too drunk and too tired and she was too boring to give her an ounce of real effort. One thing led to another, and we were in a cab, blondie’s hands all over my hard cock, my friends left back at the club.

Things got a little hazy after that, but I did have a distinct memory of her big, firm tits bouncing while she rode my dick.

“Noah, what are you doing?” she called out, sounding impatient.

I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror, self-loathing melting off my body in thick waves. My skin looked pale, I had heavy bags under my eyes, and my hair was a mess. Frankly, I didn’t think I had ever felt so terrible in my entire life, and it wasn’t just the hangover. I was sick; sick to death of the emptiness, of the cash and the fame that came with it, and of my father’s unceasing need to control everything I did. I was sick and drowning at the same time. I knew I needed something new, some change to pull me from whatever ocean I was barely treading water in, but I had no idea what that change was or how I’d find it.

Blondie said something again, but I ignored her. Most girls didn’t last more than a night. Some made it through breakfast, but none had ever gotten a call the next day. It wasn’t my style. They understood what I wanted, and they went for it anyway on the insane off chance that I’d fall in love with them or something. They were deluded and I didn’t care. I made no promises.

I sighed, rinsing my mouth out with cold water, spitting it down the drain. The theater was the only decent thing in my life. For the first time ever, I had a place that I felt like I belonged, even if it was populated with some of the biggest weirdos I knew. But those weirdos were the only people in the world who gave a shit about me, except for maybe Ellie.

I turned and looked back into the bedroom, at the clothes scattered around the floor and, most importantly, at the gorgeous pair of perky, firm breasts and lean, tan skin perched on its hands and knees, staring at me hungrily. For a second, all I could see was another way to hide myself in plain sight.

When everybody thought they knew you, it was easy to give them what they wanted. It was easy to camouflage yourself with their expectations, and that’s exactly what I did. Noah Carterson, the asshole playboy, who fucked as many women as he could and spent his money recklessly, was empty and pointless.

Maybe there was some truth to that, but it wasn’t how I saw myself. It wasn’t who I was. Although, truthfully, sometimes the lies bled into my reality, and I couldn’t tell where the rumors ended and where myself began. But it was easier that way. It was easier to push everything else away, and to give everyone what they expected.

I wasn’t a good person.

I didn’t care what I had done. I wasn’t a good person.

“There you are,” blondie said, smiling softly. I could tell exactly what her look meant and, although I had class pretty soon, it was tempting. I wasn’t in the mood, but it was tempting.

As much as I didn’t feel like it, my cock began to stir.

But I knew what she really wanted. It was the same thing every other girl before her had wanted, what they always wanted. She wanted a shot at my dad’s movies and at my money. She wanted to try and bleed me dry, and she was willing to put out as much as she needed to get it. She didn’t care about me or who I was, and for the most part, that suited me just fine.

I didn’t care about her, either.

She crawled forward and reached out, stroking my dick through my tight cotton briefs, her thick hair spilling down around her face in soft curls. Her full lips pouted, and another memory came flooding back: blondie moaning softly as she wrapped her lips around my hard cock.

I grunted again, grinning. I decided class could wait as she slowly slipped my briefs down and firmly grasped my dick in one hand, looking at it like it was the most important thing she had ever touched.

Maybe she did care about one part of me, at least.

Chapter One

It was not love at first sight. It was more like loathe.

In movies, the meet cute happens when the main girl meets the main boy, usually in some crazy circumstance that leaves them both reeling.

In the movies, the main guy is always handsome and charming, maybe slightly goofy, maybe emotionally immature, but always good at heart.

I didn’t live in the movies. Noah Carterson was not goofy, far from it. He was probably good at heart, although he kept that side of himself deeply hidden. He was definitely emotionally immature, and he loved to make sexual jokes at my expense. Above all though, his defining characteristic was one that the movies never showed.

He was an asshole of the first degree, with grinning blue eyes, perfectly groomed dark brown hair, and muscles in just the right proportion. He was a gorgeous asshole.

No matter how great the main guy in any decent rom-com was, Noah made all those awkward, skinny-tie wearing protagonists look like children by comparison. But in the movie that was actually my real life, instead of some immediate deep and impossible attraction between the leading man and the leading lady, I disliked Noah from the start, and didn’t want to get to know him one bit.

And yet, for some reason, I kept thinking back to our meet cute, and I wondered how it could have possibly led to everything that followed, including me struggling into unfamiliar clothes in one of the many rooms of his insane family home. I wondered how I ever got involved with a gorgeous jerk like Noah Carterson. I wracked my brain, replaying our meet cute over and over, and had no clue.


After a long summer, my best friend Chrissy and I were back on campus. We didn’t know where the good parties were yet, and besides, I wasn’t much of a partier anyway. Most people still hadn’t moved back onto campus, but we had an apartment with a lease that started early, so we moved in right away. It definitely beat living at home with my parents. I had known Chrissy since we were in high school; we grew up on the same block together, and we both decided Temple was the school we wanted to attend. It worked out perfectly.

Instead of wandering around for hours, we ended up in the student center looking for the movie theater. I had read online that they had built a brand new three-screen theater in the basement. Apparently, some rich movie producer donated a ton of cash to fund it.

“I have no clue what I’m doing, Chris,” I said as we turned the same corner and looked down the same hallway for maybe the hundredth time.

“I swear we’re walking in circles.” Chris was a smartass and gorgeous, with a short pixie haircut to go with her impeccable sense of style. Guys were forever chasing after her, but she barely seemed to care; Chrissy Planter, or “Chris” as most people called her, was going to be a famous brain surgeon one day, and she didn’t have time for distractions.

I was more or less the opposite of Chris. I had no real strong ambitions, at least not yet; the only thing I loved was old movies. I grew up with a cinephile professor mom, and she made sure that I had a solid foundation of the classics by the time I was ten. My dad was a minor poet, and he never got over the fact that I preferred movies to literature. Fortunately for him, my older sister was a novelist.

By fifteen, thanks to my mom’s gleeful training, I could rattle off the last twenty years of best picture Oscar winners backwards and forwards plus name their director and leading actors. It was a useless skill, unless I was in a trivia contest. Because of that, I decided I’d major in film studies, but hadn’t figured out what I was going to do. Everyone constantly asked what my plans were, and I liked to mumble about scriptwriting or something. The truth was, I just liked old movies, and my parents were pretty supportive of whatever I decided to do.

As we continued wandering the halls, I saw that there was a small staircase up ahead. I took the lead, a little embarrassed that I had dragged us out on a rainy Tuesday night to see a movie Chris didn’t care about and gotten us incredibly lost. I took the stairs two at a time, hopeful that I had finally found the right path. The theater was supposed to be in the basement, and basements were usually down. My logic felt sound.

“Wait up weirdo!” Chris yelled, laughing. I hit the bottom of the staircase and looked back at her.

“I have a great feeling about this,” I said. I grinned at her as I turned the corner.

Suddenly, I was knocked down on my ass, and popcorn was everywhere. It felt like I had walked directly into a streetlight. I hit the floor with an incredibly graceless “oof!” and my skirt fell around either side of my hips.

“Ow,” I said, looking up. Staring directly down at me, with a big grin on his face, was the most attractive guy I had ever seen in my life. Chiseled jaw and perfect nose, smooth skin, and short-cropped hair, his deep blue eyes pierced back into me, and ran up and down my body. He didn’t even try to pretend like he wasn’t checking me out, and I both loved it and hated it. The feeling left a knot of excitement in my stomach.

“Hey there,” he said, with a small laugh. It took me a second to fully understand: he was eyeing up my white with pink polka dot panties, clearly visible between my sprawled legs and skewed skirt. Turning bright red, I slammed shut my legs and smoothed out the fabric.

“I’m sorry,” I said, trying to scramble to my feet. I decided to pretend like he hadn’t seen anything. I was beyond mortified.

“Don’t worry about it, polka dots.” He reached out a hand and helped me up. His body was strong, muscled and well proportioned, and he was a bit more than six feet tall. I could have sworn he was made out of bricks when I ran into him.

And this gorgeous guy was calling me by my underwear. What an asshole.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there,” I said.

He took a step closer and my breath caught in my throat. “Are you okay?”

What a gentleman. He had been too busy staring at my panties to ask right away.

“I’m fine. I’m sorry about your popcorn.” A bucket of popcorn was spilled on the ground next to our feet, and I assume he had been holding it a second earlier.

He shrugged. “Worth it for the extra show.”

Wow. I couldn’t believe him. I felt both excited and humiliated, which was confusing. I couldn’t tell if I wanted to slap that cocky grin from his face, or if I wanted to run my fingers through this hair and bite his lower lip.

“I’ll buy you some more,” I said, trying to deflect his comment. Flustered, I crouched down and started to gather as much of the spilled kernels as I could.

“What’s your name?” he asked, bending down next to me to help. Our bodies and faces were inches away, and I could smell his sweet, wonderful scent.

“Linda.” I caught him glance along my body again, and I felt a thrill of excitement run down my spine. I hated that I loved his gaze so much. Part of me wanted to take him into a bathroom and give him a better look.

“Linda. I’m Noah.” His voice was deep and smooth.

“Sorry again about the popcorn,” I said. I avoided eye contact, feeling awkward, as my pulse quickened from his closeness.

“Don’t worry about it, polka dots. Really.”

“Well, enjoy your show, then,” I snapped at him, not sure what else to say. I stopped gathering and stood up straight.

He grinned up at me again, boyish and handsome.

“I already did, but thanks,” he said. With that, he gave me another smile, scooped up what popcorn he could, and then walked off into a theater.

I stood there shaking for half a second. I couldn’t believe how rude he had been. He didn’t even try to pretend like he hadn’t seen my underwear, and he was basically fucking me with his eyes. If I hadn’t liked it so much, I might have done something more drastic. As it was, I felt humiliated and angry and excited all mixed into one confusing moment.

Page 2

Before I could drop into a fantasy where I punished him over and over for being such a dick, Chris stepped up next to me.

“Who was that hottie?” she asked

I snorted. “Just some asshole I almost tackled.”

“He was into you. I thought he was about to ask you out.”

I paused. “Do you really think so?”

“I thought he was ‘just some asshole’?” she said, grinning at me. “But yeah, definitely. He was practically impregnating you with his eyes.”

“Oh shut up,” I said, rolling my eyes. Before she could come back at me, I walked off toward the box office window. Despite my bruised dignity, I was determined to see the movie. Chris laughed and followed, and I knew I was in for a few more jokes about that beautiful asshole Noah before the night was over.

Chapter Two

Chris and I lived in a small, two-bedroom apartment on the southwest corner of campus. Across the street, less than a hundred feet from our front door, was the best Chinese food place in north Philly. A few days later, as the last evening of summer vacation wound down, and more and more students filtered into the area, we ate noodles and sat on the stoop. The night was hot, sticky and sweaty, and we chatted aimlessly about the coming week. The first few days of classes were always the most fun; they were usually syllabus days, and we rarely had homework. Chris was particularly excited for her neurology class, since she wanted to be a brain surgeon, and I was looking forward to a survey of early American films. Since I wanted to be, well, something.

“I found something out about that Noah hunk you nearly had sex with,” Chris said after a huge bite of lo mein.

“I did not almost have sex with him,” I said, blushing. The memory of his intense blue eyes running up and down my body as I struggled to cover myself came flooding back. Even though it had already been a few days since my wardrobe malfunction, I couldn’t get him off my mind. I had done some light Facebook stalking, but nothing too serious.

“Whatever, close enough. Guess what his dad does?”

I shrugged. “Ex-football player turned coach. Balding, weights forty pounds too much, loves Bud Light.”

Chris laughed. “Weirdly specific, but nope. He’s a movie producer.”

I quirked an eyebrow, surprised. “That’s pretty cool.”

“Yeah, and you know what’s even cooler?”

“What?” I could already tell where Chris was going with everything, but it was better to let her get there than interrupt. That would only provoke her more.

“He’s the guy that paid for your precious new theater.”

I was pretty taken aback at that. The guy who I kept fantasizing about, who had undressed me with his eyes, was the son of a guy in the movie business. It was a weird coincidence, or at least it felt like one.

“I don’t believe you,” I said, hoping she’d go into more detail.

“It’s true. Selena was in the dorms with him, apparently. His dad is loaded, like ultra loaded. He produced those superhero movies, the really popular ones.” Chris shrugged. She wasn’t the best with pop culture, although I knew exactly what she was talking about.

“Why were you talking to Selena about this?” I asked. Selena was one of Chris’s friends from bio class last semester. I had met her a few times, and she was nice enough, but a huge ditz.

“I saw a picture of him on her Facebook, and since you’ve been stalking him down so hard, I figured I’d help you out.”

“I haven’t been stalking him!”

“Yeah, okay.” She gave me a wink and laughed. I wanted to smack the noodles from her mouth, but I knew she was right.

I sighed. “What else did she say?”

“Not much. He’s a huge player and stuff. She didn’t really know him that well.”

“That doesn’t surprise me.”

Chris grinned. “Why, because he’s so hot everyone must swoon over him?”

“No, I mean, just the way he talked.”

“I get it. You’re hot for this guy. Practically dripping.”

Wow. Chris could be pretty graphic sometimes. I thought it had something to do with her physical science background. Instead of acknowledging her clearly untrue statement, I threw a strand of noodles in her direction.

Chris was usually pretty perceptive, especially when it came to my love life. For whatever reason, she was the Rain Man of my sexual desire, and she always knew when I was into someone, no matter what I did. Even if I hid it from her, she eventually sniffed it out. Noah was no exception.

Even though he had been a total asshole, I still couldn’t get him off of my mind. The news that his father was a big movie producer only made him that much more alluring to me. It wasn’t the money, but the fact that he had a connection to something I loved that interested me. I imagined what his life must have been like growing up in the film industry. My mother would have killed for something like that considering she had made her professional academic career analyzing movies.

I kept thinking back to his perfectly fitted faded jeans and designer shirt, distressed perfectly to appear vintage, and I realized he looked like the consummate rich guy. But there was something in his look, behind his cocky, self-assured grin, that I couldn’t understand. Not to mention he walked into the theater showingPierre Le Fou, which was a French movie by a famous filmmaker named Jean-Luc Godard. My mother adored Godard, and I was surprised Noah was interested in watching his stuff. I never got into it, but I would have given it another chance if it meant sitting next to Noah in the dark for an hour or two. Chris and I ended up seeing an old Clint Eastwood western, which spared me from having to bump into Noah again. I couldn’t decide if that was fortunate or not.

I huffed as Chris and I stood up and went back inside, trying to forget the thoughts that kept swirling through my mind. Noah Carterson, asshole, playboy, and rich kid, was lodged firmly in my skull, and I couldn’t shake him loose.


Iloved the first day of class. The previous week was full of freshmen moving into their dorms, upperclassmen lounging around in the shade, and everything generally gearing up for the coming semester. When classes were out, campus was a ghost town; even the lunch trucks closed up since the majority of their customers were either at home or just not coming around. But things slowly got more frantic and exciting until it all peaked on the first day.

I walked through the center of campus, passed by the bell tower and the library, and made my way toward Anderson Hall. My first class was the one I was most excited for:Survey of Early American Films, 1901 – 1951. That time period in film history was so romantic to me; everything was new, every technique was just being discovered, the way to write and market a film was slowly being understood, and the big studios rose up around Hollywood and began to dominate the industry. It was full of gossip and intrigue and amazing stories. I breathed in the warm autumn air and smiled as hoards of lost-looking freshmen walked by.

Campus was perfect when the weather was nice. I wore my favorite sundress, clean white sneakers with white ankle socks, and a new backpack I got over the summer. I eyed up everyone around me, but I didn’t recognize anyone, except for the annoying kid who always sat on the Bell Tower’s steps and played his awful guitar music. That wasn’t surprising though, since Temple had thousands of kids. Still, I recognized a general pattern and flow, the way people sat on benches and ate on their breaks, professors hurrying through the crowds to make it in time for their next overfull class, and general maintenance guys lining up outside the pizza lunch trucks. I smiled and felt strangely at home.

I pushed open the door to Anderson and walked through the crowded downstairs atrium. My class was on the second floor, so I bypassed the packed line for the elevators, and started to climb the steps. Anderson was probably the most poorly designed building in the world. It had only two main elevators for twelve floors, and they were constantly packed like sardine cans. I always avoided them when possible. Usually, only freshmen and people on the uppermost levels took the elevators anyway.

After a short climb, I pushed out into the hall, and found room 237. I was ten minutes early, but I liked having time in case I couldn’t find the room. Temple’s campus was notoriously difficult to navigate, and rooms seemed to appear and disappear in different spots every semester. I sat down toward the back and began to unpack my bag, looking around at the other students.

People slowly filtered into the large room, taking up most spaces. With a few minutes left before the start of the class, Professor Johnson entered, looking haggard and tired. I had heard about him from my mom; he was supposedly brilliant, but incredibly weird. He sat down in front of the class and started to unpack his briefcase.

As Professor Johnson looked like he was about to start the lecture, two more students entered. The first one was a tall, slim blonde girl, wearing short jean shorts and a tight white T-shirt. She was the typical hot blonde girl, and I could have sworn I had seen her a hundred times before. The guy that followed her, however, took my breath away: it was Noah, grinning his usual cocky grin.

I couldn’t believe it. Noah Carterson, that asshole, was in my class, and was headed my way. The blonde skank led him into the back of the room, and as they passed by, Noah locked eyes with me. A small smirk replaced his grin, and he stopped next to me as he walked past.

“Hey there, polka dots,” he said quietly. I turned bright red.

“Hi, Noah,” I said, getting lost in his intense gaze.

“Fancy meeting you here. What’s the color today?”

My jaw dropped. Was he serious?

“Noah, come sit with me,” came the whiniest voice ever. We both looked over at the skank, gesturing impatiently for him to join her.

“Looks like your Barbie is calling,” I spat back.

“Tell me later then. I’d love another show.” He gave me a spine-melting smile, and then walked back to sit next to Stripper Barbie. I kept my head down, face bright red, and my heart was beating hard as excitement filled my chest.

I was seething and hot as Professor Johnson started his lecture. I couldn’t follow a single thing he said; it was all a blur of times, dates, and assignments. I was furious that Noah kept calling me “polka dots,” and couldn’t believe his nerve. He was walking around with the most cliché-looking skank I had ever seen, and he decides to stop and flirt with me right in front of her? It was insulting on so many levels, and yet I was flattered. I couldn’t help myself; he was wearing a V-neck shirt that showed off the top of a chest tattoo, his hair was pushed back and wavy, and his muscles looked perfect.

As soon as the class was finished, I shoved my stuff into my bag and rushed out the door. I didn’t want to give him another chance to imagine what color my underwear was, let alone have to engage with that horrible chick he was with. As I sped down the hall, I wondered if she was his girlfriend, but I doubted it. Based on what Chris told me, she was probably his most recent conquest.

I obsessed about his smile and the way he came on to me with such confidence as I filtered out into the beautiful day. I had to hustle to make it to my next class on time, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to mentally pick apart every detail of the short interaction. I wasn’t normally such a prude; I’d been with a few guys, though nothing really serious. I wasn’t a virgin, but I had only ever been with my high school boyfriend. Finding a crush was just never a huge priority for me, though I wasn’t as adverse to it as Chrissy seemed to be.

I thought I had experience with assholes like Noah, but he seemed like something completely different. I had never met a guy with such obvious self-assurance and easy grace. He was charming even when he was being obnoxious, and I hated and wanted him for it.

Chapter Three

That night, as I plopped down on the couch after a long day of class, I had to come face to face with my financial reality. My parents were helping as much as they could with tuition, but it was up to me to pay for my living expenses. I had some money saved up from my summer job, but that was quickly running out. I had to get the worst thing imaginable for a young girl living on a college campus: a job.

That was an exaggeration of course; I was used to working as many jobs as I needed to get by. I had always been as independent as possible, and hated the idea of someone else paying for everything.

I pulled out my laptop and navigated through the university’s job listings page. Last year, I had worked in the dean’s office answering phones, but it was such a miserable position, with so many people complaining all the time, that I couldn’t bring myself to go back there again. I scrolled through the postings, feeling more and more despair, until finally I came across what seemed like the perfect job.

I clicked the link and read the description. It was ideal, and I had plenty of experience in the position already. As Chris sat down beside me and launched into her usual early-semester bitch fest, complaining about her workload and schedule, I sent out my resume, hoping I’d get a call soon.


Ididn’t hear anything the next day, but the day after that I got a call. Beyond excited, I offered to come in as soon as possible for an interview, and the kind-sounding woman on the phone scheduled me to come in that very night. I guessed they really needed the help if they were willing to meet with me that day.

My next film history class in room 237 was better. I sat up front and managed to more or less avoid Noah, though he did give me a huge smile as he walked by. That time, though, he didn’t sit next to Stripper Barbie, and I briefly wondered what had happened between them. I felt thrilled and terrified, all at once. I was able to actually pay attention that time, and found Professor Johnson’s lecture style was interesting but all over the place, which was exactly what I’d been expecting.

Afterward, I floated through my next classes, nervous about the interview. It wasn’t the first interview I had ever been on, far from it. But I really needed the job, and it was the perfect gig. I could have easily seen myself working there for the rest of my time at Temple, and the pay would definitely have covered everything I needed, at least with a little budgeting.

Page 3

Finally, as my last class let out, I hurried over to the student center. I was scheduled to meet with the manager at four-thirty, and since my class let out at four-twenty, I had to hustle. I followed the familiar path through back hallways, skipped down the familiar staircase, and came up to the box office ticket window of the new student-run theater.

“Hi, I’m here for an interview,” I said to the bored-looking girl sitting behind the glass. She looked me over and nodded.

“That would be with Miss Havisham.”

I paused at the name. “Seriously?” I asked.

The girl grinned. “Yep. And don’t mention it to her, she gets weird about it.”

I nodded. “Thanks,” I said.

“She’s in the back office, right around this corner. Good luck.”

I gave her a little wave, grateful, and followed her directions. There was a black door with “Staff Office” in silver letters. I knocked on it twice, and a voice inside told me to enter.

I pushed the door open and was hit full-on in the face with a thick cloud of perfume. The room was small, dominated by a single desk in the center, but the walls were plastered with old movie posters. There was a coat rack in the corner with feather boas, top hats, and other costume parts thrown carelessly all over it. The woman sitting behind the desk was probably in her late fifties. She wore heavy makeup, and was pretty, despite the somewhat clownish appearance she had. Her hair was cut short and brown, and her smile was kind.

“Well hello there, what can I do for you?”

“I’m Linda, I have an interview.”

She stood, smile growing larger. “Linda, great to meet you.”

We shook hands, and she gestured for me to sit down in front of her. I took a seat, feeling strangely at ease. We started the interview with the usual questions: previous experience, why I was a good fit, my weaknesses, etc. Miss Havisham was incredibly easy to talk with, and her boisterous personality, mixed with the old-school Hollywood décor of her office, made her seem like a 1930s film star. We hit it off immediately, and ended the interview chatting aimlessly about Charlton Heston. Finally, she checked her watch, and looked surprised.

“Well dear, it’s already past five.”

“Really? That went fast.”

“It truly did. Look, I’m not supposed to do this, but I’m going to offer you the job. Salary and all that jazz was on the posting. If you’re fine with it, I’d love to have you around.”

I couldn’t believe it. “I would love that, thank you so much.”

“Fantastic!” she exclaimed, and stood up. She gestured dramatically toward the door. “Let’s go meet the rest of the staff and get you acquainted!”

I stood, and she moved around the desk, then I followed her out into the main room. It had been one of the strangest job interviews I had ever gone on, and I had never heard of someone not only landing the job on the spot, but also getting to meet the other staff. She introduced me to the girl in the box office. Her name was Chelsea, a junior, and she gave me a warm smile. I liked her right away. I followed Miss Havisham toward the concession stand, where she introduced me to Chuck and Mikey, both seniors, and probably the goofiest-seeming guys I had ever seen. They were obviously good friends, and grinned at me stupidly the whole time.

“Now this young man is the heart and soul of our little rag-tag group,” she said as we moved back toward the theaters. “He does tickets mostly, though he’s doing your future job right now. Where has he gotten himself?”

We walked into the largest of the three theaters, and Miss Havisham waved at a guy sweeping up the floor between the rows of seats in the front.

“Noah, come here darling,” she called out.

Noah? Was she kidding me? There was no way it was him. And then it struck me: his dad had paid for the theater. How could I have been so stupid? My heart began to hammer in my chest.

As he got closer, my jaw almost dropped from my face. Of course it was Noah Carterson, grinning his huge, cocky grin, and looking me up and down. How could I have been so dim as to think he wouldn’t be working there?

“Noah Carterson, Linda Lewis.”

His eyes locked on mine, and he reached his hand out. “Linda, great to meet you.”

I turned bright red, and shook his hand. His fingers were soft but his grip was firm, and it sent chills along my arms. His eyes were practically laughing, and part of me wanted to run away. Instead, I met his gaze.

“Do you two know each other?” Miss Havisham said, noting the tension.

Noah grinned at her. I fully realized how charming he was in that moment, gracefully moving to dispel the awkwardness and to make Miss Havisham feel like a part of the moment.

“Not really, Miss H. We had a small run in the other day.”

“Good, since you two will be working closely together.”

Working closely together? I couldn’t imagine anything I wanted to do less.

“Looking forward to seeing more of you,” Noah said. I caught the double meaning of his comment and blushed. I had no clue what it was about him, but every comment seemed to put me off.

“Same to you,” I said.

“Back to work you lazy miscreant!” Miss Havisham announced dramatically, and Noah laughed as he moved back to the row he had been working on. As we turned to go, I caught him staring at me, and he gave me a small nod.

“So dear, can you start on Monday?” Miss Havisham asked as we emerged back into the lobby.

“Yes, absolutely.”

“Great! Stop by sometime tomorrow to fill out the paperwork. I look forward to seeing you!”

“Same to you. Thanks so much.”

She shook my hand again then moved back into her office. I walked back toward the stairs, up into the student center, and headed back toward my apartment in a daze. I couldn’t see the people milling around campus, the bright colors of their clothing and of the turning leaves, the beautiful late August sunset, because I’d be seeing a lot more of Noah in the future. We’d be working very closely together, according to flamboyant Miss Havisham.

It was, without a doubt, the weirdest job interview I had ever been on. It felt like it had happened in a dream, complete with the nightmare turn at the end.

Chapter Four

That night, after climbing the stairs to my apartment, head still reeling from finding out about Noah, I immediately called my mom. We’d always been pretty close, especially when I was younger, and I talked to her about everything. Well, almost everything. I hadn’t told her about Noah’s nickname for me, or even about his existence yet, since I had no clue what I even thought about him yet. But since I was going to be working with him, and his dad was a famous producer, I figured I might as well mention the name and see if she knew who he was.

“Hey, Lindy,” Mom said when she answered.

“Hi, Mom, how are you?”

“Oh I’m fine, just dealing with the start of the new semester. How’s school? Professor Johnson giving you any trouble?”

Sometimes it was a little odd that Mom knew everyone in the film department. She taught at the University of Pennsylvania, which was across the city in west Philly, but pretty much everyone knew each other in her field.

“He’s fine, just pretty weird.”

“Yeah, well, he’ll get even weirder. Trust me.”

I laughed. I couldn’t imagine how that was possible, but I believed her.

“How are your classes?” I asked.

“They’re fine, you know how it goes. Same students ever year, just different faces.”  My mom had the theory that the same twelve students took her class every year, but they got lots of plastic surgery between semesters. She was always complaining how she couldn’t tell them apart.

“They’re probably aliens,” I said.

“Oh, that’s a good idea. Shape shifting aliens.”

“Start on the script.”

“Already halfway through.” We laughed together. We always had a really good relationship, and I thought my mom was the funniest person I knew.

“So anyway, I got a job,” I said carefully.

“Great! What are you doing?”

“It’s in the new movie theater.”

“Oh, that’s fantastic sweetie. I heard it’s pretty nice.”

“Yeah, it is. My boss is this crazy lady named Miss Havisham.”

“It can’t be Lacey Havisham, can it? Dramatic, lots of perfume, feather boas, acts like a silent film star?”

That cracked me up. I remembered the feather boas hanging on her coat rack and the thick perfume she wore.

“That’s exactly her!”

She whistled. “Good luck with that one. She’s a character.”

“How do you know who she is?”

“Lacey and I go way back. She’s been in probably hundreds of movies starting back when she was young, but she never really broke out. Anyway, a few years ago she retired from the screen, and I had heard she moved into the city to produce plays.”

“Now I guess she manages the theater.”

“You make sure to tell her I said hello.”

“I will. Actually, I have a question for you.”

“What’s up?”

I thought for a second, wondering how I should play it. I could be honest and tell her exactly what I was thinking and feeling, which wouldn’t have been the first time I talked with her about boys, but something about Noah held me back.

“Do you know the name Carterson?”

“Well, I’m guessing you’re talking about the Carterson who financed the theater you’re working at.”

“Yeah, exactly. I work with his son.”

There was a short silence on the other end, which confused me. My mom usually had nothing but amazing things to say about everyone in the business, but the fact that she paused before saying anything spoke volumes.

“That’s interesting,” she said, sounding reserved.

What the heck was going on?

“Yeah, apparently I’ll be working closely with him.”

“Very good, that’ll be fun.”

I had no idea why she wasn’t taking the bait, asking a million questions about him, maybe even giving me the dirt on his family. My mom wasn’t the type to be reserved in her opinion, and yet there she was, acting like it was no big deal.

“Do you know his dad?” I asked, deciding to press a bit more.

“Only a little bit.” She paused, then said, “Hey, I have to go, I’m really sorry.”

“Okay, sure. Talk to you later?”

“I’ll give you a call tomorrow. Bye sweetie.”

“Bye, Mom.” She hung up.

I looked down at my phone, shocked. My mom rarely dodged a question so obviously, let alone got off the phone in less than ten minutes. I really couldn’t believe it. What could possibly have happened that made my mom act so weird? She clearly knew who the Cartersons were, and I guessed she had some experience with them in the past. And yet she wanted to avoid all mention of him. It was completely unlike her.

Confused, I put my phone away, and went back to studying. No matter how many paragraphs of my assigned reading I went through, Noah Carterson and my mom’s reaction kept scrolling through my mind like the opening of Star Wars.


The next day, I floated through my classes, my head still spinning about my mom and Noah’s family. I had no clue what made her act so weird, and I really wanted to know. I didn’t have my film history class that day, but I hoped I would see Noah at the theater.

Around four-thirty, I headed over toward the student center, my stomach full of butterflies. It was totally irrational to be excited to fill out a W-2, but I knew that there was a chance I’d see Noah. Maybe together we could get to the bottom of why my mom was so weird about him. That, or he’d be a total asshole again, and make me want to smack him. Maybe my mom felt the same way about his dad; maybe Mr. Carterson was a huge asshole, too. I practically skipped down the stairs and rounded the corner.

Chelsea was sitting behind the box office again, and I suddenly felt like she lived there. I had never seen her anywhere else but behind that glass; it was uncanny.

“Hi, Chelsea, is Miss Havisham around?” I asked.

“Sure, she’s in there. Just knock.”

I nodded in thanks, and then knocked on Miss Havisham’s door. After a moment, I heard a shrill “Come in!” and pushed the door open.

“Well hello Linda!” she cried, practically brimming with energy. She was wearing thick-rimmed glasses and sitting in front of an open ledger.

“Hi, Miss Havisham. I’m here to fill out that paperwork you mentioned.”

“Of course dear! Take a seat.” She gestured to a chair in front of her desk while she rummaged through a filing cabinet.

“Here we are, new hire forms. Take your time dear,” she said, placing a few pages in front of me. I dug a pen out of my bag and started to skim through the forms They were mostly the usual things, a waiver for the university, tax information, standard papers. It didn’t take long to sign my name over and over, and I was finished in about five minutes. When I was done, I looked up at Miss Havisham, who was staring at her ledger again with a serious look on her face. It was completely at odds with the crazy mess of her office.

“Excuse me, Miss Havisham?”

She looked up. “Yes?”

“I’m all finished.” I handed the papers across the desk. She took them and tucked them under the corner of her keyboard.

“Great! Thanks so much.”

I paused for a second. “I have a question, actually.”

“What’s up?” She took her glasses off. It was a nice gesture; I got the sense that she cared about what I was going to say, and wasn’t brushing me off.

“Do you know my mom? Her name is Marilyn Lewis, she works at UPenn, in the film studies department.”

Miss Havisham looked surprised. “Marilyn Lewis, of the Times?”

My mom sometimes wrote film reviews in the New York Times, though not nearly as often as she used to. Back in the day, she was considered a huge critic, though that tapered off a bit as she adjusted to academia.

“Yep, that’s her.”

She laughed loudly. “I know old Marilyn! Your mom was quite the critic back in the day.”

“So I hear. She says hello, by the way.”

“Oh that’s incredible, tell her I say it back. I can’t believe Marilyn is your mother!”

“Yep, it’s a pretty small world.”

Miss Havisham leaned back in her chair and looked thoughtful. “I guess it was fate that brought you to me. Marilyn was always supportive of my career, such that it was.”

Page 4

I nodded. “My mom had nothing but good things to say about you.”

She smiled, and I could tell she was genuinely pleased to hear that. “Well, you tell her to stop by and visit some time.”

I stood up to go. “I definitely will. What time should I be here on Monday?”

She pushed her glasses back on, shifted through the papers on her desk, and then pulled out a schedule. “Let me see here...can you do five to ten?”

“Yeah, that’ll be good.”

“Great. We’ll set you up with a more permanent schedule on Monday.”

“Thanks again, Miss Havisham.”

“Okay Linda, have a good day.”

I waved and pushed the door to her office open, feeling good. My mother knew a lot of people in the film world, and I had heard nothing but good things about her. She seemed liked and respected by everyone, and I loved running into old friends of hers. It happened more and more since going to Temple. She had a lot of contacts in Philadelphia, and more seemed to appear every day.

Back in the lobby, it was pretty empty. Chelsea sat behind the glass looking bored, and Mikey and Chuck were throwing popcorn at each other behind the concession stand counter. I swept my gaze over the room then spotted him. Sitting on a small stool by the entrance to the theaters was Noah Carterson, flipping idly through his cellphone. He wore perfectly fitting black jeans and a black theater uniform shirt, which he managed to make look stylish. His hair was shaved short on the sides and it was mussed up and messy on the top. I walked toward him, and my heart started to hammer. I had no idea why. It wasn’t like I’d never spoken to a guy before.

As I got closer, he looked up. Initially his expression was bored contempt, as if the world were constantly a disappointment, but as he looked at me, it changed. His features brightened, and that cocky, self-assured grin appeared.

“Well hey, polka dots,” he said, slipping his phone into his pocket.

“Stop calling me that,” I said.

“Give me a reason to, and maybe I will.”

I sighed. I couldn’t remember why I thought it would be easy to have a normal conversation with him.

“Look, I have a weird question for you.”

“Yes, I will go down on you in the bathroom.”

I blushed, and the image of his lips pressed between my legs jumped unbidden into my mind. My eyes ran over his muscled chest.

What a dick.

“Can you be serious for one second?”

He struggled to make his face into a mask of blank seriousness. “Okay then. How may I help you, Linda?”

I sighed. I guessed that was the best I’d get. “Okay so, my mom is this film critic named Marilyn Lewis. I was talking to her on the phone, and I mentioned getting a job here. When your dad came up, she got all weird about it. Any clue why?”

He looked thoughtful for a second. “Honestly, polka dots? I have no clue.”

“Have you ever heard her name before?”

He shook his head. “No, I haven’t. But I’m not exactly close with daddy dearest.”

Great. Back to square one, then. I briefly wondered what he meant by “not close,” but I put it out of my mind. I didn’t need his spoiled asshole drama on top of my own.

“Thanks anyway,” I said.

His serious expression was replaced by a small smirk. “So, you were telling your mom about me? A little soon, don’t you think?”

I let out a sigh of exasperation and rolled my eyes. “Are you always this self-involved?”

His grin intensified as he stood up and took a few steps closer. His body filled the space between us, and my breath caught in my chest. He moved with a surprising grace for someone so large. I had the insane impulse to reach out and trace the contours of his ripped chest, but resisted.

“Only when girls like you can’t keep away from me.”

I snorted. “You don’t even know me.” I considered adding, “and you’re a total asshole,” but decided not to.

“Want to get out of here and remedy that, then?”

Based on the tone he was using, I had a feeling he didn’t mean a nice, chaste conversation over coffee. I briefly considered agreeing, and had another imagine of him taking me back to his apartment and slowly pulling my panties down my goose bump covered skin. That was crazy, though. Before I could answer, maybe tell him he could go learn about himself, an incredibly high-pitched voice cut across the lobby.

“Noah!” We both looked over, and I instantly recognized Stripper Barbie from our film history class standing by the staircase and looking impatient.

“Looks like your stripper girlfriend is calling,” I said. I thought he was done with her, and a pang of jealousy ran through me, which was crazy. From everything I’d learned about Noah Carterson, it was clear that he was a player and a manwhore. Why did one more blonde chick matter to me?

I didn’t even like him.

He looked at me, and I didn’t recognize the expression that flashed across his face for a brief moment. It was quickly replaced by his confident smile, but I was left wondering what it had meant.

“See you later, polka dots,” he said, then started to walk off toward the stairs. “Hey, Chuck, cover my shift?” Noah called out as he passed by the stand. Chuck gave him a nod and a wave. I couldn’t believe he was skipping out on work and asking someone to cover for him, but I guessed being the benefactor’s son had its perks. Chuck seemed agreeable enough, at least.

I watched as he approached blondie, and they had a short, whispered conversation, and then started up the stairs together. They didn’t hold hands or hook arms or anything, but I knew that was a childish gauge of their relationship. You didn’t need to show public affection for someone to bang their brains out, which I guessed wasn’t hard with Stripper Barbie, since there wasn’t much there to bang out to begin with.

Once they were out of sight, I started back toward the stairs. I felt oddly frustrated; Noah hadn’t been any help with trying to decode my mom’s strange behavior on the phone, but worse than that, he had me imagining running my fingers along the tattoo on his chest I had glimpsed the other day. There was nothing I wanted less than to get hung up on Noah Carterson, total asshole and manslut, but there I was, running through a million scenarios in my head, and wondering why he was leaving with Stripper Barbie instead of me.

What a messed up afternoon.

Chapter Five

As much as I hated it, Noah and Stripper Barbie were stuck in my head. Chris was a saint, and sat out on the stoop for an hour with me, talking through the interaction. I knew it wouldn’t help, but I couldn’t stop myself from obsessing over every little detail. I hated that I had let him bore his way into my brain, but he was tunneled deep in there like those alien worms from the movie Tremors.

Unfortunately, thinking about Tremors made me compare Noah’s ass to Kevin Bacon’s, which made me miss what Chris was saying.

“I’m sorry, what?” I said, snapping out of my fantasy.

“I said, he wanted to get to know you better?” she asked again.

“Yeah, but he was being an asshole.”

She looked serious. “Are you sure about that?”

I thought back to his comment, and it definitely felt like sexual innuendo at the time. “I’m pretty sure.”

“Maybe the girl is just his friend?”

“Why would he leave work if she’s not putting out?”

Chris laughed. “I don’t know, Lindy. Maybe he really is the biggest asshole in the world.”

“I didn’t say that.” I felt a little defensive for some reason, although inwardly I had been referring to him as King Dick for the past half hour.

“No you didn’t, but he has the reputation,” she said.

“And he’s not exactly a gentleman to me, either.”

Chris gave me a look. “Come on, isn’t that a little outdated?”

“Chivalry lives!”

She laughed and leaned against my shoulder. “Maybe in your old movies.”

“Why are you defending him?”

“I’m honestly not. But I can tell you have a thing for this guy, and I don’t want you to write it off before you’re sure about him.”

“I don’t know. Do I want to get involved with the campus player?”

I felt her shrug. “Maybe it’s all just a rumor. Remember when people said that I had herpes?”

I laughed softly, although it was only funny in retrospect. Back in high school, some guy that Chris had turned down decided it would be a great idea to tell all his friends that she had herpes as revenge. It was all over the school the next day, and Chris had to combat the rumor for the rest of her time there. I figured that was part of why she swore off guys, but I never asked about it. She had gotten over the whole thing, but it was still an unpleasant time in her life.

“Yeah, that could be true. Just lies from his jilted lovers,” I said.

“Or just boring chicks with boring lives.”

I felt a little bad after that. Noah was definitely cocky, and he had a good time at my expense with his little nickname, but he had never been outright rude to me. Maybe I wasn’t giving him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe Chris was right, and I had to get to know him before I wrote him off completely. I was way too willing to believe the rumors about him, and too quick to dismiss him completely. I really hadn’t had a real conversation with him yet.

I was grateful to Chris, and she even managed to keep the jokes to a minimum. I had a weird hate-crush, which was totally unlike me, and I was still barely working the whole thing out. She may have sworn off boys, but she was still pretty good to talk to. Eventually, it started to get dark, and we climbed the steps back into our tiny apartment.

I resolved to give Noah a shot.

Or at least I wouldn’t completely dismiss him.


The next day I sat up front again in my film history class. I had been falling behind on my studies, maybe because a certain someone distracted me, and so I decided to buckle down and take good notes. As Professor Johnson was about to start his lecture, Noah came in, late as usual, but without Stripper Barbie. I hadn’t seen her in class since the first day, and was beginning to wonder if she had dropped it. Before I could delve too deeply into that, Noah did something surprising: he sat down next to me.

As he unpacked his books, he grinned at me. “Hey, polka dots.”

“Quit calling me that, Noah,” I hissed back. Inwardly, my stomach was doing somersaults.

His grin got bigger. “Whatever you say.”

“Don’t you usually sit in the back?”

“I told you that I wanted to get to know you.” His eyes looked back at me intensely.

I was taken aback momentarily by his earnest response, but my reply was cut off by Professor Johnson’s lecture. The entire class was spent trying to ignore Noah next to me. Instead, the only thing I could pay attention to was his smell, his heat, and his nearness. We sat at a long, shared table, and our knees were inches apart. He diligently took notes, which surprised me. I had assumed he was a bad student, but he clearly cared about the material, and was paying attention. I struggled to keep up, simultaneously interested in early film technique and wholly distracted by Noah’s perfectly chiseled jawline.

I had a lot of assumptions about him, but no real information.

What did he mean, he wanted to get to know me? He hadn’t expressed much interest in me at all yet, other than my underwear and maybe my body. When I tried to talk to him about his dad and my mom, he more or less blew me off. Suddenly, he wanted to sit next to me and get to know me? It was bizarre. Noah had never been serious with me, either. So far, he was mostly one long string of pushy jokes and crude remarks, all wrapped up in a fantastic smile and amazing body. He was definitely confident, but he also didn’t seem interested in actually knowing me. In fact, from what I’d heard about him, he didn’t seem interested in knowing anyone.

Apparently, he had only a few close friends. I did some more Facebook stalking after talking with Chris on our stoop the day before, and even went so far as to ask Selena more questions. Fortunately, Selena was a pretty clueless person, and always eager to dish gossip. According to her, Noah had few close friends, though plenty of girlfriends. Back in the day, his dorm was more or less a revolving door of one skank after another, which grossed me out. She said he spent most of his time hanging out, drinking too much, and going out to bars, which disappointed me. Still, he was in the honors college, which meant that he had to be a pretty decent student. He was on some rec league sports teams, and he was a peer student teacher for a film class on Stanley Kubrick. Basically, he seemed like the model collegiate student, except that he wasn’t. He drank and smoked pot and slept with whatever girls he wanted to, and he was a complete asshole.

I couldn’t seem to figure him out. Sitting next to him during Professor Johnson’s lecture, his weird comment rolling around in my head, didn’t help at all. Part of me wanted to interrupt everything and ask Noah exactly what he meant, but that was insane. Instead, I sat quietly, dutifully taking notes, or at least taking some semblance of notes.

Eventually, the period ended, and Professor Johnson wrapped up his lecture. Noah turned to me as soon as everyone started packing up.

“So, polka dots, what are you doing now?”

I looked at him, surprised. “Nothing really. Why?”

He grinned. “Don’t be so shocked. Want to go for a walk or something?”

I stared for half a beat. Was I stuck in some parallel universe where a guy like Noah Carterson wanted to spend time with me? I mean, I wasn’t exactly unattractive, but I wasn’t winning any beauty contests, either. I didn’t think I was remotely his type, and I definitely wasn’t putting out anytime soon. So why was he suddenly interested?

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” I managed to get out.

“Cool,” he grunted, as we packed our things.

My head was swimming with questions, totally unsure about why Noah wanted to go for a walk, or what he even meant by going for a walk. I realized I was spinning in circles when I started to analyze what “going for a walk” really meant, and concentrated on getting myself together instead.

We went out into the hall together, the last to leave the room, and headed down the hall, toward the stairs. We chatted idly about Professor Johnson, making jokes about how spacey and weird he was. It was actually pretty normal and nice; Noah didn’t once make a sexual innuendo at my expense. He kept calling me “polka dots,” though, which annoyed me, but not enough to ruin the good mood. We climbed down the stairs together then headed outside. We walked toward the bell tower, moving slowly. It was sunny out and warm, and everyone was sitting on benches or in the grass. The campus seemed more alive than usual, and I guessed it was the weather.

Page 5

“So, are you looking forward to working at the worst theater in the world?” Noah asked

“It’s not that bad. I’ve been to much worse,” I said, and it was true. I’d seen much crappier places. My mother loved to cart me all over the place, taking me to every theater imaginable to see every small budget indie film possible. She said she wanted to give me an experience of the world, but really I thought she just wanted to see whatever movie was playing. I briefly wondered if Noah’s father had done the same for him.

“I know. It’s really not that bad, I guess. Miss Havisham, though...” He whistled and made a face

I laughed, knowing exactly what he meant. “She’s a character.”

“She’s pretty nuts. But she goes way back with my family, which is why she’s around.”

That was the first time Noah mentioned his family, or even his connection to the theater. I was a little surprised, but decided not to make a big deal out of it. I got the sense that he was pretty private about his home life.

“My mom likes her, too. I bet she has an interesting management style.”

Noah laughed. “Yeah, management style, right. Miss H has feather boas and long stemmed cigarettes, and that’s about it.”

“She has drama, and that’s all you need.”

He nodded, pretending to be serious. “That’s true. The only thing a good indie movie theater needs is drama.”

We laughed together at that, and he bumped me with his shoulder. I savored the light and brief contact, smiling up at him.

As I looked forward again, I noticed a few people walking by were staring at us. I knew Noah had a reputation on campus because of his father, not to mention his amazing good looks and his money, but I hadn’t realized how far that extended. I saw a few girls standing over by a group of bikes whisper to each other and throw me dirty looks, but Noah pretended like they didn’t exist. I didn’t really mind; it wasn’t like I’d see any of them again. It felt weird, being the object of attention and jealousy, even if it was only because Noah felt like getting to know his new workmate.

We turned right at the bell tower, and walked up a short, grassy hill covered in people. People called that spot “the beach.” It was probably the nicest area to sit on the whole campus, at least when the weather was decent. It got a lot of light, which kept the grass nice and dry, and people sat in small groups scattered all over. It was centrally located right next to the bell tower, which meant it was prime for people watching.

Noah picked his way through the crowd then sat down toward the back. I sat next to him, and he leaned back onto his hands, folding his legs under him and smiling. It was oddly comfortable to sit in a huge group of people with Noah, and although people kept glancing at us, and some were whispering, I felt calm. It wasn’t every day that I got to spend time on a beautiful day with a gorgeous asshole.

“So, polka dots, got a boyfriend?” Noah shifted his weight, and I was intensely aware of how close his knee was to mine. I winced at the nickname, but let it go again.

“No boyfriend,” I said. I had no clue why he was asking, but I realized it was my perfect opportunity. “What about you?”

He grinned at me. “Nope, no boyfriend.”

I rolled my eyes. “Great joke. Seriously, what about that blonde girl?”

He looked a little confused for a second then laughed. “Oh, you mean Ellie.”

“Yeah, Stripper Barbie. That’s what I said.”

“Is that a little jealousy I’m sensing?” He shifted his weight a little closer to me, and I felt my stomach do flips.

“Nope, no jealousy. Just an observation.”

“Yeah, sure. You’re practically spinning with envy.”

I raised an eyebrow at him. “I notice you’re avoiding the question.”

He shook his head. “She’s just a friend.”

Just a friend. I had heard that one before. Was she just a friend that he happened to sleep with?

“Pretty good friends?” I asked, pushing it.

“Yeah, actually. She’s been going through some shit lately.” He gave me a look, and suddenly I felt bad. I had no clue why I was giving him a hard time about that girl. He was free to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. We barely knew each other. Plus, I shouldn’t have assumed he was banging everything around him, although he probably was.

“Sorry to hear that,” I same lamely.

He grinned and shrugged. “It’s cool, she’ll get over it.”

There was a short silence as I ran over the last few minutes in my mind. I was surprised he was being so genuinely nice to me. It didn’t seem like his nature to try kindness first instead of aggressively hitting on someone.

To change the subject, I brought up an old movie I had seen the week before starring Charlie Chaplin. We started to talk about our taste in movies before things got too awkward. He listened to me while I went on and on about the classics, and I realized he was genuinely interested in what I had to say. It turned out he was equally into movies as I was, and we talked about all the nerdy details I had been dying to dissect with someone.

I guessed it was because we had such similar upbringings, with one of our parents in the film industry, although they were in pretty different parts. He had a really interesting working knowledge of the business side of things, and told me some interesting facts about how the original studios worked, with their commission structures and payments to the set workers and designers. That part wasn’t something I knew much about, and he made me realize how many people were involved with movies, not just the actors and directors. It took hundreds of people to make a film, from gaffers to sound guys to catering.

As we kept talking, comfortably and idly, sharing our favorite nerdy parts of the movie industry, I kept wondering why he was spending so much time with me. There were plenty of other girls on campus that would have thrown themselves at him, most of them prettier than I was, and yet he was spending the afternoon talking about lighting directors and sound mixing instead. I felt my confusion begin to boil up, and I knew I was going to say something stupid. I had the tendency to do that; I had always just spoken my mind, even when I shouldn’t.

Actually, especially when I shouldn’t.

Noah wrapped up his thoughts on classic lighting techniques, and there was a short pause in the conversation.

“So what’s the deal with this?” I blurted out suddenly. I turned bright red and looked away, annoyed that I had asked such a blunt and stupid question.

“What do you mean, dots?”

Dots? That was a new one.

“I mean, what’s with this wanting to get to know me thing?”

I had suddenly pulled us out of the comfortable flow of a normal conversation. He looked out across the sea of people, at the myriad faces and relationships and didn’t answer right away. I decided not to press, letting him think about what he wanted to say, and we lapsed into a short silence. Finally, just before I was going to give up and go into exile out of sheer embarrassment, maybe move to Australia where I would never have to see or hear from any Carterson ever again, he spoke up.

“Not sure. Just felt like having a conversation, I guess.”

“You didn’t seem like the conversation type,” I said, joking, and he gave me a look. I realized I had crossed a line.

“What would you rather do?” I heard the tone of his voice, and I definitely caught his meaning. It was true that part of me wanted to drag him into the library’s bathroom and tear the clothes off of his perfect body, but that wasn’t what I meant.

“That’s not where I was going with that,” I said, trying to explain myself.

He smirked at me. “Are you sure? I mean, that’s the type of guy I am, right?”

Shit. Was I suddenly the asshole?

“Really, I was just trying to say, you never wanted to chat before.”

“It’s cool, don’t worry about it, dots.” He sat up straight and stretched. “I have to get going to class soon, anyway.”

I looked at my watch and realized we had been sitting there for an hour. I couldn’t believe how easily the time had gotten away from me. Noah stood up, and reached his hand out. I grasped it, and he pulled me to my feet easily. I brushed off my butt then picked up my bag. We walked together off the beach and stopped in front of the bell tower.

“Okay, I’m going back to Anderson. I’ll see you at work, dots,” he said.

“Sounds good.”

He gave me a nod then walked off into the between-classes crowd. I watched him go for a second, and felt like a total idiot. I had obviously insulted him, but I still wasn’t exactly sure how. He was trying to be nice to me, for whatever reason, and I blew it. I wanted to chase him down and apologize, but I knew that would look desperate. As I walked, I decided I had to try and make things right at work that night.

Chapter Six

Since I didn’t have work until Monday, and my class with Noah was only on Mondays and Wednesdays, I had no real way of apologizing to him.

At first, I agonized over everything. I spent most of my time from Wednesday after I left Noah to Thursday night running over how stupid I was. That was my normal reaction to anything unpleasant. I couldn’t say why, but for some reason my brain decided it wanted to grab onto every little detail, every stupid gesture and possibly misunderstood comment, and replay them over and over and over. It was a pointless and useless thing to do, but I couldn’t help it. I had no control over my idiotic brain.

Chris usually talked me through it, but she had a big test coming up already, and had locked herself in her room to study. Instead, I had the Internet to keep me company. On Thursday evening, my first impulse, the healthiest impulse I could imagine, was to start to stalk his Facebook. I logged in and found his profile, which was easy enough. We weren’t friends yet, so there was limited information on his page. I stared at his profile picture for a minute, biting my lip, remembering how close his body was, and the very tip of the chest tattoo I saw through his V-neck shirt. Without thinking about it, I clicked “Add Friend.”

Horrified, I shut my laptop as fast as I could. I almost stood up and screamed. How could I have been so stupid? I hadn’t even meant to, I was just hovering over the button, considering whether or not I should, and of course I shouldn’t, but I did. It was an involuntary reaction; my body decided on its own to go ahead and click the track pad.

I had just added Noah Carterson as a friend, completely randomly.

If there was any doubt in the world that I was stalking him, that doubt was totally gone. He’d know immediately that I found him on Facebook. That was really the only way I could have found him on my own, if I had typed his name into the search bar, specifically looking for him. Now he was going to think I was a crazy stalker girl.

Great. I could be such an idiot.

I rolled back onto my bed and stared at the ceiling, mentally kicking myself. First I insult the guy, and then I go ahead and add him randomly on Facebook. What an insane set of mixed messages. I had no clue what he was going to think, but it couldn’t have been pretty.

Exasperated, I wracked my brain for something more productive to do. I got up and sat back down at my desk, and paged through some reading assignments I had to do for class the following week. It was Thursday, and I had nothing to do Friday, but I could get a jump on my next week’s work. After a few minutes of fitfully trying to read, I threw the book down with annoyance.

I grabbed my phone and texted the only person who could make me feel better: my mom.

6:45pm Me: Hey, Mom, any plans for tomorrow?

7:10pm Mom: Nothing special, just classes. Want to visit for lunch?

7:12pm Me: Yes! See you in your office at one?

7:13pm Mom: Okay sweetie, see you then.

Feeling slightly relieved already, I turned back and tried studying some more. I knew my mom would have good advice, even if she disliked Noah’s dad.

Maybe I could even use my visit as an excuse to dig up more about his family.

I went back to my reading, and eventually I got into the flow of things, and forgot all about Noah Carterson for a few hours.


The University of Pennsylvania’s campus was in west Philadelphia, a relatively short subway ride away from Temple. I climbed up from the Blue Line, and looked out across Penn’s campus. It was one of the prettiest parts of west Philly, with smooth cobblestone walkways and plenty of trees. Everything was nice and manicured, and on one hand I loved it, but on the other it was very unlike Philadelphia. The area surrounding Penn had gone through a lot of changes over the years, and Penn was like an oasis in the middle of a bunch of bad neighborhoods. Temple was like that too, but somehow Penn was worse.

I walked across campus, feeling like an outsider, and entered into my mom’s building. It wasn’t crowded, and I moved easily through the lobby and up the stairs to the third floor. My mom had been in the same office for ten years, and I had visited her a bunch of times since moving into the city. It was a pretty typical-looking college administrative building with a bunch of different rooms and areas. I walked down the carpeted halls, found her door, and knocked.

“Come in,” she called out.

I pushed the door and entered. Inside, the space was cramped. Books were stacked everywhere, and every shelf was brimming over. That was typical of my mom; she probably hadn’t read half the books in there, but she was a huge collector. I stepped over a stack of magazines, careful not to start an avalanche of paper.

“Hey, Mom,” I said.

She looked up at me and took her glasses off, smiling.

“Hey, sweetie, how are you?”

I sat down in a chair in front of her desk. I felt like her student for a second.

“I’m good, how’s the grading?”

She sighed and leaned back. “Fine, I guess. Feels like I’m reading the same awful essay over and over again, though I seem to always give them at least a B.”

That felt better. She would never talk like that to her actual students.

“Do all teachers hate their classes as much as you do?”

She laughed. “You know I don’t hate it, I just like to complain.”

Page 6

“Yeah, I know. You passed that on to me.”

She nodded, looking thoughtful. “I sure did. And you got your father’s nose. Speaking of which, call your father. You haven’t spoken to him in a few weeks.”

“How’s he doing?”

“Working on his next masterpiece, like usual.”

We both laughed. It was tough to keep in touch with my dad. He was a poet, but he was also pretty spaced out and difficult to pin down. He was constantly starting new projects, floating around from one thing to the next, dropping old projects when he got bored and starting new ones. He seemed to always have at least ten different things going on at once, and he rarely finished any of them.

There wasn’t anything in the world he loved more than to obsess over some new thing, whether it was 18thcentury Japanese ship making or indigenous Australian butterflies, he’d lose himself in whatever his new thing was for weeks. Sometimes, I’d call and he’d do nothing but talk about some African tribe that dyes everything blue for hours. I loved him, but he’d always been distant, and we never developed a great relationship. My younger brother, Andrew, got some of our father’s obsessiveness, and they seemed to get along pretty well.

“So, where’s lunch today?” I asked.

“I was thinking sushi, there’s a new place nearby.”

My mom, ever the adventurous eater. I liked sushi as much as the next person, but my mom was always hunting down new places and trying whatever they made. She loved to drag me along for the ride, and usually it was pretty good. I couldn’t complain about free food, although sometimes it wasn’t the best. Once, she took me to an Ethiopian restaurant, and while it was delicious, I didn’t love eating with my fingers the whole time.

“Sounds good,” I said. My mom stood up, and we walked out of her office together.

My mom was about my height and had the same mouse-brown hair. I wore mine long, but she kept hers short. She looked like a typical college professor, thin and a little spacey, well dressed but not business-like. People often told us we looked exactly alike, though I hoped they meant that I was a younger version of her.

We made our way out onto campus, and cut out toward the north. I followed, and my mom aimlessly chatted about her day. I wanted to ask about Noah’s dad, but I decided to play that cool and wait until she was fed. She told me about the faculty infighting and the tenure committees, and I was thankful that I wasn’t going into higher education. It was really hard to be a college professor; they were replacing full time faculty with adjuncts who were underpaid, overworked, and got no benefits all the time. My mom was all about worker’s rights, and I totally agreed; the universities took advantage of their teachers, to the detriment of everyone but the administrators.

I always found myself getting fired up and political around my mom. She was infectious and charming, and had a knack for making any issue seem exciting.

Finally, we found the place she was looking for. It was a tiny, hole in the wall sushi place, which probably meant it was amazing. There were no more than five booths in the whole place, though there was only one other group of people there. We were seated right away, and Mom ordered for both of us.

“So honey, how are your classes going?” she asked as the waitress left.

I shrugged, taking a sip of water. “They’re going pretty well. Noah Carterson is in my film history survey, the one with Professor Johnson.”

I steeled myself for my mom’s reaction. I hadn’t mentioned Noah yet on purpose, but it felt like the right moment to drop his name in there.

She blinked. There was a second where I thought she wasn’t going to respond at all, but then she said, “That’s nice, honey. How’s old Johnson doing?”

I sighed. I knew she wouldn’t take the bait. She clearly had no intention of going into it with me, and really, why would she? It wasn’t like I was dating Noah. She had no real obligation to tell me anything.

But still. We told each other everything, or at least almost everything. I knew as much about her life as she knew about mine. Mom wasn’t the type to shy away from a subject, sometimes to the point of embarrassment, like the time she tried to talk to me about her sex life with Dad. I swear, she wanted to go into the nitty-gritty, and I eventually had to storm out of the house to get her to stop. She was pretty oblivious, but she meant well.

I knew that I had to push her. She might get angry, or maybe just weird, but if I wanted to know what her deal was, I had to be strong. She wasn’t very good at keeping secrets, as I found out one year when I was a kid and she referred to the mall Santa as “Mister Wells, the man who cuts your hair.” Or, like the time she said to my father, “Make sure you show up at eight, since the guests for your party are coming at seven,” completely ruining his surprise and months of her own hard work. Needless to say, my mom could be a little daffy sometimes.

I launched into details about my class, including how interesting Professor Johnson was, as our tea and sushi was brought out. My mom gleefully told me crazy stories about Professor Johnson, including how he once got into a loud verbal argument with another professor at a film history convention. Apparently, they disagreed over thematic elements inCitizen Kane, which was about the most boring thing I could imagine. Professor Johnson apparently got so angry that he cursed the other guy out, and called him “possibly the worst thing to have ever happened to the great world of filmmaking, ever,” which was definitely an exaggeration. Michael Bay comes to mind, before anything else.

I laughed loudly at her jokes, and purposefully lulled her into a false sense of security. I felt bad that I was going to assault her, but she had left me no other choice. Once the sushi was consumed, and there was no danger of thrown raw fish, I commenced my attack.

“So Mom, I’ll be working pretty close with Noah Carterson,” I said slyly during a small lull between stories.

She looked surprised then her face quickly turned blank. “That’s nice, honey.”

“What do you think about his dad? The guy produced a lot of movies.”

She looked over at the waitress, visibly uncomfortable. “Yes, he did.”

“Any in particular you like?”

“Ah, honey, I need to use the bathroom.” She stood up and made a beeline for the bathroom door.

Damn. Foiled by the toilet.

I waited patiently for her return, well aware that I had to step my game up. There was only one thing left to do: a full on, direct frontal assault. I had to outright question what her deal was. I looked around the restaurant, picturing her reaction. I guessed it would be anger, initially, or maybe just awkwardness. I wasn’t sure why I was so intent on finding out; it wasn’t like Noah showed any interest in me. If anything, I had scared him away by basically calling him a manwhore. At that point though, it was more about why my mom was hiding something from me than it was about trying to learn more about Noah.

Finally, she returned from the bathroom, a smile plastered on her face.

“So, honey, make sure you call your father. He’s going to tell you all about Norwegian reindeer, but it won’t be too bad. They’re actually pretty—”

“Mom,” I said quickly, interrupting her.

She looked surprised. “What’s up?”

“Why are you avoiding talking about Mr. Carterson?”

She stared at me for a second, and then sighed. “I’m not being very subtle, I guess.”

I laughed. “Are you joking? That was subtle?”

She grinned, looking a little embarrassed. “I was trying to hide it from you.”

“No kidding, Mom! That was about as obvious as it gets.”

She shook her head, grinning. “I really don’t want to talk about it.”

“I know Mom, but look. I’ll be seeing this guy a lot, at least because of work. If there’s anything I should know, I want you to tell me.”

“It was a long time ago, sweetie.”

“You can tell me. Seriously. Remember the time you tried to talk about Dad’s penis?”

I shuddered at the memory.

“That one was a little too much, wasn’t it?” She looked sheepish.

“A little too much? You crossed so many lines it isn’t even funny.”

She sighed, frowning. “Look honey, it’s an old story. Do you really want to know?”

“Please. I really do.” And I realized just how desperate I was to know.

She was quiet for a second, lost in thought. “It happened when I was still reviewing for the Times,” she said slowly.


“Eli Carterson was producing his first movie, something calledEscapee. It was a thriller, pretty high budget for the time, supposed to bring in a lot of money at the box office. I don’t know how, but he knew of me, maybe had read some of my reviews, I don’t know. But he ended up getting my office number and calling me one afternoon. He said he wanted to let me watch the film early, and hoped that I would consider reviewing it. At the time, that was a pretty weird request, or at least I hadn’t gotten it before, but I figured, what the heck, and said yes. I made sure he understood that I wasn’t guaranteeing I’d write anything, let alone write a good review, and he said that was fine, whatever. You know how that can go. People have their own set of rules and expectations, and I guess Noah’s dad was working on his own wavelength.

“Anyway, a week later, I drove over to the studio where he was working at the time and met him. Nice guy, maybe a little sleazy, but attractive. He gave me a short tour of the grounds, which was really nice of him, and then he set me up in a private viewing area and played the film. I sat through the whole thing, and afterward he treated me to lunch. It was all pretty nice and personal, and he seemed to be really trying to pull out all the salesman stops, trying to woo me. And honestly, I felt a little uncomfortable.

“Here’s the problem. The movie was awful. I mean, really honey, it was so bad I couldn’t understand how they spent so much money on it. At lunch, he gave me this whole speech about how it was going to be an Oscar contender, and the studio had a lot of faith in him, and all this nonsense, and I couldn’t believe it. I mean, he was only a producer; it wasn’t like he directed the thing, but still. I had to smile and nod and pretend like what I had seen wasn’t a total absolute train wreck.

“Finally, lunch was over, and I went home. Sometimes, I look back on this moment and wish I had done something differently. I don’t regret it, not exactly, but I wish I had done it a little differently. At any rate, I was so shocked that the studio was wasting so much time and talent and energy on such a terrible movie that I slammed it. I mean, I absolutely tore it apart. I wrote the meanest, most negative review of my entire career. I haven’t written something so scathing since. And you know what? My editor loved it. He loved it so much, he ran the whole thing, and gave me half an entire page, which was a lot for me back then.

“Well, you can imagine how Noah’s dad took it. He was furious. He called me twenty times, threatened to sue, and said some pretty terrible things I won’t repeat. He was actually pretty scary for a while. After a week though, he stopped bothering me, and I thought things had died down. But boy, was I wrong. Soon, my editor started getting calls from studio executives, trying to get me fired. Every time I tried to interview someone from Mr. Carterson’s studio, I was completely ignored and stonewalled. It quickly became apparent that he was blackballing me. He was using his time and influence and money to try to destroy my career.

“And it worked. At least, it worked for a little while. I couldn’t get the interviews I needed to get, I couldn’t get anyone to talk to me. I could still watch and review movies, of course, but anybody could do that. All of my contacts were slowly leaving me, which meant my career was slipping away. Eventually, after a few months of trying and trying, my editors demoted me to a different part of the entertainment section. After that, I quit, because I couldn’t bring myself to write about abortions and pill popping starlets and crap like that.

“Mr. Carterson liked to say that I ruined his career, but you can see how untrue that is. More than that, his movie still made a profit, though maybe not as big as he was expecting. And he definitely didn’t win any Oscars, that’s for sure. But he always blamed me for all of that, and never considered that maybe a single reviewer doesn’t have the power to entirely destroy a film. Maybe that film was broken and terrible from the start.

“I never forgave him. I hated him, actually, for a long time. After I quit the Times, I struggled for a few years. I met your father during this period, and I ended up going into academia, which was the best thing I’ve ever done. But because of Eli Carterson, I had some of the most difficult years of my life. Everything was a struggle, and it was all because I wrote one stupid review. I can’t forgive that terrible, awful, piece of shit man. He was petty, and I’m sure he still is. If I were you, I’d stay away from his son.

“Because if his son is anything like his father, he’s bad news. I would stay away from Noah Carterson.”

Chapter Seven

“Why haven’t you ever told me about this?” I asked, my mind reeling. I could barely comprehend her story, let alone understand how she must feel about Noah’s dad.

“It was a long time ago, honey. It just doesn’t matter anymore.” She shrugged and smiled. My mom wasn’t the type to hold a grudge, but it had become clear that she felt strangely about Mr. Carterson, and it was easy to see why.

What kind of person tries to sabotage another person’s career, all because of a bad review? I couldn’t understand the kind of man who would do that, let alone to someone as sweet as my mother.

He must have been a monster.

“But Mom, he tried to destroy you.”

She nodded, still smiling. “Yes, he did, and he almost succeeded. But I moved on, and things are going just fine for me now.”

I understood why she didn’t want to talk about it. My mom was constantly trying to get me to make up my own mind about things, and not to let her own feelings influence me too much. Even when she was showing me movies, she worked hard to keep her own opinion from me until I had formed my own ideas. She must have understood that I was interested in Noah, and she didn’t want her own experience with the Carterson family to sway me in any direction.

Page 7

But the question was, did it?

Noah wasn’t his father. The children of bad people aren’t necessarily bad themselves, although Noah certainly was an asshole. Was being a complete and total douchebag heritable? Was evil genetic, like brown or blue eyes? So far, Noah hadn’t shown me anything particularly awful; on the contrary, he was trying to help out a friend of his, and he seemed genuinely interested in me. But he was constantly making sexual jokes and acting so cocky.

Being an asshole was one thing, but was he a bad person, too?

I shook my head, completely taken aback. “That’s a lot to take in,” I said.

“You really shouldn’t worry about it, honey. This is why I didn’t want to tell you.”

“But Mr. Carterson did something awful to you. Something seriously evil, Mom.”

“He did, but he isn’t his son.”

“I know Mom, but still, it’s hard to pretend like I didn’t hear that story.”

Suddenly, she got a very serious look on her face. She nodded her head once, and reached out to take my hand. “Listen to me, Linda. You can’t judge a son based on the sins of his father. If Noah Carterson is a decent guy, then I say you should give him a chance. And this is coming from someone who genuinely despises his father.”

That little speech wasn’t like her. Normally, she was more passive, and actively avoided giving me advice. I smiled and squeezed her hand in return, and felt genuinely glad she had decided to break her own non-intervention rules.

“Thanks, Mom. I’ll think about it.”

She nodded and pulled her hand away. “Good,” she said, and then started to gather her things. We paid the bill and left, my mind still reeling from her story.

We parted ways at the subway station, and I climbed down the stairs in a daze of confusion. I didn’t know what I should expect from Noah, or if there was even any reason to expect anything. He was being nice to me, but that could have been only because we were going to have to work together.

More than that, did he know about what happened between our parents?


Back home, I climbed the stairs into the apartment, buzzing with confusion and nervous energy. Unfortunately, Chris wasn’t home, and I had nobody to talk endlessly at until I worked myself into some semblance of sanity. Instead, I collapsed onto the couch. I flicked on the TV and surfed through the channels. Noah had seemed normal the last time I talked to him, despite my accidentally insulting him. We had a lot in common, actually, and even shared the same taste in movies. In my book, that was the most important thing in the world.

And yet he had such a fucked up past. His father was clearly an awful human being, and Noah didn’t seem much better. He was a womanizer and a drinker. He kept calling me by that awful nickname, even though I asked him multiple times to stop. His perfect smile, great sense of style, and amazing body annoyed the hell out of me. It pissed me off how much I found myself thinking about him.

If he was so terrible, why couldn’t I just start ignoring him? There were plenty of guys at Temple, and some of them were pretty hot. I was sure I could meet someone else with a similar taste in movies if that was what I really wanted. Why was Noah Carterson the man that stuck out in my head?

Trying to distract myself, I pulled out my laptop and logged in. I opened up Facebook and stopped short in my tracks when I saw the New Message icon at the top of my screen. I had completely forgotten about adding him earlier, like an idiot. My heart began to hammer in my chest, and I was nervous to read his message. I clicked the icon and the window popped up at the bottom of my screen.

Noah: Thanks for the add, dots.

That was it. Nothing else, no jokes about me stalking him, nothing. I stared at the message for a second, and then decided to type back.

Me: Stop calling me dots. And you’re welcome.

I hit send, then clicked his name and started paging through his pictures. They were the pretty typical college bro pics, plenty of drinking with his boys, boring stuff. But I started to notice that there were different girls in almost every set of pictures, as if he went out with different people every night.

Or, he was meeting new girls every night. That pretty much solidified his reputation in my mind. Noah Carterson was definitely a player, although I had to admit that didn’t necessarily mean he was a bad person. I noticed there weren’t any pictures of his family, and I realized I didn’t know anything about them, except for who his father was. I didn’t know his mother, or if he had any siblings, or if he was close to his grandparents, or his cousins. Basically, I knew nothing about him.

Suddenly, the sound on my computer dinged loudly, and I turned it down, startled. I was constantly forgetting to turn down my volume, and it was always scaring the crap out of me.

When I looked back at the screen, I got the second biggest fright of the day: Noah had sent me another message. There was a little green dot next to his name, which meant he was currently online, and currently messaging me.

I stared at it for a second, at a loss. I hadn’t planned on actually talking to him. I clicked his name and the window popped back up.

Noah: Don’t be so sensitive, dots. It’s a compliment that I keep thinking about your underwear.

He could be such an asshole. And yet I was blushing, and my heart began to pound. He hadn’t been so direct before, and always skirted outright saying what he meant. I guessed talking online gave him a little extra confidence, or at least he wasn’t afraid of me punching him in the nose.

Me: Keep it up and I’m going to pour popcorn over your head at work.

Noah: I welcome that. I love popcorn.

Me: Not when you get that fake butter stuff in your hair.

Noah: Don’t assume. I love fake butter, too.

I couldn’t help but smile. He was fast, and always seemed to have a comeback prepared. That was something I liked about Noah: he was clearly smart, sharp, and funny. He could be a total jerk sometimes, but I had to admit that I did like sparring with him. I hadn’t met too many guys that could keep up with me, let alone guys that held their own. Noah was a rare breed. I just wished he would stop calling me “dots.”

Me: Okay then, we’ll find out.

Noah: Looking forward to it. What are you up to?

Me: Not much. Just got back from lunch with my mom. You?

Suddenly, I felt awkward about having mentioned my mom. What if he knew about his dad and my mom? Noah was into the whole film community, and so it wouldn’t be super unlikely that he had heard her name, and he could have put two and two together since I last asked him about our parents. I wasn’t sure how I felt about any of it, let alone how it affected Noah and I. Truthfully, it shouldn’t change the way I saw him at all. But I couldn’t help but imagine my poor mother, kicked out of her dream career because of some petty movie producer.

Noah: Not much. Killing time in the library.

Me: That’s pretty cool, you’re such a good student.

Noah: Nah, not really, dots. Feel like doing something?

That took me by surprise. Noah wanted to hang out with me again? What was with that guy? One second I was insulting him, and the next he was pretending like it never happened, and everything was cool. I shook my head in disbelief. I did want to see him, and it wasn’t like I had anything better to do. As I began to type back to him, I suddenly stopped and stared at the screen.

The story my mom had told me, mixed with the pictures of all those girls he was trying to pick up, or whatever he was doing with them, suddenly burrowed themselves into my mind. I imagined trying to sit there with him and not say something about what his dad did to my mom, and I couldn’t. I knew that I’d have to confront him about it, especially since I had just found out about it less than an hour or two ago. I doubted Noah was the type to take that sort of thing very well; he’d probably storm off, and our working relationship would be awful. I couldn’t just attack the guy. He may not even know what had happened. And plus, like my mom said, it was all in the past. I should give Noah a chance.

Or should I? It wasn’t like he was hurting for company. Confused and a little bit angry, I slammed my laptop lid shut, putting it to sleep. From his end, he’d see the little dot next to my name disappear, and I’d never respond. I groaned and resisted the urge to throw my laptop across the room. I stopped myself, deciding that I shouldn’t take my own indecisiveness out on my computer. It was completely innocent, after all.

Frustrated and confused, I retreated into my bedroom to read. Instead, I floated between book and daydream, worrying over how Noah would react to my non-response, and wondering why I even cared. I didn’t owe him anything.

Then again, I couldn’t stop thinking about him imagining my underwear, either.

Chapter Eight

Eventually, Chris came home, and I full-on assaulted her with the details of the day. I spared nothing, beginning with my mom’s story, and ending with my conversation with Noah. As usual, she listened patiently, and by the end I felt a little bit better. Even if I hadn’t answered any of my own questions, it was a good stress release to have it all out in the open.

“Seems like a pickle,” Chris said slowly once I was done.

“You’re not kidding,” I said, laughing.

“Well, no. I said,seems like, but it really isn’t.”

That wasn’t what I expected. “What do you mean?”

She sighed and leaned back in her chair. We were perched around the kitchen table eating macaroni and cheese for dinner, which was our go-to comfort food for whenever one of us was in a bad mood. I loved that she sacrificed her calories for the greater good, or at least for my sanity.

“Your mom said it herself. You can’t blame him for what his dad did.”

“Yeah, I know that. But he’s such an asshole. How can I know he didn’t pick that up from his dad?”

“I get what you’re saying, but there’s a difference between being a jerk and giving you an annoying nickname, and sabotaging someone’s career.”

She had a pretty good point there. “But what about the rumors? All the girls in his Facebook pictures?”

She shrugged and shook her head. “I really have no idea. If it helps, Selena is usually full of shit.”

I laughed. Selena did strike me as someone who loved gossip, and I probably couldn’t trust half of what she said.

“And plus,” Chris continued before I could respond. “Why does that even matter? So what if he’s been with some other girls?”

“I’m not really looking to be a one and done, Chris,” I said.

“True, but he seems like he’s actually into you.”

That made me pause. “What about all of this makes you think that?”

“He keeps trying to hang out with you. He’s obviously flirting.”

I shook my head. “He’s just like that. I’m sure he asked out ten other girls before me earlier.”

She sighed and took a big bite of her food. “I don’t know, honestly. You could be right, and he could be the evil offspring of an evil asshole.”

I groaned and threw my head back. “So you see my frustration!”

She laughed. “And you see why I don’t date.”

I grinned and took a big bite. Even if she was sometimes a little blunt and calculating, Chris had a way of making me feel better.

“Why don’t you just, I don’t know, ask him about it?”

“He doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who has deep conversations about his family with near-strangers.”

“That’s fair. But this is my advice anyway: talk to him about it. Worst-case scenario, he tells you to fuck off, and what’s done is done. But maybe you’ll want to hear what he has to say.”

I nodded and chewed thoughtfully. She had a pretty good point. It wasn’t like I was going to lose anything. Noah and I didn’t exactly have a relationship. And I wasn’t even sure that was something I wanted. More than anything, I didn’t want work to become a nightmare of drama. Still, if I didn’t ask him, I’d constantly wonder, and probably act weird.

What was better: quietly suffering, or risk seeming like a psycho?


The weekend flew by after that. I spent most of my time studying, trying to keep up with my classes. My social life was beginning to suffer already, but there was nothing I could do about that. I promised I’d make more time for fun stuff the following weekend.

Finally, Monday came, and I felt nervous as I made my way to my film history class. I’d probably see Noah, and I had no clue if he’d sit next to me again or not. He might have been annoyed that I blew him off the other day. Or maybe he was too busy with any of his other conquests to even notice. Worried, I pushed through the door and walked into the classroom.

I let out a sigh of relief. Noah wasn’t there yet. I hadn’t expected him to be, since I was about ten minutes early and he never showed up until the last minute, but for some irrational reason I was afraid I’d have to choose whether to sit next to him or not. Fortunately, I got a prime seat toward the front of the room.

The class slowly filled up, and Professor Johnson began to set up for his lecture. I craned my neck toward the doorway, but Noah was nowhere to be seen. As Professor Johnson began his lecture, I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach.

The period crawled by as a thousand different thoughts ran through my mind. Was Noah skipping because I had blown him off? Or was he sick? Maybe he was too busy getting his rocks off with some slut he met over the weekend. Midway through the lecture, I realized I had barely paid any attention. I was too busy obsessing about what Noah may or may not be doing, and I wasn’t exactly being generous, either. Feeling a little bad, I buckled down and took decent notes for the last half of the class.

Finally, the lecture was over, and I began to pack up my stuff. On a whim, I pulled out my phone, opened my Facebook app, and checked my messages. To my surprise, there was one glowing red notification. I tapped the screen and read Noah’s name. Butterflies leapt into my stomach.

Noah: Hey dots, can’t make it to class today. Could I borrow your notes tonight at work? Thanks...

I hadn’t expected to hear from him, but I felt relieved for some reason. It meant that he hadn’t skipped class because of me. I realized I was being a little silly; Noah doesn’t plan his life around me. I typed him a quick message back, hit send, and put my phone away. I put a reminder in my phone to bring my notes with me to work, gathered my stuff up, and then left the classroom. Suddenly, I wasn’t dreading my first night at the theater anymore. In fact, I was finally looking forward to something.

Page 8


Iwalked through the hallways of the student center, feeling nervous. I was a few minutes early, but I still felt like I was somehow late. I always felt that way when going somewhere for the first time, especially for a job or something; I was constantly afraid I’d somehow screw up and get impossibly lost. Fortunately, I found the staircase without a hitch, and walked into the theater’s lobby.

I found Miss Havisham leaning over the box office counter and talking quietly to Chelsea. I was reminded again how Chelsea was always behind that window, and I’d never seen her beyond it. I was starting to think she was a puppet or a really lifelike robot. I decided I’d share that theory with Noah later.

“Hi, Miss Havisham,” I said as I approached. “Hi, Chelsea.”

Miss H stood up straight and smiled wide. She was wearing a long black skirt, down to her ankles, and what was something like ten shawls all piled on top of each other. It was a bizarre and multicolored outfit, although really comfy and warm-looking.

“Linda! How are you tonight?”

“I’m good, excited to get started.”

“Fantastic. I have your uniform shirt over in the office if you want to go put it on. Drop your bag behind here.” She gestured toward the back of the box office. Chelsea gave me a bashful smile.

Great. I knew I had to wear a uniform shirt, or at least I knew everyone else did. For some reason, I was hoping I would be the exception. I was not.

“Will do, thanks,” I said. She smiled then went back to chatting with Chelsea as I placed my bag near a pile of other coats and backpacks, and then entered her office. Inside, I found the shirt wrapped in plastic lying on her desk. I tore it open and slipped it over my head. It fit, although it was a bit too big. I felt a little ridiculous and uncomfortable, but it could have been worse. I could have had to sing every time somebody gave me a tip like the workers at those fancy ice cream places.

I came back out into the lobby and saw Miss Havisham standing near the concession stand, talking to Noah. My breath caught in my chest as I stared at him. He looked perfect for some reason, his uniform shirt unbuttoned two buttons, and his tattoo peeking out. His hair was messy in a good way, and he stood with an easy confidence and grace. He was smiling at whatever Miss Havisham had said, and when I caught his eye he gave me a small nod. I walked slowly over to them, imagining Noah sliding my pink polka dot panties off my goose-bumpcovered skin, and realized that I was wearing the exact pair.

“Hey, Linda,” he said as I approached, emphasizing my name. I was immediately snapped back to reality.

“Hi, Noah,” I replied.

“Linda, Noah is going to walk you through everything today. I know you have experience, but it’ll just be easier if you stick with him for tonight,” Miss Havisham said.

“Okay, sounds good.”

I didn’t necessarily want to shadow Noah all night, but it was probably better than hanging out with Chuck and Mikey, who I began to call “the Wonder Twins” since they were always together back behind the concession stand. They seemed like nice guys, but they were incredibly goofy. While Miss Havisham was talking to Noah, they were busy trying to throw popcorn into each other’s mouths again. I had no clue why Miss Havisham didn’t seem to mind, but they loudly cheered whenever they caught a kernel. I knew I’d like them immediately, but that they’d be a little too much for me to handle in large doses.

“Good luck!” Miss Havisham said, and she walked off to her office, shutting the door behind her.

“We probably won’t see her again until closing,” Noah said, suddenly standing close. I looked at him and realized all over again why I had been obsessing. He really was gorgeous.

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

He shrugged. “She usually shuts herself up in there and doesn’t come out until we’re closing the registers.”

“What does she do in there all night?”

“No clue. My personal theory is she’s summoning demons.”

I laughed, taken aback by his response. “Like, as if she were a witch?”

“Yeah, something like that. It’s all the shawls, makes me think she’s into Voodoo or Wicca or something.”

I grinned, imagining her lighting candles and chanting in her tiny room.

“I don’t know,” I said. “She’s probably watching old videos of her acting.”

Noah laughed. “Yeah I would totally buy that.”

We grinned, standing close to each other, and I had the irrational desire to grab his hand. Not to do anything weird, but just to hold it. I’d never felt like that around someone before. I had felt like punching someone, or pushing them, or even giving them a hug, but never grabbing their hand just to touch it. For a brief moment, I felt a strange shiver run down my spine.

“Okay dots, you’ll be taking tickets tonight,” he said, breaking the short silence.

“What happened to using my real name?” I asked, rolling my eyes.

“Only around the management.” He grinned.

“By the way, I brought my notes.” I gestured over toward the box office.

“Cool, thanks. I appreciate it.” He started to walk over toward the theaters, and I followed him.

“We don’t get busy for another hour, but it shouldn’t be too bad tonight. Think you’re up for it?” he asked, stopping and facing me.

“I’m definitely up for it,” I said.

“Yeah, I thought you would be.” He grinned, and I wasn’t sure he was talking about work anymore.


We spent most of our time before the crowds arrived going over procedures—what to do with the ticket stubs, what to do if someone didn’t have a ticket, stuff like that. It wasn’t anything new, but it was good to have a refresher. Tearing tickets was probably the easiest job in a movie theater, which was probably why he had me doing it. He walked me through the actual theaters themselves, and talked a little bit about them.

I was impressed by his technical knowledge, although I knew I shouldn’t be. His father was a hotshot movie producer, and he was a film major. We bantered back and forth some more, and although everything seemed to take a sexual turn, I found myself blushing and laughing instead of getting annoyed. There was something about his charm that I was finding hard to resist, even if he was being a total jerk.

I was reminded all over again how easy talking to Noah was. Even when he was going over boring routine stuff, he still managed to crack a joke and make things seem natural. Being close to him for so long made my heart hammer in my chest. I began to forget about the drama, about the secret feud between our parents, about his bad reputation, and enjoyed being near him.

Eventually, the crowds started showing up, and I got down to work. It wasn’t exactly difficult, tearing tickets, and I quickly fell into a routine. Once the crowds passed through, and the films started, Noah and I met up and went over the logistical stuff while the Wonder Twins continued to basically do whatever they wanted behind the concession stand. I didn’t see or hear much from Chelsea, which pretty much reinforced my theory about her.

Soon, we fell into a rhythm of taking care of ticketing and cleaning between films, and the boring logistical stuff during shows. Noah walked me through everything, and was surprisingly patient and thorough for a guy who seemed not to give a shit about anything but himself, or at least that was his reputation. The night sped by that way, Noah and I working in tandem.

Finally, the last showing let out, and we went through the theaters together, sweeping up dropped popcorn and throwing away drinks. People always wondered why movie theaters had sticky floors, and I could say confidently it’s because the workers don’t get paid enough to really scrub, and the patrons don’t care what they drop onto the ground.

That first night, I found three dollars, a pair of sunglasses, a half-eaten orange, and an open condom wrapped, but strangely no condom. Noah laughed and said he once found a set of false teeth. I didn’t believe him, but he swore it was true.

We worked in tandem, sweeping up and spraying down the seats with industrial Febreeze. We started with the smallest theater, and ended with the largest. All told, it took us about an hour, although we weren’t exactly thorough in our cleaning. The place was still new, and it hadn’t gotten much traffic yet, so we felt pretty confident in letting it slide a bit. At the end of the night, Noah and I collapsed into the front row, sitting side by side, our cleaning supplies forgotten on the floor in the aisle.

“Well, your first shift is done. How was it?” he asked me.

I shrugged, looking up at the giant silver screen. “It was okay, I guess. About what I expected.”

“Yeah, working in a movie theater is pretty much the same everywhere.”

“Except most places don’t have a crazy manager like Miss H. What’s with her name, anyway?”

Noah laughed. “I’m pretty sure it’s a stage name.”

“Really? Huh. That makes sense.”

“Speaking of names, why did your parents call you ‘Linda’?”

I looked at him sideways, trying to size him up. “What kind of question is that?”

He grinned, and could probably tell that I was suspicious. “I mean you no harm, promise. I just like to hear the story behind people’s name, sometimes.”

I nodded, appeased for the time being. I was constantly on guard for when he would decide to be a dick again.

“Well, my mom named me after Linda Blair.”

He gaped at me, obviously recognizing the name.

“You’re fucking kidding me?”

I laughed and nodded. “Yep, crazy, right?”

“Your mom named you after the girl fromThe Exorcist! She practically named you after Satan himself.”

Noah howled with laugher, and I grinned at him. I had heard it all before, but it felt particularly funny coming from him, though I wasn’t sure why. For whatever reason, my mom was an enormous fan ofThe Exorcist, and got it into her head that she would name her first girl after the main character. Unfortunately for me, my father didn’t have much of an opinion one way or the other, and so I was stuck with the name of the possessed girl’s actress, Linda Blair.

“What about your name?” I asked him, once his laughter died down.

He shrugged, looking up at the screen. I studied him in profile, and my breath caught in my chest. It struck me again how handsome he was, and doubly so in the half-dark of the theater, looking up at the enormous screen with a strange, faraway expression.

“My mom liked it.”

“Where’s your mom now?” I asked.

“Died of cancer when I was pretty young.”

I turned white, immediately regretting asking him about his mother. I should have been more tactful, but I had simply assumed his parents were divorced. So many Hollywood kids came from divorced parents.

“I’m sorry Noah, I shouldn’t have asked.”

“It’s okay. Happened a while ago.” He was looking off into the middle distance, and I would have given anything in that moment to be inside his head.

“Did your dad ever re-marry?” I asked, trying to change the subject.

He laughed at that, and came back into the moment. We locked eyes and I imagined, maybe for the hundredth time, what his lips tasted like.

“After my mom died, maybe a few months later, my dad started his endless string of girlfriends.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, basically, if you’re halfway decent looking, connected, and rich, it’s pretty easy to find a certain kind of girl to date you. My dad has probably gone through a few hundred of them over the years.”

Gross. Like father, like son. Noah didn’t exactly have a nice, wholesome family background. I guess that made sense. Most Hollywood kids were a little messed up somehow; my mom always said it took a special kind of ego to get involved with the film industry.

I wasn’t sure what that meant for the people that studied movies, but I never said that to her.

“It must have been hard,” I said.

“Yeah, at first it was. It’s tough for a young kid to realize that not every girl Daddy brings home is going to be his new mommy.” He shrugged ruefully and I wanted to touch his face, but resisted. “Eventually I got used to it.”

“I’m sorry you had to go through that.”

“It’s in the past.” He grinned at me.

I was a little surprised at his honesty. I halfway expected him to make a joke, maybe say he was jealous of his dad, but there was something emotionally insecure in his response that made me shift my weight toward him.

He smiled back at me. Things had been comfortable between us all night; he had kept the perverted jokes to a minimum, and I didn’t spend too much time imagining his hands running along my bare hips. For the first time since we sat together by the bell tower, I felt like he actually gave a shit about me as a person, and I wasn’t just another girl in his own infinite string.

“Listen, Noah,” I began, hesitating. He cocked his head at me.

“What’s up?”

I felt unsure of myself. He clearly had a complicated relationship with his father, and I thought that maybe bringing up my mother could do more harm than good. Then again, it was important everything was out in the air. At least, it was important to me. I hated living with secrets, and if there was one thing I couldn’t stand, it was a liar.

“I talked to my mom about your dad,” I said.

“Oh yeah? What did she say?” he said, grinning. I took a deep breath, nervous.

“Apparently, they had some kind of feud, back in the day.”

Noah nodded his head and leaned his body toward me. I could smell his minty breath. He had never been that close before, and my mind suddenly drew a blank.

“I know. What about it?” he asked.

“Oh, I’m not sure,” I stuttered.

He gave me a breathtaking half smile, and before I could say anything further, he leaned forward and kissed me.

At first, I was shocked. Noah Carterson, gorgeous bad boy, was kissing me in an empty movie theater. But after half a second, I relaxed into him, and our mouths parted, his soft tongue grazing mine. He tasted perfect, like mint and flowers and spring, and I melted into his soft lips. He reached out and touched my face softly, and I felt a hunger well up inside of me. I imagined going down on him, right there, in the front row of the theater. I wanted his hard body more than anything in that moment, and any hesitation was forgotten. It felt right, like the steam from a kettle.

Page 9

I leaned further over the arm of the chair and pressed myself into him. I ran my fingers through his air and I felt him return my intensity. I felt like I was boiling over, every moment of fantasizing about his lips and body suddenly coming to a head. I wanted him more than anything as I felt his hands grab onto my waist and pull me closer to him. I was halfway out of my seat, practically in his lap, when we heard the door to the theater slam open.

“Yo, Noah, closing time,” Chuck yelled out.

Immediately I pulled away from him and slid back into my seat. Noah grinned at me, stifling a laugh. I could tell my cheeks were bright red from embarrassment. I had no idea if Chuck saw anything, but it was typical of the Wonder Twins to walk in at the worst possible moment. At least I wasn’t giving Noah head yet.

“I’ll be there in a second,” Noah said. Chuck gave him a thumbs up then left. Noah looked back at me, still grinning.

“He has great timing,” he said.

“Yeah, exactly.” I wasn’t sure what to say.

“Listen, what are you doing after this?”

I shrugged, not sure how to answer. I was still shaken from the kiss and breathing deep, and I wasn’t exactly thinking straight. Did I want to go home with Noah? Was that even a possibility?

“I’m not sure,” I said, feeling stupid.

“Feel like grabbing some food at the diner?”

I felt a little relieved. Maybe he was in it for the long play, but I felt a little bit better than he hadn’t just asked me back to his apartment for a continuation of our kiss. As much as I would have loved that, to see his chiseled body and to get a better look at his tattoo, I knew I needed to take it a little bit slower. At least one date before I ended up letting him ravage me. That was the right thing to do.

I realized I was having a hard time convincing myself.

“Yeah, I’d like that,” I said.

“Cool. I’ll meet you back out there in a second.”

I stood, giving him a weird look. “Come on, let’s just head out together. Nothing suspicious in that.”

He laughed and he got this gleeful look on his face, and then nodded toward his crotch. Outlined in the dim light, pressing against his tight jeans, was his rock hard cock.

“Oh,” was all I could think to say. He was pretty big, as far as I could tell, and obviously not shy about it. Blushing deeply, I turned and headed back toward the theater door, walking fast.

“It’s your fault,” he called out after me. I turned around and flipped him off, grinning madly at his joke, before heading back and pushing through the door. I stepped out into the lobby, mind reeling.

The Wonder Twins were standing behind the concession stand closing out the drawer while Miss Havisham hovered over them, obviously making sure they didn’t screw up the count. I guessed that happened a lot. Chelsea was either still in the box office, or she had already left. Miss Havisham gave me a smile and waved me over.

“How was your first night, dear?” she asked.

“It was really good. Noah walked me through everything.”

“Yeah, I’m sure he did,” I heard Chuck say quietly. I gave him a look, and if I had the power to explode heads with my mind like in that Cronenberg movie, I would have. He caught my look and immediately went back to counting his money. Miss Havisham pretended like she hadn’t noticed the exchange.

“Good, I’m glad. Noah can be such a help sometimes.”

It was a bit odd hearing him described that way, but it was true: he had been a huge help. I had expected him to slack off and basically ignore me, but he had been the total opposite. He was attentive and dutiful the whole night, and went out of his way to make sure I was comfortable.

I wondered what else he did that was attentive and dutiful.

“Would you mind helping Chuck and Mikey finish up here, Linda?” Miss Havisham asked, pulling me back into the world.

“Sure, no problem.”

“Thanks dear.” She gave me a smile, then walked off.  I looked at them, and they both grinned at me. Great. I guess Chuck saw what Noah and I were doing, and already shared with Mikey, probably through their weird best friend telepathy.

“Not a word,” I said. Mike shrugged and Chuck mimed zipping his lips shut. I walked around the counter and began helping them close out the drawers.

Soon, Noah emerged from the theater, and gave me a nod. I smiled back, and he walked over.

“Usually, the new person cleans the bathrooms. But I’ll give you a pass tonight,” he said.

“I don’t mind,” I said, not wanting Chuck and Mikey to make any comments.

He shook his head. “You got it tomorrow night.”

Before I could argue, he walked off toward the bathrooms. I gave Chuck a look, and he pretended like he wasn’t silently laughing at me.

The Wonder Twins were about the most mature college kids I had ever met.

As we finished up, I ran through my encounter with Noah in the dim theater again. I couldn’t believe he had opened up to me like that. He obviously had a difficult childhood without his mother. I could relate; my father was pretty distant, though he was still alive and well. Noah clearly didn’t get along with his father, though I couldn’t tell how much that stemmed from his father dating too much, or from typical family angst.

Suddenly, it hit me like a truck. I felt like the floor opened up beneath me and I was in free-fall. I almost had to hold onto the counter to keep myself from collapsing.

How could I have been so stupid?

Obviously, because Noah’s kiss was a little distracting. That was fair enough: I was still reeling from it. But I should have noticed right away and pressed him on it. When I asked him about our parents, he said he already knew about the feud! Which meant, when I had asked him the week before if he knew anything about our parents, he had lied to me.

I couldn’t believe it. Why would he have any reason to lie? We hadn’t known each other very well yet, and there was no point in hiding something from me. He clearly had known all along, and let it slip because he was too busy trying to get into my pants to keep his story straight.

That must have been why he lied in the first place: in his mind, if I had known about the feud I may have been more unwilling to sleep with him.

The world opened up in front of me, and I felt like I was drowning.

“Chuck, do you guys need me anymore?” I asked, on the verge of panicking.

He looked at me oddly. “No, you’re cool if you want to cut out.”

I nodded my thanks then practically ran over to the box office. I grabbed my stuff and left, hurrying up the stairs, not bothering to look back. I didn’t care that I looked like a psycho running out of there suddenly; I couldn’t risk seeing Noah again. I didn’t know what I’d do. Probably scream at him, maybe smack him in his cocky face. I was so angry that he had lied to me, but more than that, I was upset that I had fallen for his bullshit. He didn’t care about my family or me. All he wanted was to get into my pants just like every other asshole on campus.

He had probably used that line about his mother with a hundred other people before me. I was just his latest conquest.

I felt tears spring up in my eyes, but I fought them back. I was not going to be the kind of girl who cries about some idiot guy. I was pissed; I wasn’t upset. I hurried out of the student center and made a beeline toward home.

I needed to put as much distance between myself and Noah as possible.

Chapter Nine

Islammed the door of my apartment and sat down on the couch with a huff. I stared at the television, my mind buzzing with anger and confusion. Noah had always been a jerk, yes, and a pervert, but he hadn’t been a liar. His father may have been a genuinely bad person, but I was trying to give Noah the benefit of the doubt. Instead, he had broken my trust, and lied to me when I had asked him a direct question.

Chris walked tentatively into the room.

“How was work?” she asked me.

I gave her a look, and rolled over onto my side.

“That bad, huh?” She came over and sat down at my feet. I stretch out, putting them in her lap. “What happened?”

“He fucking lied to me, Chris.” I wanted to say more, but I knew I should keep it short and sweet or else get bogged down explaining exactly how and why Noah Carterson is the biggest shit-head in the world.

She looked surprised. “That’s a big deal. What did he lie about?”

I let out an exasperated sight. “You know how my mom and his dad are in some weird feud, or at least they used to be?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Well, I had asked him about our parents, like a week ago, and he acted like he didn’t know anything. Then tonight, we were sitting in the theater after cleaning it, talking about our parents, and I mentioned it to him again. And you know what he does? He says he knew, then he kisses me!”

I was boiling over with rage. How dare he lie right to my face, and then give me one of the hottest moments of my life? I wanted to run my tongue along his rock hard abs and kick him in the face. I was a mess of lust, anger, and betrayal, and none of them seemed to be winning out over the others.

“Hold on. He kissed you?”

“Yeah, he kissed me, but that’s not the point. He lied to me!”

She laughed and I gave her a pissed look. “I know Linda, but holy shit. He kissed you.”

I sat up and stared at her. “Are you even listening?”

“I mean, I’m not into the whole dating bullshit, but I would definitely let that man do some things to me.”

“Are you joking right now?”

“Only a little bit.”

I collapsed back down, grumbling.

“Look, there might be a good reason,” she said. “Or maybe he didn’t understand your question. Or maybe you misunderstood what he said.”

“Why are you defending him?”

“Because he kissed you, and you’ve been basically pining after him like a teenager since you first saw him.”

“Chris, forget about the kiss. He lied to me.”

She nodded, suddenly looking serious. “He did lie to you. Did you ask him about it?”

“No, I had to get out of there.”

“Linda, confront him.”

“I can’t do that. I’m afraid I’d hit him or something.”

“So what? He’s a big boy.”

I imagined smacking him over and over, and him just grinning at me. Obviously, in that scenario, he was shirtless and sweating very slightly.

What was I going to do?

“No, I can’t. He treated me like I was another one of his conquests. I’m not giving him the satisfaction.”

“Look, you can’t know what’s going to happen unless you talk to him.”

“I’m way too embarrassed for that right now.”

“Why? It’s not like you did anything.”

“Uh, well,” I said, looking awkward.

“You didn’t scream at him, did you?”

“No, nothing like that. We just, had a date, I guess.”

“What do you mean, a date?”

“He asked if I wanted to go with him to the diner after work.”

“And you said yes, obviously.”

“Yeah, but then I realized he had lied to me, and I got out of there as fast as I could.”

She nodded, thoughtful. “So you disappeared on him right after making out with him and agreeing to go on a date.”

“Yeah, that about sums it up.”

She laughed, shaking her head. “Nice mess you got yourself into.”

I groaned and covered my head with a pillow.

“Hiding won’t help fix anything,” she said, patting my ankles.

“Unless I hide forever.”

“Well, you can’t do that.” She stood up and stretched.

“Where are you going?”

“Back to studying.”

I rolled over onto my back and groaned. “What am I going to do?”

“Talk to him.” Chris smiled down at me.

“I have to work with him tomorrow night,” I said.

“Talk to him then. You know where I’ll be if you need me.” She walked back into her bedroom and shut the door. I rolled onto my side and clicked on the TV.

Chris was always pretty cold and logical, and I knew she was right. But the last thing I wanted at that moment was to talk to him. I felt used and manipulated, like he had known all of these special secrets about me and was using them to get into my pants. Maybe that was a slight exaggeration, but I already had my reservations about him. Lying to my face, then kissing me, was pretty much the tipping point.

Exhausted, but more than a little frustrated, I lost myself in some bad TV shows for a while. But that only had so much power to keep me from thinking about Noah and the kiss. His lips had been soft and perfect, and I had lost myself in his taste. I climbed out of my seat and was practically in his lap. Not to mention how hard his cock was afterward, and how he wasn’t ashamed to let me see it pressing against the fabric of his pants.

Face red, I turned off the television then went back to my room. I opened my drawer and pulled out my favorite vibrator. I felt bad masturbating to thoughts of that asshole, but I couldn’t help myself; for some reason, the guilt made it even hotter.

I pictured going down on him right there in the theater, slipping his huge cock into my mouth. I could already see how big it was and thick, and the kind of groaning grunts he’d make as I worked him. As he built up to orgasm, I’d stop and look him in the eye, smiling. He’d be practically begging me, huge dick rock stiff in his hand, perfect lips and face set in a hard look. Eventually, he’d grab my hips and pull off my clothes. I’d pretend to protest, but he’d see through my flimsy words. I’d stand in front of him, covering my spot, open mouthed. He’d pick me up then and slowly lower me onto him. I’d slide slowly down his length, up and down, riding him in the theater.

I pressed my toy deep inside myself, savoring the image. I imagined his huge, hard cock, maybe slap him once or twice, and he’d grab my ass, thrusting hard. Eventually, I’d come hard. As I pictured this, I felt my body stiffen and my toes point as I worked myself up to a real orgasm. I peaked as I pictured climbing off of him, his cock still hard, and leaving him begging me for more.

Eventually, my real life orgasm passed, and I relaxed in my sheets, still glowing from my revenge-fuck fantasy. I wasn’t usually into sadism, but he deserved whatever fantasy I could cook up.

Page 10

Bored and content, I pulled out my laptop and logged into Facebook. Without thinking, I clicked the icon that said I had a message, and stared at Noah’s grinning face.

Noah: Where’d you run off to tonight?

He had sent it about five minutes ago, just as I began to get off while imagining his perfect body wrapped around me. It was almost like he had a sixth sense for when a girl was masturbating to him.

What a creep. And yet there I was, unable to stop myself from getting off at the mere thought of what he could do to my body.

I stared at his message for a while, wondering what to do. I knew what Chris would say if she were in the room, though I was pretty glad she wasn’t. But I wasn’t Chris, and I was still hurt and annoyed, even if I had just imagined how it would feel to slide myself down along him in an empty movie theater.

As I was just about to shut the laptop lid in a huff, I got another message.

Noah: Hey, you there? Is everything okay? I’m a little worried.

I rolled my eyes. Was he for real? There was no way Noah Carterson was losing any of his peace of mind over me. Maybe I had left him a little sexually frustrated, but he definitely deserved that. Really, he deserved way more than that. He had gotten off easy, or not gotten off, as the case may be.

With a sharp exhale, I slammed my laptop lid shut. I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of buying into his whole “worried guy” routine. Let him be worried, if he really was. The asshole could probably figure out what the issue was on his own.

I climbed out of bed, changed into more comfortable clothes, and began to dedicate myself to the almost pointless task of trying to read for class. My mind was spinning in a million different directions, but I still had to be prepared for my classes.

Even if the only thing I really wanted to do was curl up in my bed and dream of mainlining a whole shipping container full of junk food.

Chapter Ten

You can cast your net as wide as you want, you can look as far as possible, you can create the largest pool of people possible, but in the end you’re always stuck with those you’re closest to. You don’t always get to choose who that is, and sometimes they sneak up on you and appear in the frame. Regardless of what happens, you just keep coming back, you keep getting put into the same bit role and you love it because that’s who you are. You’re not acting when you’re playing yourself.

I walked through campus after hours, the sun slowly setting over the tallest buildings, the light reflected in glass, and the streets beginning to simmer, and I thought about my mom in her early days. Women had to struggle back then, even more than they do now, especially women in industries dominated by men. The film industry was one such place, and my mom probably had it harder than I could ever imagine. Then one day, she wrote a bad review about the wrong person’s movie, and got blackballed.

It was a miracle she survived it. I wouldn’t have blamed her if she had decided to curl up into a ball in her old crappy apartment and cried herself to sleep. And she probably did, but the difference between her and all those other people that never made it was that she got up afterward, put on her best outfit, fixed her mascara, and got the fuck back out into the world. That was my mom: she could take a hit, but she’d always keep trying.

Which is why I kept walking toward the student center, despite the heavy stone in my gut and the fear in my chest. I was going to have to interact with Noah, no matter what I wanted, if I was going to be able to do my job. I couldn’t quit, because I genuinely needed the money, but more than that, I wasn’t the kind of person to let a guy dictate what I did. I was going to try and get through it, and avoid Noah the best I could. If my mother could deal with his father trying to destroy her career, and end up even better off for it, then I can deal with Noah and his lying. I didn’t need to like him to work with him.

The walk felt longer than usual as I picked my way through the dying post-class crowds, feeling anxious but not letting it overwhelm me. On the one hand, I wanted to immediately talk to Noah, and to confront him about the lie; on the other, I wanted to throw my arms around his neck and kiss his mouth again, maybe find out exactly where things would have gone if the Wonder Twin hadn’t interrupted us. I knew that was crazy, but I couldn’t help it. There was too much between us to ignore, too many coincidences; he may have been an asshole, but there something beneath what he said and what he did, and it was that core of goodness that I wanted to uncover.

As I trotted down the steps, psyching myself up for a long night of ignoring him, I began to wonder if I’d ever get a chance to unmask him, or even if I wanted to anymore. Before, he was just the bad boy player with a messy past; now, though, he was the guy who lied to me, and whose father destroyed my mother’s early career.

The more I found out about Noah, the more I wanted him and hated him.

Chelsea was sitting in her usual spot as I turned the corner and entered the theater’s lobby. I gave her a little wave as I dropped my bag off and looked around. The Wonder Twins were busy behind the concession stand, apparently working for once, and Miss Havisham was busy trying to set up a cardboard cutout for the latest indie film we’d be showing. I kept scanning the room, and I realized that Noah was nowhere in sight. My heart began to beat fast, and I was suddenly hopeful. Maybe he had called out sick, or maybe he had decided to quit. I hadn’t gotten any more messages from him on Facebook, so I had no clue what was going on. Maybe I wouldn’t have to deal with him at all.

But that was just wishful thinking. Noah appeared from the smallest of the three theaters carrying cleaning supplies, and he immediately caught my eye. He gave me a small grin, the cockiest look I had ever seen, and I wanted to slap it off his perfect face. My torn, dual feelings for him came flooding back instantly as I looked at him in his tight black uniform T-shirt showing off his perfect body, and his nicely styled but messy hair. I quickly looked away from him and strode over to Miss Havisham, trying to cut him off before he had the chance to say anything.

“Hi, Miss H, need any help?” I asked.

She was struggling with the cutout, obviously trying to unfold the stands in the back and obviously failing.

“Linda, hello, no thank you.” She shook her hair, her hair frizzy and flying all over the place. She looked frazzled, and I couldn’t help but stifle a laugh. She noticed, and gave me a pleasant smiled in return.

“I look pretty crazy, don’t I?” she asked.

“No, not at all, I’m just laughing at the cutout,” I said, stumbling.

“It is a very funny cutout, Miss H,” Noah said, appearing beside me. I wanted to stomp on his foot with my heel or maybe rip off his earlobe. Instead, I looked back at Miss H and smiled sweetly.

“What do you need me to do tonight?” I asked.

“Oh, you’re with Noah again, dear.”

Damn. Exactly what I was hoping to avoid.

“I’m feeling much more comfortable,” I said, trying to prompt her.

“Good dear, good to hear.” She was already back at it, trying to unfold the cutout. I could feel Noah by my side practically beaming with joy. After a second, I walked off toward the supply closet, deciding I’d give the theaters a quick sweep before the ticket rush started.

Noah followed me. “Hey, dots, how’s it going?” he called out.

I ignored him and kept walking. I got to the closet, pulled the door open, and grabbed a broom and a long dustpan. I felt Noah loom up behind me, and before he could speak, I spun on him.

“Listen to me, Noah. Stop calling me dots. Actually, stop talking to me. I don’t want to hear from you at all tonight. No more perverted comments, no more jokes, just leave me alone.” I stared at him, my face hard and angry. Concern washed over his face for a brief moment, and I was surprised at his reaction. But just as quickly, it disappeared, replaced by his cocky grin.

“Whatever you say, dots. You’re on tickets again.”

Before I could yell at him some more, he spun around and stalked off.

I stood there alone in the supply closet, clutching my dustpan and broom, fuming. He didn’t seem to give a shit at all about how I felt. He didn’t try to explain or ask what was bothering me. He knew I was upset with him, but he did nothing to try and fix any of it. Instead, he stormed off like a child. I wanted to smash something, break a light, preferably over Noah’s head. I imagined a scenario involving bricks and Noah’s kneecaps when Chuck walked into the closet.

“Oh, hey there Linda,” he said, grinning jovially.

“What, Chuck?” I snapped at him.

He caught the expression on my face. “Whoa, sorry. You okay?”

I took a deep breath. I was suddenly lashing out at Chuck, probably the most harmless guy in the world. He may have been goofy, but he was incredibly nice. I felt pretty guilty, and the anger I felt at Noah began to slip away.

“I’m sorry, sorry I snapped,” I said.

He shrugged, grabbing a stack of unopened popcorn buckets.

“Don’t worry about it. Anything you want to chat about?”

“No, thanks. I’ll be fine. Just gathering myself.”

He nodded, his face serious. “If you need some popcorn, or candy, or soda, just give me the sign. I can get you a fix, stat.”

I laughed, and I felt the tension in my body suddenly break. “Thanks Chuck, I might take you up on that.”

“Good. They call me the sugar paramedic.”

“Who does?”

“Well, bye!” He gave me a comical wave and scampered back into the theater.

I smiled and laughed softly to myself as he left. I took a few deep breaths, and the anger completely dissipated. I couldn’t believe I was acting that way. I didn’t normally have a temper, and I certainly didn’t normally yell at people. I suddenly felt bad about the way I had talked to Noah, although he probably deserved it. I realized how tightly wound I was, torn between two poles, one needing Noah’s body and obsessing about his kiss, and the other angry and betrayed by his lie and his father. I was like a split screen film, one narrative scrolling on the left, and another, opposite narrative on the right. I was stuck between the two, confused and upset. I took another deep breath, needing to gather myself together.

Noah didn’t owe me anything, and I definitely didn’t owe him. We may have had some chemistry, and we kissed once, but that was it. There was too much pulling us apart to make it work. Standing in that closet, feeling guilty and upset and still a little betrayed, I promised myself I’d start getting over him, beginning that night.

I put the broom and dustpan back, steeling myself for the night. I was going to get through it, and I was going to get through the next night, and life would go on. Things were going to be fine. Noah Carterson was just another guy.

I knew I was lying to myself, but it was enough to give me an ounce of courage.


The night skidded by in fits and jumps, which was how most theaters worked. We had a rush about a half hour to forty minutes before a film was starting, and then there was a long lull while the movies played. During the rush, I took tickets, and that was boring but easy; I knew what I was doing, and I didn’t have to interact with Noah much. During the lull, I kept myself busy, either straightening up the women’s bathroom, or helping the Wonder Twins with the concession stand.

Noah didn’t bother me much, which suited me fine. I guessed he took the hint when I yelled at him, and although I felt bad about that, it did the trick. He wasn’t distant or rude, but he wasn’t going out of his way to be around me, either. Chuck and Mikey didn’t say anything about me hanging around with them, either, which was nice. I guessed Chuck sensed the tension between Noah and me, and he was giving me an out if I wanted it.

Soon, I fell into the swing of things, and began to forget about everything with Noah. He didn’t seem to mind that I was ignoring him, which worked out fine. We fell into a rhythm of mutual, strained politeness, interacting when the job demanded it, but otherwise keeping a distance between us. As the night progressed, I realized Noah wasn’t interacting with any of the other employees. He mostly kept to himself, which was curious to me, since he was incredibly charming and outgoing. I knew he was pretty popular on campus, but at the theater, he was a little quiet.

Toward the end of our shift, I caught him leaning over the box office, chatting with Chelsea. It was the first time he had spoken to someone other than me, and I felt a pang of jealousy shoot through me. Chelsea was pretty in a way I wasn’t, and she had a very bubbly personality, at least from what I’d seen. Noah laughed at something, and I imagined Chelsea giving him her “fuck me” eyes through the glass. I bet he had already spent long nights with her in that little booth. I shook my head, banishing the image from my mind. He could do whatever he wanted. I wasn’t going to play into his little games.

Slowly, too slowly, the night ground to a halt, and I found myself sweeping up the theaters with Noah. We did it in strained silence. Where the night before, we were laughing and making jokes together, that night we were awkward and rushed. We did our work and we did it as quickly as possible. Once we finished, I went to help close up the concession stand, and Noah went to clean the bathrooms.

The bathrooms cleaned, the registers tallied, and the stand closed up, the group of us got together and walked out of the student center basement. Miss Havisham stayed behind to finish some things and to lock up. It felt good to walk out as a group; the night before, I had escaped with my tail between my legs, but I wasn’t going to let Noah ruin my work experience.

As it turned out, Chuck and Mikey were in fact best friends. They grew up together in a small town in Iowa, and they both wanted to get out there as soon as they could. Mike described himself as “gay as a jaybird,” which made me giggle, and Chuck said that he was “ambisexual.” I had no idea what that meant, or why they immediately began to talk about their sexual preferences when I barely knew them, but they were silly and funny in a way I hadn’t seen in a while. People were too jaded and cool, but not the Wonder Twins.

Page 11

Chelsea looked different outside of her box, and she was taller than I had expected. I wasn’t short, about five foot five, but she was at least five foot ten. Noah was the tallest in the group, at maybe six foot two or three, and I got another pang of jealousy when I realized how good he looked walking next to Chelsea. They looked natural together, and as the group idly chatted about nothing, I realized they had known each other for a while. That was probably how she got the job, I thought bitterly. I didn’t know why I held their friendship against them; I was clearly still upset with Noah, and mentally taking it out on her. I vowed to try and get to know her when he wasn’t around.

As we moved out onto campus, the group started to split up. I was heading west, toward my apartment, and the Wonder Twins were going north. We waved as they walked off, laughing loudly about some joke I didn’t pay much attention to. I hurried off, leaving Chelsea and Noah standing together under a streetlight. I gave Chelsea a smile and a wave, but I pretended like Noah didn’t exist. Let them analyze that. I didn’t care. I was done with the whole thing. I had made it through the night with as little interaction as possible, and I was already feeling stronger. Maybe I wasn’t quite at my mom’s level, but still strong enough to get over one asshole guy.

And then Noah had to ruin all of that.

Chapter Eleven

As I got a good distance away, I felt like I was home free. I began to turn my thoughts to what I was going to do when I got home, if I wanted to study or veg out, when suddenly I heard footsteps approaching. I turned and saw Noah jogging to catch up to me, a small grin on his face.

Great. That was exactly what I didn’t want. I had gotten through the night, more or less, without any big confrontations, minus the one in the supply closet. Things were tense, but they weren’t awful. I was moving on.

But there he was, muscles rippling as he caught up with me.

“Hey, dots,” he called out. I wanted to flip him off, but decided to keep it classy.

“I told you not to talk to me,” I said, not slowing down. He matched my pace as I walked. I tried my best not to look at him but I couldn’t help it.

“I know, but I want to say something first.”

“I can’t stop you,” I said. Although I wished that I could.

“I’m sorry about that shit with my dad and your mom. I’m not okay with it, but it happened. I didn’t even know about it until two days ago. I know you’re pissed—“

I stopped in my tracks, my heart pounding. He stopped mid-sentence because of my abrupt change. I stared at his face as he turned around and stopped in front of me, confusion creeping into his expression.

“What did I say?” he asked me.

He said two days ago. Two days ago. I felt like my brain was in overdrive, trying to parse exactly what he had meant. I had spent the last day obsessing about the possibility of him lying to me. I was convinced that he had, and I had treated him like crap because of it.

“You’re saying that you just found out about our parents?” I asked him.

He nodded. “Yeah, on Sunday night.”

“So when I asked you about my mom and your dad last week, you weren’t lying to me?”

He looked even more confused. “What? No, not at all.”

I let out a long, slow sigh. I felt like such an idiot. Noah hadn’t lied to me. He had found out about our parents on his own, and he had never lied to me about it. And there I was, pissed at him, yelling at him in a supply closet, all because of a misunderstanding.

I felt like an idiot. Worse, I felt like a jerk. He hadn’t deserved it one bit. I was so quick to assume the worst in him, because everything I had found out about him suggested that I should. I mentally kicked myself for buying into the gossip and the hype before I even gave him a real chance.

“I’m sorry Noah,” I said quietly.

“I’m not really sure what’s going on here, dots.”

I looked away. “I thought you lied to me about our parents. I thought you were using that to get closer to me.”

“Would that have worked?” I felt him draw nearer.

I looked up at him, my face flashing anger. He was grinning softly, and I shook my head.

“No, it wouldn’t have.”

“I guess that explains the supply closet.”

“That was really out of line.”

He shrugged. “I get it. Look, I’m sorry if that kiss was too much.”

Oh god. That kiss hadn’t been too much. That kiss was perfect. I was being too much. I was so prepared to believe the worst possible scenario without even bothering to ask him.

“That kiss wasn’t too much. Yelling at you was too much.” I felt like such a jerk.

He laughed. “Yeah dots, that was pretty intense. You’re sexy when you get pissed, though.”

I gave him a look then shook my head. “Can’t you ever give it a rest?”

He stepped even closer, and then he wrapped his arms around my waist. I took a deep breath, surprised, as a flood of emotion and desire hit my core. His body was strong and firm and pressed up against mine, and it was all I had wanted all night, even when I was angry and pretending I could move on.

“No, not when I’m around you.”

He leaned in and kissed me hard, his lips soft but hungry against mine, and I reached up to hook my hands behind his head, returning his kiss with a passion and a desire I hadn’t known was inside of me. We kissed like that on the sidewalk, the night dark and empty around us, and I imagined there was a spotlight from the moon shining down on our entwined bodies.

We were the only stars in the most important movie in my life. My legs began to tremble at his touch.

He pulled away and turned toward a nearby building, reaching up and grabbing my hand to pull me along behind him. We half ran toward the wall, and he slipped us into some shadows, blocked by bushes on either side. He pressed my back against the rough brick and reached my hands above my head, holding them there and kissing my chin and neck. 

“You are so fucking sexy,” he whispered in my ear.

“Someone might see us,” I said back.

“Fuck that, I want you.”

I felt his one hand roam down my chest and along my hips as his lips pressed against mine again. I felt his tongue run part my lips, and his taste flooded my mouth, perfect and spring. His other hand slipped down the front of my black jeans, deftly flicked out my button, unzipped the fly, and slid into my panties. I let out a small gasp as his rough hands found my wetness. He bit my lip, grinning, as his fingers found my spot.

“You want me, too,” he whispered.

“Fuck you, Noah,” I moaned into his ear, as his fingers circled my soaking core then began to work me in expert circles. It may have been true, but he was still an asshole.

My hands dropped from above my head to link around his shoulders as his other hand reached around to cup and grab my ass as he teased my soaked mound. I briefly felt him rub the entrance then slip inside of me. I let out a low moan into his ear, and he began to kiss along my neck.

“I want to make you come, right here,” he grunted.

“Somebody is going to see,” I shot back, panting; pleasure ran up and down my spine. I could barely think straight. The idea that a stranger might catch Noah bringing me to orgasm with his fingers only added to the excitement, despite my protests.

He stroked me slowly as his mouth found mine. The rough brick was hard against my back, and I could feel the thick outline of his cock pressing against my thigh. I was moaning softly, trying to stifle the sound as best I could by pressing my lips against his neck.

“I’ve been thinking about this since I first saw you,” he whispered in my ear. I loved his voice and his lips and his fingers, all working together. My knees trembled and the muscles in my back began to tense as the pleasure built in my core.

“Your polka dot panties have been driving me insane,” he groaned.

I let out a gasp as he began to stroke my most sensitive spot.

“I want you to get off right here,” he whispered again. I feel his finger press firmly against my clit.

“Oh, shit,” I moaned back, completely lost in his body and his smell. He easily cupped my ass and squeezed, pressing my hips forward more firmly into his moving fingers, massaging my aching and soaked core.

Suddenly, I heard voices nearby, and getting louder.

“Someone’s coming,” I whispered franticly.

“Better be quiet then,” he said back. I could feel his fingers slow to a mind-burning pace, but he didn’t stop. I gripped his back and bit gently down on his shoulder as he continued to work me, struggling to stay quiet. Two people walked by on the path, but neither of them noticed us hidden back in the shadows of the building. I figured we were tough to see, since we both were dressed in black. They passed by and I bit down harder.

“Shit, dots,” he grunted in reply, beginning to work me back into a frenzy.

I could feel the tension building, higher and harder. As the people disappeared around the corner, I let out a low moan and felt a deep, explosive release overtake me. The contrast between the strain to stay quiet, and the sudden increase in intensity pushed me over the edge. My entire body tensed, and I felt my toes curl as he continued to work me.

“Oh god, Noah,” I whispered, coming hard. I hadn’t felt like that in a long time, and never from a guy’s hands alone. Shooting waves of pleasure rolled up and down my spine, making my head tingle white.

Slowly, the wave of pleasure crested and dissipated, leaving my whole body in a slight glow. His pace relaxed, and then he slipped his hand from my pants.

“You asshole, we almost got caught,” I said, hitting his chest. He grinned at me.

“I know, and you loved it.”

He was right, I did. Before I could give him my wittiest retort, he kissed me hard, his hands gripping my hips. He held me like that, kissing me deeply, and I could feel his hard cock pressing against me. After what felt like an hour of slow, deep making out, he pulled away. He buttoned my pants for me and zipped me back up.

“Thanks, dick,” I said, laughing.

“No problem, dots.”

“You have to stop it with the dots thing.”

He shook his head. “I can’t. That image is forever burned into my mind.”

I blushed and smiled, then covered up my embarrassment by hitting him in the shoulder with my palm. He felt like he was made of stone, and it probably hurt me more than it hurt him.

“Walk me home,” I said.

“Of course. I’m a gentleman, after all.”

I snorted. “Yeah, okay. You’re a gentleman that gets girls off in public.”

He began to walk back out toward the pathway. “I’m a special kind of gentleman then, but a gentleman nonetheless.”

I followed him, and as we began to head back toward my apartment, he caught my hand in his and squeezed it. I squeezed back, not sure what any of that meant, not sure where anything was going, but content in the moment, in his strong hand holding mine in the cool night air, and in the glow buzzing through my head. I wanted more of Noah, more of him, endless nights of Noah.

Chapter Twelve

After he walked me home, we exchanged numbers, and then he kissed me goodbye. He said he had to be somewhere early in the morning, which I guessed was why he didn’t try and come upstairs. I was glad he didn’t; things had started out in a strange place, and I wasn’t ready to rush into anything.

Still, if he had asked, I would have said yes. I would have said yes to anything he wanted right then.

I went up into my apartment, practically floating, and found Chris sitting on the couch staring at the television.

“Sup girl,” Chris said as I walked in.

“I made out with Noah,” I blurted out. I couldn’t help myself.

Chris sat up straight, a surprised and amused look on her face.

“No shit?” she said.

“Yeah, seriously. I’m as surprised as you are.”

I sat down next to her, dropping my bag by the coffee table.

“What happened?”

I told her the whole story, beginning with our altercation in the supply closet, and ending with a brief mention of some heavy kissing. I decided to keep the details to myself. She didn’t need to know what his fingers felt like sliding into me, making my back arch and my lips part, and the excitement I felt at almost being caught.

When I finished, she had a weird look on her face. I couldn’t exactly read it, but it definitely wasn’t good.

“Well, what do you think?” I prodded her.

“I’m happy you worked it out,” she said cautiously.


She sighed. “I don’t know, Lind, the whole thing is weird.”

“How’s it weird?”

“First he’s a total dickbag, then he’s charming and nice, then he’s a liar, and now he’s a total saint who doesn’t deserve his reputation?”

I nodded, understanding. She had a good point. I had been all over the map with my feelings for him. If I were in her position, I would be extremely wary of whoever was pulling her heart around too.

“All of that is my own fault, though.”

“Yeah, that’s true. But are you ready to get involved with someone like him?”

“I’m not really sure what’s even happening between us.”

She nodded. “Exactly my point.”

“I’m being careful.”

“I know you are, and I support you no matter what. I just don’t want you to get hurt.”

“Thanks, Chris.”

“So, give me the details. Was he a good kisser? Huge dick?”

“Oh my god. Enormous dick.”

We laughed, the tension breaking. I felt a little bad that she wasn’t more excited for me, and I totally understood where she was coming from. I had been firmly in the “I hate Noah Carterson” camp just a few hours prior, and suddenly I was back to obsessing about his taste and his perfect muscles. Chris was a no-bullshit kind of person, and only wanted the best for me. I knew she’d come around eventually. I had to at least appreciate that I had someone who would tell me the truth, no matter what, even if that truth would upset me.

As we finished talking, and Chris retreated back into her room to get back to studying, I thought more about what she had said. I realized how little I knew about Noah; he hadn’t exactly been super forthcoming about his life, aside from a few details about his dad. Plus, I felt guilty getting involved with Noah without telling my mother everything. If anyone knew more about Noah, and would be willing to tell me the truth, it was her. More than that, I needed to be up front with her about Noah. If I was going to have something with him, I needed her to be on board. It was possible she would be upset, but I wasn’t sure.

Page 12

Looking around idly at my neat and nicely decorated apartment, mainly all thanks to Chris and her impeccable taste, I decided I’d call my mom the next day and tell her everything.


It was another warm afternoon as I made my way across campus, dodging groups of bored-looking kids talking about whatever. The night before was spent thinking about Noah’s fingers slicked up inside me, his warm breath against my neck, and how badly I wanted him to take me, right there, against the wall. I briefly wondered how many other girls he got off in public, but I immediately banished that idea from my mind. It was a waste of time and energy to get into that obsession spiral. My heart began to hammer as I thought about what I’d say to him when I saw him in class.

I walked into the building and crossed the lobby. Old green and brown chairs were lined up against the walls, obviously unchanged since the 70s. I found the stairwell and started to climb, my nervousness mounting with each step.

I had no clue what I was so nervous about. It was true that I hadn’t spoken to Noah since the night before, but he didn’t seem like the type to text every single girl he finger-banged the next morning. The problem was, I had no clue where I stood with him. He was a rich, arrogant asshole, and yet he seemed to have some weird interest in me. I couldn’t tell if it was because I was his next conquest, or if we really did have as much in common as I thought we did.

Pushing through the door to my classroom, I banished all thoughts of Noah. It was time to buckle down and pay attention to the lectures. I could worry about him some other time, maybe when I didn’t have to take copious notes just to keep up with Professor Johnson’s meandering lecture style.

As the period began, and Professor Johnson started to speak, I looked around the room. Noah was nowhere in sight, and for a brief second I was worried about him. That was irrational, but I couldn’t help it. He was usually late, but he almost always came to class eventually. Suddenly, I heard my phone vibrate in my bag. Trying to be as quiet and sneaky as possible, I reached down, unzipped the front compartment, and pulled it out.

Noah: Dots, gotta miss class. Bring your notes to work?

Me: Sure, is everything okay?

Noah: All good. See you tonight.

I put my phone away, not wanting to be completely rude, and tried to zone in on the lecture, but I couldn’t shake the nagging doubts. Was Noah skipping because he didn’t want to run into me? Frustrated, I began to double down on my efforts to take notes. I’d see him that night. Maybe then I could get a sense for what was going on.


After class, I sat down on a bench near the bell tower, and watched people walk by for a while. It was one of my favorite things to do, people watch, especially on warm days on campus. The sheer number of different people that wandered around kept me entertained for hours; I loved having nothing to do, and doing it.

Eventually, the crowds thinned out as the next class period started up, and I pulled out my phone. I knew my mom would be home, since it was Wednesday and she didn’t have class or office hours. I dialed my home number, and let it ring. The answering machine picked up.

“Hello, hello, it’s me, your daughter, are you home?” I said, pausing. My parents were crazy and loved to screen their calls.

The other line clicked. “Hello, daughter!” my dad said.

“Hi, Dad. How’s it going?”

“I’m okay, no class today?”

“I just got out of my film history course.”

“Great! Want to hear something interesting?”

Inwardly, I groaned. I knew that the correct answer was always “yes,” but I also knew that would mean listening to my dad explain something he found incredibly fascinating that I didn’t care about one bit.

“Sure Dad, what’s up?” I said. I hadn’t talked to him in a while, and I felt a little guilty about that.

“Well, did you know...” He launched into a story about classical debt theory and the barter system. I spaced out about five minutes in, but kept making small noises of assent as he went on and on.

Finally, there was a short silence on the other end. I perked up immediately.

“Well sweetie, your mother just gave me the ‘shut up’ sign, so I guess we’re done. Want to talk to her?”

“Sure Dad, thanks,” I said.

I heard some muffled noises as he handed the phone over to my mom. I felt a little guilty that I hadn’t paid much attention, but he could be pretty oblivious. We didn’t have a bad relationship, in all honesty, but it was more like we didn’t have a relationship at all. He mostly kept to himself, worked on his books, and loved to hear himself talk.

“Hi, Linda,” my mom said.

“Hey, Mom, how are you?”

“Oh I’m good. Sorry about your dad.”

I laughed. “It’s okay. Did he just read a book or something?”

“How can you tell?”

“I was starting to think he took up economics without anyone noticing.”

“That would be the day.”

I laughed again, and felt immediately better. My mom had a knack for identifying and pointing out exactly when we’re all being absurd, and my dad was no exception.

“So, I wanted to ask you something,” I said, suddenly feeling nervous.

I looked out across the grass toward a set of trees planted in a small hillside, providing shade for the sidewalks. Groups of kids sat around them, studying and socializing. Briefly, I wondered how many of them called their parents almost every day.

“I’m all ears,” she replied.

“Well, it’s about Noah Carterson.”

“Ah, this again.” She didn’t sound excited.

“Have you had any contact with his dad since, you know?”

She sighed. “Look, Linda, sweetie. This is a bad memory for me. It’s not something I really want to talk about.”

“I know Mom, I’m just trying to get a sense for this guy.”

“I understand. I really don’t want to talk about that part of my life anymore, but I’d be happy to talk to you about Noah. Let’s just stay away from his dad.”

I was pretty surprised at her response. Usually, once I got her going, there was no topic off-limits. Suddenly, though, this part of her life was something we couldn’t bring up, and it felt strange. My mom was never one for huge displays of emotion, or really anything dramatic. It must have been incredibly painful if she really wasn’t willing to go into it at all.

“Okay Mom, I promise not to ask again,” I said.

“Thanks, I appreciate that. How’s Professor Johnson treating you?”

We went off on a tangent about Professor Johnson, but I couldn’t get the tone of her voice out of my head. It was painful, and sad, and a still little angry. Not angry with me, but with Noah’s dad.

As I hung up the phone, I began to suspect that I hadn’t been told the whole story. It was pretty awful that he had tried to ruin her career; there was no doubt about that. But I sensed that there was something more to it. If there wasn’t, then I thought she’d be more willing to at least entertain the notion of talking about that family.

Instead, there was clearly a well of pain I hadn’t noticed before. I got up from my bench and began to walk back to my apartment, completely stumped as to what that was. I couldn’t imagine what would possibly make my mom still hate to talk about that man, despite however many years having passed. For some reason, it felt as if the wound was still fresh. Confused, I climbed the steps to my apartment, went upstairs, and began to get changed for work.

Chapter Thirteen

Iclimbed down the steps and into the theater’s main lobby wearing my usual work uniform. I was still buzzing with curiosity over my mom’s reaction over the phone, but I was also beginning to feel guilty. I knew that she didn’t want to talk about it from the beginning, and yet I was willing to push her beyond her comfort zone for the sake of learning about Noah. That shouldn’t have been something I was willing to do; I should have much more interest in preserving her feelings, rather than pumping her for information.

Chelsea was sitting in the box office, and gave me a small wave. I smiled back as I dropped off my stuff. The Wonder Twins were busy setting up the concession stand, and Noah was nowhere in sight. I guessed he was either setting up the projectors or sweeping out the theaters. Miss H was in her office, as usual, doing whatever it was she did back there. I guessed she was writing a screenplay about her life as a stevedore on a Mexican dock, though I was pretty sure none of that happened.

“Hey guys,” I called out to Chuck and Mikey as I walked past.

“Yo,” Mikey said.

“Sup girl,” Chuck called out.

I laughed and kept walking. I poked my head into the smallest theater and saw Noah sitting in the second row, his legs kicked up on the seat in front of him, staring at his phone.

I walked down the row and sat in the seat behind him.

“Hello, stranger,” I said, dropping my voice low.

“Prostitution is frowned upon in here, sir,” Noah said, not looking up from his phone.

“Ew, are you kidding me?”

He looked back at me, grinning. “I said frowned upon, dots. I’ll look the other way for your sake.”

“Is that all you ever think about?”

He shrugged. “With you, it is.”

I blushed under his intense look. I couldn’t tell if he was still joking around, or if he was admitting something to me. Maybe it was a little of both.

“Okay, creep,” I muttered, looking away.

“That, right there. That’s why I can’t stop picturing those polka dots.”

I glared at him, suddenly annoyed. “Want me to do tickets again?” I said.

He shrugged, turning back to his phone. “Sure thing. Would you mind sweeping up theater two?”

“Yeah, sure, whatever.” I stood up and stalked off. I was getting pretty sick of him bringing up that embarrassing moment. Sometimes I thought he did it just to be a dick, since he knew it pissed me off. Maybe he really did only think about fucking me, but he could at least stop bringing up the embarrassing time I practically tackled him.

As I grabbed a broom and dustpan, I wondered what I felt more: flattered that he wanted me, or annoyed that could be the only thing he wanted from me. Truthfully, I couldn’t tell which was better. I hadn’t stopped thinking about his hands on my body, pressing me up against that brick wall.

I started sweeping up, distracted by the fact that Noah was only a few feet away. I imagined him quietly pushing open the theater door, sneaking up behind me, and fucking me right there in the fourth row. It was absurd, and I knew it. I was spending my time daydreaming like a little schoolgirl, just because I got a taste of his body. It was enough to drive me crazy, though. I realized how badly I wanted to see all of him, to see his thick cock, to run my fingers along its length, to taste his skin.

And yet there was his cool distance a few minutes ago. He was constantly vacillating between intense interest and vague dismissal, and I’d only known him for a few weeks. He was a mystery compounded by our parents’ drama, a mystery wrapped in an enigma. I grinned at my own stupid cliché.

The night began to speed by. Noah never came into the theater, never tried to grab me by the hips, and I hardly saw him for the first hour. In fact, when people began to filter in for the first showing, he was nowhere to be seen. He should have been running around supporting everyone, like he had every other night, but he was noticeably absent. That meant I had to do two jobs at once, both taking tickets and supporting the concession stand. I was practically running around like crazy, taking care of everything that I could. Chuck and Mikey helped out, and actually came out from behind the concession stand to make sure the projectors ran smooth. That was usually Noah’s job, but fortunately he had shown Mikey how to do it.

As the theaters filled and the shows began, I went back out into the lobby. As far as I could tell, Miss H hadn’t noticed Noah’s absence. Chuck and Mikey went back behind the stand, screwing around like usual. As I was sweeping up the entrance, I saw him come trotting down the stairs. I glanced over at the Wonder Twins, but they hadn’t noticed him yet. In fact, as far as I could tell, I was the only person who noticed Noah’s reemergence, and I was the only one who seemed to care. Annoyed, I threw him a pissed-off look, but he only grinned and shrugged at me, apparently not bothered that I caught him cheating out on the job.

Where had he gone? He had skipped out during the worst possible time, and put everyone else in a bad position. He had been great every other night, attentive and helpful, so it seemed unlike him to make everyone else’s life harder. I had to admit that it was a new low for him, leaving me to do all the work while he probably took a nap in an empty room. I wasn’t exactly surprised, but I was definitely frustrated. Truthfully, I had been waiting for him to screw up. He had been too nice and too good, and not at all like what everyone said he was. I watched as he ducked into the supply closet, the door shutting behind him.

Frustrated, I walked over to Chuck and Mikey. They were setting up for the next group, popping popcorn and restocking the candy.

“Hey, Chuck,” I called out. He looked over at me and smiled.

“What’s up?”

“Did you see Noah came back?”

He shrugged. “Nah, didn’t see anything. But I’m not surprised.”

Curious, I walked a little bit closer. “Why’s that?”

“He does that sometimes, disappears for like an hour. But he always comes back.”

“Any clue where he goes?”

“Nope, and I don’t really care. The guy’s dad basically owns this place, so I figure he can do whatever he wants.”

That pissed me off even more. It was definitely true that Noah had a bunch of leeway because of his dad, but everyone was basically willing to let him do whatever he wanted? It didn’t seem fair. Not only was he a jerk, but he was a spoiled jerk.

“Okay, thanks Chuck,” I said, wheels spinning in my head.

He gave me a look. “What are you going to do?”

“I’m not going to do anything,” I said, acting innocent.

He sighed and shook his head. “Look, don’t bother. He’s not a bad guy. He gets shit done when he needs to. I actually think he gets a bad rep for no good reason.”

Page 13

“Yeah, maybe you’re right,” I said vaguely, a bit surprised. It was strange that Chuck was defending him, especially considering he had to work twice as hard to make up for Noah’s absence. As far as I could tell, Noah was nothing but a pain in everyone’s ass, and very occasionally a good employee.

I gave Chuck a wave and headed back toward the supply closet. Noah had gone in a few minutes before, and I was already wondering why he hadn’t come out. Maybe everyone else was willing to let him do whatever he wanted, but I wasn’t about to give in to his bullshit. He may have made my heart pound every time he stood near, and gave me one of the best orgasms of my life, but I still had to work with him. He was charming and tall and strong, but that didn’t mean he could mess around.

I pushed open the supply closet door and was immediately assaulted by a thick cloud of pungent weed smoke.

“Holy shit,” I said, waving my hand in front of my face as the door shut behind me.

“What’s up, dots?”

I stared, open mouthed, as Noah sat on a small step stool, taking a hit of a joint.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” I said, pissed beyond belief. Not only had he skipped out on everyone, but he decided to get high, too? That was beyond unacceptable.

He looked around like I was talking to someone else.

“I’m not sure what you mean.”

“You can’t smoke in here, let alone smoke pot.”

He laughed. “Calm yourself, dots. It’s just a little weed.”

“What if someone smelled it?”

“Everyone is in those theaters for the next two hours. The smell will be long gone by then.”

He stood up and stretched, taking another deep hit.

“Oh my god, Noah, put that shit out.”

Shrugging, he licked his fingers then pinched the end. He pulled a plastic bag from his back pocket, dropped the pinched joint in, and slipped it away.

“You are unbelievable,” I said, practically shaking with fury.

“Calm down, dots. I do this all the time.”

“Don’t tell me to calm down, this is so fucking stupid. And where did you go earlier?”

He stepped closer to me, his eyes suddenly intense. “You look fucking cute when you’re angry.”

I stepped back, putting more distance between us. I wasn’t letting him charm his way out of anything.

“Answer me, where did you go?”

“I had some shit to take care of.”

“So that’s fine, you can just run off and skip out on work? Smoke some weed in the supply closet?”

He shook his head. “I’ve had a bad night, dots. I don’t need this from you.”

“You’ve had a bad night? Poor baby, must be rough smoking whenever you feel like it, and coming and going as you please.”

I was pissed. He was so spoiled and entitled, and such an asshole. And he was trying to defend himself too, which only made it worse. I couldn’t believe I was hung up on him, when he was nothing but a rich jerk. He may have been beautiful, but he was beyond frustrating.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about, dots.”

He suddenly looked sad, and it surprised me for a second. I almost wanted to apologize. But I wasn’t the one in the wrong. I wasn’t the one smoking up the supply closet and skipping out on work.

“Stop calling me that, Noah.”

He sighed, and looked away. I couldn’t read the expression on his face, but his body was tense.

“Fine,Linda. I’m getting back to work.”

I almost said something mean, something I would have regretted, but the look on his face made me bite my tongue. He moved past me, his shoulder brushing against mine, and he stepped out into the lobby. The smoke dissipated, scattering out into the theater’s ventilation system, and I hoped none of the customers would notice it.

I sat down on the stool, shaking with anger and confusion. I couldn’t believe him. I knew he had a bad reputation, I knew he did some shit that I didn’t necessarily agree with, but I didn’t realize he was out and out irresponsible. Missing class began to make sense: he was a flake, a player, and he did whatever he wanted. It wasn’t like I cared about smoking weed. Everyone knew that wasn’t a huge deal. But smoking on the job, and leaving all the work to your friends, that wasn’t right. I thought we were beginning to have something, and then he decided to take advantage of me.

All so he could get a little fucked up.

It took me a few minutes to get myself under control. Finally, though, the frustration and the anger subsided into a dull ache. Pushing out of the supply closet and moving out into the lobby, I vowed not to give him any more notes from our class, and I wasn’t going to cover for him again. Let him figure his shit out on his own. I was done doing favors for him if he was just going to skip out on me during the busiest times.

I went back to work, and ignored Noah the best I could. It was easy, since he was clearly not too happy with me. We orbited each other for the rest of the night, doing our jobs, and only interacting when we absolutely had to. Chuck and Mikey kept throwing each other exaggerated looks, and I could only imagine what sort of jokes they were making about us, but I didn’t care. I was sick to death of Noah Carterson, of his drama and his mystery, especially if he was going to fuck me over.

The night dragged on. It was uncomfortable at first, but I quickly learned to adapt. Noah didn’t disappear again, although he didn’t seem particularly motivated to get much done. He helped out, but he was lazy about it, and he kept stealing snacks from the concession stand. Chuck and Mikey thought it was hilarious; even Chelsea didn’t seem to mind much. During the last show, I stood outside of the box office, leaning against the glass and watching Noah throw popcorn at Chuck. I let out an annoyed huff.

“They can be real idiots, huh?” Chelsea asked me.

“You’re not kidding.”

“They’re just going to have to clean all that up, anyway.”

“Noah will probably leave early and make me do it,” I grumbled.

“Trouble in paradise?”

I looked in at her, and she was grinning at me.

“What do you mean?”

“Noah told me about you guys.”

I looked at her, surprised. Noah had talked about me? As far as I knew, there was nothing to tell.

“What did he say?”

She cocked her head at me. “Just that he’s been trying to see more of you. Like, you guys might be a thing, or whatever.”

We might be a thing or whatever? He hadn’t said any of that to me. In fact, he hadn’t talked to me about him and I at all, never even bothered to bring it up. But he was talking to Chelsea about it? I had to admit, as pissed as I was at him, I was pretty confused. And I was partially elated. He wanted to have something with me, whatever that meant. I figured it had to be something more than just hooking up, or else he wouldn’t bother telling someone about it.

“Oh yeah, totally,” I said, trying to be evasive. “Are you two close?”

She shrugged. “We’ve been friends ever since he helped tutor me in math last year. He’s how I got this job, actually.”

“Noah tutored you in math?” I honestly didn’t believe her.

She laughed. “Yeah, he did. Despite what everyone says about him, he’s actually pretty smart.”

I grinned. “I thought the tattoos made him a little slow.”

“Oh, they did. He was a genius before he got inked.”

I laughed. “I have to ask, what else did he say about me?

“He can be a little mysterious, can’t he?”

“Yeah. And an asshole.”

“He can definitely be an asshole,” she said, smiling. “Look, you’ll have to ask him if you want to know.”

“Okay, thanks. I understand.”

“But, I will say that you should cut him some slack. He’s not such a bad guy, underneath all the pot smoke and tattoos.”

I sighed, watching him toss a kernel into the air and catch it in his perfectly formed mouth. Every once in a while, when his guard was down, Noah gave me a glimpse into the person he might actually be. They were small moments, spread far apart, but they were there and they were important. I was pissed at him, but I didn’t hate him. I knew there was something more going on, but I was getting tired of having to work to strip off the extra layers of narrative and image to get at the core of him.

“I will. Thanks, Chelsea.”

She smiled. “Any time.”

I stood up to go, giving her a smile.

“Hey, stop by here more often,” she said before I could walk off. “I’m bored as shit in here.”

I laughed and promised I would. I moved across the lobby, heading toward the projection room to make sure everything was running smoothly. As I walked by, Noah gave me a little half smile, and it didn’t make me want to smack him in the face. That was progress.

The rest of the night flew by. I had plenty to obsess about to keep my mind off of the boredom of work. I kept avoiding Noah, and he kept his distance, but I felt the cold ache of anger begin to subside. As I began to do the final sweep of the theaters, I felt like a teenager, trying to read signs that might not have been there, and hanging on every little thing he said.

Everyone seemed to think that I should cut him a break, but that wasn’t my style. I needed him to live up to my expectations. I didn’t want to have to stoop; I didn’t want to have to settle for half of him. I needed everything, his layers stripped away.

The night ended, and we left as a group, just like last time. I hung with Chuck, joking about some stupid show we’d both watched over the last weekend, and Noah was talking to Chelsea again. We got to the same spot we had all split up at last time, and again I headed out toward my apartment alone while Noah spoke to Chelsea in low tones.

I didn’t get far before I heard him. I knew I’d hear him. My heart began to race, and part of me wanted to run, to get away from whatever he was going to say, to forget him and move on. But I couldn’t. For as much of an asshole Noah Carterson was, I couldn’t seem to force myself away from him.

“Hey, wait up dots,” he called out. I turned and faced him, hands on my hips.

“What do you want?”

He stopped in front of me and frowned. His usual cocky half grin was gone. There was something serious about him, something bare.

“I’m sorry, Linda.”

I blinked. Did he just use my real name? I didn’t even have to hit him.

“You should be,” I said, a little off guard.

“I was a huge asshole earlier. I should have told you what was going on instead of ditching out. I shouldn’t have assumed it would be okay.”

I shook my head. “No, you shouldn’t have assumed.”

“I want to explain myself,” he said. I couldn’t believe how serious he was being. There wasn’t a single joke at my expense, not even a meaningful look at my chest.

“Fine, explain while we walk.” I started off toward my apartment, and he quickly fell in step with me.

“Remember that girl I was with the other week?”

“Stripper Barbie?”

He suppressed a grin. “Yeah, her.”

“What about her?”

“Like I told you, she’s been going through some shit. I can’t really say what, since it’s not my place, but I got a call from her roommate.”

I frowned. That was true, he had told me that he was helping her through something.

“And it was something only you could have helped with?” I asked.

“I know you’re skeptical. I don’t blame you. But it’s the truth, otherwise I wouldn’t have ditched out on you.”

I made a face, confused. “Fine, maybe I can forgive you for leaving to help a friend, but that doesn’t excuse the pot.”

He nodded. “I know. The shit with Ellie, it’s hard to deal with. Smoking weed is better than popping the pills my dad’s been shoving down my throat since I was a kid.”

I furrowed my brow. All of that was hard to believe, but definitely plausible. I had to admit, once he was back, he had been helpful, even if a little slow. The way he spoke seriously, earnestly, and his closeness all made me want to forgive him instantly, but there was something holding me back.

“Okay, fine. All of that’s true. Why didn’t you talk to me about it?”

He sighed, looking away. We crossed the bell tower and headed over toward Broad Street. “I don’t know, honestly. I don’t know where we stand. I wasn’t sure how much you wanted from me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Most girls I’m with don’t give a shit if I’m feeling anxious, so long as I pass the blunt and pay for dinner.” He paused and looked back at me. “I’m trying to figure you out.”

I stopped walking, staring at him. He turned on me, a small frown on his face.

“I don’t want your money or your drugs, Noah. I’m not interested in any of that.”

He stepped closer. “It’s okay if you are, dots. I just want to know what this is.”

I shook my head. “No, that’s not what I want from you.”

His body was inches away from mine, and I could smell his fresh clothes and his sweat. I suddenly realized how nervous I was.

“What do you want, then?”

“I don’t know.”

Without another word, he crushed my mouth with his in a bruising kiss, hungry and deep and more. I melted into him instantly as he wrapped his arms around me, his mouth opening and flooding mine with his perfect taste. As we kissed, ignoring the few people that walked by, I realized I knew exactly what I wanted from him. I wanted to strip off the filters and the fancy camerawork, I wanted to get beyond the costumes, and I wanted to figure out who Noah actually was.

Finally, we pulled apart, and he looked down at me with a burning gaze. I could feel his cock already swelling in his tight pants, pressed up against me.

“That’s what I want,” I whispered.

“I know you do, dots,” he said.

“Just when I thought you weren’t an asshole.”

He grinned, and then kissed me again, briefly but strong. When he pulled away, I felt like my breath went with him.

“I am sorry,” he said.

“Is your friend okay?”

He nodded. “She will be.”

“Next time, just talk to me.”

He moved away, and grabbed my hand. We began to walk toward my apartment in a comfortable silence. I felt like my knees were weak and shaking, and I realized how badly I wanted him to take me up into my room and to rip my clothes off. It was absurd; fifteen minutes ago, I was ready to punch him in the nose. Suddenly I couldn’t get the feeling of his swollen dick out of my mind.

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