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Iguana Boy

“Soon, Thanksgiving Day arrived. I had worked late the night before and remained asleep until about an hour before Noah and I were supposed to meet. I got up, showered and waited to hear from him. Since he was so apt to forget appointments, he had told me he would call me when he was on his way. I had agreed and appreciated his honesty and thoughtfulness. It was nice to see that the more I got to know him, the less annoying and arrogant he became. In the back of my mind, I wondered if his arrogance was a defensive stance he took in life, much as my cruelty and anger had been.

       Eventually my phone lit up and the ringer indicated that it was Noah. I answered, happy and excited to hear from him. I was also proud of him for being pretty much on time. He was running a few minutes late, but nothing extraordinary.

       “Sorry, I’m running a little behind. I forgot the stores were closed today so I’ve been driving all over the place looking for a pie,” he explained after we had said our hello’s.

       “Pie? Oh! You didn’t have to bring it. It was more of a joke,” I said with a laugh.

       “Really? I’ve been driving all over the place looking for this pie, and I didn’t even need it?” he asked.

       “Yeah, you didn’t have to bring anything, but it’s okay. We’ll enjoy it anyway,” I answered, still amused that he had remembered that I’d mentioned bringing pie.

       “Oh, well. Now we have pie. I’ll be there in ten minutes. See you soon,” he said before he disconnected.

       As I headed out the door, I told my family that I was going to get him and would be back momentarily.

       I arrived in the empty parking lot of our designated meeting place a few moments before he did, but soon he pulled in and parked beside me and rolled down his window.

       “So, how do you want to do this? Do you want me to follow you, or you could just give me directions,” he suggested.

       “I’ll just ride over with you,” I answered, turning off my car and hopping out.

       “Uh, how are you going to get your car back?” he asked, unlocking his car door.

       “You can bring me back over when we’re done,” I answered. “We live five minutes away. It’ll just be easier.”

       “Why can’t I just follow you? I’ll show up. I’m here. It’s not like I’m going to change my mind and run away or anything,” he protested with an amused look on his face.

       “Well, I didn’t think you were going to bail on me now after coming all the way down here. It’ll just be easier this way. Come on. We’re going to be late,” I insisted as I opened the passenger door of his car and hopped in.

       “Okay, I guess. Where to?” he complied, following my directions and heading out of the parking lot.

       We arrived at my grandparents’ house a few moments later where we endured the awkward introductions. The afternoon spent with my family went much better than expected. Everyone was a little nervous at first. It was the first time any of the grand-daughters had invited a boy to a family function. Noah quickly warmed up to everyone and became the life of the party. After the two-course meal, dessert and several hours of conversation, we all decided it was time to pack up and head back home. Noah was very appreciative toward my family for allowing him to spend the afternoon with them, and we headed out to his car so he could return me to mine.

       “What are you doing later?” he asked as he opened the driver’s door.

       “Absolutely nothing, why?” I answered.

       “Want to come over and watch a movie? I’m supposed to go up to my parents’ house and take care of the dog, but after that I’m just going to be sitting around at home. I’d like the company if you’re up to it,” He said, fidgeting around with his keys.

       “Sure. What time do you want me to come up?” I answered as I slid into the car, gladly willing to give him some company.

       “I’ll call you when I’m done up there, but probably around like eight-ish or something. Not too late,” he answered, also sliding into the car.

       “Sounds like a plan to me,” I said with a smile.

       “Okay, that’s a relief. I really didn’t want to be alone tonight. I mean, I was okay with it, but after hanging out with you this afternoon, it is really depressing to spend the holidays alone,” he sighed, more to himself than to me as we pulled out of the driveway.

       “Yeah, kind of. I’m ready to get away from my family anyway. One afternoon is more than enough.”

       “They don’t seem so bad. The way you described them, I was worried they were going to try convert me or exorcise me or something like that,” he said as we made our way through the empty streets.

       “Why on Earth would they do that? They liked you. I knew they would. You have a sweet personality once you get underneath all the arrogant bullshit,” I laughed, not thinking my compliment could be taken any other way than how I meant it.

       “I don’t have a personality,” he replied matter-of-factly as we turned the corner and into the parking lot and pulled up to my car.

       “What do you mean you don’t have a personality? Of course you do! Everyone does,” I retorted.

       “No, I really don’t. I just sort of absorb whatever I’m around. Like an iguana. I assess the situation and behave however everyone else is to fit in,” he explained.

       “An iguana? What the hell are you talking about?” I asked, still amused, missing the seriousness of the conversation.

       “That lizard that changes colors? Isn’t that an iguana?” he asked, slightly taken aback by my dismissal of his serious soul-bearing conversation and a bit flustered that I seemed to be mocking him.

       “You mean a chameleon?” I asked, smiling.

       “Oh yeah. Chameleon. Whatever. That’s what I am. I used to have a personality, but I got tired of being treated like shit and getting taken advantage of all the time. One day, I woke up and decided that I wasn’t going to be that person anymore, so I killed him. He doesn’t exist anymore. Now I’m just a chameleon. I can go anywhere and be anything everyone likes,” he explained, his air of severity finally beginning to sink in with me.

       “But why? Why do you want to be a chameleon? You’re funny, smart and kind. What’s wrong with that?” I asked.

       “I’m only funny because I absorb what other funny people say and repeat it. Most of my jokes are from movies. I couldn’t come up with that stuff on my own. Most people don’t pay attention like I do, so I can get away with it. I don’t have favorites either. Like music? I just listen to whatever’s popular so I can relate to people. I’m just a shell of a person, really. It’s better this way. I like it,” he continued. “Changing is easy. You just have to commit to it. I’m not going to be that guy anymore, and then… don’t.”

       I sat quietly, trying to understand what exactly he was trying to tell me and to comprehend why anyone would want to sacrifice the very essence of him or herself to fit into the crowd. It tugged at my heart strings. Here was this sweet boy who had been so tormented by loneliness in his early life that he had convinced himself living as a shell of a person was better than embracing his individuality.

       We sat there a few moments in silence. I, trying to process everything he just said, and he, after dropping his façade, not sure what to say next. The moment soon passed as he eventually said, “So, I should probably go before the dog destroys the house. Are you still up for a movie later?”

       “Well, yeah. Why wouldn’t I be?” I answered honestly. I was completely unfazed by the bombshell he had just dropped, even as it whizzed right over my head.

       “I don’t know. You got all weird and quiet all of the sudden,” he said, pointing out the obvious.

       “It’s just the turkey-coma kicking in. I think I’m going to go home and take a nap,” I answered with a smile.

       “That sounds like an awesome idea, actually. I’ll call you later, okay?” he said, returning a half-hearted smile of his own.

       “Okay. I’ll see you later,” I said, opening my door and jumping into my own car. I sat in the parking lot as it warmed up and waved as he drove away. The only thing that struck me about his awkward vulnerability was the incredible sadness behind it, how such a wonderful person could feel so ostracized and unappreciated. I listened through an entire CD or two before I finally decided to head back to the house to wait for his call.

       The evening passed ever so slowly as I waited for Noah’s phone call. Eight came and went with no word. I figured that, much like the rest of the world after a big Thanksgiving meal, he had gotten home and fallen asleep. I didn’t take it personally, but I was a little disappointed. I had been looking forward to spending the evening together.

       Then, just as I was changing into my pajamas for the evening, my phone rang. It was Noah and, as I had suspected, he had fallen asleep. He apologized and invited me up to his apartment. I quickly redressed, made my way upstairs and headed toward the door.

       “Where are you going?” Mom asked as I passed through the living room where the rest of my family was watching a Christmas movie on television.

       “To hang out with Laura,” I answered without a second thought. The first time I had spent the night with Noah, I had used the same excuse. It was true, nothing sexual was going on between us, but I didn’t feel like explaining or arguing with my mother about it.    

       “Oh, okay. Have fun,” Mom said as I continued out the door.

       I arrived at Noah’s apartment, let myself in and found him fighting with a giant area rug in the kitchen.

       “Hey, what are you doing?” I asked as I patted Dusty on the head and tossed my purse and keys on a small wicker shelf just inside the door as if I had lived there for years.

       “Trying to get this rug laid out. Some of the stores are open tonight for Black Friday and I stopped on my way home to check out the sales. I needed a rug for the kitchen, so I picked this up,” he answered as he man-handled the rug into place before attempting to cut the ties to unravel it.

       “Okay, well, a rug I can see, but isn’t this a little excessive? It basically covers the entire floor,” I said, taking the liberty to pour some cat food into Cosmo’s dish as he batted and meowed at me.

       “My ex-wife hated walking around on the cold tile, so I kind of got used to carpet in the kitchen, and it was on sale,” he answered.

       “Oh, well, I guess I can see that, but what about all the food and spills? Doesn’t it get really gross?” I asked, stepping out of the way as he slid the rug into place.

       “Not really.”

       “Well, whatever. It’s your kitchen. What are we watching tonight?” I asked.

       “I don’t know. What do you want to watch? Pick something from the shelf,” he answered. “I need to take the dog out. I’ll be right back.”

       I wandered out into the living room and started browsing through his movie collection. I found one that I had seen in theaters and greatly enjoyed. I wanted to watch it again. It was the only one I was familiar with in the entire collection. I picked it off the shelf and returned to sit on the couch as I kicked my shoes off and made myself comfortable.

       Noah soon joined me, removed his jacket and plopped down next to me for a moment before getting up to put the DVD in the player.

       “What’d you pick?” he asked as he took the movie from me and hopped up. “Oh wow. You like this one?”

       “Yeah, I saw it in the theater but I haven’t seen it since. It was really good. Actually, funny story about that. When I was there, I saw Derrick’s wife with another man. She turned around and asked me a question. Thankfully, she didn’t recognize me, or maybe she did. I don’t know. It was really awkward,” I answered.

       “Seriously?” he asked as he returned to the couch.

       “I know. I didn’t say anything, obviously, because I mean… I don’t know. It could have been a guy from work or something. I didn’t know, and I wasn’t about to go around destroying lives for no reason,” I explained as the movie began.

       “Yeah, you’re right. Come here,” he said, pulling me close to him. “I had a really nice time this afternoon. Your family really isn’t so bad.”

       “No, they’re not so bad in small doses. You don’t have to live with them,” I laughed as I snuggled up next to him and stretched out on the couch.

       “Your dad’s pretty cool. I can see how your mom gets on your nerves, but I like your dad,” he said as he rested his arm across my shoulder and settled into his corner.

       That was the last we said as the movie began, and I quietly dozed off.

       That evening went much like the first night we spent together. Although, instead of the earlier awkwardness that came with the invitation into his bed, we were much more comfortable. It seemed to be understood that after the movie we were going to go upstairs.  

       Somehow I had managed to get the next day off. I don’t know if it was just the luck of the draw as I was generally off on Fridays, or if it was intentional because Troy was in charge of scheduling and knew Noah and I were planning on spending the holiday together. Either way, I was glad I didn’t have to wake up early and work on a hectic post-holiday schedule.

       “Hey, would it bother you if I slept in my boxers?” Noah asked as I plopped down on the bed fully clothed.

       “No. I don’t care. It’s your house. You can do what you want,” I answered.

       It didn’t bother me, and I wasn’t entirely sure why he was asking me since we had spent our last two encounters cuddling together. While we weren’t sexually intimate, everything else about our relationship was very personal. I did like the fact that he respected me enough to ask. It just seemed to come at an unusual time.

       “Oh my God, thank you. I hate sleeping in clothes. Well, actually I sleep naked, but boxers are way more comfortable than my clothes,” he explained. “Do you want a tee shirt or something more comfortable to sleep in? I’ve got a closet full.”

       His implication to “get more comfortable” went right over my head, thanks to my child-like innocence. An older, wiser me remembered this exchange as I was writing it down and laughed. If only I had understood what he wanted from me then, on that night, the course of my life would have changed dramatically. Whether for better or for worse, I can’t say for certain. I only know things would have been much different.

       “Thanks, but I’ll be okay,” I answered, quietly watching him haphazardly undress and toss his clothes into a pile in the corner.

       “Are you sure? If you change your mind, just let me know. Do you mind if I sleep under the blankets tonight? I mean just because it’s cold,” he asked, literally hopping into the bed with somewhat of an excited exuberance.

       “Sure, I got a little too hot the other night anyway. You were freezing. I covered you up before I left,” I said as I rolled over to face him.

       “I noticed. Thank you. I was pretty cold,” he said with a smile as he crawled under the blankets with me and extended his arm to pull me close.

       I smiled and snuggled in next to him underneath the crook of his arm. It felt a little weird with me in my khakis and sweater while he was practically undressed. It was also a new experience for me to be snuggled so close to a man with body hair. I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about it at first since I went out of the way to shave most, if not all, of my own out of personal distaste for it. As I lay there with my face on his bare, hairy chest, though, it became somewhat comforting – a feeling I associated with safety and security.

       We lay there talking well into the morning about everything and nothing. The only thing I really remember is discussing how he was looking to find another roommate, but he expressed concern over inviting another young woman into his home after the mess that had resulted from his first attempt at a female living partner. He never did tell me the complete truth about what had happened between him and his former roommate – only that her boyfriend was extremely upset with him and kept coming to the apartment trying to break in, threatening him and generally being a nuisance. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, but now I have to wonder if the same thing that eventually happened to me hadn’t happened to her.

       The next morning we woke together. It was nice to stir to life at the same time, and it was funny that we had both opened our eyes and stared at the ceiling in silence until he finally asked, “Becca? Are you awake?”

       “Yep. I’ve been awake for half an hour, but I didn’t want to disturb you,” I answered honestly, rolling over to face him.

       “That’s pretty funny. Me too,” he replied.

       We both laughed as he hopped out of bed.

       “Hey, I’m going to take a shower. Do you need the bathroom?” he asked as he stretched and then lumbered across the room to his closet.

       “Yeah, I guess I better.”

       “Okay,” he answered, sitting down at his computer.

       I sat there in silence for a moment until he looked over at me with a puzzled look on his face.

       “Are you… gonna go do that… or?” he asked.

       “Where it is?” I asked, returning his expression.

       “Oh! Yeah, it’s just out the door to the…uh… left. Left, yes,” he replied after pausing to look at his hands to figure out the direction of the bathroom.

       I laughed to myself as I rolled out of bed and brushed past him into the hallway, where I also had to get reoriented with proper directions before entering the bathroom.

       “Thank God, I’m not the only one,” he yelled after me as I found the bathroom and closed the door behind me.

       For the bathroom of a single man, it was surprisingly well-kept. Everything was organized and clean. I returned to the bedroom just as he was getting ready to head to the shower.

       “After I get out of the shower, I’m heading up to hang out with a buddy of mine before work, but you’re welcome to stay as long as you want. Make yourself at home,” he said with a smile as he bounced past me into the bathroom.

       I didn’t have anywhere to be or anything else to do, so I snuggled into the bed and closed my eyes while I waited for him to get out of the shower. I could have made my way down stairs, but I just wanted to lie there. Noah’s bed was the one place I’d found away from my mother where I felt safe and secure, a place that calmed my racing mind and where I was able to fully and completely relax. I hadn’t intended on going back to sleep, but listening to the water running in the bathroom, with the room warming up as the sun rose higher in the sky, I couldn’t help myself.

       The next thing I remember was a hand placed lightly on my back and a gentle shake to rouse me from sleep.

       “Becca? Hey, I don’t mean to run you off or anything, but I’m getting ready to head out the door. I’m already like an hour late,” he explained softly.

       I opened my eyes and rolled over to see him staring down at me with a rushed, but content, smile.

       “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to fall back to sleep. I’m up,” I said, sitting up and rubbing the sleep out of my eyes again.

       “It’s okay. My buddy has known me since we were, like, five. He doesn’t expect me to be on time, but he lives out of town and is only here for the night. I need to get going. I’m going to go let the dog out. Wait for me, and we’ll leave together so I can lock the door behind us,” he said, heading out the bedroom door and quickly down the stairs.

       I followed closely behind him. As he headed out back to let the dog out, I headed to the living room to check my phone. I had turned the ringer off and left it downstairs on purpose. I assumed that my mom would call when I didn’t return home, but what I hadn’t expected were the hateful voicemails she left.

       I plopped down in the middle of the couch, picked up my phone and punched in my voicemail password. Listening to the first voicemail wasn’t too bad. She was upset, but mostly concerned that I hadn’t returned home, nor had I called to tell her. The second voicemail she left started to get a little hateful. She informed me that when I hadn’t returned home by morning she went to look for me. When she hadn’t found me at work, she asked where she could find Laura. She found Laura and asked where I had gone after I left her house. Laura, unaware of her role in my lie, honestly answered that I had never been to her house at all.

       I had been caught.

       Mom asked me to call her back. When I hadn’t returned her call, she called and left yet another voicemail. I was upset by the second voicemail, but I couldn’t even finish listening to the third one, which began, “I know you weren’t with Laura last night. You were with Noah, weren’t you? You’re still with him, aren’t you? How long has this been going on? Are you sleeping together? You’re nothing but a deceitful, little whore. How dare you lie to me….”

       I burst into tears and collapsed onto the floor, throwing my phone across the living room. I lay there crying, curled up into the tightest little ball I could manage. There are only rare moments in which I’ve felt so completely helpless that death seemed as though it would be a welcome release. Crying in the middle of Noah’s living room after listening to those voicemails from my mother was the first of those moments in my life. I was crying so hard, trying to purge the pain from my soul, but the only thing that came was more tears.

       “Becca, what’s wrong?” Noah asked, rushing back into the house and immediately to my side. “What the hell happened?”

       He pulled me up off the floor and sat us both down on the couch. I was still sobbing uncontrollably as he put his arms around me in a protective embrace.

       “I got voicemails from my mom. She found out that I wasn’t staying with Laura so she went looking for me. When she couldn’t find me she assumed that I was with you and called me a slut and a whore for spending time with you. I don’t know what to do anymore. I just don’t know what to do!” I sobbed, still too emotional to fully articulate what my mother had accused me of.

       “Wait. What? What did she say?” he asked, pulling me closer and holding me tighter.

       “She called me a whore because we spent the night together. She won’t believe me when I tell her nothing happened. She never believes me. That’s why I didn’t tell her I was coming here. It doesn’t matter. I can’t take it anymore! I can’t! It doesn’t matter what I do. It’s never good enough,” I choked between erratic sobs. I was in so much pain and agony from everything regarding my mother. And it was all coming to a head with these hateful voicemails. “I don’t even want to live anymore!” I wailed before launching into another fit of erratic sobs.

       I collapsed once again onto the floor. My head landed on Noah’s lap and he placed his hand on my shoulder as I cried it all out.  It was the first time I ever felt completely broken, open and truly raw. I had done my best to keep my head up throughout a lifetime of abuse inflicted upon me, but at that moment, my spirit was so heavy I just didn’t want to go on. All I wanted to do was fade into nothingness.          

       My hope had been that once I turned 18, my mother would back off and leave me alone. Instead, things had only gotten worse. From the time I was very young, she had always threatened to kick me out of the house when I didn’t comply with her demands, but now that she wasn’t legally obligated to provide for me, her threats intensified to the point that they were almost a daily occurrence.

       I had my own car and a steady job, but my salary was too low to be able to afford an apartment on my own, and it was too high for any sort of government assistance. Mom knew this. She knew I was stuck and used it to her complete advantage. I don’t think she expected me to find a place to live or to find someone who would challenge her treatment of me. Thankfully, in Noah, I inadvertently had.

       “Becca, you’re not a whore. It’s okay. Your mom doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about. Don’t listen to her. That’s not right. She shouldn’t treat you that way. You need to get out of there. That’s not a healthy environment for you to be in. You don’t need that,” he reassured me.

       I looked through my tears into his eyes riddled with concern, sadness and an ever-so-slight tinge of anger.

       “But I don’t have anywhere else to go. I can’t afford my own apartment on my salary, and I don’t really have any friends. Other than you and Laura and…. Well, that’s really everyone.”

       “Are you SURE you don’t have anywhere else to go?” he asked, searching my face for any sign of dishonesty.

       “No… not really,” I answered.

       With one more small sniffle, I began to dry my tears, and I pulled myself up off the floor. We paused there silently for what seemed like an eternity. Eventually, I picked up my purse and headed toward the door, not entirely sure what I was going to do. Silently, I was hoping that an auto accident or some other means of quick and painless death would meet me.

       “Where are you going?” Noah asked as I opened the door.

       “I don’t know. Probably home. I don’t have anywhere else to go,” I answered with a shrug

       “No. Don’t do that. Stay. Stay here. You can stay here.”

       I looked at him and saw the concern and worry that blanketed his face. “Are you sure?” I asked.

       “Well, no. I’m not sure. But we can work something out. Just don’t leave right now. Don’t go back to that. You need to calm down, Becca,” Noah signed.

       I looked once again into his deep jade eyes and started to tear up for an entirely new reason. Here he was, this rough and tumble, reckless man, taking me into his home against his better judgement for no reason other than he wanted to give me a safe place to stay. I made my way back to the couch and sat next to him as he stared at the corner of the coffee table with an intensity I hadn’t seen from him before.

       Silence took over the room for an unusual amount of time before he eventually looked up at me.

       “Are you going to be okay here by yourself? I really need to go, but I’m not going to leave you alone if you want to die,” he nearly whispered, searching my face.

       “I’ll be okay. You can go,” I answered, wiping a new batch of tears from my cheeks.

       I had most definitely been on the brink of disaster after listening to the voicemails from my mom. Noah and the fact that he cared about me enough to open his home quickly brought me back to reality. My life wasn’t truly all that bad, and there were many solutions to the problems that weighed me down. I was so tired of battling my demons alone, but with someone in my corner, I found a renewed sense of strength.

       “Are you sure? I don’t need to take the razors out of the bathroom and hide the knives or anything do I?” he asked, still not sure I had recovered. “I don’t want to come home to your body bled out in the bathroom or something.”

       “No. Thank you. I promise I’ll be okay,” I answered with a small smile.

       “Well, if you need anything, and I mean ANYTHING, you call me. If I don’t answer, call again and I will. I’m meeting my buddy and then I have to go right to work, so I won’t be home until pretty late.  If you get bored or really lonely, come hang out,” he said as he stood up and headed toward the door. “Hey, your mom is wrong. I just want you to know that.”

       I smiled with tears in my eyes as he turned to check on me one last time before disappearing out the front door.

       After Noah closed and locked the door behind him, I made my way back upstairs. I needed to go home to get my uniforms and other clothes to wear, but it was the absolute last thing that I wanted to do. I had the next few days off, and since I still had my house key, I decided I would wait until everyone was asleep and then sneak back into the house later that night. I knew there would be an eventual confrontation with my mother, but I wanted to avoid it for as long as possible.

       I had one uniform shirt with me, but it would need to be washed. I retrieved my uniform from my car and took the liberty of collecting some of Noah’s uniforms from the bedroom and then set off to find the washer and dryer. I hadn’t explored much of the house, but since I was going to be living there, I took a bit more initiative and started poking around. I opened the second bedroom and saw a mountain of binders filled with trading cards stacked neatly on a unique corner desk. There was also a dresser, another chest of drawers and a mattress flipped up against the wall. There was a small closet filled with old computers, monitors and boxes that I didn’t open. It was more space than I would ever need for my belongings, but cozy at the same time.

       I found the linen closet stuffed full of clean towels, blankets and sheets, and then I made my way downstairs, still hunting for the washer and dryer. There were a small broom closet and a utility closet in the hallway. I wandered into the kitchen where I found a pantry, and then I spotted the washer and dryer. I tossed in our uniforms and started the cycle. While I was in the kitchen, I started looking through cabinets for whatever might be lying around to eat. There wasn’t much to choose from – a few cans of soup and other various dry goods. I then found two boxes of cereal, a loaf of bread and a six-pack of beer in the refrigerator. I wasn’t sure how the cereal and bread ended up in the fridge, but I left them alone.

       It was then I realized that Dusty was still in his kennel. Noah had put him there before he left, and I hadn’t thought to check on him until now. I found his leash and took him for a walk.

       My mom had called me several more times throughout the morning until I finally turned off my phone. She had crossed a line with those last voicemails. Now that I had a safe place to flee, I wasn’t about to let her get away with it. She couldn’t control me with her hurtful words if I chose not to listen. I was determined not to talk to her ever again, at least as long as I could help it.

       After I finished my chores, I decided to go visit Noah at work. I wasn’t supposed to, according to Troy, but I figured as long as I could sneak in and stay out of sight of the security cameras, it wouldn’t become an issue. I had worked in the 86th Street store a very long time. I knew exactly where to park and where to stand to stay out of view. I called Noah to tell him I was on my way and left the apartment.

       When I arrived, I was surprised to see someone else in the dining room well after closing time. I parked and quickly made my way to the door. This stranger opened the door for me as I slid my way over to the only blind spot in the restaurant, and then he hopped back behind the counter to meet Noah in the office. I had no idea who this person was, but I didn’t remember him as an employee. He and Noah joked back and forth and were having a great time together. I watched them banter back and forth until the stranger walked up to me and asked, “What are you doing standing over there in the corner like that?”

       “I’m not supposed to be here, and I don’t want to get Noah in trouble,” I answered, still taken aback by this stranger and his exuberant personality.

       “I’m not supposed to be here either, but I’m not hiding in the corner,” the stranger answered as he bounced past me and filled up a cup at the drink fountain.

       “True,” I said as I watched him literally running around the dining room.

       Noah was busy behind the counter finishing his closing paperwork, and he was in a hurry. For the first time since I had worked with him, the restaurant was in tip-top shape as far as closing goes. I was impressed.

       “Hey, feeling a little better tonight?” Noah asked as he walked past my hiding spot.

       “Yeah, a little. I did some laundry and took Dusty for a walk,” I told him.

       “Thanks. Do you want to help me finish some of this paperwork?” he asked as the stranger disappeared back into the bathroom shouting something illegible that brought an obnoxious smile to Noah’s face.

       “I would, but since I’m not technically supposed to be here, I’m just going to hang out in this blind spot here until you’re ready to leave,” I answered.

       “Blind spot?” Noah asked confused.

       “Yeah, look at the monitor. As far as anyone else is concerned, I’m not here right now,” I replied, pointing at the security feed. “You can’t even see my car out in the parking lot.”

       Noah watched the video monitor switch back and forth between camera feeds for a while before turning to look at me. The expression he had on his face was one filled with curiosity and distrust.

       “You’re right. How do you know that?” he asked.

       “I don’t know. I just pay attention I guess. It’s not that hard,” I answered.

       “Well, no, it isn’t that hard, but most people don’t. It’s impressive that you do,” he said with a smile.

       I smiled in return as the stranger popped back around the corner with a half-inflated helium balloon.

       “Hey, Buddy. Whatcha’ doin?” he said in a voice altered by helium.

       Noah burst out laughing.

       “Oh my God, Dorian. Oh. My. God,” Noah replied.

       As soon as I heard his name, it clicked as to who this stranger was. This was the infamous Dorian. He wasn’t at all what I expected considering the way Noah had described him. Of course, we had only talked about him once or twice before I actually met him, if you could call this a meeting. It felt more like a collision. Noah was always a pretty exuberant person, but putting the two of them together was like an explosion. They loudly shouted inside jokes back and forth at each other. They were pulling pranks and having a great time. I honestly had a hard time keeping up with them, but it was definitely just what I needed to take my mind off everything else going on.

       Soon Noah had finished his closing duties, and we all headed out the door. Dorian said goodbye, and then Noah made his way home and I followed close behind. It was weird to think of our returning to the same place and thinking of it as “home.”  I liked it. After we both arrived, Noah realized that he didn’t have any groceries. We made a quick trip to the store, grabbed a bite of food on the way home and eventually settled in for the night.

       Because my living there had been such a quick transition, the second bedroom wasn’t ready for me. After some consideration, Noah invited me sleep in his room until we could get everything ready. He didn’t seem to mind that I was there. In fact, he seemed excited by the idea of having someone with whom to share his lonely space. As we lay there that evening, he told me how he first met Dorian, and he started to open up about his life before winding up working at our franchise. He shared with me how he had met his ex-wife and a lot of other events that transpired during the times we’d been parted in life. After finally accepting his offer of a tee shirt and boxers to sleep in, I snuggled up next to him, and as we lay there, I listened to him for hours until eventually we both nodded off to sleep.

       A few weeks went by without any significant events. We were settling into our new living arrangements and still getting to know each other, but, overall, things were going pretty well. I had returned to my parents’ house and retrieved most of my things shortly after Noah cleaned out the second bedroom, so I unpacked and made the room my own. But most of my nights were still spent with Noah. We weren’t in a dating relationship, nor were we in a sexual one.

       Our friendship was growing very intimate in most other respects. It was almost like I was living with an older brother. Noah protected me, had an enormous amount of patience with me and took the time to explain the in’s and out’s of life, thus helping me grow out of my social awkwardness. He was also a great ambassador between me and my mom. I had told her that I was moving in with him, but refused to tell her where we lived. I still needed some time to detox from her poisonous control over my life. I wanted any and all meetings with her to be on my terms, so I had only spoken to her once or twice. She didn’t take kindly to this at all and immediately blamed Noah for my “bad” behavior.

       Noah and I were still barred from working together and our schedules conflicted more often than not. One day as I was relaxing on the couch watching TV and enjoying my day off, Noah returned from work looking completely frazzled and stressed.

       “Hey, how was your day?” I asked as he kicked off his shoes and collapsed on the couch next to me.

       “Your mom showed up looking for me,” he said with a heavy sigh. “She demanded to know where I live so she could see you and ranted on about how I had kidnapped her daughter and other bullshit like that.”

       For a moment, it felt like my heart stopped. I was petrified that this would ruin our living arrangement.

       “What did you say?” I asked, forcing myself to remember how to breathe.

       “I told her that she was crazy and that you were an adult capable of making your own decisions. She didn’t need to know where we live because she doesn’t need to be abusing her daughter by calling her names and making her life hell. She threw some Bible verses at me and told me that I couldn’t hide you forever, and then I had to go back to work, so I made her leave,” Noah answered.

       I sat there in complete shock. For the first time EVER someone had stood up to my mother. Someone I hardly knew, at that. He appeared to be my knight in shining armor. He had provided me shelter from the storm and been a literal shoulder to cry on. It was both extremely comforting and slightly disconcerting.

It was also very complicated. I had already told him about the intense feelings I’d developed for him in our previous life-encounters. I wanted so badly to share with him that what he’d done meant the world to me and that my feelings for him were growing into something so much more than being just friends. But I couldn’t. I had an irrational fear that if I expressed myself honestly, he would throw me away, just as so many others had thrown me away when I shared my deepest feelings with them.”

To read more about my relationship with Noah be sure to check out Candy Apple Butterscotch: A Memoir. Kindle and paperback versions available now. Audiobook coming soon!

Copyright: R. MacCeile 2018

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