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When in Rome: Chapter 10

Amelia

It should feel weird staying at Noah’s house. Why doesn’t it feel weird? I haven’t even felt this comfortable in lavish hotel rooms with my favorite snacks overflowing from the minibar and a security guard parked outside my door. Something about Noah’s place feels homey. I glance around the room I’m staying in and realize it’s because everything in his house seems to have a purpose—a history—or a sentiment behind it. Where he has a patchwork quilt that was probably made by a grandmother or an aunt, I have an expensive duvet cover, selected by my interior designer. And this is what my house in Nashville is missing. It’s filled with stuff, not memories.

When did that happen? Sometimes I feel like the day I accepted the new title of Rae Rose, a big eraser zipped off behind me and wiped out my life before it. My heart aches thinking of those quiet evenings with my mom, huddled around the kitchen table painting our nails and eating popcorn. I never knew my dad, because when my parents got pregnant with me in their last year of college, he didn’t want anything to do with a family. He made it clear she’d be on her own if she wanted to keep me. My mom said she’d always liked the idea of being a young mom and starting a family at an early age. She didn’t see why we had to be any less of a family without my dad—so the decision was easy for her.

And she was right, I never felt like our household was lacking. I mean, things were lean, and she had to work a lot as a single mom, but we were happy. And our once-a-year epic road trips to the beach where we rented a soggy hotel room with sand in the carpet because we couldn’t afford anything else are still some of my greatest memories. My mom was all the family I needed. My best friend. And then my first single went number one in the charts and that’s when everything changed.

When things took off and all that money started rolling in, it slowly ripped us apart. We hopped in a moving truck and headed from Arizona to a big house in L.A. the first chance we got. It felt cavernous at first. The new furniture didn’t have my butt’s imprint and I couldn’t get comfy anywhere. My mom loved it, though, and seeing her happy made me happy. She’s always been the life of the party, and she didn’t have any trouble making new friends in the celebrity circles I was inducted into. At first, we stayed close—and then after the first few years, she wasn’t around as much. She stood me up for dinner dates, claiming it must have totally slipped her mind because she never remembered scheduling anything when I’d call her after sitting alone at a table for an hour. But I know we did because I had Susan confirm them—and Susan is the most thorough person I know.

There were so many instances that began to pile up like that, not to mention her constantly begging Susan to transfer more money into her account. She is always trying to go behind my back to get what she wants, but Susan has always looped me in and I end up okaying whatever the request is. But see, I would love to give my mom anything and everything she wants—I just wish she still wanted me, too, and not just my money.

The last straw for me was on her forty-fifth birthday. I planned a surprise getaway for just the two of us. I had it set up for weeks. Susan helped me book the plane and a villa in Cabo for five days. But when Susan sent the car to pick her up and meet me at the airport for the big surprise just like we planned, my mom said she wouldn’t be coming. She already had plans with friends and didn’t want to cancel.

And that was the day I stopped trying to have a relationship.

Despite feeling used, I continue to float her financially because it’s the only connection we still have. And as it turns out, it’s really hard to tell a parent no when they keep asking for more. Or maybe it’s that I’m addicted to that hit of self-worth I get when she finally needs me. Now we mainly interact through Susan, which has been helpful for me to get some space from my mom, but every now and then I’ll still get a text directly from her asking for something. It hurts, and usually I try to keep my responses pretty short.

Anyway, I like that Noah’s house is small. The decor is pretty minimal, but it’s clear that he lives in it and he isn’t a neat freak. Other than my trip to The Pie Shop, I haven’t left this house over the last few days, so I’ve become well acquainted with it. I feel like I’ve gotten to know Noah a little bit just through the purposeful items he has around it. A simple bouquet of gorgeous flowers sits in a milk-glass vase on the breakfast table. I’ve never known a man to keep flowers in his home before and that feels important to note. He has green mouthwash the same color as his eyes. It sits on the bathroom counter beside his toothbrush (nonelectric) and toothpaste (Crest original). I haven’t gotten a peek at his bedroom yet because he still keeps that door shut as if he’s afraid I’ll rush in like an un-potty-trained puppy and pee all over his bedding.

I love it.

I love that he doesn’t lay a red carpet down for me to walk over. He hasn’t tried to entertain me once since I’ve been here—in fact, he’s stayed away for the most part. I think it’s because of the accidental kiss (ugh, that incredible kiss!) today, but I don’t mind because he just lets me live like I’m normal. I can’t explain how wonderful that is. Even the way his sisters treated me was different from most of the public. Yeah, they were intense, but the good kind. And I’ll tell you how I could trust them right away. They invited me to go out with them tonight instead of asking a single thing of me. No selfies. No autographs. They just wanted me to come out with them tonight because they thought it would be fun. And after three days of hibernating inside this house and worrying myself sick with what I’m going to do about my life, fun sounds incredible.

Speaking of incredible, Noah’s kiss pings back into my consciousness as it has about every twenty seconds over the last few hours. How could one kiss with a virtual stranger have hooked me this much? I have to block it out of my mind, though, because it absolutely cannot happen again.

But now the question is, what does one wear to a place called Hank’s? Or was it Honk’s? Tonk’s? I think it was Hank’s.

“Noah,” I yell through my bedroom door. “What do I wear to Honk’s?” I purposely use the wrong name because it has become one of my greatest pleasures to annoy Noah. I’ve made it a game. How long does it take to make the grumpy pie shop owner’s head pop off? I should keep a log in my phone. Download a sophisticated app to track the differences in his facial expressions.

I know he’s out there because I heard him go into the bathroom and turn on the shower when he got home from work. He was in there for twenty minutes. Twenty torturous minutes of me pacing this room like a caged tiger trying not to imagine what that man would look like in the nude. Oh geez. He would be a sight to behold, I just know it. A sight I will never behold because that’s not what this trip is about for me. And frankly, it’s really creepy that I’m imagining it anyway. I’m ashamed of you, inner sexual goddess. Control yourself.

A grunt sounds from somewhere outside my door. “Hank’s. It’s called Hank’s. If you’re gonna go, get it right.”

“Okay, well, what do I wear to Hank’s then?”

“Whatever the hell you want.”

Not sure how it’s possible, but Noah’s gotten more grumpy since earlier today (probably having something to do with the incident we shall not mention). And each time he’s looked at me after the bubble fiasco, a stern line is etched between his brows. I get it, we mixed personal spaces and he’s upset about it. It won’t happen again.

But here’s the thing, I’ve dated three guys in my adult years: an actor, a model, and then my last boyfriend was a singer, too. They were all men that magazines and tabloids drooled over, saying they were some of the sexiest and most successful men out there. And yet, I never once experienced as strong of an attraction to any of them like I have to Noah Walker.

I can’t let myself be attracted to him, though. I’ll be leaving on Monday and Susan has forbidden me from dating a normal guy when I’ve considered it in the past. She says our worlds are too far apart. Unfortunately, I’m also forbidden from cupcakes, any sort of exhilarating activity, or blinking without Susan’s consent.

Ugh. Thoughts of my normal life are bringing me down. Time to annoy Noah for sport.

“A cocktail dress it is, then! I have one that’s covered in sequins and has a slit up the thigh…I mean, I already wore it to Harry Styles’s birthday party, but I’m sure no one around here will mind if I’m seen in it twice. Plus, Harry loved it, so…”

I bite my bottom lip and wait.

Sure enough, I hear the heavy footfalls of Noah treading closer toward my door. “Don’t wear that. You’ll look ridiculous all dressed up.” No one can accuse this man of not being honest. He’s all blunt and zero sugar. He’s fantastic.

PS. I didn’t even pack a cocktail dress because I’m not an idiot despite what he seems to think about me.

“Just…wear jeans and a T-shirt,” says Noah, sounding like he’s being slowly tortured by having to act as my fashion consultant. Or maybe it’s just having to talk to me in general? I don’t know. But boy oh boy am I loving not having to act like a professional little ball of sunshine at all times. He thinks he’s scaring me off with his snippy attitude. Little does he know, I’m thriving off his surliness.

I open the door, revealing the outfit I was already wearing: jeans and a T-shirt and a kiss-my-ass grin. “Like this?”

He eyes me head to toe, scowls, and turns to walk to his door. He only opens it a crack and practically wiggles inside before closing it quickly behind him.

“Careful!” I yell at his closed door. “You almost left enough room for me to dart in under your feet that time!”

He growls and I smile. Two points for Amelia. Zero for Grumpy Pie Shop Owner.


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