Kissing a Writer
Series: The Writer
Couple: Alda and Noah
Release Date: September 15, 2022
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Love at first sight. That’s what Noah and I had.
Our college romance survived even when I transferred to study in Paris. He thought I’d come home after that.
Only I didn’t.
The worst part was that I couldn’t tell him why. Not when my sister begged me to keep her issues private. My silence made him think I didn’t value our relationship.
After that, there was no us.
During our years apart, I watched every movie, read every book Noah wrote. All of them were about us.
None of them ended happily.
Now though, he wants that to change. See, Noah wants to rewrite his script, and he wants me to co-author the kind of ending we didn’t get in his manuscript and in real life.
I want it, too…but when I can’t tell him the truth, what will keep us from breaking up again?
We’re so close to our second chance at happily ever after.
And this time, I don’t intend to let us go without a fight…
Excerpt from When You Took My Heart by Noah Lear
“Please stay,” I said.
I wasn’t one to beg, but for her I would—if it boiled down to either that or her leaving me. “I love you,” I blurted out, saying it as fast as my mouth allowed me.
In case she forgot.
My stomach was tied in knots as my mind tried to function, to remember when was the last time I told her how I felt.
Shit, shit. I didn’t share my feelings enough. I should have voiced them more often.
Or maybe she just forgot.
Nicole gasped and closed her eyes. When she opened them to look at me, the gaze in these light green gems was empty. They no longer sparkled for me. She’d checked out, already on the flight to Paris despite every physical aspect of them and her still here in my apartment.
To the naked eye nothing changed, yet through my eyes, regardless of the tears welling behind them and blurring my vision, nothing seemed the same.
Yes, the couch and the rug were where I put them the day I moved in, along with the guitar I’d been trying to play unsuccessfully for years. The hollow wooden instrument had been collecting dust since the beginning of summer, two months ago, when she returned.
With her here after four months of missing her so much it hurt, I didn’t even notice they were there. For all I cared, we were in an empty warehouse, she and I and our love.
The love I failed to show her.
Nicole let go of a tear of her own and it marked her olive skin in a smooth trail as it rolled down her cheek. A wave dying out on a sandy beach. For an instant, I craved to reach out and trace it with my finger. To taste the salty liquid on my tongue.
To be on that beach of hers.
I probably would’ve done it, had I not been so utterly dumbstruck by her statement. “It’s done, Allan.” Her words were thrown in my direction, small, sharp knives.
Each one hit me with precision, driving into my skin, slashing me apart. “I signed up to go and study abroad next year and I won’t be canceling it.”
Besides the visible tear she refused to wipe, her face demonstrated no sign of pain. Her lips were pressed together, hiding their fullness behind a white line. A border to keep me away from her.
She doesn’t love you. The voice I had buried during her absence reared its ugly head. A bead of cold sweat ran down my spine at the thought it might be true, making me shiver involuntarily. I shoved it back to the pits where it originated. She did love me. She must have.
My Nicole’s departure to Paris in less than ten days clouded my vision, my thoughts, my heart. The promises she made to return for good snapped one by one like twigs, so easily broken. If she ever truly meant them. If they weren’t a mishap, thrown into space to appease my dire longing for her.
Whatever they were, I lived and breathed these promises for the past four months. They meant something to me.
And I refused to believe they meant nothing to her.
With every kiss, hug, call from near or far—the evidence of her love was scattered everywhere. The moment had come to show mine. “I’ll stop investing so many hours in writing. I’ll be with you as much as you want me to.”
Her stern expression broke with the saddest smile I’d ever seen. “Allan, it’s not that.”
“Is it the money then?” I grasped at straws, refusing to believe it simply was her wanting to add more months on to her adventure. “If it’s about the money then you don’t have to worry. I’ll work double shifts at the bar and pay back the deposits you made.”
Nicole fell back on the mattress with a huff when I extended my hand to touch her. The long brown curls of hers sprawled on the pillow in wonderful disarray. “You’re making it harder than it already is.”
She nearly yelled, covering her eyes with the back of her palms and then looking at me. “I’m going. It’s final and you’ll have to accept it.”
“By next year I’ll be gone.” I voiced a weak threat, my last resort in convincing her not to leave. “I’ll move, and there’ll be no us.”
I regretted the ultimatum as soon as it left my mouth, wishing to take it back. Its impact, however, affected her and there was no returning from this.
A storm raged behind her eyes, a twister in a rainforest, and her brow furrowed so deep that lines creased on the smooth planes of her forehead. She spun the two gold bracelets on her left wrist furiously, the ones she received as a birthday gift from her late parents, the ones she clung to whenever something distressed her.
Heart-wrenching moments passed when even her breaths were inaudible. The only sound breaking the silence was Nicole cursing as she stumbled into my boots while collecting her clothes. Black shirt, black jeans, black underwear that I tore off of her were being placed back on in a reverse motion.
When my senses returned to me, I scrambled to my feet to help her. She shook her head and turned from me to pull her jeans up her hips.
Being mindful not to crowd her space again, I threw her name in the suffocating air between us. “Nicole?” I asked, suppressing the dire need to kiss her, erase these last fifteen minutes from our lives.
“If you want to leave, Allan, I won’t stop you.”
The ice in her tone made me freeze in my place.
Fight for us, I willed her through my thoughts as the pressure in my chest persisted, a rope cinching around my lungs.
Nicole had the qualities of a magnificent warrior and she manifested them there in my room. The slow intake of breath, the jut of her chin, the tight fists her small hands balled into. She fought her own self and for a split second I believed my mind had screamed loud enough to reach her.
When she sniffled, my hope grew. There was no telling what emotion stood behind the noise since she had her back to me. Being the selfish bastard I was, I hoped tears brought it on. Tears meant she cared.
This hope, along with the rest I held on to today, went up in smoke.
“I have to go.”
Boom. The door slammed shut.
The sound echoed in the apartment long after she went away. Even as more sounds echoed in it. Sounds of plates, glasses, and anything within my reach as they crashed into the wall.
“Fuck,” I hissed when the knock on the door nearly made me drop the mug in my hand.
It belonged to my recently passed nonno, grandpa in Italian. I wrapped my fingers tighter around it so as to not lose this memento of him.
The move to Brooklyn from my home in Boston for the last twenty-three years was long coming, though I wished it’d happened under better circumstances. When he passed and with my sister Lia living in Paris, any ties I had to the city were severed. Nor did I want to stay in a place with so many awful memories, after four long years of witnessing him slowly wither with every unsuccessful cancer treatment we tried.
We were able to afford the medical bills from my parents’ inheritance, but unfortunately none of them worked against the Leukemia. On his deathbed he wished for me to chase my dreams, make the move I’d been talking about for ages, become the writer I always wanted to be.
I had every intention to make good on that promise.
But in that late afternoon, I had to protect his mug and see who might come and see me in a city full of strangers. I approached the door when I didn’t hear any sounds from the hall. “Who’s there?”
“Your new neighbors.” The two voices sing-songed as one.
I’d say their visit took me by surprise, though with how loud my movers were and the building being only three stories high, it probably shouldn’t have.
The women on the other side sounded friendly. I cracked open the door, leaving on the chain lock just in case. A girl alone in a new city could never be safe enough.
Both ladies were young, near my age. The one closer to the door wore her wavy, auburn hair in fishtail braids and the other donned a half-up top knot as the rest of her straight, long brown hair cascaded down her back, and her large diamond earrings shone even in the dimly lit hall.
They seemed like good people, both beaming and waving at me.
“Or should I say old neighbors since you’re the new girl?” The auburn-haired one giggled. “Nice to meet you. I’m Elsie Jenkins and this is Justine Sutton.”
“Please, enter.” I returned their smiles and gave them my full name as well. “I’m Alda, Alda Ricci.”
“Alda? That’s an unusual name.” Justine perused me, her eyes flickering with interest. “But I like it, it suits you.”
“Thanks, I guess.” I tucked an unruly curl behind my ear and glanced around the house.
Cardboard boxes with my entire life packed inside them were strewn around the dusty loft. “Sorry the place is a mess.”
Elsie leaned against the door and shushed me. “Don’t be silly, we’ve all been there. We’re actually here to help.”
“Yes, help.” Her smile persisted at my disbelief. “This is why we rushed down here as soon as we saw the movers. So, unless you want to kick us out, we’ll be more than happy to assist you.”
With another quick look around the room, I nodded reflexively, not believing something good could happen to me. The number of boxes and amount of dust and dirt meant hours of labor, and the thought of unpacking brought on another wave of exhaustion on top of the one from the long drive.
Before we did any cleaning or unboxing, I had to thank them for their kindness. Being a bartender during my college years, I knew exactly how to do it. “Would you like wine?”
“Hello to my new favorite neighbor.” Justine’s giggles reverberated through the old loft.
“Umm hello?” Elsie elbowed her, giving her a stern glare laced with a smile.
“What?” Justine faked offense as her laugh died out. “You know I’m a sucker for wine.”
“We’d love some.” Elsie turned to me, ignoring her friend. “Our new favorite neighbor.”
They sat down and talked animatedly while I went through the boxes marked fragile, searching for tumblers. Next, I found the wine box with the bottle collection my nonno had for our evenings together. His ailment prevented us from drinking them, and a part of me felt like sharing them with other people was a betrayal.
Shaking it off, especially since I remembered how he loved me having a social life before they vanished, I headed to the dining table where my new friends sat.
“So, Alda, let me guess.” Elsie stroked her chin. “You’re either a writer or an aspiring writer. Correct?”
The hold I had on the bottle loosened before I fastened my grip on it just as fast. When I felt like it wouldn’t drop, my eyes inspected the floor around me to see if the notebook where I kept my notes had fallen out of my bag. Nope, not on the floor.
“How did you know?”
“Cool party trick, isn’t it?” She took the bottle from me, and Justine helped me with the glasses, placing them down on the table in front of us. “I’m not a clairvoyant or anything, but you’re at the right age, moved to Bushwick, and don’t have any paint stains, which is what a painter usually has.” She shrugged. “I made an educated guess.”
I sighed a laugh, the tension I had no idea I was holding in my chest rolling off me. Besides being a bartender and an inspiring writer, I operated a lifestyle blog with decent traffic.
It wasn’t like I kept my identity a secret, but I looked forward to them liking me for who I was without prejudice about what they read online. Especially with the plethora of the online haters I had.
“Well, I’m still not a writer-writer.” I opened the bottle and kept on talking while I let it breathe. Sharing the wine with others was one thing, but the tradition had to be maintained. “I majored in English and have been writing a book of short fictional stories since my sophomore year.”
With the wine living and breathing and spreading its scent in my tight kitchen, I filled our glasses and sat down, then played with a splinter coming off the table. “I haven’t published it yet or anything.”
“You don’t need to be published to be called a writer.” Elsie placed a comforting hand on my shoulder. “As long as you’re writing.”
“So true. Elsie and I are writers too, even if we do it slowly and even if what we do write ends up stashed on our laptops under a locked file.” Justine raised her glass in my direction and took a sip. “Even if I’m an English tutor supported by her fart of a father and Elsie is a marketing manager for a publishing house instead of publishing herself.”
“Hey!” Elsie laughed at the blunt description.
Warmth spread throughout my belly, a combination of wine and the sentiment of being a part of a group. Sitting with them brought on a flashback to my younger years when the main topics of conversation weren’t hospital appointments and chemo sessions and arranging funerals. Their giddiness consoled me, and my heart felt a little less broken in their company.
Elsie checked her phone and quickly placed it facedown. “A group of friends are meeting at someone’s house this evening for a party if you’re interested.”
Enjoying the company of these two in the environment of my home felt safe with the grief still scraping at my heart. A party with lots of new people while being depressed with my sob story sounded less appealing.
“My clothes are still packed and I’ve got nothing to wear.” The excuse sounded lame even to my own ears.
“Let’s get this unloading party started then.” Justine poured us more wine, filling the glasses to the brim and handing them to us. “We’re not supposed to drink and drive, but we most certainly can drink and clean. In fact, cleaning sober should be outlawed in my opinion.”
“I second that.” Elsie gulped down her drink, got to her feet, and placed her hands on her hips, inspecting the apartment. “You tell us what goes where and we’ll make sure you’ll have something to wear by the time we have to leave.”
Their expressions implied they weren’t going to take no for an answer and with a heavy sigh and no other excuses, I agreed. We unpacked, organized, and cleaned the entire place, making the house look more like a home.
When we finished, we stood at the doorway, observing our accomplishments with the front of our shirts covered in dust and dirt while satisfied smiles decorated our faces.
Elsie wiped her hands on her shirt and turned to walk out. “Meet you here in an hour?”
“See you then.”
* * *
When we arrived at the party, the place was swarmed with people from the age of twenty to probably forty and over. There were so many of them that I barely saw their faces, strolling in and out of rooms, leaning casually on the walls and having conversations with plastic cups in their hands or cramming outside on the balcony, where the cigarette smoke came from.
Their laid-back attitudes and casual outfits of jeans and plain T-shirts or flannel shirts rubbed off on me. The unnerving feeling of this being too soon to start going out all but faded.
“Creed, Jane, this is Alda, our new neighbor.” Justine addressed a couple who lounged in the kitchen, leaning against the counter as we went there to get our drinks.
“Welcome to the neighborhood.” Jane nodded at me. “Where are you from?”
“Boston.” I thanked Justine when she passed me my cup, and filled two more for her and Elsie. Thankfully, she stuck to wine instead of mixing it with the many other drinks. “It’s my first night here.”
“That’s awesome.” Her blue eyes gleamed under the orange light from the hanging lamp. “If you need friends to commiserate with over the roaches, we’re here for you.”
Justine leaned in as we left to search for Elsie. “She’s exaggerating. There’s like one, maybe two a month tops.” She raised her head to scour the room. “Where is that girl? Do you see her?”
Following her lead, I twisted my head and scanned the groups of people with squinted eyes, when I locked in on the tall man who strolled in from the balcony.
As if he didn’t have a care in the world. As if the sight of him alone didn’t make everyone else disappear, making him the sole focus of my attention.
He wore his dark blond hair longer than last time I saw him, and his tattoo sleeves covered his arms down to his wrists besides the older one I recognized on the front of his palm, the star shaped one. I’d caught on these changes on television, and yet I couldn’t get over the shock of seeing them in person.
Because other than them, nothing had changed about the brown-eyed boy who left me all those years ago.
The boy who tore out a piece of my soul.
No air came in or out of my lungs. They were crushed under the weight of years’ worth of love, abandonment, and loneliness that this man’s existence brought on me. The weight felt as heavy as the day he released me, the day I understood what it felt like to have someone’s boot crushing my chest.
My body was trapped in this no-breathing, no-moving limbo. Running far, far from here like I urged my limbs to do turned out physically impossible and I stared dumbly at Noah, gravitating towards him right along with every other person in the room.
“Earth to Alda.” Justine waved her hand in front of me, bringing the room back to focus.
She stirred me awake at the exact same moment Noah’s head lifted slowly in my direction. The magnetic force between us worked both ways. Whatever conversation he took part in ceased and when his eyes found mine, our gazes locked, no one interrupting us.
When he looked at me, the years of stagnation were woken by his pull, a pull he and no other had on my heart. The identical all-consuming pull he had had on me since the very first eye contact we made almost five years ago.
And when his lips curved up to the side showing a flash of his teeth, I knew I was doomed.
There was no escaping Noah Lear.