When Noah Vaughan sent in his college applications during the middle of his senior year, he aimed high. He had everything going for him: high SAT scores, amazing grades, tons of extracurricular activities under his belt- he was president of a few of the clubs he participated in. And, he was third in running for class valedictorian at his graduation.
His friends had always made fun of him, all amazed at how he could be so successful when the closest thing to studying he ever did was watch the History channel a few times a year. But, stuff like that just came easily to him (and it didn't hurt that he was quite popular with most of his teachers). A gift and a curse in many aspects. He barely did homework and rarely paid attention in class, but Noah had also made a few enemies despite his popularity. May, especially, was red with rage when Noah took the time to arrogantly shove his honors and awards in her face. She had always complained to Will about Noah's need to buckle down on his school work, and it all backfired on her in the end. He really should have thanked her. May was partly responsible for Noah's success; there was nothing he liked more than to spite his sister-in-law.
In the end, Noah chose NYU out of a few other schools to attend. He always liked to visit New York City, so he decided to see how residential life fared for him out there. He was there for two years now, having just finished his sophomore year. In those two years, he changed slightly. For the better, Noah liked the think. All the responsibilities Will and May had overtaken for him had then been placed upon his shoulders. Gradually, he was molding into a smart adult. He had finally considered May's insistence not to waste away his tuition and flunk out, for college would be much more of a challenge than high school was, and study...for the first time in his life.
He had, finally, failed an assignment. In his freshman Composition class. Being his old, cocky self, Noah had neglected to listen when his professor explained techniques and tips to use on the class' midterm paper. He ended up flunking out, and paying for another class to take that summer.
It was an eye-opening experience. Noah really buckled down after that, and eventually, it paid off- sooner than was expected, in fact. For, when he sent in his application to Awareness magazine, he honestly didn't believe he'd hold a letter of congratulations in his hands three months later.
Those were the first words to fall from his mouth after reading through the letter.
"What? Oh, damn, man. Don't tell me they chose you." His roommate, Darren, had snatched the letter from him and skimmed it. "Holy shit. Oh man, what the hell?"
Noah looked up from his desk, an eyebrow quirking. What the hell, indeed. His grades, he thought, weren't anywhere near as good as they needed to be to actually win the preliminaries of the contest. Apparently, though, someone else thought differently.
He took the letter back and put it on his desk, rubbing his forehead, then his eyes.
"...You get to go to freakin' Italy, dude," his roommate continued to babble, apparently just, or even more, excited than Noah himself. "Italian girls are hot. You're so lucky. Ah, dammit, sometimes I wish I was a nerd like y-,"
After a gradual smirk made its way onto Noah's face, Darren was cut off as he fell with a loud thud to the floor. Noah had him in a headlock as the two wrestled around. After a few minutes of scuffling, the two pulled themselves to each of their respective beds, Noah rubbing a bruising elbow, Darren nursing a sore shoulder.
"What was that about a nerd?" Noah asked, an easy grin falling back on his face.
"Just because you can kick ass doesn't mean you're not a nerd, loser" Darren replied, chuckling before flinging himself back on his bed. "I'm taking a nap; wake me before dinner's over."
Noah heaved himself back up, ruffling his hair with a sigh while stealing a glance at the innocent piece of white paper on his desk. A trace of pride flitted across his face. But, the blinking numbers on his digital clock brought him back to the present. "No can do," he answered Darren. "I've got work in twenty minutes."
Darren mumbled something incoherent, and Noah grabbed his coat before making his way out of the dorm.
"So, I need to take a leave of absence this summer."
Green, magnified eyes peered critically through large, thick framed glasses. Behind a small, cheap desk with frail legs struggling to support a desktop computer and a messy assortment of office supplies sat a woman with an unattractive, messy bun of brown curls and sallow, wrinkly skin. A ridiculous amount of goop that may have once been considered makeup caked the lids of the green eyes and the thin, stretched lips covering coffee-stained teeth. In all her comical glory, Olivia Turnpike sat with her hands primly folded out in front of her, signifying her 'no-nonsense' attitude. She was a middle-aged divorcée with two out-of-control teenagers and an absurd amount of power. As the store manager of a local grocery store, Olivia prided herself in keeping the young high school/college student-hooligans she called employees in line.
Noah finished his speech from his side of the desk, where he sat, in complete ease. He never was one to be intimidated by her overwhelming perfume or her piercing glare. While he found out on his first day on the job that she wouldn't be taken with his charming allure, Noah knew that he was one of the few employees she could stand. He was punctual, he stayed late when needed, and he rarely slacked off. She couldn't afford to hate him. Just like he knew she couldn't afford to dismiss his employment at the off-chance he would return come winter.
"I see," she finally answered stiffly. Noah continued to hold her gaze steadily, a hint of a smile on his lips. Try as she might, Noah knew he'd walk out of that office, secure in knowing his clerk position would be waiting for his return. It wasn't that he couldn't find another job if need be- it was a small-chained grocery store, after all- but Noah had grown fond of the store. He knew everyone there, was well-liked by mostly all, and the work was incredibly easy; not to mention the fact that he was very curious to see how far he could push Olivia's limits before she blew.
It was Olivia that ended up breaking the staring contest when she looked over at her computer while typing something. "Very well, Mr. Vaugh. I'll be expecting you back here by September 1st at the lastest." She looked over at him once more, her glare hardening, "Now get back to work."
Noah flashed her the smile waiting to break loose before casually strolling- maybe slightly slower than she would have liked- out the door. He made his way back to register three with his hands loosely resting in his pockets. The store was nearly empty of customers; only two more cashiers were working during his shift: Mandy Turnpike and Chad Porter. They were in the middle of a conversation when Noah entered their vision.
"How'd it go?" Chad asked, breaking off the conversation.
"How do you think it went?" Noah replied, reaching his register. He glanced briefly over at Mandy when he informed, "Your mom's a peach, as usual."
"My mom's a bitch," Mandy stated indifferently. Chad snorted, a wide smile stretching his face as he exchanged glances with Noah. Mandy started about three months prior. It was never fully disclosed to the rest of the employees why Olivia Turnpike's rebellious sixteen-year-old got the job, but the rumors were all so similar that it had soon become common knowledge that the cranky store owner blackmailed her daughter into the job, probably in an attempt to keep her out of trouble. Mandy, the epitome of a problem child with fourteen various piercings, bright pink hair, three tattoos (the origins of which were blurry due to the fact that Olivia was completely clueless of their existence), and a jailed boyfriend six years her senior, resented her mother greatly each time she stepped in to the grocery store.
"I think she likes me," Noah said wryly, his smug smile momentarily focused on a newcomer into the store by means of greeting.
"Well, she is fishing for a new husband to dominate and soul-strip," Mandy popped her bubble-gum, absently checking out a customer that had approached her line. "I could put in a good word for you."
"That's disgusting," Chad chimed in, adjusting his wire-rimmed glasses before he grabbed a magazine from his rack to skim.
"That's...horrifying," said Noah, nearly shuddering from the visual image Mandy had painted for him.
Mandy simply smirked, her lip ring catching the light before once more attending to the customer.
He had taken care of all the loose ends weeks before his trip: informed his brother, friends, work; he bought everything he needed and researched anything he thought would be useful; he had his passport, wrote his letter of acceptance back to the magazine, and partied wholeheartedly with the rest of his friends when school let out once more.
He had packed, sent the rest of his stuff back to his home, and, soon enough, woke up to the buzzing of his alarm clock on the morning he'd been waiting for. The rest of the students had already left; Noah had made arrangements to stay the extra few days until the contest was to commence.
After getting up to shower and dress, Noah grabbed his stuff and made his way down to the designated building, knowing he was a little bit early. He didn't care, though. He was eager to start the trip.
Knowing his way around quite well, it didn't take long for him to find the room mentioned in the letter. It was a normal classroom, though a little smaller than most. The desks had been removed, and one long table was placed in the center, with numerous chairs surrounding it. There were already a few people in there; three, to be exact. Two men and a woman, all dressed in business attire. They were congregated together at the end of the table, sifting through a pile of papers. When Noah entered, however, they paused for a moment and looked up, all smiling politely.
One of the men with lighter brown hair than the other stood up and walked over to Noah, holding out a hand. "Sean Lewis, CEO of Awareness magazine," he introduced himself when Noah took his hand and shook it. He looked briefly over his shoulder and then glanced back to Noah, jerking his head back to the other two. "That's Dr. Peter Young," the other man waved shortly, looking back down at the paper, "and Maria Watson, my assistant." The woman looked up and smiled tightly again in greeting.
"I'm Noah Vaughan," Noah said, glancing over at the other two, who had brought out another sheet when hearing his name.
"I.D?" Maria spoke up questioningly. Noah nodded and reached into his back pocket for his wallet. He pulled out his driver's license and handed it over to her.
"Have a seat; make yourself comfortable," Dr Young said, checking his watch. "You're the first to arrive."
Noah nodded, taking a seat and pocketing his ID once more after Maria checked it.
"Where's Phil? He was suppose to be here fifteen minutes ago with his crew," Sean asked, irritation lightly tainting his voice as his eyes flew to the clock hanging on the wall right above the door.
"He called me a few minutes ago," Maria informed him, "They're held up in traffic and should be here in a bit."
Sean nodded, just as the door opened and in walked a group of four, with two video cameras and sound equipment. They immediately set into action, setting up the equipment while one of them broke away and shook Sean's hand, clapping him on the back as well. "Sorry about that, Sean. Maria told you we got held up in traffic, right?"
Sean nodded, but checked the clock again. "John should be here soon, too. He had his daughter..."
Noah tuned out the rest as more people entered. Soon the room was full of people, and Noah was surrounded by his fellow contestants, each one different in their own unique...annoying...
"...And so Stevie bought me the puppy; It was so sweet," a perky voice cooed.
Dominique Weiss was cute enough: peppy, pixie-ish, blonde curls, and petite. Her voice, her whole demeanor, though, could grate on anyone's nerves. And her obsession with her boyfriend, Stevie, was revealed the instant she opened her mouth.
Stevie- or Stephan Walker- sat next to Dominique, running his hand through her hair fondly, a smile on his face as he observed his girlfriend with an unwavering gaze. So far, no one had heard him utter a word, but that wasn't too hard to believe, with Dominique there to dominate the conversation the group found themselves in. They sat straight across the table from Noah, who had slumped back in his seat, head slightly declined, dead eyes staring at the two. His lip almost curled in annoyance at the pair; Noah was seriously regretting his early arrival. Luckily, Dominique had finished her rambling, but continued to coo at Stevie as the two earned even more glares from some of the group.
"How...how did you two get here?" Marissa Perry, a slightly plump, incredibly bright, albeit quite rude, girl with bright red hair asked, voicing everyone's silent question. The contest was suppose to be about intellect, and the couple didn't exactly dispense a vast amount of knowledge.
Stephen momentarily tore his gaze away from Dominique and spoke his first words since arriving, "Here? We took a plane."
Marissa looked over at Noah, then at the other four sitting at the table with them- Doris Harrison, Vincent Gallagher, Joanie Zeeb, and Daniel Cue- and rolled her eyes.
"Yeah, we're from Los Angeles; it was a long trip," Dominique informed them with a small laugh and nod.
Noah smiled, unable to keep it from being a little sarcastic, "Well, at least you made it," he said with a solemn tone.
The door opened again, catching Noah's attention. Another guy about his age walked through, glancing around critically before walking towards one of the older men who arrived about a half hour earlier. Maria walked over and checked his ID.
It was then that Sean decided to catch everyone's attention. When everyone at the table had quieted down, and the camera crew had lowered their voices to whispers, Sean began, "Good morning, and thanks for coming today...do we have everyone with us?"
The newest guy was quick to speak up, "Not quite. My girlfriend was detained for just a..." he trailed off by the intense look Sean was throwing his way. Clearing his throat, he exchanged a quick look with the older man he had been talking to before finishing, "I'll just go get...one moment." He walked, with all eyes on him, back to the door and looked out for a moment.
"...waiting on you," Noah's ears picked up his sharp tone.
A second later, Noah's heart skipped a beat and his eyes widened in shock. His posture was no longer slouched, but upright, rigid.
What. The. Hell.
"Hayden?!" he exclaimed, in cue with two other men in the room. He barely took in the spilled Sprite; his gaze looked with hers. The same, familiar eyes. Through all the confusion Noah was going through at the moment (his eyes suddenly locked on her lips, which mouthed his name wordlessly) he couldn't help but admit that after two long years, Hayden Masterson was, if possible, more beautiful, more breathtaking, more stunning than before. The sound of his blood pumping filled his ears; her presence brought back every single memory he had of the not-so-greatest moment of his life.
A single word echoed through the blood pumping.
She blinked and shook her head slightly, pulling her eyes away from his.
He coughed uncomfortably, fidgeting slightly in his chair.
Repent...and thou shall be saved.
"Son of a bitch," he mumbled under his breath. This summer just got a whole lot more interesting.
A/N: I just went in and changed a few things (You had a really good point, abc). I hope you all enjoyed Noah's POV; I haven't decided how much of the story will be centered around him, but I'm sure this isn't the last of it. Next chapter, be ready for some good ol' Noah/Hayden interaction!