10 : Prelude

Great.  She pissed him off again.  

Now he looked like he'd rather go clubbing and get plastered with his city friends than spend half an hour with her. 

Although in hindsight, she couldn't really blame him for wanting to turn tail and just leave her by herself.  He didn't need to be here. 

Perhaps Théo only asked to meet up with her again because he felt like she badly needed  company.  For her sake, and despite his ever-busy schedule of commitments, he made time tonight just to see her.  Check up on her. 

Still so caring.  Thoughtful and sweet.  She really didn't deserve him.

"We're just gonna stand here?" he murmured with knitted brows matching his frown. A thick jacket was carelessly placed over his shoulder.  His shirt clung to his body while his hair, sneakers, and crinkled pants looked damp.  It must have rained hard again.

He looked the same as last time.  Short dark blond hair, weary eyes, stubble and...still good-looking, even though he seemed he'd had a bit of a day. Théo stepped closer. His steady gaze just pinned her on the floor.

Speechless.  Almost disoriented.  She felt it first—desire so painful her entire body just shut off everything else. She could only see him. Nothing else seemed to matter.

It nurtured an ache she'd been trying to numb with stressful difficulty. Veronica glanced away, holding in a sigh. Chest-deep in guilt. Shame. She couldn't get a word out.

His sleep-deprived eyes worsened it.  Théo scanned her appearance from head to toe.  He said nothing at her odd muteness and hastily turned his back to her.  He rushed back to the front desk.

Five seconds after confirming their room assignment, he practically dragged her into the elevator.  "What?"  he sighed when the steel-gray doors slid close before them with a click. The question sounded more like a complaint. A flash of a scowl momentarily put curious lines on his tan face. 

Most likely her total silence was beginning to irritate him. Not entirely her fault that her brain couldn't cope quick enough.  She just didn't expect he'd show up—much less choose to stay the night in her hotel room.  "I-I thought you weren't coming."

"Fucking traffic," he mumbled as his eyes darted around the small elevator. Apparent annoyance sharpened his expression before he pushed the button numbered '3'.  "Why didn't you text back?"

Their stares locked. His calloused hand held onto her until his tight grip on her arm made her pull away.  

"Sorry,"  Théo muttered and faced front. The look on her face must have been one of pain. Now he was caressing her arm that still hurt a bit.

The gentle strokes completely held her attention, and her tongue-tied self couldn't stop admiring his face, him being so close. His familiar cologne—his fresh, soapy scent—was starting to recall memories she'd been trying so hard to bury in the back of her mind.

His frown made her more uneasy as much as she didn't want to seem so. He leaned against the steel wall facing her, and his tired blue eyes never left her face after that.

The elevator trapped them in—though only for several seconds—all the while her brain racked to take in everything.

Cheap flippin' wine. A full glass didn't even relax her at all...and he continued to stare.  Something was happening. At first she thought it was the useless wine finally kicking in. But it wasn't.

It was him. Just him.

The metal doors swung open before she could make sense of her scattered array of emotions. He took hasty steps after her, and then his hand caught her wrist. Veronica tried not to squirm.

Hand in hand, they rushed out to the narrow hallway, the lights making his almost crew-cut hair blonder.

Her hotel room didn't take them ten seconds to reach the door. Théo remained mum, and his grip on her was the one thing making her legs work. If he hadn't been tugging at her hand, she doubted she could get this far without tripping over herself.

"Where's the key?" Théo turned to her but avoided her eyes. Merely a step separated their faces. His breath felt so warm on her cheek, and he smelled of alcohol, unsurprisingly.

"In my pocket," she said with a sigh. Out of anxiety but mostly of relief. Nice to know her voice hadn't left her. Veronica glanced down her long-sleeved dress.

He dug into her dress' pocket before she could try to take the key card out. Her hand paused over his forearm. She bit on her lip; the pocket was deep. What's worse? Her phone rang again—she prayed it wasn't Kyle.

Théo frowned while she switched her phone to silent mode after declining a call from an unregistered number. Despite him scrambling, it took him seconds to get the stupid key card out of her pocket. The flat of his palm left a familiar warmth on her thigh.

The feel of his fingers touching her skin beneath the not-so-thick cloth was enough to stiffen her up. Her breathing turned shallow that instant. He must've felt it, as well—the straining tension between them every time he'd get too close. Otherwise he wouldn't be trying so hard to keep eye contact to a minimum.

"Relax, V. This'll be quick. This will turn out fine. Just be casual, friendly," her brain reiterated amid her anxiety attack.

There were two clicks after he slid the key card into the slot. In a blink, they were both in her hotel room. Théo threw his knapsack on a chair. Then he started taking his damp clothes off, his back to the dresser.

Self-consciousness and hesitation had her cowering to the corner. Veronica noted the dull air, her sweatier palms, and her tense intakes of breath. The awfully quiet half-lit room wasn't helping.

Shoot. She should've left the TV on.  "D'you bring extra clothes?" she asked out of having nothing else to say. Veronica sat on the edge of the neat hotel bed, absently watching him change. "Might catch a cold. Take a warm bath," she suggested when the guy kept ignoring her.

"I'm gonna." Théo glanced up at her, his narrowed eyes almost saying:  "What do you think I'm doing?"  He got a toothbrush out of his bag and made his way to the bathroom.

"Way to go, Veronica. Can't even talk to him without makin' a complete ass of yourself," she muttered under her breath before slapping her forehead.

Only running water made enough noise to distract her from the erratic thoughts. Now she just felt like running away from him. Hide somewhere. Be somewhere. Anywhere. Just someplace else where she wouldn't have to see him. Or the sheer dismay in his face. The unmistakable disappointment.

As fast as self-hatred grew inside her, crippling nerves restrained her on the hotel bed. Throat feeling dry and sore, head throbbing slightly. He could not have picked a worse night.

As of five minutes ago, she was no longer alone. But now that he wasn't physically by her side, loneliness still crept up on her. Like a recurring moment of pointless nostalgia.

Damned sentimental heart. It hadn't even been a month yet. But she missed him so much.  So freakin' much... 

Just hearing his voice made her legs soften.   Somebody help her. 

This would be the longest, most painful night of her life.

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