1 : Long-Distance "Friends"

• 2 years earlier •

A new record, a flourishing music career, new tours, bigger paychecks, enough savings for rent, a new car, and maybe a new house...

Those were the main things she looked forward to  since she signed with the band under a bigger label.  Not depression.  Or a mental breakdown. 

Oh, right.  Rather outdated term.  Her mom said a "major depressive episode" would be more accurate to describe her current condition.  

"Not atypical for a 25-year-old after a traumatic breakup, hon. Stop being so hard on yourself," her mom also reminded.  Dr. Michel even encouraged her to see a shrink last week. 

Talking to a complete stranger who knew jackshit about her and her problems for an hour straight?  Must be the most awkward thing ever.

At the thought, Veronica scowled and stepped out of the shower.  Only the third time she bothered to bathe this week, but who cares...

Lately, she loved being alone and holing up in her humble abode.  Night life and going out with her bandmates didn't interest her at all these days.  Her usually sociable self just didn't see the point anymore.

On the flip side, she wasn't entertaining suicidal thoughts on the daily yet.  It was mainly the anxiety, irritability, appetite issues and useless guilt feelings that kept her up late at night.

She managed to write eight new songs, too — it was the only thing that reminded her she was still alive and quite a productive member of society, and the only thing that didn't make her feel worthless and hopelessly empty.

She just wasn't used to being this depressed.  Delayed post-breakup depression, that is.  Then again, always a first time for everything...

"Shut up, drama queen," Veronica scolded her own brain as she hastily put on an old shirt dress that hid her arms and half of her thighs.  Just a quick run to the grocery store and she'd be back home enjoying her total privacy again.  It shouldn't take an hour.

Without bothering to put on makeup, she combed her damp hair after putting on some lotion.  The cold weather was making her skin drier than usual again.

Then her doorbell rang, the strident noise echoing through her small apartment.  She winced and tutted before putting down the comb.  Her ears just felt oversensitive lately — or maybe it was just her surly mood all week. 

Was it the landlord again?  Or fan mail?  She never posted her address online.  Their band wasn't that internationally famous either.  Not yet, anyway.  

"Ms. Veronica Solène Michel?"  A male voice.  Deep.  Familiar.  A hint of an accent.  Some guy was outside her front door.

But who?  She wasn't expecting guests today.  Veronica got rid of her frown and walked away from the mirror, her white socks muffling her footsteps as she headed towards the locked door.  "Yeah?"

"Open up."

Open up?  She clasped the doorknob and pulled a face.  Her curiosity immediately urged her to use the peephole. 

Crap.   It's Supermodel.  Right on her doormat.  In the flesh.  

Well, "Supermodel" wasn't something he preferred to be called and he wasn't really household name-famous yet.  But it was what she nicknamed him ever since Jamie formally introduced Théo to her.  

The heck was he doing here?  How did he even know where she lived exactly?  Her heartbeat accelerated as she stood speechless behind the front door, her forehead pressing onto the smooth wooden surface.  Why was he here out of the blue?

"Via."  He sounded impatient now, his voice low.  "It's Théo. Reynaud."

Oh darn.  Pale.  Eye bags.  Damp hair.  She didn't even bother to slap on some foundation or spray on some cologne.  Ugh.  Whatever.  No time for that.

The guy stared right at her the moment she opened the door for him.  He was carrying a small box.  His right hand touched the doorjamb while his frown emphasized his attractive blue eyes and pouting lips.  "Happy birthday."

"Huh?" She squinted at him as she hid half of herself behind the door, unsure what was in the box with a red ribbon.

"In advance," Théo muttered, reminding her of her upcoming birthday.  He replaced his frown with a quick half-grin after he straightened up.  His hoodie partly covered the top of his plain jeans that looked as black as his sneakers.  He wore a backpack, too.  

Did he just arrive here?  From New York?  Straight from Paris?

"How'd you know where I..."

"Jamie. Who else?" Théo sighed and stepped forward before she could even welcome him in.

She backed away and pulled the door wide open for him, her thoughts barely past the shock.  "How'd you...  You drove here from New York?" 

"Yeah. Three hours," he murmured before he took off his shoes beside the door.  He smelled of cigarettes and men's perfume.  With a sigh, he leaned forward to quickly kiss her cheeks. 

The gesture caught her off-guard, but he was a full-blooded French.  It shouldn't surprise her one bit.  She put on a friendly smile for him to hide the awkwardness she felt at the moment.

Then he placed the box with the ribbon right on her coffee table in her small living room, his movements rushed and almost impatient.  He took off his hoodie to put it in his bag while she just stared at him.

"You, um...  D'you need anything? A drink or..."  She forced her shoeless feet to move towards him despite the loud and almost painful thumps in her chest.  

He was the last person she expected to see today.   He didn't even call her to tell her he was back in America, or that he was on his way here to see her.  "Just water. Please."

"Okay." 

"Hope you don't mind. I'm just exhausted," he complained in a mumble while he sat back in her old couch.  His dark blond hair didn't look styled at all — wavier than she remembered and quite disheveled, but still short.

"No problem," she lied with a forced pleasant tone.  She watched him stare blankly at her TV, still clueless as to why he showed up here unannounced.  The last time they hung out was months ago.  Overseas.

They didn't really keep in touch since.  Well, he tried, but then the breakup happened and made her utterly allergic to people except her bandmates, her best friends, and her immediate family. 

"Anything else?"

"What?" Théo turned to look at her.

"You need anything else?" She opened the fridge to get him a glass of cold water, and also to hide her deathly pale face from his attentive eyes.  "I was, um, on my way to the store."  Darn.  Her makeup kit was in her pouch in the bedroom. 

"You're leaving now?" He got up from the couch to walk towards her.  Their fingers touched when she handed him the glass of water. 

She backed away, both of them standing in front of her fridge now, shoeless and eye-to-eye.  It surprised her a little how fast he got close to her.  But maybe it was just her nervousness coupled with anxiety, and the shock of seeing him again without proper notice.  

"Yeah. You could just...wait here till I get back." 

"You gotta go now?"

"Yeah." She dropped her gaze and grabbed a rag, then pretended to be busy wiping the kitchen counter.  But her kitchen was mostly clean;  she hadn't cooked anything in days.  

"No. I'll drive you there," Théo replied with creased brows.  They looked darker and thicker now that he stood against the windows and with the kitchen lights turned off.

"No. You don't have to."

He squinted at her.  A somewhat tense silence passed while they eyed each other.  "But I want to."

"Just stay here," she muttered after glancing away.

"I was trying to call you all week." He spoke in a muted voice now, his tone riddled with displeasure.  "Did you block my number?"

"Um..."  Oh heck.  She did.  Stupid.  She almost forgot. 

He'd been calling her weekly the past few months.  Her busy schedule at the studio with her bandmates, plus her rather introverted routine lately convinced her to block his phone number that last time he rang her twice on the same day.  

"Why?" Théo crossed his arms below his chest.  His tight blue shirt clung to his muscular physique, showing off his gym bod.  He wasn't bulging muscles all over, though, which she preferred.  "We got a problem I don't know about?"

Problem?  She frowned and took another step backward, unsure of how to answer his hushed question, totally unprepared for an up-close conversation with him at this hour and alone with him in her quiet apartment. 

Should she tell him the truth? That she was avoiding him because of that memorable, non-friendly kiss he gave her last time?  

They were both a bit soused that night but it was still fresh on her mind.  She got drunk with him and their Parisian friends at a bar after she found out Blake cheated on her with a bleach blonde beauty queen.  Then, before she left the bar with friends,  Théo kissed her goodbye on the lips.  For the first time.

Since then, she'd been doubting their "just friends" status and mulling over his eagerness to get to know her better.  She didn't want to date anyone new — much less get into a new relationship, for that matter.  It was mainly why she avoided him.  He was a bit of a ladies' man as well, according to Jamie at least.  

"Via." Théo scowled at her reticent behavior, his brows still furrowed.

"Why're you here again?" 

"Just wanted to check up on you." He stared at her and frowned, seeming confused by her question.  Without any warning, he leaned closer to touch her cheek.  His hand felt warm and smelled of cigarette smoke.  "You wouldn't take my calls. You didn't even reply to my texts, and chats."

"I've just been so busy," she murmured after avoiding his gaze again.  She replied to his texts once or twice last month, though, if memory served her well.  "Sorry."

"Sure." He stopped touching her face and heaved a sigh.  Théo leaned against the fridge while she tried not to scowl at his sarcasm.  "You doin' okay?" he asked after an awkward silence.

"Yeah," was her half-meant response.

"We good?" He regarded her again.  This time, he looked visibly annoyed.  "Or you want me to leave now?"

"No."  

"Then why are you being weird?"

Huh?  What did he mean?  Veronica looked away and sighed, getting frustrated that he kept pressing her to open up.  "I just, didn't expect you would...  I didn't even know you're here again."

"Fashion Week next month," he mumbled. 

"Oh."  Okay.  So he'd be busy with New York Fashion Week again.   Of course he was back here in the States for work.  No other reason.  

He sounded genuinely concerned about her, though.  "Did I do something to upset you or..."

"No."

"So why block my number?" He stepped closer to her, his attention centered on her face.

Her breath hitched while her brain tried to come up with a decent, sensible reply — something less telltale of depression and her not so casual feelings about their ongoing friendship.  What reason should she give him?

It would sound laughable to him if she admitted she's still having a hard time moving on from her duplicitous ex.  More importantly, she didn't want to talk about the breakup.  Just the last thing she wanted to discuss today.

"I'm just...not myself lately."  Veronica walked away from him to get some air and space.  Also, she had to put on some makeup, like, yesterday.

"I know." Théo scoffed.  "I'm asking why you didn't wanna talk to me." He followed her to her bedroom, his footsteps almost as rushed as hers.

In haste, she grabbed her makeup pouch and put on some foundation to hide her eye bags and freckles.  Plus some mascara, and a coat of nude pink lipstick to make herself look less like a walking corpse.  When she was about to step out of the room, he blocked the doorway.

The guy didn't move, even after she made a face at his attempt to stop her from walking away again.  "I'll drive you to the store."

"No. You don't have to." She pulled back when he took a step closer.  "Just wait here and rest. You're tired."  She glanced at her empty bed. "Use the bed if you want."

"You're...letting me stay the night?" Théo squinted at her, mumbling his words.

"Sure." She stifled a sigh with her palm.  "Like I said, get some rest."  She walked out of the bedroom when he finally stopped blocking her way.  "What do you want? I'll get you some stuff at the store if you need anything."

"Nothing."  He hugged her from behind. "Just be here."  His arms tightened around her chest.  "And stop being weird."

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