• 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 Rather outdated term.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? 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."
"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.
"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?"
"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..."
"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."
• A year earlier •Ecstasy. Nothing but pure ecstasy. That's how he always felt whenever he had her all to himself. Whenever they were intimate in bed, especially. It always felt this great.Something about making love to her just overwhelmed him with pure bliss and a rush of emotions he never felt with anyone else. It numbed every bit of his common sense, and he loved how it consumed him and every part of him, albeit just for a fleeting moment. Far from the annoying loneliness and instant guilt trip post-nut clarity often gave him. Holding her in his arms, listening to her laugh, kissing her wherever he wanted, feeling the gentleness of her caresses—just a thousand times better.Being with her just felt right. Natural. Freeing. He would never trade the feeling for anything. Not in this lifetime. "You okay, love?" Th&eacu
• Arcueil, Paris •50 percent remaining. Enough for a 30-minute call. Théo stretched out on his daybed and sat up after checking his phone's battery bars. Growing impatient, he got on his feet and headed out the door.The rooftop would be ideal. Moonlit. Spacious. Private. He could talk to his girlfriend for as long as he wanted. His hand disheveled his clean-cut hair as he dashed across the hallway to get to the staircase. He glanced around the lonely apartment, then flipped the wall light on.The loft, unusually still since the all-nighters left, reeked of male musk and sweat. Théo grimaced. A tolerable noise of rock 'n roll music playing over a speaker in the next unit was the only thing keeping their apartment from being eerily quiet.Naturally, the place was a complete mess again. Dirty ashtrays, dirty shirts, and even filthier sneakers lit
•"You serious?" Her glare should tell him her confusion just clouded her thoughts now. Veronica locked stares with him.Kyle kept quiet while she waited for another answer—something that sounded more believable and sensible. But she got zilch.She breathed out a sigh and did another mental count before she could say something sarcastic.He didn't even blink or move one bit."You think I'm gonna say yes, just like that?" she blurted out, incredulity loud and clear in her voice. She even cracked a joke, only to end up snickering at her dull attempt to sass her way out of the conversation.Perhaps to make her feel like crap, Kyle kept his mouth shut as if he hadn't heard anything."What, you think I'll leave?" she questioned. Why did he spark off an argument? Was he that worried she would just leave the band and forfeit their musical career j
•Her sweaty palms went cold on her bare thighs as Veronica sat on the bed. Her back and legs felt like limp lettuce. She'd already stripped down to her nightdress, and the orange numbers her nightstand clock flashed told her it was going to be a long night. She waited for the sound of her faucet going off.The bathroom lights—because her boyfriend left the door ajar—kept her bedroom from being pitch-black. Veronica eyed his carry-on sports duffel near the windows. His hefty baggage then reminded her how he'd spent his entire day hopping on planes.Théo had just walked in a list of fashion shows in New York, Paris, and Milan consecutively. After fixing up a week-long vacation so he could spend time with her, he'd flown back to the US. Théo arrived an hour ago. She couldn't drive to pick him up at the airport at that point because Kyle was throwing another hissy fit back in the studio—something that
•Groggy and relaxed, Théo got up when he felt a light tap on the leg. It was his girlfriend. She just interrupted his siesta. He stifled a yawn, grabbed his cargo shorts, and zipped his fly. Veronica smiled and thanked the uniformed masseuses as they left the two-bed hotel room.Théo watched and muffled a loud yawn. With her phone in her hand, Veronica walked back to the other bed, barefoot and with her thighs partly covered by denim shorts. Her pale, dainty hands gathered her long brown hair. His girlfriend grinned when she caught him ogling.Even sleepy and with his energy way below normal level, he couldn't help getting winded up by the mere sight of her. Her sporty bra showed off her beautiful shoulders. Her long-lashed eyes focused on her phone. She kept texting, prolonging the comfortable silence in the room.The fact that she chose a single room pleased him of course. But he knew she just didn't want to double the bill. The fact that it was a two-bed room dismayed hi
• "This bed's too cold." Veronica chuckled, not expecting his complaint. While Théo pretended to look annoyed, she switched off the lights, then snuggled to him under the covers. "Better?" she teased. "Perfect," Théo sighed. His arm circled her waist while he pretended to focus on the television screen. An impish grin put small slits beside his eyes. Veronica kept a side comment to herself. She was bra-less with nothing more than a thin sheath of sleeping gown over a small pair of scanties. He wore nothing but his boxers. No doubt he wanted to do something else later. They killed time watching TV, but she also kept her mind busy pondering things, committing to memory how addictively good it felt to be this intimate with him...to have him right next to her while he hugged her close. It had always been like this. Time apart always told her what they had was more than physical. He'd made clear of that himself from the beginning. "This isn't just a test run for me. Alright?" T
•// Recording studio //"The 28th? Okay. Got it. Thanks."After confirming their tour dates, Kyle put his phone away. He strolled back into the booth with his electric guitar clinging to his torso. Jay (the band's manager) had told him Veronica was informed of the schedule changes, so he didn't bother to check up on her today.They were supposed to be busy in the studio, but she'd called in sick again. With her Frenchman back in the city for a short break, Kyle knew she'd been spending all week with the guy. Her voice had been a little iffy the last time they got to work on a song, but it could've been worse.She must be in a pricey hotel right now with Mr. Supermodel eager to make the most of his "me" time. Maybe the lovebirds would be heading to the beach later, if Kyle knew any better.He understood. She hadn't spent time with the guy in months, which was always t
• Théo straightened in the backseat and stared at the woman beside him about to start crying. What she just told him didn't quite sound right. He was still pretty jet lagged; maybe he'd misheard her. "Honestly..." Veronica took the handkerchief he offered and wiped her eyes. "We both need it right now." "No." She must be sloshed. Or high? Did smoking weed affect her judgment and emotional state this bad? "It doesn't have anything to do with that. Okay?" "Quoi?" He looked into her glinting eyes while his brain did a rewind. She probably thought he was still brooding over her refusal to his stupid proposal. "I should've talked to you sooner. It's not fair; I know. And I feel awful. I'm not trying hard enough." Her voice wavered, and he could only watch as she tried to steady her breath. "It's just— You're doing so g