6 : Happiness is a State of Mind

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 him, too. 


It shouldn't matter anymore, though.  He respected that she was the conservative type, and at the moment, Théo just wanted to make the most of this quick vacation with her. 

In a few days, work would be keeping them away from each other again. For how long?  He didn't even want to think about it yet.

"Nap it off. Then we'll have dinner." Via sounded tired now.  Maybe she also felt like taking a nap to recharge.

He grinned at her. "Dinner date?"


•••


New message

Leo Accardi IMG

"Hey T. Got a call from a newly prototyped fashion mag, LA-based. They asked if u would do the cover and a spread. Half day photo shoot. Tentative sched on the 20th-23rd."

Today 05:24PM

Théo put his phone down to give the invitation a thought. Not bad at all. He preferred doing photo shoots more than the runway shows. He composed a reply and agreed to the scheduled date, which was next week.

It would be more fun if he took Veronica with him. Perhaps her schedule would permit her to fly to L.A. and stay with him there for a few days?

"Is that her?"

He turned and saw his girlfriend sitting on the bed, facing him now with her legs crossed. The high-waisted shorts just swanked her curves. "Her?" he repeated.

"She's in the city. Right? For casting calls?"

"It's from the agency." Théo frowned. So she already might've heard about Aly paying him a visit last month. 


Not that he mentioned anything, or that he and Veronica were now comfortable discussing such matters. They just had common friends, who, most of the time were too nosy for their own good. 

"You need to fly out this week?"

He stared at his companion, confused if she was grinning because he was going to be away again and good thing they got to spend a lot of time together, or just because he was going to be away again. "They want me to do a shoot in L.A."

"Oh? Another ad? When?"

"Magazine. Next Thursday."

"Cover? Nice! Exciting."

"Let's go." He raised his brows and tried not to look or sound as hopeful as he actually was for her to say yes.  "Won't take two days. Will Mick be in L.A. next week?"  Great. He could finally meet her brother, Mick, an actor based in California.  Then maybe he could also meet her parents, if he got lucky.  Big if, though.

"Baby steps, man. Don't rush her," his best friends would remind him if they were here.  But he didn't want to wait another year to meet her family.

"Not sure. Mick's workin' on something with a producer." Veronica sat still. Then her expression became apologetic. "The promoters called. We have this thing on Wednesday. The second show would start at seven the day after. Sorry."

"Oh." Théo nodded and faked a smile.


"Sorry, babe." 


"S'okay."

"Next time?" she murmured with a tentative giggle.

"Always a bummer." He scrunched up his nose at her.

The corner of her pinkish lips tilted upward. "You could take her instead," she muttered casually.  "I mean, if she wants to come and she's not that busy..."  She stared back at him when he kept his mouth shut.

He looked away. What's she up to now? Théo frowned at the idea forming amid his hazy thoughts.


Maybe she was just in the mood for jokes?  "I'm serious, though." Via chuckled when their stares lasted longer than necessary. "Ask her if you want to."


Sillence filled the room when he didn't respond, refusing to acknowledge her idea. Théo feigned another grin. 


Why would she suggest that he take his ex with him instead? Did Veronica want to ask him something?  Why did she want to talk about his ex?  

"Call her."


"Why?" He pulled a face. "I want you to come with me. Just you." 

"Now you're just making me feel bad."   Veronica tsk-ed and stood up.  She was in his bed the next second. She leaned over him to give him a quick smooch.

He firmly held her face. It turned into an ardent kiss. Well, long overdue.


They hadn't shared a kiss since the other night — understandable, though. Their painfully awkward conversation that night after his botched proposal definitely made her uncomfortable.


He couldn't blame her for saying no, though. He could never stay mad at her for anything...and vice versa. Probably why their long-distance relationship lasted this long.

Théo pulled her closer, pleased that she let him kiss her again while their chests touched.  Her soft thighs stayed on either side of him.

"You smell like honey." She pulled away. She looked him in the eye with a smile etching faint lines on her bare face.

"Honey?" He pinched her pale chin. "It's the lotion the masseuse used."


"You feel more relaxed now?"


"Yeah. But, why a two-bed room?"

"What?" She curbed a laugh and deviated her gaze when he just kept staring.

To keep her on top of him, he held her nape still, glad that he was the only one being too serious at the moment. He tried another kiss, doing it gently this time. He was lucky enough that she made the first move today.

"Ow!" A short groan got stuck in her throat when he playfully bit her lip. "That hurt!"

"We can't sleep in the same bed now?"  he murmured while kissing her, liking how of the ends of her hair lightly scratched his cheeks, neck, and shoulders. 

"Close your eyes. You're exhausted." She snickered and sat beside him. Her raspy voice just pleased his ears.

To date, it was the prettiest but also the sexiest voice he'd ever heard in his life.  "Cuddle time?" He smirked.

"Nap time." Veronica stayed beside him and placed her head on his shoulder.  Now her arm rested on his bare chest. "I set the alarm at eight."

"Come with me to L.A."

"Gee." She sat back up in haste. The bed moved a little.  Her lopsided grin showed the dimples below her lips. The dubious look on her face wrinkled her cute eyebrows — he always thought they were cute. "You're really pushing."

"Sorry."

"You think I was just messing with you?" She bit down on her lip while they ogled each other.

He sighed and kept his trap shut. Why wouldn't she stop thinking about his ex?

"Let's not make it a big deal. You wanna hang out with her sometimes. I know. You're still friends," she said a-matter-of-factly. "I get it. Okay? We talked about this."

Théo glanced at her bare thigh that snuggled against his side. A chunk of trepidation was forming in his throat. How she casually regarded the proposition wasn't helping him stay calm. He hated mind games. Aly used to do that to him a lot.

"I don't mope about it or anything." His girlfriend held back a smile.

While his back rested against the wall, Théo studied her reaction as he stared into her calm and endearing eyes. Not the most stunning pair he'd seen in his life, but he always loved looking at them.

Even her face. He would never get tired of it—with or without a touch of makeup. 

"Wasn't thinking when I chose the room. You know I don't like balconies."  Veronica chuckled at his silence. "We're on the twentieth floor," she stressed, "and this is cheaper." She made a face. "You're putting a lot of thought into it."

He said nothing. But he appreciated her effort to stay in a lighter mood. Her soft hand stroked his forearm while he looked her in the eye, his mind now mulling over his last relationship.

It had been years now since he broke it off with Aly, also a working model.  Aly seemed the perfect match for him then. Fun to be with, ambitious...not to mention she had a face that would stop a clock. They'd been friends for years now and thankfully didn't have a dramatic falling out.

All the same, he didn't want to be that emotionally attached to her anymore.  There was still a fair amount of love in him for her.  But it wasn't the same as before;  it had changed into something closer to fondness.

That day he met Veronica convinced him that he no longer wanted to try again with Aly.

It was all too sudden. He didn't hope for it. Neither did he think something this serious would come out of that innocuously fun night at the club.  But the chance of getting to know Veronica bugged him all week since then, much to his confusion. 

To his logic then, it was akin to a precarious risk, but one too tempting not to take. Downright cheesy. But...not even three years later and he already bought her an engagement ring. The fact that she wasn't even pro-marriage didn't stop him.

"What?" Veronica smirked at his momentary reticence, clueless about his reverie.

She was just trying to stay at ease; he knew. Maybe their second carnie date was just that fun and exhilarating to her. An embrace from her stopped him from pondering again.

Théo smiled back, refusing the urge to pull her onto him.  Staying calm and tame was a challenge, especially now that they were in the same bed.

It didn't help that it was a smaller bed this time, or that she smelled heavenly and looked hotter in her strappy bra and curves-hugging shorts. He cleared his throat and put a shirt on to distract himself.  "Can we not talk about her anymore?"

Her eyes narrowed when she laughed at what he said. "Something wrong?"

He stared at her. "I don't wanna screw this up again."

"Okay." She smiled faintly. More ogling later, she gave him another kiss. "Sorry I brought it up."

•••

Théo guessed it was his joke, and he thought she was just satisfied with the food and the relaxing ambiance of the restaurant — especially since the place wasn't even half-full  but he still had trouble maintaining his inner calm whenever Veronica smiled at him like how she did now.

She seemed to love spending time with him. They exchanged gluey stares, prompting his heartbeat to quicken its pace.  Théo swiped another look at his date, at her posh clothes, her shiny hair, and her contagious smile. Then he realized he was almost getting intimidated with the classy air about her.

It was just there. That night they first met when Via wasn't even wearing anything fancy, he'd already been acquainted with the thing about her that made you want to know her more. At first sight, she just had a deep sense of intellect and humility anyone would appreciate.

"You're staring again," she said, tiny dimples showing below her lips. Her eyes squinted a little, which only made it hard for him not to ogle her.

"I can't?" he mumbled with a smirk. He lightly chewed on the inside of his cheek, and he waited for her to reach for his hand across the dining table.

"Sometimes you look like you wanna open me up and probe my internal anatomy." Veronica pinched his finger.  A self-conscious smile widened her pinkish lips. "Only wanted to dress up 'cause I looked like a ragged teenager all day." 

"A hot teenager, you mean." He finished his champagne.

A hearty laugh was her response to his teasing. "You look adorable in that blazer."  She winked at him. Then her phone went off in her purse. She ignored the muffled but shrill ringing, until the fourth ring.  After she grabbed her handbag,  Via took the call.  "Yeah?"

He figured it was Kyle soon enough. The certainty made the calm in him subside, but Théo couldn't move or blatantly react at the nuisance. 

"I'll just step outside. Reception's bad." Veronica excused herself.

Théo replied with a quick nod.  His gaze followed her as she strode toward the restaurant's small but well-adorned balcony.  Red roses decked the taupe walls. His girlfriend talked with Kyle on the phone for the next ten minutes.

Left alone at the table, Théo watched her from afar, now stuck in a speculative mood.  His brain once again imagined her spending almost every day with the guy.

From what he'd known, she and Kyle had been practically inseparable since they'd met.  It was because of their work—they were the physical and intellectual driving force of the band.

'A nice, decent and smart guy' was his first impression of Kyle when Théo had first met the band three years ago. But Kyle and Veronica's closeness almost always bothered him.  And seeing pictures of them online while having a fun night out on his and Via's anniversary certainly didn't help.

The band was on tour that week, and he was too busy doing advertising campaigns that a phone call was the only thing they had time for.  It was around midnight when he came across a picture of Veronica and Kyle in some bar.

In the photo, she was smiling about something Kyle was whispering to her. Théo could still recall the scene. It was possible that he'd spent half an hour staring at the photo, before drinking alone the entire night thinking about it.

From then on, there would always be this small sting of annoyance that burgeoned inside him every time he'd see or hear her talking to her bandmate. More than ever when he'd see or hear her laughing at something funny the guy might've said.

The sting felt insignificant but all too familiar now.

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