“Okay, let’s start with non-essentials.” I looked at the empty laid out suitcase and took off my glasses for a moment, wiping at the moisture under my eyes.
Turning around, I picked up my fully-charged portable charger and packed it into my purse where a fresh pack of wet wipes followed. I walked out to the other room in the apartment, grabbing two of my leisure sketchbooks and one business affiliated booklet.
Those were packed first in the main suitcases, patted gently into uniform perfection.
Next came my prized sketching pencils - they were tucked away into a pocket to avoid any type of erosion to the tip.
I had a pet peeve of my pencils having a certain angle that made my sketches look undefined and less intricate than what I would’ve liked.
On to the next items, I opened my dresser drawer and pulled out an armful of underwear.
“Four days,” I stated to myself, to make sure that notion stuck in my head.
I counted through the garments and picked some out, rearranging the clothes into small rolls so more would fit into the case.
With a determined mindset, I finished off my suitcase, tucking all my body, facial, and bathroom products into a smaller bag that slipped easily into the crevice of it all.
When I was done, I plopped down on the edge of my bed and clicked the television on for background noise, checking into my phone for notifications.
I dismissed the dejection when there wasn’t the one thing I wanted.
Oh, calm down. Don’t be dramatic. Truly simmer down.
I shut my eyes tight momentarily then opened them, sighing as I connected my phone to my charger.
Cozying into bed, I rechecked the alarm set for the flight and bundled myself into the pillows and blankets, taking advantage of the large semi empty bed.
It seemed my mind had taken a break for the night, tiring itself out with the overbearing thoughts.
The wind chime alarm brought me out of my slumber, a soft sigh leaving my mouth.
I reached over blindly to my nightstand to shut off the alarm and grabbed my glasses, putting them on as I hesitantly removed the warmth of my blanket from around my body.
A full body shiver induced my muscles while I stretched, a high pitched whine belting through my empty room.
I put a pep in my step with my morning routine, making a breakfast I could bring with me when I left with my bags.
Listing off all my bags and necessities, I put in an order for a car to pick me up. I took all my belongings out the front door, hobbling down the hall and to the elevators where I waited, taking a bite out from the bagel in my hand.
The doors reached my floor and opened, letting me shuffle in and fit all my bags closely to my side just in case someone else entered, despite there being more than enough room.
I sipped on my sweet tea, leaning back and forth on my heels and toes until the doors dinged open.
By the time I settled onto the sidewalk, the car pulled up and I double checked my phone, waving from the passenger side.
They exited and helped me put the bags in the trunk, pulling into the morning traffic after we were done.
The drive to the airport took a few more minutes than I was anticipating, making me check my phone constantly for messages from Melia assuming she might be there before me.
Then I remembered our differing morning routines and realized she wouldn’t be there for a good thirty minutes.
Approaching the drop off area, the driver parked and set my bags by my side.
“Thank you!” I smiled, pulling my duffle on top of my suitcase and making my way into the airport.
Once inside, I felt a tap on my shoulder making me look to the side.
“Good morning,” Riyya chimed, then took a sip of her frappuccino from the cup in her hands.
I inhaled in surprise. “Good morning! When did you get here?” I began walking to the seats.
Riyya followed as she answered, “just a couple minutes before you. I was looking for somewhere to sit when you entered.”
I swiveled my suitcase to the side and slid it beside me before sitting down.
“You must be excited,” I started, then added in, “or have you been to New York before.”
Riyya shook her head, the brown curls bouncing from side to side. “I’ve never been. This opportunity is honestly still feeling like a fever dream,” she babbled.
My ringtone cut into my response.
“One moment,” I excused myself then answered the call. “Hello, Mel? I hope-”
“Hi mom,” she greeted brightly. “By the way I’m already in a car and en route.”
I shut my mouth that was ready to tell her off about just that and gave a ‘hmph’.
“Very proud, mon cherie,” I spoke lowly. “Riyya is here with me so we’re waiting.”
Melia laughed. “Great. Did you eat breakfast?”
I nodded then said, “yes grandma. You know I always do before plane rides.”
“Just checking sweetheart,” she cooed. “Parking right now. See you in a bit.”
I glanced to the entrance. “Okay, bye.”
Melia gave two kisses and hung up, showing up at the entrance with her bags a minute later.
A smile stretched my lips and I stood, meeting her outstretched arms in an embrace.
“Muah.” She kissed my cheek as a greeting and squeezed me once.
“Oof,” the breath left my body. “Nice to see you too Mel.”
“Always the pleasure.” Melia let go and smacked her lips together.
Riyya gave a hesitant embrace, a small grin on her face.
“Hi Riyya,” Melia said, not timid with her affection at all.
“Hello,” was Riyya’s strained
response as her body was squeezed with Melia’s strength.
I looked at my watch and took a hold of my suitcase.
“Alright time to move along, the clock is ticking,” I gestured towards the check in desks.
“Oop.” Melia jerked dramatically in the direction. “Yes ma’am.”
Continuing through the line in a few minutes, we walked to get our bags checked.
I waited patiently getting gradually checked, putting my things back on after I had passed through.
“Honestly looking for the dinner invitation if they’re going to be touching me like so.” Melia adjusted her jacket and brushed the flyaway strands of hair from her face.
I shook my head and let out an airy chuckle, trudging to the terminal area.
An hour passed before we began to board the plane, the seats filling one by one as individuals trickled in.
The three of us sat in our row of seats – Melia next to the window, me in the middle, and Riyya in the last chair.
As the plane took off, naturally we chatted about the outline of plans for the show, lightly going over details. After a while, Riyya plugged in her earphones and laid her head back.
Melia lolled her head back to me after looking out the window and snapping pictures of the clouds.
“Your skin looks so pretty,” she murmured. “Your morning glow hits so much harder than mine.”
I snorted quietly and turned my head away from her. “If anything is hitting, it’s the lack of sleep I’ve been getting.”
Melia laughed. “I appreciate it, but I can’t be running through your mind all the time Xenia. Give it a rest.”
I looked back over to her, brows furrowed in humor. “Oh please, Melia.”
“Or...” she drawled, leaning closer. “Perhaps a certain someone else?”
I leaned away. “Perhaps anxiety?”
Melia pursed her lips into a small pout. “Because of the show.” It wasn’t a question but a knowing statement.
I nodded quietly, leaving it at just that but Melia spent so much around me she could detect the partial lie.
“Would you like to talk about it?” she lowered her voice.
I shook my head but gave her a thankful small smile.
When we arrived in New York, we checked into the hotel and conversed about tomorrow as we unpacked.
Riyya’s room was right next door.
It must’ve been the codependency and attachment because Melia and I have shared beds ever since our first sleepover.
I would’ve thought by now we would’ve gone our separate ways at our age – and we have mind you, apartments and all – but the closeness reminded us of our adolescence even though nothing but a few miles had really changed.
“Do you wanna get some rest before we go check the venue?” Melia asked, beaming with energy as she looked out the window take pictures of the view and herself.
Before I could answer I was tugged into a side hug and brought into a burst of photos with Melia.
“Yesh,” I murmured, my face mushed up against Melia’s. “My glasses are crooked, hold on.”
Melia relaxed her monstrous hold and I gave her look, patting down my hair and adjusting my glasses swimmingly.
“All good my queen?” Melia asked softly.
“Mel,” I sighed, moving closer for the picture. “Not the nickname.”
“Well of course mistress.” She bowed and swooped me in again for a picture she found flattering enough for the both of us.
I scrunched my nose at the one she picked but she complimented it constantly.
We waited a few minutes to let me charge up, then made our way down to the lobby after the car arrived and drove down to the venue, entering the building quickly to escape the cold.
Riyya checked her phone as we cracked open our jackets. “Ava is in the back. I’ll go get her.”
Melia and I looked over. “Alright,” Melia said, “be safe.”
“Yes ma’am,” Riyya responded, walking straight down the brightly lit hall as we turned right into the main showroom.
Melia shivered. “Brrr, almost froze my–”
“Do not continue.” I interrupted, ridding my glasses of the fog, looking around the room as I followed her.
“Head out of the gutter, Xenia. I was simply going to say ‘lips’.”
“Oh please. You’re drowning me in it,” I replied, looking over the seats in the main room. “Some of those should be in the middle.”
Melia looked away from the side and over to where my gaze was.
We went around the end of the aisle of seats and started bringing them into the middle as planned.
Any moment now, Melia would delicately try and place a conversation starter to gear me towards talking more about Emilio.
I couldn’t bring myself to tell her about what happened when we had met up and the whole situation with the woman.
Was I embarrassed?
I answered no, while my subconscious sniffled a yes.
Then I was reassured that under Melia, there was no judgement to be made about me and my choices.
But again, Melia was always there to add more options where I saw the end of the road.
On cue, a drawled out ′so′ left Melia’s mouth and she set down a chair in front of where I was about to, leaning towards me.
“How’s it going with you and Mister Macho?”
I snorted at the name then gave a heavy sigh that made Melia pout.
“Care to share?” she urged gently, raising her brows expectedly.
My hands tightened around the edge of the chair before I spoke.
“It’s was nice but we’re not doing it again,” was my vague response.
Melia hummed, eyes brightening at me as she addressed one portion of my statement.
“What was nice about it?”
I turned around and collected another chair. Shrugging, I paused and then thought.
“He wanted to know everything about me and not in like a twenty one questions type cliche. You know how when I get started on a topic and it just slips into another one entirely?”
“He just wanted to listen. I offered to take the attention off me for a while but it’s like he wanted to to know everything he could and more. And I could’ve stopped myself but the look on his face was so inviting to tell him anything I just kept going.” I couldn’t tell that there was a smile growing on my face as I thought about the moment.
I took a deep breath after a couple seconds, raising my eyes to meet Melia’s. They comforted me as they always did, urging a response.
“And how did it make you feel?”
How did it make me feel?
I felt like for once there was a person, with whom I had somewhat an attraction to, who took the little time we had together to try and get to know me.
The bar may be in the devil’s hands for me to be falling deeper in the hole so easily just from his “good listener” trait but hey...he doesn’t truly have any standards to meet.
Melia pursed her lips and relented. “Alrighty then, when’s the next date?”
I turned around again when she asked, collecting another chair.
“There is no next date, Mel.” I lifted the chair and almost tripped as I walked, hitting my shin against the metal leg.
The pain sparked a rise in irritation, making me set down it down harder than intended.
“Because...” Melia’s voice hung in the air.
"Because-” I started out, “-I’m...”
“Hello?” A woman’s voice made Melia and I look toward the entrance of the main showroom.
“Hi,” I greeted, standing up straight and smoothing out my disheveled state.
“Hello.” Melia reached a hand out to the woman. “Ava, right?”
I rounded the chairs to get to the other side and shook her hand as well, giving a small smile.
Ava looked around to the chairs. “Oh you guys don’t have to fix those now. I have my people coming in later.”
“No worries,” Melia dismissed.
Riyya appeared a minute later, smiling sheepishly. “Sorry, I was using the restroom. Also, there are a lot more rooms than expected so...” she trailed off and then cleared her throat, staying quiet.
“That’s fine,” I said, mind still processing my words.
The evening meeting took a couple of minutes, finalizing the finish time for the interior design.
We went our separate ways and returned to the hotel.
“Goodnight Riyya.” I waved to her as she slid her card into the door.
“Goodnight,” she beamed.
“’Night Riyya!” Melia poked an arm out, already halfway in the room.
I shut the door behind me.
“I’m so burnt out.” Melia huffed, unbuttoning her jacket and hanging it on the back of the desk chair. “Once my head hits this pillow, I’m out.”
I shrugged myself out of the jacket and laid it beside Melia’s, sliding from my sweatpants where my pajama shorts hid under.
I plopped onto the bed after setting up my charging station and taking off my glasses, snuggling under the covers.
Melia followed, humming her way into comfort.
She grinned, nose nearly touching mine.
“Mel?” I whispered.
I took my index finger and placed it on her forehead, pushing her away.
Her foot touched mine.
“You know this is exactly why I hesitated telling Riyya to book only two rooms,” I uttered.
“No way. Then I wouldn’t hear what you have to say about him.” She made sure her words were emphasized.
I blinked at her and narrowed my eyes and she gave batted her lashes innocently.
“If you need a little hint on the ending of our last conversation, I believe you said, ′I’m-’-” she paused and gestured to me to continue.
I groaned and rolled my eyes so far my temples vibrated.
Melia waited patiently, her head propped up on the pillows.
I bit my tongue and gave in.
“I was going to say, ′I’m...scared’,” I rushed out.
Melia nodded. “Okay. You can be scared. But now I would love to see your little scaredy-cat self running into the arms of the man of your dreams who is very much trying to get your attention as you can see.”
She tried to catch my wandering gaze. “But you also don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to do. You’re driving this car. I’m just a very very loud backseat driver.”
I sputtered out a laugh. “Very loud indeed. And to exit this conversation to your satisfaction, I will be taking you advice.”
Melia reached under the covers to pat my hip. “Atta girl.”
As said driver of said vehicle, each and every aspect of this trip will be heavily scrutinized.
“Fantastic Hana, really nice walk,” said over the music, giving a thumbs up to the model as she sashayed in the beige babydoll.
I gave a wide smile, nodding along as I sipped my iced strawberry tea.
Hana turned into the other aisle continuing the pathway of the runway, her confidence shining with every step.
The evening before the show, we had the models walk for practice with the lights and music. Also getting any last fitting arrangements finalized.
Riyya was directing the lights beside me, speaking into the mic as she looked at her clipboard.
Melia blurted another compliment at the next model as she sauntered by, clapping along with the music’s beat.
I watched the rest of the practice intently, chewing my bottom lip repeatedly.
After the last model had made her way down the runway, we stood and clapped, walking to front of the stage where everyone had gathered.
“Excuse my voice as you all walked by but-” Melia put her hand to her chest, “-mama’s proud.”
I puffed a breath, holding my snicker as a glanced at her. I turned back to the women and spoke as well.
“I agree with Melia’s...statement. All gorgeous, beautiful faces. Be here by four o’clock tomorrow for hair and makeup! Please get some rest tonight.”
We gave the woman a round of applause and they returned to the back rooms to undress.
“Dinner at?” Melia laid the question out for Riyya and I.
I took a sip of my drink, looking to Riyya.
She blinked back.
“One, two, three, pick.” Melia emphasized a want for an answer.
“What do you want Melia,” I retorted, sitting back down at our seats. “I know you’re itching for somethin’.”
Melia gasped. “How right you are. I’m feeling like drive thru is the mood. We get it, go to the hotel, boom done-”
"That,” I cut in, “is music to my ears.”
As Melia began to ramble on, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket indicating a text had came in.
I dug it out while I kept listening to Melia, checking it quick.
Reading the name, I immediately dropped it back in, bringing my straw to my lips but only to hide the smile I failed to bite back.
Ah, ah, ah.
You didn’t even read the text yet.
See this is where you fail to assess the situation before putting your emotions on the frontline.
“-that sounds good,” Riyya agreed to something Melia had said.
They both looked to me.
My gaze rose from the ground. I didn’t dare spare a glance to Melia.
“Uh, yes I agree as well.” I drank my tea lightly.
Melia clasped her hands together and sat down pulling out her phone to get our orders in.
I pulled my phone out and swiped up quick, bringing it up to my face as close as I could get without looking suspicious to Melia.
“Ah,” Melia voiced, reading the lists of restaurants available.
I clicked into my messages and read Emilio’s text.
emilio: I will call you.
I breathed in deeply and my chest thumped hard once before the blood rushed to my face.
Melia’s eyes were on me in an instant.
I dropped my phone slowly, looking to her with a poster smiley face.
“Yeah?” I acknowledged her.
Her gaze lowered to the phone than back to me pointedly.
“Care to share?”
I fed into the stare-off for a few more seconds before giving an exasperated ‘hmph’ and showing the screen of my phone.
Melia tilted her head to the side giving her answer, “yes. You will. But for now, answer what you just. We have work to do later.”
I raised my brows in understanding. “Oh okay so say ′later’, or something like that.”
“Ooh a touch of dryness. Not too bad.”
A bit too dry don’t you think? Add a tad bit more spice and I think we have ourselves a winner.
I looked back at the text and began to type.
“This?” I turned it back to Melia.
"Okay I’m free at eleven?” She closed her eyes and tapped her temple. “Proceed.”
I proofread the message a few more times before sending it.
read 10:01 pm
I slid up and closed the application, clicking off my phone.
I ignored the suggestive facial expressions on Melia’s face for the rest of the night as the women filed out the building.
We took a look through the garments a couple of times making a sure everything was supposed to be as it should before leaving as well.
A few minutes later, we had hopped into a car and were making our way to the hotel as our food was ready to be dropped off.
“Riyya do you wanna eat with us? I promise I won’t let Melia question you about school like a number one auntie,” I offered, hand on the hotel card.
I could feel Melia’s gaze on the back of my head.
Riyya chuckled. “No thank you. I actually have a report to get started on.”
“Alright. Get some rest.” I opened the door to the room.
“Night!” Melia sang, arm outstretched in a wave before she closed the door.
I yawned and set my meal on the desk, walking to the bathroom to wash my hands.
Melia bounded in after me, setting her hands in the same sink to wet them then applying soap.
I dried my hands on the towel hanging on the wall, nearly skipping to my chicken sandwich.
Mid-bite, I turned my head and met Melia’s face.
“You can speak to be acknowledged instead of breathing down my neck.”
“What’s our plan,” she mentioned.
I chewed my bite, knocking my glasses upwards with my knuckle.
“Our plan? Mel, anything more than a ‘hello. how’s your night going?’ and I my heart might just give out.” I covered my mouth as I spoke, pulling my watch out to check the time.
Melia’s hands rose up in innocence. “I’m just here to help.”
I nodded understandingly, staring blankly at the movie playing on the t.v. screen.
Reading the time again, I gulped dryly, feeling the anxiousness build with a light sweat on my forehead.
Seconds passed before, the clock struck 11:00 pm. Another couple of sends went along, ticking slower than before.
As I was scooting to a more comfortable position on the bed, my phone rang next to my thigh, bringing my movements to a rigid halt.
I tossed my half-eaten sandwich into the nightstand and picked up the cellphone, hesitating to answer the call.
Go on ahead, the optimistic portion of my subconscious cheered gently.
Not too far down the road, my pessimism raged wildly as it was bred to.
I waited and stared at the screen, grinding my teeth together.
Melia fluttered her feet and stared up at me with her hands set in her hands.
“Well? Get on with it, you have three rings left.”
Fighting my rebuttal, I slid my finger across the screen and faced away from Melia.
There was an exhale on the other line, relieved.
Melia nudged my back with her foot, prematurely forcing out the greeting I had formed in my head.
“H-hi,” it came out airy, a bit croaky. I cleared my throat, blood rushing to my cheeks. “Hi,” I repeated again. “Hello, sorry I choked...”
Melia was having a fit behind me.
Emilio chuckled and I perked up, rubbing my lips together.
"Buona sera amore. You are doing well?” His greeting came out gruff, smooth with execution.
I was still stuck on the first half of his words, slowly loading the second part into my head.
“...yes.” I shifted my seating, changing my stunned state. “I am well. I’m doing super great! How are you?”
“Good,” his answer was terse. “You have a show tomorrow, yes?”
“Mhm,” I affirmed, brightening at the fact he knew when the event was.
Oh goodness, it’s the little things for you isn’t it?
“Then you come back tomorrow?” he asked, voice suddenly quieter.
“Oh...no. The next morning actually. I would be out of my mind to try and get Melia to pack all of her belongings in a couple of hours.” Her middle finger slid into my peripheral view and I smacked it away.
“Hmm,” he grunted. “What are you doing?”
“Eating.” I grabbed my sandwich like he was going to ask for visual evidence. “A chicken sandwich to be clearer.” The bathroom door clicked close behind me.
“One moment.” I laid myself out on my stomach, kicking my legs up and down onto the bed. “Um...what did you have for dinner?”
My brows rose. “Nothing yet?”
“No,” he said. “Nothing.”
“Well...you should eat. Even if it’s a tiny spoon of peanut butter or like an apple. Some nuts – I prefer cashews really. And hydration, of course, always of upmost importance-” I stopped myself and took in a breath. “...so yeah, you should eat.”
"Va bene amore. What do you recommend?”
“For?” I inquired, my tongue rolling against the inside of my cheek to hide the silly little smile that followed with the nickname.
Ma’am, please simmer down.
“So I can eat. What do you want me to eat,” he proposed.
“Oh. A hearty meal sounds about right,” I chirped.
I held the phone away from my mouth and sighed heavily, dropping my face into my arm and yelling into my sleeve.
I brought it back to my face. “Like-”
There were sudden thuds somewhere in the background and a voice came out before it was stopped harshly.
"Stare zitto," Emilio snapped, then stayed quiet for a moment. “I’m sorry. I have to go.”
I rolled over into my side. “Okay. Good night, Emilio.”
"Buonanotte amore.” He ended the call immediately after.
I dropped my face into the pillow and kicked my feet against the bed, yelling again into the fabric.
The bathroom door opened.
“Music to my ears.”