7: there was a thought
“-and he is the cutest thing I’ve ever fucking laid my freaking eyes on Xenia. Swear my head gets all fuzzy when we talk and my chest is jus-ugh! I’m definitely in love,” Melia continued to ramble on about Arthur, the man that has had her smiling like a maniac for the past week and a half.
“Mhm,” I hummed back, clutching my towel around my chest as I sat down in front of the vanity mirror. “How does he look again? When am I gonna meet him?”
“He’s the cashier you got the food from that day. And I’ll bring him to you guys after he’s comfortable enough around me and I’m sure that he is. Don’t wanna overwhelm him,” Melia sighed. The sound of her sheets rustled in the background while she moved around.
I paused looking around in my drawer, holding my phone from its resting place between my head and shoulder.
“Are you still in bed?” I furrowed my brows and let out a puff of breath. “I told you we had to open earlier to counter the early closing for construction.”
I chewed on my lip and tapped my fingers on the table, absentmindedly eyeing myself in the mirror. Swaying back and forth, I listened to Melia give me an excuse while she turned on the shower, acting like she wasn’t just laying down.
“All your focus on your man? I’ll support it. Do you want me to distract the other guy so you two can get spicy-”
“Hey, Mel, didn’t you have something to do?” I rerouted the conversation.
“I can shower and talk. It’s called being a multitasker babe. Let’s not challenge my capabilities,” Melia huffed. The shower door opened and closed in the background.
“Whatever,” I responded playfully, eyeing myself in the mirror and slowing my swaying.
Melia’s voice drowned out into the back of my mind as I slowly trailed a finger across my cheekbone, caressing my face as if it wasn’t mine or as if it was the first time I had seen it. My finger traveled down my face, touching my lips.
My brows furrowed.
I had a love-hate relationship with my lips. At times they were too dark for my liking or too much on the pink side.
I mashed my face with both my hands, taking in a big breath as I stared back at the exhausted face.
My gaze dropped to the small stretch marks scattered on my breasts.
A sigh left my mouth and my shoulders slumped as I looked away from myself, standing up from the chair and walking away from the vanity.
“Mel, I’ll see you later okay?” I spoke in a tired voice, rubbing my temples.
“Okay! See you later. Love you.” Melia gave kisses into the mic and hung up.
Hanging my towel onto the back of the vanity chair, I began putting lotion on, my gaze away from the full body mirror.
This was a gift from Melia. And so was the vanity.
Anything that would have me looking at myself in-depth was given by Melia because, as she would say, “being in love with yourself is the finest of admirations”.
When I was finished with moisturizing, I slipped on some underwear and a bra, smoothing it along my shoulders.
I barely picked out a shirt when my phone rang, bring me back to the vanity, where it was charging.
Reading the name written across, I just quickly put on my shirt and answered it, walking away to put on jeans.
“Hello, dad?” I greeted, buttoning the loose material. “Is everything okay?”
“Hey princess,” he grumbled, his tone happy. “How are you?”
My face scrunched as a close-lipped smile formed. “I’m good dad. How are you and mom?”
“I’m good. Your mom’s good too...getting better and better every day,” he responded.
I slowed my movement putting on my brown cardigan. “Did she take her meds?”
“Yes,” he replied immediately then unsurely followed with, “I think so. I’m not sure.”
“Can you go check for me?” I continued, taking a seat on the bed.
“Don’t trust my word?” he joked, then cleared his throat uncomfortably to my silence.
“Mai, Xenia asked if you took your pills today,” dad questioned in the distance.
“Is she trying to be my doctor again?” mom’s voice came closer to the speaker, making a concerned look etch into my face. “I keep telling her she’s in the wrong profession, mon Dieu.”
“Hello to you too mama,” I chuckled. “Did you-”
“Yes! I have taken them. Anything else you want to know Doctor?” she sassed, as usual.
I paused, toying with a thread in the ripped portion of my jeans. Tilting my head to the side, I tapped my phone and frowned.
“Tu me manques,” I muttered, like I was a child next to her hospital bed.
Mom sighed. “Tu me manques aussi, ma chérie. Come visit! I keep telling you to!”
“I’ll visit when you and dad decide to come home from your second honeymoon,” I murmured.
“Oh I see. Just because you’ve seen Paris before you think you don’t have to see it again?”
“No mama–” I let out a breath at her assumption, “–it’s just work and the designing and more work. The place I’m in right now is for the business and just that.”
“So no men,” she deadpanned, “or women...you know...we never know...” she trailed off as like she was going to get an answer for the first time in years.
But that was the first time I ever took a pause and an image popped into my mind.
“Oh–” mama started.
“Nope,” I interjected, “no men or women. Just Melia, the intern, and my collection romcoms. As per usual.”
But regardless of my thorough answer, she continued poking at the topic, “so qui sont-ils? Tall or short? Did you check the underwear? You know you can always tell how clean they are when-”
“There still isn’t anyone mama,” I spoke softly. “Don’t worry. If anyone ever decides to be with me you’re on the list of people to notify.”
“Mhm.” She paused.
I squinted at my watch then bumped my glasses up my nose, abruptly standing up. “Mama I’m going to be late. I’ll call you later okay?”
“Okay, ma chérie. Je t’aime. Tell Melia we love her too and we will send gifts to both of you.” Mama gave kisses into the phone as I laughed, saying goodbye as well.
So is there a man, my thoughts berated me as I gathered my things and walked into the kitchen to grab a quick breakfast.
If not, why think of him at that moment? Could it possibly be you want–
I slammed my front door in attempt to clear my head, unclenching my jaw as I opened my eyes to walk down the hall.
I muttered incoherent words as I made my way down to the parking garage, opening my car and hopping in. My hands clenched the wheels tight, slowly untightening as I exhaled.
Adjusting my rear view mirror, I started up my car and pulled out of the parking spot, driving out of the garage and into the street.
Two minutes away from the shop, I stopped at a red light and turned down the music on the radio, rolling down the window a bit. I was waiting to make a right turn when the opposite side of the intersection began making the left turn.
Moving up into my turn a bit, I was readying myself to go after one large black SUV passed.
Of course my mind reeled back to the similar looking car in front of the shop the day that heavy-accented stranger came in to the shop just to take a picture with me. As I squinted slightly at the tinted windows, a face that was turned my way in the backseat hurriedly turned, the back of their head shaking my way.
Wasn’t that weird?
No, just a coincidence.
A honk from the car behind me, snatched me from my internal conversation. I rechecked all directions before making my turn. fully, eventually making it to the front of the shop.
I climbed out exasperatedly, seeing that Melia wasn’t there as I expected. Reaching into the passenger’s seat, I grabbed my purse and workbag, locking the doors after everything was in hand.
I unlocked the front doors of the shop then locked them again after I entered, making my way to the back room.
“Whew. Alright.” I smoothed back my hair and turned on the main lights, setting my bag in the chair next to the table.
I rubbed my hands together and sat down, opening up my laptop to see all the new awaiting emails show up in the notifications. Going through each one by one, I noted them by importance, writing names down on a post-it.
There was a request for an outfit being made for a certain celebrity going to an event or performing. There was a plethora of orders from customers all over the world and they weren’t stopping.
I heard the front door open and the operatic greeting from Melia, naturally bringing a smile to my face while an annoyed looked covered the rest of it.
“And!” She exclaimed, literally kicking the door open. “Good morning to you Miss Xenia! Looking gorgeous as always. Gimme a kiss.” She rushed over in her boots and forcefully grabbed my face, kissing both my cheeks gently.
“Hello Miss I’m-Never-On-Time,” I retorted, tapping my watch.
Melia scrunched her face. “This hostility I’m getting is so undeserving. Plus I brought your favorite coffee and pastry. Kally says hi.” She put her bags down and placed the paper bag in front of me along with a steaming cup of coffee.
“No more being late Melia. We’ve got a lot of things coming in,” I told her sternly, returning to my emails.
“It’s 9am and I’m here. Just because you like to be an early bird with no worm to get, doesn’t mean you have to force me too. Now...” She plopped down next to me. “...how are you?”
I turned back to my laptop, forcing my brows to relax. “I’m okay. Sleep’s getting better.”
Melia smirked. “I bet it has.”
I side-eyed her and ignored the innuendo, replying to an email.
“Womenswear designer of the year and the Swarovski award for emerging talent,” Melia sang out of nowhere, her stare still on me as I turned to look at her.
“What are you going on about now?” I muttered, setting my chin on my hand.
“Speaking it into existence. We are going to get those awards at CFDA,” she spoke nonchalantly, erupting from her chair and saluting me with two fingers as she bounded away to the storage room.
“Well then let me add my prayer to that,” I yelled out after her.
Five minutes later, Riyya walked and greeted Melia and I, taking a seat at her desk.
I swiveled my chair around to face Riyya. “How are classes?”
“Hm?” Riyya looked up from her laptop. “Oh, they’re good. Struggling a little right now balancing everything but-” she shrugged, “-head’s still above water.”
I nodded, fully understanding. “I get it. If you need help with anything, don’t hesitate to ask me or Melia about it. Okay?”
Riyya gave a timid smile. “Thank you but you two have enough going on with running the company and there’s the show coming up so I’ll just stick to office hours and study groups.” She quickly added in, “I really really do appreciate your offer though.”
“You’re welcome,” was my reply as I stood up.
“Opening the doors!” I hollered at Melia in the back, who popped her head out before I could finish the sentence. She made her way over to me, fixing the v-neck of her crop top.
I met Melia’s eyes after checking out her top, momentarily imagining it on me.
But then your stretch marks would show, wouldn’t they?
No one wants to see that, do they?
“–would look great on you. Your boobs are fantastic,” Melia finished, leading us out the back room.
“Run that by me again,” I mumbled, walking past her to unlock the doors. I waved and smiled at a couple of women waiting outside.
“I said this top would look great on you. Don’t think I didn’t see you staring,” Melia suggested, looking like she was ready to throw it on me if I agreed with her.
I just shrugged and walked back as the door opened and people started coming in.
“Don’t shrug me off. It’s January and hot as the Devil’s asscrack. Climate change may be ruining the planet but don’t let it ruin your fashion choices sweetie,” Melia chided, greeting someone who wanted her autograph on a photoshoot we had done before.
I tugged at my cardigan slightly, furrowing my brows. “I’ll have you know I’m completely comfortable in this.”
“And that’s completely fine. Just shed the cardigan, it’s too warm out for all that material.” Melia sounded as if she was my grandmother checking my outfit before I left the house.
“Okay!” I rushed out in a hushed voice. “Conversation over.”
“And before you say anything, no, we will not be discussing this later,” I spoke, without looking at her.
“So hostile,” she muttered, turning away from me.
The day continued slower than I had hoped, time passing excruciatingly slow.
And as the closing time creeped closer, the more glances I made at the door and the faster my heart beat.
What are you expecting anyways?
What are you waiting for?
I patted down the lace panties into their container, smoothing over the fabric. I stopped and hesitated, before yelling out, “Mel! Can you come out here and help me?”
Seconds after my calling, Melia strutted over to me pestering me with a fake kiss. I smacked her arm and she gave me a dirty look.
“Why’d you call me out here if your just going to reject me?” she feigned hurt, scrunching her brows.
“Oh shut up,” I scoffed. “It’s almost four and I just...wanted company.”
“Wow.” Melia blinked repeatedly and placed her hand on her chest in disbelief. “Are you just using me so you’re not alone with your Italian hunk?”
My face warmed and suddenly the oversized cardigan was constricting me. “He’s not my anything, Melia.” I pushed up my glasses as they began siding down my nose from my movement.
Melia guffawed. “Yeah, okay. He’s not your anything but I think we both know that in that beautiful man’s mind he’s already broken your back several times.”
I grimaced, putting a hand on my lower back. “Broken my back? That’s a bit...psychotic don’t you think?”
Melia looked at me incredulously. “Not literally your poor poor soul. It means that he’s thought of fucking you...hard.”
My jaw clenched and there was flash of the particular setting–a quick one–in my head, keeping me from chastising Melia for saying someone like that.
That’s the second pause today. Anything you would like to say?
“Oh see?” Melia teased, breaking me from my thoughts. “I bet you liked that scenario huh?”
“No. Stop it, Mel.” I smacked the finger that was wagging at me as she playfully teased me. I took another glance at the door and was shocked to see the pair of eyes already staring back at me.
Emilio stood outside the shop, adjusting the utility belt wrapped around his waist, keeping his gaze on me while he tightened the strap.
“You have permission to fuck him in the storage room if you want.” Melia whispered in my ear, “it’s pretty cozy in there.”
I blew out a breath, point a finger menacingly at Melia, who just looked at me amused. “You better stop! I’m not getting caught up in one of you tricks again!”
Melia pouted her nude lipstick-covered lips. “It’s all outta love sweetheart.”
I heard the doors swish opened and Melia proceed to greet the two men at the entrance.
Excusing himself, Emilio set the tool boxes down and made his way over to me, nearly making me rip the underwear that was still in my grip. He took my fingers from the material and gripped them gently, bringing it up to his lips to kiss the knuckles of my hand.
My mind took note of how they felt against my skin. Soft. Smooth...moisturized.
The temperature rose and my breathing took a timeout it wasn’t supposed to take.
Then he said my name, “Xenia.”
It was not an exaggeration to say that that was the best way I’ve ever heard someone say it.
But did that matter? At that moment? No.
He just said your name and you’re acting like you’ve been blasted into another dimension. Simmer.
I cleared my throat and licked over my trembling lips, accidentally squeezing Emilio’s hand back as I opened my mouth to talk.
“I’m-I’m...break my back,” I stammered loud and clear. The realization didn’t hit until Emilio’s face contorted into a risen brow and a small smile tilting his pink lips.
As if it would take my words back, I smacked my free hand over my mouth and mentally screamed.
I closed my eyes, regretting every second–every dang millisecond–of my existence.
Then I heard the familiar footsteps of Melia’s boots and wanted to run for the hills.
I felt her presence between us, my eyes still closed.
She sniffed once. “I sense some tension.”
I groaned. “Mel–”
“Sexual tension,” she continued, unthreatened.
I hit her on the shoulder lightly, dismissing myself from the proximity. Walking over to the counter, I leaned sideways on it, trying to ignore the fact that Emilio couldn’t go seconds without looking at me as Dom talked to him.
Melia went behind the counter and pulled out her phone. “Okay. What do we feel like eating today Xenny?” she asked.
You’re going to look even fatter if you get anything you’re clearly not supposed to, my thought bashed.
I paused briefly then responded in a hushed voice, “um...a salad.”
Melia chuckled. “We were just talking about getting something from the burger place downtown, so I will alter your order into the preferred meal.”
“I’m serious Mel.” My eyes drifted down to my twiddling fingers then back up to meet Melia’s awaiting expression. “I’m trying this new diet and sticking to it this time.”
Melia looked like she was going to say something, but relented, nodding her head. “Fine. If that’s what you want. Anything to drink?”
“What a meal,” she feigned a tight smile, giving me a commercial thumbs up.
“Just go get the dang food,” I retorted, leaning my back against the counter just as Emilio passed by with a ladder, his back to me.
I zeroed in on his muscles shamelessly, my eyes scanning his back and slowly dropping down to his butt.
“Emilio?” Melia’s voice called out, making him turn around and face me even though she was the one who called him.
I snapped out of my staring and cleared my throat, looking down as my boots.
“Oops. Never mind. Just saw my friend staring and thought she needed something,” Melia dismissed him, a cheeky smile on her lips.
I babbled out a nervous chuckle. “A-hehe don’t lie like that Melia. I wasn’t.” My face was on fire.
Emilio looked down at me and downturned his lips as he adjusted his gloves. “I don’t mind the staring. Not from you.”
“You don’t?” I replied accidentally, then hurriedly continued, “I-I mean...not that I was going to keep on doing it. Or n-not that I was doing it before–”
I glanced at Melia who was staring between us admiringly. Giving her a glare, she rolled her eyes and spoke.
“Okay we are going to get lunch,” she announced, giving me a reason to slip away towards the back room. “I assume you two would like burgers because that’s what you’re getting.”
I grabbed my bag and gulped down some water from my bottle.
Melia entered, excitedly poking at me. “That chemistry is just ugh. Chef’s kiss.” She mimicked the action with her hand.
“Riyya we’re going to go get lunch,” I said, ignoring Melia. She reached into her bag for her wallet and grabbed her phone before gathering with us.
We walked back out the room, passing the two men. I tried to focus my eyes forward and not spare a single glance at Emilio. Opening the door to exit, Melia unlocked her car and climbed in, Riyya and I following along.
After getting our food and Melia’s small interaction with Arthur in the grocery store, we returned to the shop almost thirty minutes later.
There was a small release of relief when I saw that Emilio’s truck was still in front of our shop.
Simmer. The feeling isn’t mutual. Okay?
I hooked my shopping bag through my arm and my purse in the other, getting out of the car, then walking through the doors.
Emilio stopped, mid-drilling and looked down at me from the top of his ladder. I lifted my bag signaling that I had him and Dom’s food with me. He lifted his index finger and returned to finishing his drilling.
You’re just giving him food, don’t overreact and look a mess.
I gradually made my way over to him and waited patiently, looking at the progress they’ve made with the beam. It was coming out just the way I had sketched it. Nothing to outcast from the store’s overall demeanor. It was just a white beam in the middle of the store so we could hang either mannequins down or posters with some of our models in new arrivals of the lingerie.
Emilio clicked off the drill then climbed down, hopping from the third to last step and landing in front of me. He was sweating a bit, his brows unfurling from the work he’s done.
“Do you like it so far?” Emilio spoke, an expectant look on his face.
“Yes,” I beamed. “It looks really good.” Before I forgot, I pulled out their food and handed it to Emilio.
“Grazie,” Emilio murmured, his hand lingering next to mine as he took the bag.
I idiotically giggled out a “you’re welcome”.
I started to back away, retreating from a conversation that probably would have me falling deeper into this infatuation.
Maybe that’s what this all was. Just infatuation.
Just plain and simple puppy love, like it was high school.
I joined Riyya as we walked back to the back room, failing to immerse myself into her suggestions for the runway stage.
Melia opened and held the door for us to walk through, setting the food down on the table.
I cracked open my laptop and input my password, resuming my review over the models’ profiles.
“Hey, so when you and Emilio start dating we should go on double dates and stuff. It’ll be so fun,” Melia rambled, uncovering her food.
“Sure,” I responded sarcastically.
Melia stopped herself before she could take a bite of her burger. “Don’t make me hit you. I’m only planning ahead for the future.”
I shrugged. “Yeah. Well the future always changes, you’ll never know what happens or when it will happen. No one can plan for the future.”
“Wow. The hostility has made a home in you Xenia.” Melia shook her head.
I gave an airy laugh, opening my salad container and spreading the dressing all over the contents.
We ate, discussed, ate, and planned our show, continuously marking up the multiple printouts Riyya made of the digitalized stage.
“No. The lights can’t be so dark. It’s an autumn and winter collection, I don’t want the audience falling asleep from drab colors. I want the lighter version for neutral colors. ‘Hey take a look at this design we spent a total of 80 hours to make’ colors.” I pointed at the the large printout pinned to the wall. “We have a spotlight following the models from both sides of the runway and I want it to bring focus and interest.”
Riyya nodded along, typing as fast as she could to take note of my words.
Melia agreed, tapping her pen against the table. “And we’re going to mix the sets coming out. If there’s a baby pink chemise on one of the models then give them the muted green pumps to go along with it.” She turned to Riyya. “You notified Saffie about the types of shoes we want made right?”
“Yes. She said she’ll get them here before you fly out for the show,” Riyya chirped, capping her pen.
“Alrighty then.” Melia stretched out her neck, sighing as she stood up. “I think we can call it a night then.”
I checked my watch, my eyes widening at the time. “We definitely should.”
We began to clean up, putting all the paper into tow spears folders and putting them in my bag.
Melia was skipping around repeating, “gonna go talk to my baby. On my way to go talk to my baby.”
I reapplied some gloss to my lips, before throwing it into my purse and meeting with Riyya and Melia say the door. I shut off the lights and followed them through the store and out the front, letting Melia lock the front doors.
I noticed Emilio’s truck still in the front and squinted to see him stop talking to Dom and wave at me. I waved back, politely smiling.
But then that’s when I realized how light my bag felt so reached inside and felt around for my laptop, mentally berating myself for being forgetful.
Melia had just opened her car door when she saw me pull out the keys to the shop. “Where are you going? Forget something?”
“Yeah! You can go though. I’m gonna be quick.” I shook my keys to single out the right one, unlocking the doors.
Hurriedly, I went inside and grabbed my laptop from the back room, stuffing it into my bag.
I slowed my steps when I saw Emilio waiting for me outside of his truck, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his jeans.
“Did you leave something too?” I held the door open as I came outside. “I can wait here for you if you did.”
Emilio brought his gaze up to me and shook his head. “Uh...no. I had question to ask you.”
“Oh.” I let the door go and it closed. “Okay then.” Locking it, behind me, I nudged my glasses and grabbed onto my car keys.
Emilio looked timid, the tips of his ears reddening as he struggled to speak. “Would you like coffee with me?” He gave an adorable confused look. “Did I say that right?”
But nonetheless, my mouth dropped open but no sound came out and I froze.
Say yes! This might be good progress!
Say no. You might get anxious and do or say something you regret. Do you really want that on your mind for another ten years?
“I...um...sure...” I trailed off, unaware of my words until I unfroze and blinked, still unbelieving of the situation that was occurring.
Emilio’s face brightened and he beamed, making a small fluttering feeling erupt in my stomach.
“I will give you my number,” he stated, stepping closer to me.
I gazed up at his towering figure and squeaked out an “okay”.
Pulling out my phone with trembling hands, I handed it to him and waited, twiddling my thumbs.
This was happening, wasn’t it?
I had pinched the skin on the back of my hand a couple of times to make sure I hadn’t fallen asleep and dreamt of this.
“There.” Emilio faced the screen of my phone to me, showing that he had texted himself to make sure he had my number as well.
I took it back, biting my lips to keep from smiling.
“I will call you,” Emilio assured, eyes twinkling while he stared at me.
“It’s fine if you don’t,” I muttered to myself mostly, but Emilio spoke again upon hearing me.
“I will call you, yes?”
Emilio took hold of my free hand, again bringing it to his lips and kissing it softly. “Buona sera il mio amore.” Then he kissed it one more time before retreating to his truck, keeping his back towards it so he could keep his eyes on me as I walked to my car in a daze.
We waved to each other one last time before getting into our vehicles.
I put everything into the passenger seat, inserting the key into the ignition. My hands gripped the steering wheel tight while I just sat there, not minding the continuous flutter across my body and the buzz in my head.
This wasn’t just an infatuation.