I stared at the staggering number of followers on my Instagram profile with wide eyes.
I shouldn’t really be surprised. Since Valentina started following me and tagging me in her stories, the amount of people who clicked the blue follow button on my profile skyrocketed. More often than not, my phone was buzzing with a notification of a new follower, or a fresh DM from some fan who was only interested in me because I’d featured fairly prominently on the models daily story updates.
These direct messages were a mixed bag, and gave me a glimpse of what it was like to be famous, or associated with people who were. Sometimes I was flattered with compliments, with comments on how beautiful I was. Others asked personal questions and often inquired as to whether I was just a friend of Valentina’s. Many told me in no uncertain words that I wasn’t good enough for the model. It seemed that people had become very interested in who I was and what my intentions were.
It was rather overwhelming, and Valentina had spoken with me at length about ignoring what people say on the internet. It was my first time experiencing how easy it was to be engulfed by the negatives, but with Valentina’s quiet reassurance and vehement persuasion that it was all total bullshit and not to listen to her overzealous fans, I followed her guidance and tried to block out the bad stuff. Recently, I was forced to mute notifications from the app just to give myself some peace and quiet.
Without much thought, my finger tapped the small magnifying glass and then hit the search bar on the top of the screen. Automatically, Valentina’s profile popped up as a recent search. I chewed on my top lip as my index finger poked the small icon of the model in a large, dark sunglasses, frozen mid-laugh.
The profile of ValeCarvajal, punctuated by a blue tick, appeared in front of my eyes. It was familiar now, embarrassingly so. I’d looked at it so many times that I could memorise her bio by heart, and could almost draw her first 10 pictures just from memory.
I clicked on her most recent picture, my lips lifting at the carefree smile on Valentina’s face as she posed for the camera. She was dressed in her character's black denim shorts and white shirt that had been made to look as though she’d been living rough for weeks. An oversized Hawaiian shirt, patterned with pinks and greens that her character had picked up on a supply run hung loosely on her slim frame. She grasped her wide-brim canvas hat high in the air as if she were celebrating. Her hair was pulled back into two identical french braids, loose strands of hair escaping from the relaxed style.
Valentina smiled widely at the camera, the sun in her face, her features scrunched up in cheerfulness. I had been the one who took the photo, happy to participate in the impromptu photoshoot. I could still hear her giggle as my eyes scanned the photo for the millionth time.
She was breathtaking.
“I didn’t realise you were having lunch here.”
I jumped in fright, caught red-handed, my hands fumbling with the phone that had been resting in my hands. When my composure eventually caught up, my palm now flat on top of my phone against the table, I looked up to find Sergio gazing down at me comically.
“Are you alright?” He asked, a smirk hiding behind the thickening beard on his face.
“Yes. Fine. Sorry.” I mumbled in a strange, disjointed way. “You just surprised me.”
“Do you mind if I join?” Sergio’s eyes flicked to the long bench seat that only I was occupying.
I cleared my throat and nodded my head.
“Of course, yeah.”
Sergio grinned and dropped down beside me, his tray of lunch clattering against the sturdy fold-up table. His fingers pulled at his bread roll before his plastic knife scraped at an offering of butter on his plate. He smothered the roll with the yellow paste before dipping it into whatever mess his lunch was. From the looks of the rice and saucy red chicken, I assumed he’d picked an Indian dish from one of the food trucks on site.
“We haven’t caught up one-on-one in a while.” Sergio commented around a mouthful of bread. There was a drop of sauce stuck on his beard. I considered telling him about it, but decided against it. “You’ve been a little preoccupied.”
“What does that mean?” I asked cautiously.
Sergio grinned at me again, his typical boyish mischievousness shining through.
“You know what I mean.”
I folded my arms across my chest and turned to face him. I watched him, one brow raised, as he shoved in another mouthful of food. He threw me a wink and nudged my side, chortling as he chewed.
“Don’t get all defensive, Juli.” He laughed. “It’s nice that you and Valentina are finally getting along.”
Immediately, I paled. Luckily, Sergio was too preoccupied with stuffing his face with food to notice my expression transform into one of panic. I quickly reminded myself that my reaction could give me away, so I swallowed down the alarm rising in my throat and turned back to my tray of barely touched food. I picked up my plastic fork and pushed at the Mediterranean salad in front of me.
“Whatever, Serg.” I brushed off with a laugh I hoped sounded genuine.
“No, I’m serious. It’s nice.” He said as he chewed. I resisted the urge to tell him it’s rude to speak with his mouth full. “It was a little tense at the start, so we’re all thankful you two sorted out whatever the issue was. It’s been much nicer filming with you two as friends.”
I bit my lip, my fork crunching into a moon of cucumber, a little embarrassed.
“It was that bad, huh?”
Sergio almost choked on his food, eventually laughing at the comment.
“You were basically throwing daggers at her the entire time. It was awkward as hell.”
My face scrunched up and I lifted my head to look at him. He was watching me with an affectionate smile, and even though more sauce had joined the initial drip in his dark beard, I couldn’t help but ignore it and reciprocate the gesture.
“I was kind of a bitch, hey?”
“Just a little.” He laughed as he finally wiped his beard with a napkin. “What was the problem, anyway?”
I dropped all pretense of pretending to eat and left the fork on the tray, my hands twisting in my lap. I obviously wasn’t going to go into detail, but I wanted to be more transparent than I had in the past. Sergio had been nothing but friendly to me, so I figured he deserved some element of truth.
“It wasn’t her. I was stupid and let other people’s opinions sway my judgement. Once I got to know her a little, I realised I was wrong about her.”
Sergio nodded as he gulped down another large mouthful.
“Occupational hazard, huh?”
I lifted a brow at him questioningly. He understood that I had no idea what he meant.
“You know,” He said as he waved his plastic knife in the air. “In an industry like ours, it’s easy to already have an opinion on the people we work with before we actually meet them. It can be hard to separate the idea of a person from the reality at the start.”
I sighed and nodded slowly, glad Sergio mostly understood where I'd gone wrong.
“I guess I'm still pretty new to this.”
“Well, get used to it girl. From what I can see, you’ll only end up more famous once this drops.”
I pushed at Sergio’s shoulder as I felt a blush creep across my skin. Compliments always made me feel a little uncomfortable, but I could tell Sergio was being genuine. He winked at me and thought no more about it, continuing on with his lunch.
“Where is everyone else?” I asked as I stretched my back. The vertebrae popped satisfyingly, earning a slightly disgusted look from my lunch companion.
“Anna is in wardrobe. Apparently there was a problem with her shoes. And Lucho was re-shooting a section of one of his scenes.” Sergio explained. “Valentina was on a phone call when I passed her on my way here.”
“There you are.” My hat was nearly knocked off my head as two arms wrapped around my neck.
I could tell who that voice and those arms belonged to any day of the week.
Valentina’s warm cheek pressed against my own as she hugged me, her body hot against my back. She whispered a quick hey in my ear, my heart in my throat and smile growing wider as she pressed a quick kiss against my cheek, out of sight of Sergio.
“Speak of the devil.” Sergio grinned as his eyes flicked up to Valentina, then back down to me.
“Oh yeah?” Valentina said as she shoved my hat back on my head. “You were talking about me?”
The long arms around my neck adjusted as Valentina pulled out of the embrace. One arm she kept draped over my shoulder as she straddled the bench seat on the other side, her body right up against me. I swallowed at the proximity of the blue-eyed girl, her open legs making my blood rush. We’d continued to grow closer during our evening rehearsals, and Valentina had become increasingly more hands-on with her friendly affections. It was something I secretly enjoyed, but it still surprised me each time she reached for my hand or placed a quick kiss on my cheek. The others simply accepted the shift between us, too busy with their own schedules to really pay us too much attention.
“Juli asked where you were. I told her you were on a phone call.”
I rolled my eyes at Sergio’s twist of what we were discussing.
“I asked where everyone was.” I corrected, not looking at either of them.
“Well, Sergio is right. I was on the phone.”
I turned my neck to look at her. My breath stuck in my throat as I caught her eye, her expression full of undisguised excitement.
“Yeah?” I asked, a little breathless at the light blue eyes shining at me.
“What are you two doing tonight?”
She asked us both, but her eyes never left mine.
“Nothing. Yet.” Sergio replied around another mouthful of food. “What are you thinking?”
Valentina finally tore her gaze away from mine, addressing Sergio.
“My friend Ava is in town. I thought we could have a little gathering up in my room tonight. She’d like to meet you all.” She babbled, her fingers pressing into my shoulder as she spoke. “Plus, we haven’t really done much bonding outside of the set, just the five of us.”
“The five of us, plus Ava?” Sergio clarified, his brows raised.
“Yep.” Valentina said with a nod of her head. “Are you in?”
Sergio licked his lips and picked up what remained of his bread roll.
“Aren’t you in the penthouse room?”
Valentina’s lips twisted and a smattering of heat sizzled across her already warm skin. She was clearly embarrassed at the question. I loved the way her skin flushed that perfect pink when she was embarrassed.
“As per my fathers orders, that is correct.” She replied, unaware or simply not concerned about my staring. “Drinks will be on me. Well, technically Leon.”
The three of us laughed at Sergio’s enthusiasm. Valentina’s eyes flicked to mine again, finally, her smile creasing at the edges. She studied me closely, her hand moving to the side of my neck. She massaged the muscles there, just lightly, but it made my hands shake in exhilaration.
“Let’s say 8?”
She was asking me directly, her expression begging me to say yes.
As if I could refuse.
“I’ll be there.” I said, and I watched with a thumping heart as her smile took over her entire face.
~ ~ ~
“Fancy seeing you here.”
I looked up from a text from Yolanda to find Anna greeting me with a wide smile. She breezed into the elevator and my eyes couldn’t help but sweep the length of her. She was wearing a white shirt tucked into tight blue jeans, a deep red lipstick highlighting her full lips. She looked fantastic, even in the most simple of outfits. No-one could ever say that Anna wasn’t a stunning woman, all high-cheekbones, long hair and dazzling smiles.
“You look great.” I exclaimed as I shoved my phone into the back pocket of my jeans before moving forward to hug her.
Anna smelt of an expensive perfume, a floral scent that almost made my eyes water. She giggled as she pulled me close, her body slim and tall against me. As I pulled away, she threw me a similar compliment and smacked a quick kiss against my cheek. I don’t know why, but it felt much more awkward compared to the way my body swooned whenever Valentina did the same thing.
I settled in beside her and watched as the elevator doors slid shut.
The button had already been pressed for the top floor, the cursive number 6 softly illuminated. The elevator lurched slightly as it began its slow ascent, my hand wrapping around the cool steel bar that lined the small box.
“Is this not totally random?” Anna asked as she flicked her long hair over her shoulder. She adjusted her shirt as she studied her reflection in the mirrored doors.
“What? Valentina’s invite?”
I shook my head, taking Anna’s lead and checking over my appearance before we arrived. I approved, but couldn’t help but smooth the collar of my shirt. It only took me an hour to settle on it, but I'd chosen my favourite black boots, well-fitting blue jeans and a black sleeveless button up top. I hadn’t done up the top two buttons, exposing a gold necklace against my chest.
“No, I don’t think so. She said her friend Ava is in town and wants to meet us. Maybe she just wants us to hang out a little more.”
Anna nodded her head as she listened, rearranging her hair in a distracted kind of way. I wondered if she was somehow more nervous than me about what might transpire. Just as the number 4 flicked to a 5 on the control panel, Anna nudged me with her elbow.
“Well, it’s nice that you’re free to join us tonight. You’re generally too busy to hang out in the evening.”
I knew with the arch of her brow and lift of her lips that Anna was just teasing me, but a part of me couldn’t help but wonder if she was still annoyed that I hadn’t been able to make time for her. I wasn’t about to tell her that my priority was with Valentina, and it would stay that way as long as she wanted to continue our evening rehearsals.
A light bing sounded, and the elevator doors lurched open. Instead of responding, I offered her a vague shrug of the shoulders and gestured for Anna to go first. She looked at me as if I wasn’t going to get out of it this lightly before stepping out. There were only two rooms on this floor, and Valentina’s was on the right. Anna grinned at me as she took a few steps forward and wrapped her knuckles against the door.
“I can’t wait to see the inside of this place.”
I tilted my head to the side, unsure of Anna’s curiosity. My co-star pursed her lips together and reached out, wiping her thumb against my cheek. I assumed there were some remnants of lipstick there from when Anna kissed me in greeting.
The door before us swung open, an excited Valentina on the other side.
“Hi!” She burst, her smile wide and eyes lit up like the stars.
She quickly looked at Anna, then at me. Anna’s hand dropped from my face, the gesture turning into a slightly awkward wave. There was a quick twitch to Valentina’s brows before she straightened up her smile and lunged forwards, wrapping Anna up in a hug.
“I’m so glad you came.”
Anna laughed and returned the embrace.
“Thanks for the invite.”
Valentina’s long, dark-golden hair swayed against her tight, black crop. It paired perfectly with her wide-leg black pants, a bow tied just beneath her navel as they sat just perfectly against her hips. My mind swam as my eyes drank her in, her flat stomach so enticing I could feel my mouth water at the sight.
Valentina was smirking at me when I forced myself to look up at her face.
“Juls.” She whispered as she flung her arms around me.
On instinct I pulled her close, my hands overlapping around her back and holding her tight.
“Thanks for inviting me.”
I squeezed her once and allowed my arms to fall, aware of Anna’s gaze on us. Valentina stepped back, her lip tucked between her teeth, one hand slipping around mine. She linked our fingers and tugged at me. I was glad she didn’t also hold Anna’s hand.
“Come on.” She said with a flick of her head. “Come on in.”
I stumbled along behind her, her hand tight around my own. I didn’t look for Anna, but I assumed she was behind us.
I didn’t quite understand the idea of a ‘penthouse’ until I stepped foot in Valentina’s room. Well, room was a complete understatement. It was essentially an entire apartment. A fully equipped kitchen stretched off to our left, tall bar stools lining the huge island bench. An array of snacks, piles of limes and copious bottles of liquor were scattered across the stone top, a red blue-tooth speaker vibrating with music contributing to the party atmosphere.
Cheers and hollers came from the group of people already sitting on the L-shaped lounge in the large living room. Sergio, Lucho and Ava were sitting around a glass coffee table, their smiles wide and drinks full.
“About time you two got here.” Sergio called.
“Bathroom is just there.” Valentina pointed to the first door down a long hallway. “As well as another bedroom. My room is through that door.” She pointed to a closed door on the opposite side of the kitchen.
She twirled and her hand loosened from mine. I ignored the disappointment I felt at the disconnection. Her arms widened towards the island bench, and my eyes were once again directed to the spread.
“What would you like to drink?”
“This is a lot.” Anna laughed.
“Yeah. Ava and I have this tendency to get a little too excited. And then this happens.” Valentina grinned. “Is there anything in particular you’d like?”
“Val, I need another.”
I turned to my right at the sound of a voice I didn’t recognise. The woman who I already knew to be Ava placed her glass against the stone bench and I was immediately struck by her beauty. I only caught her profile, but she was stunning in a frustratingly natural kind of way. It was the kind of beauty many women on this planet would kill for, and spend lots of money to try and replicate. But it wasn’t just her clear skin, defined features, and dark hair that caught my eye. It was the way she held herself, a certain confidence in the way she stood, the ferocity in her expression, that had my mouth dropping open in awe.
“Same again?” Valentina asked, and Ava nodded her head.
“How about I make four. Are you two alright with margaritas?”
As with every time she spoke, my attention was pulled back to Valentina. Her blue eyes were watching me carefully. I noticed she did that a lot when we were around other people. She’d ask a general question, but she always waited for my response, her eyes lingering on me as if she couldn’t care for anyone else’s answer. I couldn’t even explain the way that felt even if I tried.
“Sounds great to me, Valentina.” Anna said.
We all know Valentina heard her, but she barely acknowledged it.
“Juls?” She prompted.
“Yeah, Val. That’d be perfect. Thanks.”
Valentina nodded, a hint of hesitancy in the depths of her crystal blues, before she reached for the stack of limes thrown into a decorated fruit bowl. I watched as her long fingers picked up a sharp knife as she began expertly slicing the limes. Anna’s voice barely registered with me as she began chattering away with Valentina, my attention focused on the way her hands held the knife and flipped the fruit.
She was mesmerising.
Just as Valentina began squeezing the limes into two cocktail shakers, the tips of her fingers turning white with the effort, a hand appeared in front of me. My eyes registered the offering, my head lifting to follow the arm back to the woman standing on my right.
“Hey. I’m Ava.”
The designer had a friendly smile on her face. Her teeth were straight and white, and there was a faint glimmer of amusement tucked away in her expression.
“Hey.” I replied, finally catching up. I grasped her hand in a loose handshake. “I’m Juliana.”
Ava’s eyes mapped me out, an element of perception in the way she surveyed me. Generally, I would have been alert to this, wary of someone trying to work me out. But, strangely, Ava’s gaze was fond, kind, and almost like we already knew one another. It didn’t feel evasive so I didn’t mind the prolonged contact.
I didn’t know exactly how to respond to that. She looked at me as if she could read my mind.
Ava’s eye colour was a strange mix of green and brown. People would typically call that mix ‘hazel’, but I didn’t believe there was a way to classify the way those light coloured eyes studied me. They were soft and distinctly like nothing I'd ever seen before.
“It’s nice to meet you. Valentina has mentioned you before.”
I released her hand and offered her a polite smile, doing my best to hold myself together. This woman was Valentina’s best friend. I wanted to make a good impression.
“Has she?” Ava giggled a smooth, airy sound. “I’m sure it’s nothing compared to how much she’s babbled on about you.”
“Well, sure. You’re good friends. Right?”
Ava’s eyes narrowed as she asked the question, her gaze flicking carefully over my face, watching for a reaction.
I licked my lips, my mouth suddenly very dry. I didn’t quite know how to take that. The fact that Valentina had mentioned me to Ava, apparently quite regularly, made my brain glitch. But the mention of good friends made me wonder if perhaps I really was on a different page from the woman who was now shaking the cocktails vigorously in the kitchen.
“Yeah.” I responded, a little less enthusiastically than I'd intended. “I guess we are.”
Ava’s brows pulled together briefly, as if she were confused about my response. She took a quick look at her best friend before leaning in closer and dipping her chin, demanding my attention.
“I’ve heard a lot about you, Juliana.” She spoke quietly and fervently, as if she were trying to tell me something. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”
“Hey. You two.” Valentina called, her fingers trying to click to get our attention.
Ava’s head turned and she pulled back, standing straight and throwing her best friend a brilliant smile.
Valentina’s gaze bounced between us as she wiped her hands on a cloth. I couldn’t help the curl of my lips as my eyes connected with hers again. There was just something about her, something I still hadn’t fully grasped, that made my insides melt every time I had the opportunity to observe her.
Once she spotted my relaxed grin, Valentina softened and pushed two glasses towards us.
“Your drinks.” She presented. “One margarita each.”
Ava picked up what looked to be an expensive glass, decorated with a salted rim and a sliced lime, and sipped at the offering.
“Your best one yet, Vale.” Ava said with a wink.
Valentina giggled and picked up her own drink, throwing me a quirk of the brow as she tipped her own glass, licking at the salt on her lips.
“Come on, let’s join the boys.”
~ ~ ~
Three margaritas later and I was sufficiently relaxed. I didn’t realise how nervous I was about Valentina’s impromptu gathering until I'd consumed enough alcohol for the worry of making a good impression finally fell away.
The first hour was full of boisterous chatter and cackling laughter between the six of us. Anna, Lucho, Sergio, Valentina and I simply continued the friendly banter we’d eased into over the course of filming, and I was reminded once again how lucky I was to be cast in this role with such amazing, like-minded people.
The surprise packet was Ava. The designer slipped right into the dynamics as if she was also part of the cast. She was the perfect balance of flirty and friendly with the boys to keep the sparkle in their eye, and she was nothing but gracious with Anna and myself. The conversation flittered chaotically between set stories and the general rowdiness that tends to occur once the alcohol begins to flow freely and inhibitions are lost.
Ava and Sergio sat amongst large, fluffy cushions that had been thrown on the plush rug. I noticed as time wore on that Sergio began to creep closer to the designer, his toothy smile forever aimed at the beautiful woman. Anna and Lucho sat on one edge of the L shaped lounge, while Valentina and I occupied the other length. The coffee table sat between us, an accumulation of our phones, spilt drinks and empty bottles crowding the furniture.
“I have an idea.” Sergio proposed loudly, his freshly opened beer almost spilling as he sat up.
“We’re not getting naked, Serg.” Anna noted quickly, prompting another round of laughter.
“Party pooper.” Sergio winked. “Let’s play Never Have I Ever.”
The twinkle in Sergio’s eye at his own suggestion made me wonder just how out of control the game could get.
“Yes!” Ava clapped, perhaps a little too enthusiastically. She crossed her legs to get more comfortable, stuffing a large cushion behind her back. “I love this game.”
“How do you play it again?”
“Lucho, are you serious, man?” Sergio groaned.
Lucho looked innocently around to the rest of us, and I couldn’t help but giggle at his forlorn expression.
“Hold up five fingers.” Valentina directed through her own laughter.
She leaned closer to me, her arm pressing into the length of my thigh. If it were possible, she’d become more bold with her physical touch the more she drank. Not that I was about to protest; I was more than happy to play along. As she held up her hand, her five fingers stretched out and waggled in the air. I took a moment to admire the length and shape of them, unsure why I was mildly obsessed with the way they moved.
“We’ll go around in a circle and make a statement starting with ‘never have I ever’. If you have done that thing, you put one finger down and you DRINK!”
“And the first person who puts all five fingers down has to finish the rest of their drink.” Anna added, moving to the edge of the couch.
A warm palm fell on the back of my neck and I shivered at the contact. Valentina’s hot breath was soft against my ear, and I swallowed around the excitement in my throat.
“Do you want another drink?”
I nodded as she pulled away. My neck twisted just enough to look up at her. She was close, her lips wet as if she’d just finished her own drink. She was smiling at me, her eyes bright and shimmering.
I picked up my glass from the coffee table and threw back the last mouthful, enjoying the combination of sweet and salty. Turning back to Valentina, I licked my lips, my tongue catching the last few traces of salt from the rim. I caught Valentina’s eye, immediately aware of the effect I’d accidentally had on the other woman. She was still, her eyes ablaze as she stared at my mouth. I continued slowly, tracing the entire surface area of my lips, watching on as Valentina continued to gawk. Her own mouth was agape, and I could see the tip of her tongue resting against her bottom lip.
There was almost enough confidence swimming in my veins to lean in and kiss her. I wanted to. Desperately. However, not only were we in the middle of her living room, surrounded by people, but Valentina deserved better than that.
The last time I kissed her, it had been rushed and under the wrong circumstances. I’d treated her badly and I took advantage of her moment of weakness. I’d torn myself up about it ever since, even more so that I'd allowed myself to get to know her better.
If it were to happen again, I’d want it to be right. I’d want it to be reciprocal, and not some hurried mess in a dark hallway. I respected her more than that.
So instead of closing the distance between us and pulling her into a kiss like my entire body was screaming at me to do, I gently pushed the now empty glass into Valentina’s hand that wasn’t still wrapped around the back of my neck.
“I’ll have another. Thanks.”
Valentina blinked at me, once, then again, before she seemed to understand what was going on. She closed her mouth and cleared her throat, the warmth of her palm dropping away as she stood up.
“I think we’re done with margaritas.”
I watched on with a smirk on my face as Valentina stepped away from the couch and into the kitchen. She discarded our glasses onto the island bench and reached for a tall bottle of mezcal that stood amongst the various other types of alcohol. She licked her lips as if in thought, and then looked directly at me.
Knowing full well I'd been caught staring, I held my ground and simply raised a curious eyebrow at her, a coy smile on my lips. I couldn’t help it if my brain just wanted to watch her every move. Valentina’s eyes sparkled as she pushed her lips together in a bashful, lopsided grin. It was the kind of smile that made my stomach swoop, a smile that was just for me. I scrunched my nose up at her and she responded with a playful attempt at a wink. I’d never seen a more adorable expression in my entire life, and it made me laugh a full, hearty laugh.
“Juli, are you listening?”
Anna’s voice tugged me from my moment with Valentina. I caught Ava’s eye as I turned back to rejoin the group, my smile still wide on my face.
She was watching me closely, a smirk on her face as she tipped her head to the side. I wasn’t sure what Valentina had told Ava about me, but I could feel her eyes follow me as I focused on Anna.
“Sorry. What’s going on?”
“Lucho started the game. Put your hand up.” Anna giggled as she grabbed at the hand resting against the couch. “Lucho, repeat it so Juli can play.”
“Never have I ever lied to a boss.”
My face scrunched up in disapproval as Lucho waved five fingers at me.
“Lucho, you’re saying you’ve never lied to a boss? Really?”
“Yep.” He said, full of good-natured humour. “Never had to. My natural charm takes care of it for me. I don’t have to lie.”
I rolled my eyes and tucked away a finger.
“You have to drink.” Sergio said as he finished his own mouthful, four fingers remaining on his other hand.
“I don’t have one.”
Right as I said it, a tall shot glass brimming with a clear liquid appeared in front of me. Two long fingers held it in front of my face, and I looked up to see a mischievous Valentina grinning down at me.
“Now you do.” She beamed.
I took the offered glass, my mouth agape.
“Shots? Val, we do have to work tomorrow.”
“Not until midday.” Sergio piped up. “Take your drink, little miss liar.”
I grimaced at the boy lounging against the cushions but did as I was told. The mezcal burned my throat and I coughed at the intensity of the flavour.
A hand rubbed at my back soothingly as Valentina settled in beside me.
“You’ll get used to it.” She whispered as she took her own sip.
“Alright, my turn.” Ava called excitedly. “Never have I ever been to a strip club.”
The two boys immediately raised their drinks to their lips, as did Valentina.
“Really, Val? Without me?” Ava admonished.
She shrugged her shoulders as if it wasn’t a big deal.
“It was in Paris with Cara and Kate. It wasn’t really my scene but they enjoyed it.”
“Cara and Kate?” Anna asked, trying to keep up.
“Cara Delevinge and Kate Upton.” Ava clarified as Valentina didn’t respond.
Sergio almost spat out his drink at the name drop. For the first time since I walked in the door, the only sound in the apartment was the music. Heat Waves by Glass Animals was blaring from the speaker and we all just sort of gaped at Valentina.
“Sometimes I forget how famous you are.” Lucho said, his eyes wide.
It was true. We kind of lived in this little bubble while on set. It wasn’t like a normal shoot in the city where we’d go home at the end of a long day of filming and still be attached to our normal lives. All we did while we were on location was film for ten hours, and then end up too exhausted to do much so we’d see the inside of our hotel room at night. At least that’s what Valentina and I had fallen into the habit of doing while working on our evening rehearsals. We spent most of our time together, so aside from the overwhelming number of people following her on social media, it was easy to forget just how famous she was.
“It’s whatever.” She said with a shake of her head. It was clear she didn’t want to dwell on it. “Come on. It’s Sergio’s turn.”
The six of us snapped out of our brief lull of admiration for having Valentina in our presence and continued on with the game.
“Never have I ever had a threesome.”
Ava’s finger bent and the rest of us burst into mocking applause at the admission. The designer blushed but laughed along with us, sneaking a sip of her drink while the rest of us demanded some details.
“It was after my first fashion show in New York.” She stated, keeping fairly tight-lipped.
“That’s all you’re going to give us?” Sergio was basically drooling as he leaned in for more information.
Ava grinned at Valentina, the two sharing an amused look. It was clear Valentina knew this story already. Sergio’s eyes bounced between the two women, his eyes widening.
“If you want to try it again, I'm more than willing to participate.” Sergio gushed. “Vale, are you in if we are?”
I laughed along with the rest of the group, but my stomach was twisting at the thought of Sergio anywhere near Valentina.
“You wish, Serg.”
After Valentina shot him down, Sergio swivelled his neck to Ava, the hope slowly fading from his eyes.
“In your wildest dreams.”
With those four words, Sergio’s dreams were crushed.
“Alright, my turn!” Valentina called out over the laughter, her shot glass balanced between her index finger and thumb. “Never have I ever fallen asleep during sex.”
Valentina’s eyes were locked with Ava’s, and the designer made a sound of displeasure at the comment. Clearly, Valentina was targeting her best friend with some inside information. The rest of the group hollered and whooped as one more finger curled down for Ava and she and Sergio both tipped back their drinks.
After Sergio and Ava explained themselves, all eyes turned to me.
“Alright. Never have I ever gone skinny-dipping.”
Every single person around the circle gaped at me and took a drink, completely shocked that I had never swum without any clothes on. The five of them threw a barrage of questions at me once they’d swallowed their mouthfuls, wondering why I’d never participated in such a brazen act.
“The opportunity just never presented itself.” I cried out, trying to be heard above their utter disbelief.
“There’s a pool here, you know.” Sergio laughed with a wink.
A range of different, disgusted negatives were sent in Sergio’s direction before Anna continued on.
“Never have I ever had sex with a female.”
The two boys of the group sniggered and high-fived one another, almost spilling their drinks on Ava as they did so. They threw down another mouthful as Valentina quietly took a sip of her own drink. I swallowed down the panic that grew inside me at the statement. I could feel my skin burning and I could sense an intense pair of blue eyes staring at the side of my head, but I couldn’t bring myself to lift the drink to my lips.
I knew the truth. Valentina knew the truth. But no-one else knew about my sexual orientation, nor the rushed encounter i’d had with Valentina on set weeks ago. Or any of the previous sexual experiences I’d had with other women.
The thought of everyone else finding out my secret caused a line of sweat to break out on my forehead. I gritted my teeth and ignored the side glances from Anna and Ava, determined to keep my cool while also thinking of ways I could explain my reluctance to admit the truth to a disappointed Valentina.
The feel of my jeans beneath my suddenly sweaty palms took priority, and I focused my gaze on my lap as the light banter between Sergio and Lucho continued on.
“I kind of like being the only one who knows.”
I turned to look at Valentina as she pulled away from my ear, the feel of her breath on my skin increasing the blush on my face. I let go of the breath I didn’t realise I was holding onto when I found two soft blue eyes focused on me. With that simple look of complete understanding, and that calm whisper in my ear, my nerves faded away like a morning dream.
The smile that spread across my face at the other woman’s earnest expression was almost embarrassing.
How did she do it?
“Okay.” Lucho said loudly before clearing his throat, gaining the attention of everyone in the room. “If that’s the way we want to play it. Never have I ever had sex with a man.”
I rolled my eyes as I bent my neck, downing another small mouthful of mezcal. I looked over at Valentina with a scowl as the liquid burned my throat on its journey south. She was looking at me with a curiously arched brow, her drink still lowered, balanced against her knee.
And then it hit me, perhaps a little naively, that she’d only ever slept with women. She was so confident in herself, so assertive in her own sense-of-self that it made me feel like such an idiot for the reasons why I'd gone through with my own fumbling sexual experience with a man at the vulnerable age of 18. A combination of pressure from straight women pointing out that I never showed any interest in the other young men on set, the buzz of alcohol in my circulatory system, the slight curiosity of what it would be like, the fading confusion over what I actually preferred, and a handsome young man named Adam eager to follow me into a guest bedroom, all led to the moment I told myself I should try.
Once was enough to solidify the concept of what it meant to be gay in my mind.
I raised my own brow at Valentina, a silly smirk on my face. I knew, with the curve of her lips and slightly narrowing of her eyes, that I'd have to recount that terrible story later. She looked relaxed and flirtatious, her eyelids blinking slowly as she continued to watch me with a softness and attentiveness that made my heart thump hard in my chest.
I could have stared at her all night. I wasn’t sure if it was the alcohol or just the way Valentina looked at me, but I felt like I could simply dive into the blue depths of her eyes and she would wrap me up and hold me close. It was a wonderfully comforting thought, and for the upteenth time that night, I had to restrain myself from leaning further into her. I had to continually remind myself that we weren’t alone in my hotel room, and I couldn’t just throw myself at her.
“Okay, now we’ve established that.” Ava laughed, her white teeth gleaming wickedly as she grinned widely.
It was clear the group was quickly sliding into inebriation as we all reacted boisterously to the game. The collective laughter was becoming less inhibited, with more crude jokes and slightly slurred sentences thrown at one another across the room. I felt the couch dip next to me as Valentina moved closer, her leg just touching the length of my own. I continued to participate in the playful joke Sergio was using to try and provoke me, unable to let go of the idea of skinny dipping, all while doing my best to ignore all the places that Valentina and I now touched.
Eventually, someone realised it was Ava’s turn. The designer clapped her hands, our laughter and conversations dying on our lips as we focused on her. She licked her lips, her eyes sweeping across the group before she settled on Valentina. Her lips twitched and I could almost see the idea flick a switch in her brain. She clicked her teeth under the guise of hiding her sly smile.
“Never have I ever had sex on set.”
The shot glass almost slipped from my fingers as Ava’s green eyes flashed at me.
I could never forget it. Valentina, the most gorgeous woman I’d ever met, pressed up against a wall in a dark hallway. Her tongue sliding against my own, the soft feel of her beneath my fingers, the sounds of her pleading with me, caused a blush to erupt under my skin.
Without looking at one another, Valentina and I both raised our shot glasses to our lips. We knocked back the rest of the clear liquid, wiping our mouths as the mezcal slid down our throats.
I looked up to see the other four staring at us with varying degrees of amusement and confusion.
“What?” Valentina replied.
The model reached for the half-full bottle of mezcal she’d placed on the coffee table. She plucked the glass gently from my hand and removed the lid off the bottle.
“You’ve both had sex on set?” Lucho asked.
“Looks like it.” Valentina said with a nonchalant shrug as she went about refilling our glasses. “Anyone want some?”
Ava and Anna both picked up a shot glass and held it out for Valentina.
The model looked entirely unfazed by the question, but I could tell by the flex in her jaw and the reddening of the tips of her ears that she knew what the implication of us both drinking to that question meant. I felt the colour drain from my face as Sergio tipped his head inquisitively to the side, a sly smile on his bearded face.
“Isn’t this your first job on a set, Vale?” Sergio asked strategically.
His eyes bounced between the two of us as if he were watching a tennis match, the interest clear in the glint in his eyes. I tried my best to school my features into one of indifference. I wasn’t sure I was succeeding.
“Yes.” Valentina replied firmly as she forced the lid back on the bottle and carefully handed me an almost overflowing glass.
My hands were trembling slightly as I received it. Valentina flicked me a calm smile, one that said trust me. I blew out a shaky breath and realised I did, without a doubt, trust her.
“So you two…” Sergio continued excitedly, his index finger wagging at us.
Lucho and Sergio cheered and gave each other another obnoxious high-five. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes as I witnessed the most bro-like thing to ever happen. Anna just gaped at us and Ava sat back and watched, joining in with Lucho and Sergio’s jubilant banter on what they thought they had just discovered.
I swallowed harshly and shook my head. I released a nervous laugh and in the process, spilled a bit of my drink on my jeans. Valentina’s hand immediately wiped at my leg and nudged me with her elbow.
“Relax.” She mouthed at me before she turned back to the others.
“Sergio, you moron. Put it back in your pants.” Valentina called out, determined to be heard above them.
“I fucking knew it.” Sergio grinned as he lifted his beer to his mouth and finished off the bottle.
“You knew what?” Valentina asked casually, her head wobbling as she mimicked Sergio’s tone.
“That there was something going on between you two.” He chortled as he reached for the bottle of mezcal and a spare shot glass. “Didn’t we, Lucho?”
Lucho just nodded his head feverishly, like a puppy who was just offered treats. Sometimes I wondered if that man ever had an original thought in his entire life.
“Well, you’d best get that idea out of your head.” Valentina remarked.
I was more than happy for Valentina to take the lead on this one. It was apparent that I’d been stunned into silence. The thought of this group of people finding out about what had happened between Valentina and I caused my brain to almost shut down, as if it were in defensive mode. I couldn’t do any more damage if I kept my mouth shut, so I gladly watched as Valentina handled the boys as if they were putty in her hands.
“What? But you both drank to having sex on set, and this is your first job. We’re just joining the dots here.”
Valentina sighed as if she were about to explain the most simple thing to a bunch of ignorant 6 year olds.
“I’m the daughter of Leon Carvajal, Serg. I grew up on set. Just because Juliana and I both drank, it doesn’t mean it happened at the same time.” She tipped back a small sip of mezcal as the rest of the group looked at one another. “I’m sure we’ve both had plenty of opportunities, what with all those dark hallways and drawn curtains around the lot. I’m actually surprised we’re the only two who have.”
Anna’s shrill laugh rang out as Valentina finished, the others soon joining in.
“Sergio, you idiot.” She said as she threw a cushion at his head. He just ducked in time, somehow also keeping his shot glass still enough to not lose any of his drink. “Get the fantasy out of your head. Juliana would never do that with Valentina.”
This time, it was me who laughed. If only Anna knew just how badly I wanted to be close to Valentina. Again. Thankfully, my laughter blended in with the rowdy hysterics and friendly jabs at one another as we continued our slide into intoxication.
“No need to burst our bubble, An. We’re quite happy imagining it.” Lucho grinned, earning another raucous round of laughter and sounds of disgust.
I joined in on the light banter, relaxing in my posture once I was out of the danger zone. Valentina’s deflection clearly worked. Everyone moved on from the topic, Sergio now reminiscing on the time he almost managed to pull Claudia Garcia, a beautiful actress on his last job, into a dark corner between takes. It was apparent Lucho didn’t believe a word of it, the other boy jesting and toying with Sergio for more details.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Ava flick Valentina a brief apology, her expression full of remorse. Beside me, Valentina shook her head minutely, as if she were forgiven. Ava took a breath and with a blink, removed the pleading look in her eyes and turned back to the conversation.
It was a moment between two best friends, a moment that wouldn’t have taken any longer than 5 seconds, but I noticed it. For a moment, my mind wandered. I pondered how much Valentina had told her best friend regarding what had happened between us. What made Ava bring that up? She didn’t strike me as the kind of person who would purposely embarrass her best friend, or betray her trust. My heart raced as thoughts of someone else knowing my secret, and what they could do with this information, began circulating in my head.
With a light squeeze on my knee, I was pulled back to the present.
I looked down at my full-again drink and Valentina’s hand on my knee, and back up to bright, blue eyes. She was smiling at me, a delicate, soft pull of her lips, and just like that, my brief spiral was halted. She leaned in, her scent making my eyelids flutter, and whispered in my ear.
“Are you okay?”
I was aware of how easily the drink in my hand was being consumed, and how quickly it was refilled. I’d been drunk plenty of times before to know the signs. My entire body was moving at a much slower pace than normal, and I was enjoying how relaxed I felt. Not to mention how great it felt to have Valentina so close to me.
She hadn’t moved away, her hand still resting against my leg, her warm breath on my cheek. I took in a deep breath, relishing the perfume radiating from the other woman, and replied.
Valentina’s light laugh was hot against my skin, and I smiled widely as her chest shook in amusement.
“Just fine? Anything I can do to make your night any better?”
I bit my lip as Valentina’s flirtatious voice whispered in my ear. I was hot, almost too hot, but despite this I could still sense the goosebumps rise all over my body in reaction to the loaded question. We were in a room with our friends, and I desperately wished they would all disappear so I could lean in and place a kiss against the soft column of skin on Valentina’s neck that was so damn, enticingly close.
“Hmmmmm.” I hummed. “I don’t think so.”
Valentina’s head dropped slightly and she began to pull away. I realised she was retreating, perhaps disappointed in my response. It was the last thing I wanted.
I reached out, my hand boldly cupping the back of her neck and pulling her into me again. She released a quiet huff of surprise at the movement, our cheeks sliding together as I made to whisper in her ear.
“I’ll be happy as long as you stay close.”
My hand fell away from her neck, tracing down her spine to settle on the small of her back. This time I pulled back to look at her, and was pleasantly surprised to see the shock on her face. She quickly pulled herself together, licking her lips as her gaze dropped to my mouth, and back up.
It was pathetic, painfully so, at how desperate I was to throw away all the fucks I gave and just kiss her. But the room full of people, coupled with the terror I felt at the thought of people knowing about my sexuality held me back. Not to mention the promise I made to myself, that I wouldn’t be the one to push myself on Valentina ever again.
Valentina opened her mouth to speak, but my body had more important matters to attend to.
“I’ll be back. I’m busting.”
I shuffled forwards and pushed off her leg with my hand. I realised pretty quickly that I got up too fast, my feet unsteady as I stood. I swayed for a moment, the amount of alcohol i’d consumed suddenly making itself present in my system. The room spun for a second and I stumbled forward.
“Woah, Juli.” Sergio laughed, his hand shaking as he poured himself another shot.
Just as I thought I was headed for the glass coffee table, two firm hands grasped my hips and stopped me. I turned to see Valentina holding me, still seated, one eyebrow raised and mouth open.
“I’m okay. Just stood too quickly.” I mumbled, only just loud enough to be heard over the sound of the music.
Anna’s giggle pulled my attention. I wobbled on my feet and blinked at the girl who had quickly become my friend. She was leaning in close to Lucho while the boy showed her something on his phone. She looked quite enamoured with him, sitting close enough to be considered intimate or flirtatious. While one of her hands gripped her shot glass, the other was slung over his shoulder as she tugged him closer.
I smiled as I watched Anna flirt with our co-star, and made a mental note to quiz her about that later. For now, my bladder was practically screaming at me.
Valentina’s hands fell away from my waist as I stepped towards the kitchen. Remembering Valentina’s brief introduction to the apartment, I reached for the door handle on the first door down the hallway. It was rigid, as if it were locked.
“I think Sergio’s in there?”
I spun on the spot to see Valentina grinning at me. She stood close by, her face in slight shadow from the light behind her, but I could still spot the glimmer in her eyes.
“What? He was just with us.”
I looked over Valentina’s shoulder. Ava was lying back on her elbows, laughing along with Anna and Lucho. Sergio must have just beaten me to it.
“It’s okay. You can use my ensuite.”
Valentina took my hand in hers and dragged me back through the main living area and through a closed door at the other end.
Two bedside pendant lights were on, spilling warm yellow light onto a large king bed. Her mirrored closet doors were shut, but I imagined there was nothing left inside considering the amount of clothes that had been thrown onto the bed.
“Sorry about the mess.” Valentina snorted. “Bathroom is through there.”
Valentina pointed at a door that was slightly ajar, opposite the wall of sheer curtains running the length of the room. We were finally alone, but my body really wasn’t about to cut me any slack.
“Thanks.” I mumbled, desperate to relieve myself.
I ignored the slight spinning of the room as I sat down, sighing in relief as I emptied my full bladder.
I pulled out my phone and opened up a message from Yolanda. She’d sent a selfie, and I giggled stupidly at the sight. She was slumped in a chair, her face squashed against her flat palm, dark circles under her eyes. She was obviously still on set, working late into the night.
I hit the camera button, taking a selfie with my tongue out and sending it back.
She replied in an instant.
Are you drunk? You look drunk.
She knew me too well.
I snorted and replied: Maybe. We’re in the penthouse having a few drinks.
In Valentina’s penthouse?
Then quickly: Valentina, the one you have a crush on?
I rolled my eyes, my fingers sliding across the screen slowly.
Valentina, my co-star, yes. All of us are here.
The three bubbles popped up on screen, letting me know Yolanda was typing.
Have you found the courage to kiss her yet? Seriously, Juli, shoot your shot.
If only she knew. I would be back in the city in two days, and I wasn’t sure how much longer I could hold Yolanda off from telling her the full story.
I’m going back to the party now…
I locked my phone and cleaned myself up. As I did so, my mind flitted back to the woman who dominated my thoughts.
Valentina was even more playful when drunk, and I was happy to admit to myself how much I enjoyed it. The way she looked at me and the closeness we’d shared throughout the night made my face split open with a silly grin.
I desperately wanted to kiss her. I wanted to feel those full, soft lips against mine again. I couldn’t recall another moment in time when I so badly wanted to be close to another person. There was just something about her that made me dizzy with desire, made me giddy with want. The soft touches and whispered remarks made me think that perhaps she felt the same way. The thought of my escalating feelings being reciprocated made my heart rate spike and my skin flush.
I washed my hands, and with a firm look at myself in the mirror, I stepped back into her bedroom. I took a moment to memorise the space. The scatter of jewelry and perfume on her bedside, the stack of shoes in the corner, the scribbled script on the edge of her bed. I smiled to myself and forced my feet towards her bedroom door. Just as I was about to pull it open, I could hear hushed voices on the other side.
“I bloody knew it.”
It was Ava.
“What the fuck were you playing at with that Never Have I Ever question, Ava?”
I bit my lip. It was clearly a private conversation between two friends, but I found myself frozen in place.
“What do you mean?” Ava asked innocently.
I could almost see the roll of Valentina’s eyes through the door.
“You know exactly what I mean. Why did you throw us into it like that?”
“You can’t tell me you had sex at work and then not give me any details, Vale.”
“Ava, come on. Maybe I didn’t tell you for a reason. Did you think of that?”
“I’m your best friend. You used to tell me everything, but you’ve been very tight lipped about this Juliana girl. I had a suspicion and I wanted to confirm it. What’s wrong with that?”
So Valentina hadn’t told her. Ava was just playing the game and we fell into the trap.
Well, she knew now.
“It’s none of your business, Ava.”
From the tone of Valentina’s voice, she was pissed. It went quiet between the two of them, and for a moment I thought the model had stormed off.
“You’re right. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have pried, especially in front of everyone.”
Valentina released a deep breath.
“Was it good?”
“Oh my God, Ava. Stop.”
“Why are you being so secretive about this anyway? It’s not like you.”
I felt myself straining to hear the answer, but one never came.
“You like her, don’t you?” Ava giggled, only just loud enough to be heard. “You don’t smile like that about just anyone Vale.”
“Shut up.” Valentina replied, the mirth in her voice strong. “There’s just a lot going on. No-one knows about her. She isn’t out yet, and it’s not our place to go and shout it to the rest of the world. You can’t tell anyone, okay?”
I could feel the blood whoosh through my veins as I stepped away from the door, the contents of that conversation reverberating around my head like a game of pong.
Somehow, my brain ignored the idea that Ava knew about me, and decided to focus on the other aspect of the whispered conversation.
Could it be true? Could Valentina really like me, like me?
A light breeze ruffled the sheer curtain, and in my stupor of possibilities running through my head, I walked towards it. Behind the curtain was a half-open glass sliding door that led out onto a balcony. My brain was gasping for fresh air as my tipsy self tried to decipher Valentina and Ava’s hushed conversation.
I stepped out onto the large balcony and walked straight to the edge, my hands grasping the cool metal railing. I turned my face to the sky, the stars like icing sugar against the black. I sucked in a deep breath, a smile creeping onto my face, and I allowed myself to relish in the thought of Valentina possibly returning this forever growing feeling that burned inside of me.
The music and laughter from the party in the penthouse living room flowed out into the warm summer breeze, the sounds disappearing into the darkness of night. There was the occasional traffic noise from the road below, but this section of the hotel faced a large parkland. It felt fairly private, and due to the late hour, there weren’t many people around.
I bent my neck to look below. I was only 6 floors up, but it seemed much higher than that. The streets were lit with bright orange lights. I spotted two people strolling the sidewalk, arm in arm. I swore I could hear the woman laugh as they continued their slow meander. They looked close; intimate. I wondered who they were, what their story was. Were they friends? Lovers?
“What are you doing out here?”
Valentina’s mellow voice surprised me, and I jumped a little in fright.
“Sorry.” She giggled while she floated towards me. Her hand gently rested on my shoulder and my heart fluttered in my chest. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
I looked sideways and smiled at her like an idiot, too pleased to see her.
“No. Sorry. I was just in my own little world. I didn’t hear you coming.”
She bit her lip and nodded her head at me, before turning to face the same direction. Her hand dropped from my shoulder and wrapped around the same railing, just centimeters away from my own. We settled into a quiet moment, our breathing soft and soothing as we stood side-by-side.
“What were you thinking about?” She asked gently.
My eyes drifted downwards and I cringed a little at my train of thought.
“How everyone has their own story.”
“That sounds deep.”
I breathed out in amusement through my nose.
“Oh, it wasn’t meant to be.” I glanced at her, and was a little surprised to see her already watching me.
“See that couple, down there.” I pointed down towards the sidewalk, the two small figures walking slowly together along the street.
Valentina squinted as her eyes followed the direction of my index finger.
“I was just contemplating who they are. How did they meet? How do they feel? What are they to one another?”
I knew it was stupid, but I didn’t feel uncomfortable sharing it with Valentina.
“Oh yeah? And what did you come up with?”
I laughed at myself and the absurdity of my imagination.
“I’ve decided they met at a Starbucks. She ordered a Pumpkin Spiced Latte and he, standing behind her in line, laughed at her order. When she turned to confront him about it, he asked why she even came to a coffee shop when she was going to order something that was equal parts dairy & diabetes, and whether she was going to drink it atop some freshly fallen leaves. She was furious at his comment, claiming that she didn’t come here to be judged for her drink choice. It’s a free country, after all. In a quick change of direction, he apologised. He said he would like to make it up to her by judging which meal and drink she would choose from the little Italian restaurant down the road. Impressed with his quick wit and chiseled jaw-line, and with no immediate plans, she accepted both the terrible Pumpkin Spice Latte and the dinner date. It only took two more dates before they became lovers and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Valentina’s head tipped back as she laughed, her throat bobbing as she stretched.
“And you worked all that out, just by watching them from all the way up here?”
I shrugged my shoulders as if it were nothing.
“It’s a gift.”
Valentina nudged me with her shoulder, her laughter bright in the darkness of night. I smiled as I listened to the sound and enjoyed her closeness. Her perfume carried in the warm summer's breeze, the fresh scent of linen and lavender sending a cascade of endorphins hurtling through my system. I felt as though I could step off this balcony and walk on air, as long as she was by my side.
“Well, what about us?”
Valentina’s quiet question was said with such anticipation that it made me shiver. She was still standing right up against my side, but I didn’t dare chance a look at her. I was afraid of what I might see looking back at me considering what little control I had left. So I continued looking down towards the street, my body beginning to tremble despite the warmth in the air.
“What do you mean?”
A quick movement and the warmth that was by my side now pressed against my back. She was standing behind me, her hands on either side of mine on the railing, her torso lightly grazing my back. I froze, and my breath was trapped in my lungs.
“What are we to one another?” She whispered, hot and breathy against my neck.
I let out a forced exhale, heaving more oxygen into my lungs, as Valentina’s nose traced up the back of my neck. She leaned in closer, her lips grazing my skin, and I shuddered.
My hands gripped the steel railing even tighter as my knees weakened.
A demanding Valentina was a serious turn on. I could feel myself respond, an increased wetness in my panties, at the hoarsely whispered words. My breath shook as I followed the instruction, slowly turning in the minimal space Valentina offered.
What I found when I finally looked up was the most beautifully flushed face I’d ever seen in my entire life. I could feel it, my control slipping like an avalanche, as dark blue eyes blinked slowly at me. Her hands were still holding onto the railing behind me, trapping me against her. She licked her lips slowly, tantalisingly, and I almost whimpered at the sight.
“What are you doing?”
The words were something between a whisper and a groan, a sound I had no control over.
Valentina’s eyes bounced around my face with an intensity that took my breath away. Again. I was at her mercy, and absolutely willing to go down whatever path she was leading us. Once satisfied with her confident exploration of my face, her gaze halted at my lips, her own lifting into the softest smile she’d ever given me.
I felt like I was falling. Like the balcony gave way and we were just floating through a never-ending dream. Together.
Without responding, she leant in. My hands twitched forwards in response. I grasped onto her hips, my fingers pressing into the fabric of her pants. I tilted my head to the side as Valentina’s face nuzzled into my neck.
I closed my eyes at the closeness, pulling her nearer still. My body was crushed between the balcony edge and Valentina, and there was nowhere else I'd rather be. She was so alluring, every single bit of her. My senses were overwhelmed. Valentina’s scent, her touch, her physical beauty - It was so overwhelming I wanted to choke on it.
“Val.” I whined, desperately.
She pulled away a little at my pathetic cry. She turned to face me, her lips hovering millimeters away from my jawline. Her breath washed over my skin.
It was evident in that moment that we both knew what we wanted, but were equally holding back. I swallowed thickly, unbelievably turned on, my body screaming for her. I just wished she’d stop torturing me and eliminate the distance.
“Juls.” She responded, composed yet affected.
She moved again, the tip of her nose scraping my neck and I groaned lightly at the feeling of her breathing me in.
“You’re so -”
She finished her sentence with a kind of strangled moan. My fingers flexed into her hips, and upon the feel of fabric beneath my fingers, I remembered what she was wearing.
There was bare skin not far away.
Do I dare?
A flicker of Valentina’s tongue against my neck jerked my hands upwards. I was rewarded with the warm, trembling skin of Valentina’s torso. My fingertips dragged along her back, the feeling so wonderful I immediately tried to formulate a plan to get her back into her bedroom and have my way with her without the rest of the party knowing.
Valentina’s tongue was replaced with her soft lips. They began slowly pressing into my neck, my eyes nearly rolling back into my head at the sensation. I held on to her even tighter, my breathing rough and heart hammering beneath my chest.
“What are we doing, Juls?” Valentina whispered once she trailed a line of gentle kisses up my neck, her teeth tugging on my ear lobe.
I could barely comprehend what was going on, let alone respond appropriately to a question. But I did my best.
I wasn’t sure if she meant literally what we were doing at that moment, or if she wanted more clarification around where we stood.
Could this be something more?
The thought was equal parts intoxicating and terrifying.
“What do you want?” I managed, my voice breathy and pathetic.
Valentina’s full lips set out on a new path, latching onto my jawline. The pace she was setting was making me ache. My skin was alight, yearning for more. My hands traced to her side, the underside of her bra grazing beneath my fingertips. I wanted to push it up. I wanted to free her breast and latch onto it. The feel of her nipple in my mouth made me salivate, and I whined a little with the mental image.
“I want -”
“There you are!”
Sergio’s slurred cry cut through the night air like a knife. I never moved so fast in my entire life. Without understanding how, Valentina and I were now standing at least a meter apart. Her face was dazed, her lips still puckered as though she were still caressing my neck. I stood, trembling, my eyes wide as I watched our drunk friend sip on his beer.
I immediately felt sober.
“We were all wondering where you were.” He said slowly, his eyes unfocused.
As soon as I realised Sergio hadn’t seen anything, or at least wasn’t in the right frame of mind to jump to conclusions about what Valentina and I were doing, pressed so tightly against one another, I released a deep breath.
How could I be so stupid?
We could have so easily been caught and my world would have come crumbling down around me. I realised that everything I worked so hard to build was as precarious as a sandcastle in a storm. I had to be more careful. I don’t trust anyone enough in that room to keep whatever the hell that was going on between Valentina and I a secret. If Sergio wasn’t so drunk, he would have noticed, and then had the power to blurt it to the world. And then what? What would happen to my career then? What would everyone think?
“Sorry, Serg. We just needed some air.”
Valentina’s melodic voice interrupted my internal panic. I glanced at her, and once again she was looking at me while addressing someone else. Her expression was masked, relaxed and carefree, but I could tell by the look in her eye that she was pleading with me for answers.
“Are you coming back in?”
My heart continued to pump with the adrenaline of almost being caught. It had been too much. I knew what I needed to do.
“Actually, I should go.” I said, checking my pockets to make sure I had my room card and phone.
“What? No, Juli. Stay.”
“Thanks Serg, but it’s late and I'm pretty tired.” I said as I took a step back towards the party. “Last day of filming tomorrow. I don’t want to be out too late.”
I covered my anxiety with a nervous laugh and patted Sergio on the shoulder.
“Don’t have too much more to drink, pal, okay?”
Sergio smiled at me and tipped his beer in my direction.
“Yes, mom.” He mocked in a ridiculous American accent.
I threw Sergio a smile before looking back over my shoulder to Valentina. She was standing still, in the exact same place I left her. This time, however, there was no hiding the look of confusion and panic on her features.
Stay. She mouthed.
I knew we had to talk. I just knew I wouldn’t be able to properly express myself tonight. At least, not in the way I wanted to. That feeling of dread was too far gone in my head, that gnawing anxiety of what if the world knew, had crept in too deep.
I needed to process. I needed to escape.
But I couldn’t leave her standing like that.
I turned and took the four steps towards her, wrapping my arms around her waist. I sucked in a deep breath and closed my eyes, wishing and hoping I wasn’t about to fuck this all up. She held me fiercely, our bodies shaking as I whispered in her ear.
“Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I have to go. I’m sorry. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
With that, I released her and walked away.