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Flying during a global pandemic wasn’t exactly on Rebeka’s bucket list for the year. She was in New York for two weeks, visiting her friend Nadia who’s going to school out there, and then all of a sudden everyone started talking about some deadly airborne virus, like this is a fucking post-apocalyptic disaster movie. Everything was fine for the first week she was there, so thankfully she got all the touristy shit she wanted to do out of the way. Week two was a little scary because people were now actually dying, dropping like fucking flies, and even though nothing was officially shut down yet, they mostly stayed inside.

Just her fucking luck, to be a million miles from home when shit like this goes down.

She’s lucky her flight didn’t get canceled again. She had to rebook it twice because apparently airlines have started realizing absolutely nobody wants to travel overseas at the moment, and now that she’s finally at her gate and getting ready to board, she’s feeling a little spooked. Yeah, she read those sketchy articles someone’s great aunt shared on Facebook about how plane air filters might help spread the virus. She’s wearing a face mask, and so are a bunch of other people at the gate because the airline is giving them out for free, but there’s obviously no actual health benefit to that if most people on her flight will just be spitting and coughing freely.

Not to sound like a fucking snob or whatever — she’s not — but she usually flies first class. Unfortunately, when rebooking her flight, she was told the best they could do is Economy Plus. The flight is surprisingly crowded, and she’s grateful for her window seat, at least. A part of her was hoping she wouldn’t have anyone sitting next to her for the next seven hours. When a guy with dark curls and a funky green mask sits down in the seat next to her, she turns to smile at him before she realizes he obviously can’t see she’s smiling under her mask. God, what the fuck even is her life right now? The guy seems to get the hint and nods at her. With the mask on and a pair of shades over his eyes, she can’t tell how old he might be — anything from fifteen to thirty seems plausible. He dresses nicely, though. Both casual and... not. Like a purposeful casual; he's in a comfy looking pair of black cargo pants and a vintage gray Gucci sweater. The loafers he's wearing look worn, but they're also clearly Marc Jacobs, so he's definitely got money.

He looks interesting — she kinda hopes she’ll be able to spy on what he’ll be spending the flight watching. That’s the fun part of flying, especially long haul — you get to make up long, elaborate stories in your head about how you and the guy next to you totally bonded because he nodded at you that one time, even if he got stuck sitting next to you by complete accident and probably didn’t spare you a second glance.

The safety demonstration starts, and she zones out as she uses the few remaining minutes she’s got of proper cell service to text Nadia that she’s made it onto the plane and will text her when she lands. She checks Twitter and Instagram again, just in case she missed any major virus news or hot selfies her friends may have posted — equally important — then puts her phone into airplane mode and pretends like she isn’t totally gonna spend an obscene amount of money on in-flight WiFi later. She’s got extra legroom booked at least and enough trashy reality TV downloaded to get her through the next few hours but still. It feels horrible to be cut off from the rest of the world and the news cycle, especially during a fucking pandemic.

One hour into their flight, they’re served a late dinner and she laughs a little when green mask dude next to her answers the infamous chicken or beef questions by saying, “Both,” just to fuck with people. The flight attendant looks caught off guard, and then the guy starts laughing and orders a Caesar salad with extra chicken breast and bacon off the a la carte menu instead. That actually sounds really good, so when it’s her turn to order, she asks for what he’s having, then orders a glass of champagne for them both on a whim. It’ll probably be crazy expensive, but money is a fake concept, especially when you’re stuck in a metal bird 20000 feet up in the air during a global health crisis. Not like her mom will even notice the charge on her Amex, anyway.

He’s taken the shades off now, so she can see he’s got dark brown eyes, and if she looks closely enough she can see some stubble on the side of his cheek. Thank god. So he can’t be fifteen. Good to know she didn’t just order alcohol for a minor. He nudges her knee with his where they’re pressed together — fucking Economy class — and when they make eye contact, she’s pretty sure he must be grinning under his mask. Their food is brought out and she leans towards him and dramatically compares it to her own. “You got way more bacon,” she complains. Only on a plane would that ever be a normal thing to say to a stranger. She takes off her mask, because she kind of has to if she wants to eat, then smiles at him. “I’m Rebeka and this is the bottom half of my face.”

He lets out a short, manic laugh and then reaches for his mask as well, carefully folding it and putting it down on the tray in front of him. He looks over at her and holy shit, he’s really fucking hot. She loves when hot people are forced to spend the next six hours in her immediate vicinity.

“Valerio,” he says by way of introduction, and when their drinks are brought over, he toasts to, “Surviving this fucking thing, maybe,” which is pretty accurate in terms of how she feels about this whole pandemic, so she nods and throws back the champagne like it’s a shot. He mimics her, and she grins at him as a way of showing respect, then stabs some bacon onto her fork.

They eat dinner in silence, and when the flight attendant comes to check on them again, he orders a second round of champagne. She really should try to sleep soon, if she wants to make it through tomorrow in Madrid with minimal jet-lag, but Valerio seems fun and she’s got a feeling she won’t be having fun again for a long time once she gets back.

“You know they won’t let us leave the house when we get back, right?” He asks, and she groans. Yeah, she’s seen the news. The fact that that’s a totally normal conversation to have in 2020 is still fucking with her head a little.

She shrugs. This is the time where she should probably put her mask back on, just to feel safer, but there’s still a little champagne left in her glass and she’s really enjoying this random conversation. It’s not like it’ll really make a difference — he’ll be all up in her space no matter what. “Yeah? Who are you quarantining with?”

“No one.”

She fights the urge to tell this virtual stranger to come live with her for a few weeks. She knows that’s a bad idea, even if he’s fucking hot. Her mother isn’t home, choosing to sit this whole lockdown thing out in their finca in the south, and she wouldn’t mind some company.

Instead, she just smiles, then says, “Same here,” and puts her AirPods in to watch an episode of Selling Sunset instead of embarrassing herself further by thinking her and the random dude sitting next to her might actually become friends.

***

“Can I watch with you?”

She almost doesn’t hear him over the sound of Mary and Chrishell or what the fuck ever her name is having yet another catfight. Hitting pause, she holds out a hand and waits for him to hand over his AirPods case. When he does, she connects the second pair of headphones, then opens her iPad case to serve as a stand and balances it on the tray in front of his seat. It’s not ideal but it’ll do.

“What is this show even about?”

She grins at him because oh boy, he’s in for such a treat. She's kind of excited to see his reaction. “I’m not gonna spoil it for you.”

They spend most of the episode bickering about which of the girls had more work done to her face, then each decide on a house they’d buy based on the viewings featured, and this should totally be more awkward, right? They literally don’t even know each other.

“Christine is my favorite,” he tells her when the credits are playing. “She makes sure we won’t run out of drama.”

They watch another episode, then both agree it’s probably time to sleep a little, and she puts on her favorite instrumental playlist to help her doze off. She’s totally forgotten his AirPods are still connected to her iPad until he reaches for her wrist on the armrest, grabs it and says, “Nice playlist.”

She turns to run a hand over his, then pats it reassuringly, and closes her eyes before she can say anything else to ruin this.

***

She has a dream about him. Well, them.

In her dream, they’re taking advantage of the larger than average airplane bathrooms in first class, and he’s got her pushed up against the wall, her leg wrapped around his hip. The pair of oversized sweatpants she’s wearing is mysteriously gone, and she feels him pushing against her in all the right places.

Maybe she needs to get laid. It’s been a while.

She wakes up abruptly right when dream!Valerio is taking off her underwear, and she takes a deep breath to calm herself down. Her playlist is still going, so she couldn’t have been asleep for long, and when she checks her phone for the time it’s barely 10 pm in New York. She isn’t sure what time it is elsewhere.

Looking over to her left, she sees Valerio passed out in his seat, his mask dangling from his chin. He looks younger like this, softer, and she fights the urge to reach out and run a hand over his cheek. God, that would be fucking creepy, wouldn’t it? Fuck.

She figures Nadia is probably still up, so she connects to the in-flight WiFi on her phone, rolls her eyes at the obscene $40 she’ll be spending just to text her friend, and enters her credit card info.

holy shit, there’s this hot guy sitting next to me and I had a fucking sex dream about him. fml what should I do pls help

When Nadia replies, the notification sound rings in her ears, and she curses when she feels Valerio stir next to her — he probably heard that too. She’s on her phone, but iMessage is synced to her iPad, which is still sitting on the little fold-out tray table, now lit up with a notification.

how hot are we talking? make a move!! end that dry spell!!

She hears Valerio chuckle next to her, and when she looks at him, he’s glancing at her iPad, so he definitely saw that text from Nadia. She’s so mortified, she wants the ground to open up and swallow her whole. Well, they’re on a plane, so she could probably just hurl herself off.

But he doesn’t mention it. He takes out his AirPods and leans forward to grin at her. “Can’t sleep?”

She shakes her head and sighs.

He leans closer and keeps his voice low, then says, “Let’s get to know each other better.”

Turns out he’s twenty-six (she’s twenty-three) and was in New York visiting his little sister who’s finishing a degree in International Relations at Columbia this year.

“That’s weird,” she says, holding out a bag of skittles to him. “I went to New York to visit a friend who’s also finishing a degree in IR at Columbia. They probably know each other.”

It’s the weirdest coincidence ever, actually. She’s probably not gonna mention this part to Nadia.

“Small world.” He breathes a laugh through his nose, then pushes a button to get a flight attendant to come over and orders two bottles of beer without asking her if she wants one.

Sleep is overrated anyway.

***

They’re still talking in hushed whispers a couple of hours later when the cabin blinds open up and someone on the intercom announces breakfast will be served soon. It’s 3:00 New York time, and this is definitely the worst part of redeye flights — how they try to force you to adjust to the timezone you’re landing in.

“Do you think we can order mimosas with breakfast?” She asks him, sufficiently tipsy from the way they’ve been talking and sipping an assortment of drinks for most of the night.

He giggles, sort of erratic and strange and intriguing, then puts his head on her shoulder. “We can do whatever the fuck we want.”

Not for the first time tonight, Rebeka finds herself thinking she really wants to be touching him in some way. Well, in a more purposeful way — his leg has been brushing hers all this time, and he ended up putting the armrest up as well so he could show her something on his phone earlier. That move was so transparent, she almost called him out on it, but that felt a little too risky while they’re in a small, enclosed space they won’t be able to leave just yet. He’s a little hard to read.

They drink mimosas, take a selfie with their drinks to give them something to remember this by, and when they land about an hour later, she falls into step with him as they head towards baggage reclaim. He’s taller than her, which is promising — she’s dated short guys before and it never really worked out well for her. Not that she’ll date him, but, like, whatever — you get her point.

He excuses himself to go to the bathroom, and she sees her bag on the luggage belt right after he leaves, and this isn’t going anywhere, right? Like, not to be too fucking pessimistic here but good things don’t happen to Rebeka. She needs to stop letting herself indulge in these stupid little daydreams. Instead of waiting for him to get back so they can awkwardly say goodbye, she wheels her bag away and doesn't look back.

***

So lockdown fucking sucks. She’s not, like, the craziest social butterfly of all time, and she definitely values having downtime to just watch Netflix for a couple of days right after she gets back, but what the fuck is there to live for now? She basically doesn’t even bother getting over jet-lag, just stays on New York time and goes to bed at five every morning, then sleeps for most of the day and wastes time watching shitty TV or cringy YouTube content.

All her classes have been moved online, so she spends way more time than she ever wanted on Zoom calls, and two days in she decides there really is no point in turning her camera on. Nobody needs to know what she looks like now that she’s just sort of given up on bothering to make herself look human.

She’s just finally dragged her ass into the shower for the first time in three days when she hears her phone go off. She normally has it on silent, but since her entire life revolves around online social interaction now, that’s changed, too. Another side effect of this whole lockdown thing is that she’s on her phone 24/7 to somehow make up for the fact that she can’t see anyone in person. She hates it.

When she gets out of the shower, she checks her phone and nearly drops the towel she’s got wrapped around her chest when she sees it’s a messenger request from a guy named Valerio Montesinos.

She’s definitely been kicking herself for not just getting his fucking number on the plane. It obviously wasn’t love at first sight, but he was hot, and he totally hit on her a few times during the flight, and then she had to get all in her head about it and blow it, of course. Fucking typical.

The message just says in case u forgot what the bottom half of my face looks like and he’s attached the stupid selfie they took together. She chuckles; what a fucking moron. They look good together, though.

She spends a minute wondering how he found her at all, but when she clicks on his profile, she sees they’ve actually got a mutual friend and groans when she realizes it’s Nadia. Right, so Nadia is definitely gonna be super annoying about this whole thing.

It takes her a little longer than she’d like to admit to come up with a good response to the picture. She finally settles on thx, needed the reminder and tries not to blush just thinking about how bad she is at flirting over text.

Then they sort of end up texting each other all day (and night, so he’s clearly also still on New York time) and when he finally calls her at three in the morning, she’s too far gone to care about how random all of this is; she picks up.

“Is this a booty call?” She asks, grinning a little when she hears him laugh. His laugh is cute.

“If it was, I would’ve video-called.”

She slips down further under the covers in bed. “Ah yes, my bad. Sorry, I’m not a lockdown dating aficionado yet.”

That’s an obvious opening for him to flirt with her, and she’s caught off guard when he says, “Hey, where do you live,” instead. Um, okay? A little forward, but she’ll bite.

“What, you can’t find that out from Facebook stalking me? That’s disappointing.” He did so well with finding her in the first place.

“I thought I’d ask if I can come over. Just showing up sounded a little too creepy in my head.” She’s laughing before he’s even finished that thought, and then he breaks out into a fit of giggles too.

She can at least try to play hard to get. “I’m pretty sure lockdown rules dictate I can’t have people over.”

“Hmm,” he starts, and she can practically picture this sheepish look on his face that he seems to love so much. “I’m pretty sure I don’t care.”

They end up spending almost two hours on the phone, and when they hang up they’ve got plans to hang out tomorrow, which… she’s kind of nervous about. She doesn’t want to self-sabotage and fuck this up for herself.

When she FaceTimes Nadia right after they hang up, the girl just grins at her on camera and listens patiently as she recounts the whole elaborate meet-cute way they met and bonded.

“Wait, how did he even find you on Facebook?”

She groans. “His sister goes to school with you? You’re Facebook friends, so I was probably the first Rebeka that came up when he typed in the name.”

Nadia clasps a hand over her mouth. “Oh my god, is this Lu’s brother? Valerio?” She nods, and Nadia laughs. “I met him when he visited last year. He’s kind of crazy, in a fun way, I think…”

That does sound fun. She likes crazy people. She’s not exactly normal herself.

“Whatever, we’ll see. He’s coming over tomorrow.”

On-screen, Nadia raises a brow and shakes her head. “Yeah, he definitely strikes me as someone who’d be awful at social distancing.”

“Probably great at being social, not so great at the distancing part.”

Nadia makes her promise to keep her posted, and she reluctantly agrees, already mortified at the thought of not only having to go through with this but having to tell someone about it later, too.

What? She’s not great at letting people in and opening up, even if it’s just to break quarantine protocol and have hot sex with a handsome almost-stranger.

***

They last about fifteen minutes with their clothes on.

It’s a relatively warm spring day, and the pool’s heated anyway, so when he sees it and runs towards it, stripping his clothes off along the way, she figures there’s no reason to stop him. He cannonballs in, then yells at her to join him, and she’s glad she wore matching underwear just in case.

“You know, this probably isn’t what the government had in mind with this whole lockdown,” she says, splashing some water at him. They’re in the shallow end of the pool, and he grabs her arm and drags her in further, then ducks her under. She’s giggling when she comes back up, pushing at his chest before grabbing his shoulder for support.

“Well, I’m not gonna let the government dictate who I can and can’t sleep with,” he grins, charming and slightly deranged at once. She shouldn't like that so much. "That's communism or whatever." 
 
Someone’s a little presumptuous and bad at identifying political systems. What a fucking dork. She likes all of this a little too much for a casual hookup in her pool at three in the afternoon.

“Who said I’m sleeping with you?”

They’re breathing the same air now, and he’s definitely looking at her lips, his pupils dilated in a way she finds completely intoxicating.

His hand goes out to play with the clasp of her bra, fingers slipping under the material at her back. “Who else is gonna take care of you if you get Covid and can’t leave the house?”

That makes absolutely no sense since they’d likely both get it, but she’s too turned on to argue him on virus facts. “You’re right, it’s probably wise to keep someone around in case I just pass out and die,” she says, wrapping her legs around his waist when he moves his hands to her ass to lift her up. “Or in case my vibrator batteries die.”

He grins again, then runs one of his hands up her back to rest on her neck and finally leans in to kiss her. She should've known he'd be good at this part; his lips are soft on hers, but he's rough, too, his touch on her neck and hip bruising. No dream could ever compare to the real thing.

“This better be worth risking Covid for,” she murmurs, pulling away to take a breath. She rolls her eyes at him when she sees the lopsided grin on his face has been replaced by a determined smirk.

He leans in to bite at her earlobe, then follows a path along her jaw until his lips come to rest against her cheek. “You’ll see.”

Then he's gotten her out of her bra and pressed against the wall of the pool, taking his time checking her out. It's almost intimidating, how he's just staring at her chest. Finally, he gets this absolutely infectious grin on his lips and says, "If we both get it, can I stay here for two weeks?"

That's probably the weirdest thing anyone's ever said to her right before they fucked her, but sure, she'll go with it. "If you can prove you're worth keeping around..." 

He hitches her leg higher, then slips a hand between her legs and... People keep telling her to find new hobbies in lockdown. This has to count, right?