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He corners her at Carla’s parents’ holiday cocktail party, or whatever the fuck the theme of this whole thing is supposed to be.

Rebeka’s here because Carla begged her to go; because they’re friends and the blonde was dreading the event. Valerio’s presumably here because he works with both Carla and her father.

She’s not here to see him. She's trying not to think about how they came to this thing together last year.

“You look great,” he whispers, leaning towards her slightly to make sure this looks like any other conversation to the other people in the room, and to make sure nobody else in the room can tell he’s undressing her with his eyes, maybe. “Better than great, actually.”

God, he can’t be serious. They’re at a party, surrounded by a handful of their mutual friends and a ton of other people and here he is, fucking hitting on her. It’d be a whole lot easier to turn around and leave if she didn’t recognize that mischievous little glint in his eyes. He wants her. Why is that still such a fucking power trip for her? Why can she not just walk away?

She says, “Thanks,” because she can’t think of anything better to say. She could tell him he looks fucking hot, and that she’d love to take these bizarre plaid black and white pants off of him but that feels a little too desperate.

(They’re broken up. She’s seeing someone. Someone she kind of likes, someone she might be able to have a real future with and… She… God.)

Out of nowhere, Valerio kisses her gently, and she’s this close to making a scene, almost fucking slaps him across the face. They’re hidden away in a quiet corner of the room, but this is still the dumbest fucking thing he’s ever done. “Mistletoe,” he murmurs, and his eyes flick up, like he’s daring her to check. 

She rolls her eyes at him, pushing at his chest. “Grow the fuck up.”

He grins, then hugs her and says, “Maybe I have,” like he’s been wanting to say it all along.

***

She’s twenty-one and he’s twenty-two.

They met when she moved in with Samuel last year. She didn’t know Samu before moving in, but he turned out to be cool, and they get along. Samu is dating Carla, who basically lives at their place. She’s not sure why, since she’s got her own apartment downtown, but she’s not about to bring it up — she likes Carla. She likes her even though she for some reason decided Valerio was a good choice when she had to hire someone to deal with a few marketing things for the wine empire she apparently part-owns. (No big deal.)

(Nepotism at its finest, if you ask her. Valerio seems completely incapable; definitely not who she would’ve chosen for the gig... But maybe she’s just bitter.) 

Anyway. That’s how they met. They spent a solid month having really, really pointless drunk fights about everything and nothing until he finally told her he’d wanted to fuck her ever since he first saw her. Rebeka’s bold to a fault, but Valerio is direct in a different way; careless but honest. Needless to say she let him, even if it meant listening to Carla bitch about how they’d ruined the sheets in her guest bedroom for the next few weeks. (Yeah, her apartment has a fucking guest bedroom and she still chooses to slum it at Rebe and Samu’s place — fuck knows why.) 

Valerio is hot. He’s also a hot fucking mess, but his looks somewhat make up for that in the short-term. The sex was fucking great and she definitely enjoyed his company. In the end, though, it didn’t last longer than a year. In October she’d finally had enough of his complete inability to be serious about literally anything for fucking once in his life and told him this isn’t gonna work.

(Really, she just wanted him to be serious about her.) 

After a heated fight — which quickly turned into aggressive kissing — he’d just shrugged and left. 

(“I care,” he’d told her, sounding like a petulant child, and she just lost it. 

“Maybe fucking act like it, then, stop pretending like you can fix everything with that stupid sly smile and a vague fucking quote from a book you never even read.”)

Honestly, the way he was so nonplussed by it pissed her off more than anything. His reaction reaffirmed she’d made the right call, and it definitely helped in making sure she wasn’t tempted to take it all back the second the words left her mouth. 

(The breakup sex was great, though.) 

She started seeing this dude Carla grew up around as a total joke. Like, Carla insisted they might get along, and Rebe had let her set them up because she was a little too hung up on Valerio to hit the dating apps. Guzmán turned out to be exactly the sort of self-deprecating, shameless classist Rebe loves to hate, and they vibed. They’ve been sort of hanging out since early November.

In late November, she watches Valerio kiss someone else and it feels too soon, which is stupid, because the breakup was a month ago and she's seeing other people, too.

All of this would be a lot easier if she didn’t feel so inexplicably drawn to him.

***

“I saw that.” 

Carla hands her a champagne flute and motions for her to drink. Yeah okay, she could definitely use a little bit of liquid courage. To do what, exactly? She isn’t sure. 

Well, if Carla saw, there’s no point in denying it. She's always insufferable about these kinds of things; Rebe is better off owning up to it and moving on. 

Shrugging, she says, “Mistletoe.” 

If he can use that as his excuse to kiss her, she’ll use it as her excuse for letting him. 

The blonde raises a perfectly sculpted brow, then looks past Rebeka and smirks. “He’s staring at you,” she says, as if she has any reason to care. Let him fucking stare. “Are you sure you’re over him?”

That’s a rhetorical question if she’s ever heard one. Carla knows the answer to it as well as she does. 

(No, she isn’t. She isn’t over him, and she hates herself for it. If she knew what’s good for her, she’d force herself to get over him. As it stands, she’s still a little dazed from that kiss, so she’s mostly thinking about ways to get under him instead.)

It seems Carla didn’t expect a reply, because she grins at her, then pats her shoulder. “At least tell Guzmán before you leave with Val tonight.”

Rebe shakes her head, and she can tell Carla is about to go full protective friend on her — on behalf of Guzmán, obviously — when she grins. “We agreed we wanna see other people.”

“God,” Carla rolls her eyes. “I always forget how much of a manwhore he is. Gross.”

Well, maybe she’d care more if she actually wanted to be with Guzmán. As things stand, she’s enjoying their random hookups, and she doesn’t hate talking to him. No more, no less. 

Valerio walks past them and winks at her, and she wants to punch a wall or something. Or him. She’d love to punch him. That’d be preferable to doing what she’s about to do. 

Sighing, she hands the empty glass back to Carla and nods at her. “Gotta go.”

“Good luck.”

She’s gonna need it. 

***

This is a thing they used to do — go to parties together, not talk all night, and then just sort of signal to the other from the other side of the room and meet up in the most secluded place they could find. Fire escapes, elevators, balconies, bathrooms — you name it. 

It’s something they stopped doing once their friends realized they were hooking up, but now it seems they’re ready to start all of this shit up again.

There’s no way she’s drunk enough to blame this on the alcohol.

When she walks out into the foyer of Carla’s parents’ mansion, she expects to find him waiting for her. He isn’t around, so she’ll have to go full Sherlock to solve this mystery; where would he have gone? Upstairs, maybe. That’s where he waited for her last year. She’s slightly giddy with anticipation as she makes her way to the top floor, skipping up the stairwell two steps at a time. 

Maybe she can find more mistletoe to push him under. 

The house is dark upstairs, and she can’t seem to locate the light switch. When he jumps out from behind a previously closed door and grabs her arm, she literally screams bloody murder, and his laughter is loud enough to be heard all the way downstairs at the party, she’s pretty sure. 

“Motherfucker,” she says, punching him in the chest hard enough, he actually takes a step back. 

Instead of answering, he grabs her wrist and pulls her into the room he burst out of. Even with the lights off, she recognizes it instantly. It’s the room they snuck off to last year when they attended this same stupid holiday party. 

“No.”

He closes the door and locks it, then pushes her back against it. “Yes.”

God, he’s hot when he’s demanding.

Then he kisses her but for real this time — none of the bullshit gentleness from earlier in the night.  Her biggest fucking issue in life is probably that she can never quite figure out how to stop touching him once his hands are on her.

“Val,” she scolds, finally breaking away from him. Or she means to scold; it comes out sounding like she’s really just begging him for more. “This is stupid.”

He clearly doesn’t give a single shit about her attempt at putting a stop to this. Holding on to both of her wrists, he pulls her forward until his legs hit the edge of the large bed in the room, and she sees him grin when the street light coming in through the window hits his face just right. He falls backward, dragging her with him, and then she’s on top of him, trying not to like the way his hands skim up her thighs under her dress. 

“For old time’s sake." He says it like she needs a reason to do this, like that might convince her to fuck him when she was the one who put a stop to all of this two months ago. Says it like the most nonchalant thing in the world, even though he was the one who wouldn't fucking commit. 

When she doesn’t respond, he leans forward to kiss a line from her jaw to her ear. His teeth nip on her earlobe in a way she definitely doesn’t hate, and then he whispers, “I know you miss this.” 

She wants to slap him. Who wouldn’t miss this? Sex was never their problem. But there were many of those — problems she should care about more than the insatiable want burning deep inside her at the mere thought of getting to be with him again.

It’s almost Christmas. Not that she needs an excuse to go through with this, but if she did, this would probably be it.

It’s almost Christmas, he looks fucking amazing and she hasn’t slept with him in almost two months. The urgency with which she unbuttons his shirt and pushes it down his shoulders is probably warranted.

“What, no mistletoe this time?” she asks, pulling back to grin at him in the dark. He giggles, and she really, really wishes that wasn’t still her favorite sound in the world. God.

Fuck him.

She does just that, then goes back to the party and ignores his lingering glances all night.

***

Her mom’s a fucking traitor, who literally texts her a picture of herself in front of a palm tree, holding a fancy cocktail on December 22nd, which is apparently her way of saying she’s spending Christmas away from the city with whatever rich, sketchy dude she’s currently seeing.

Honestly, it’s not like she was looking forward to Christmas at Sandra’s. This is a good thing. That doesn’t mean she isn’t a little annoyed at being ditched by her own mother.

She knows Samu and Carla are spending Christmas at the apartment, and this is her home, too so if she just sticks around they’ll probably let her have dinner with them. When she makes a joke about crashing their holiday plans, Samu laughs, then gives Carla this weird little look. He’s literally the worst liar of all time, and she can tell something odd is going on immediately.

“If you don’t want me to third wheel you guys, just let me know and I’ll get out of your hair,” she says. Christmas Eve is tomorrow, and it’d be annoying, but if she had to she could probably find somewhere else to go.

“Oh you wouldn’t be,” Carla says, causing Samuel to flinch next to her on the couch. “Valerio is coming over for dinner.” 

Great. She should’ve known he’d be around; his parents are total assholes and he’s barely in touch with any of his family. It takes her a split second longer than appropriate to decide how she’s gonna play this, and when she opens her mouth to speak Carla is smirking at her. 

“Is that an issue? You two seemed to be getting along at the party last week.” 

Rebeka takes a large sip of beer, then shrugs. It’s not like she isn’t forced to hang out with him all the time anyway — they have too many friends in common to avoid each other these days. That’s what she gets for fucking dating someone who works with her roommate’s girlfriend. He’s literally over at their place at least twice a week for random business shit Carla wants him to consult on. Dinner is fine. 

“No fighting on Christmas,” Samu touts, gesturing with his beer bottle. “You two are gonna have to keep things civil or else Santa won’t be very happy with you.”

Fucking drama queen. Samu is so paranoid about witnessing conflict, she sometimes wonders if he had, like, really intense parents that fought all the time but stayed together for the kids’ sake. She’s not gonna ask him about that. She’s not enough of a dick to bring it up. 

“It’ll be fine,” she says instead and ignores the dubious look her friends shoot her. 

Spending an evening with him isn’t gonna kill her. 

***

She’s getting ready for dinner the next day, trying and failing to zip up her dress, when there’s a knock on her door. Great timing; maybe Carla can help her get this fucking zipper. 

Normally she wouldn’t bother dressing up for Christmas dinner hosted at her own place, but Samu was weirdly insistent about it, said celebrating Christmas in your PJs isn’t an acceptable choice to make, so she sucked it up and found a somewhat nice dress in her closet. Its neckline scoops low and shows off a decent amount of cleavage, and she didn’t just pick it because she knows Valerio loves this dress. She just really loves the dark green color.

“Come in.” 

She’s got her back to the door, trying to contort her body enough to be able to reach the zipper, and she hears the door open and close before she hears a familiar giggle. Great. 

“Need any help with that?” 

Valerio comes up behind her and runs a hand up her arm and over her shoulder, his touch lingering on her bare skin before he moves down to the zipper. “I love this dress on you.”

Try as she might, she’s never been able to just let these little nuances of provocation go when it comes to him. She’s competitive with everyone, but with Valerio, she always feels like that competitiveness is amplified. Right now, she feels the irrational need to let things escalate. She turns around, grabs him by the belt loops, and says “You like it better off of me.” 

He’s in this maroon button-up she loves, and it goes incredibly well with her green dress. In her hasty attempt to piss him off, she forgot he hasn’t actually zipped her dress for her yet, so it’s loose in the front, and she can tell he’s distracted by the amount of cleavage on display like this. 

To her great surprise, he doesn’t try to kiss her. He just turns her around again, zips up her dress and plays with her hair a little before he says, “There,” and turns around to leave. 

If she wasn’t completely enamored with his touch, she’d like to think she wouldn’t turn around and say, “Wait,” before crossing the room to be closer to him. He’s got an amused smile on his face, probably because he knew playing hard to get always works on her, and she grabs onto both of his wrists and sighs. 

“Merry Christmas,” she says, then leans up to peck his lips and moans into his mouth when he instantly turns the kiss dirty. It’s like he was just waiting for absolution and pounced the second she showed hints of it. She’s grinning by the time she finally manages to remove herself from his embrace. “Save that for the end of the night.” 

He looks fucking delighted with that idea, just toys with the necklace she’s wearing and says, “Yeah?” like he likes the sound of that. 

Maybe she should try a little harder to not keep ending up in bed with him but she’s missed him. She misses him all the time now. Maybe they can still figure this out.

They walk into the living room holding hands, and Carla smirks at her when Valerio is busy talking to Samu about why he thinks recycling is important. 

“Happy?” the blonde prompts, pouring her a glass of white wine. 

She snorts out a laugh, then takes a large sip of her wine for dramatic effect. “I’ve always loved Christmas.” 

That seems to snap Val out of his recycling convo with Samu, and before she knows what’s happening, he’s sat down on the couch next to her and tugged on her arm until she’s sitting in his lap. 

She doesn’t miss the way Carla is watching their interactions closely like she’s just waiting for the whole competitive public display of affection thing to turn ugly. But he’s not doing this to spite her and she’s not going along with it to prove a point; it’s just nice being close to him. 

They’re halfway through dinner when he leans in to whisper in her ear. 

“Kinda wish we were alone,” he says, tapping his foot excitedly. God, she knows exactly where this is going, and she has to force herself not to whine when his voice drops a full octave lower. “I’d have you on your back so quickly, the way I know you like.” 

Across from them, Samu and Carla are still engrossed in their conversation, so at least they aren’t being watched. Or, well, chances are they are being watched but at least their friends are being subtle for once. 

“Maybe I don’t want to be on my back,” she whispers back, her hand gripping his thigh under the table when he runs his own over her knee.

She presses her hand against him through his jeans and he groans into her ear, which is somehow just so fucking empowering, it’s a little ridiculous.

Valerio giggles a little, and then he’s shaking his head slowly, his curls brushing the side of her face. “You can ride me instead.” 

She grabs his hand and glares at him when she removes it from her leg. She does it only because she might do something embarrassing like literally drag him to the bathroom for a quick fuck, if he doesn’t stop touching her soon. 

They make it through dinner and dessert, and when they excuse themselves and head to her room after, she ignores the smug little grin on Carla’s face. 

Once they’re alone, she hits his chest teasingly and moans when his hands instantly move to the zipper of her dress. 

“You need to stop running your mouth,” she scolds, and he grins at her, once again proving that she will let him get away with absolutely anything as long as he flashes her that grin after. “Can’t believe some of the shit that comes out of it.” 

She literally topples him over when he finally gets her out of the stupid dress and pushes her down onto her bed. They fight it out for a little, rolling around to see who gets to be on top, and when he leans in to kiss her, she lets him.

He’s good with his mouth in all the ways that matter most.

***

New Years Eve isn’t really a thing she gives much of a shit about, but Valerio texts her, says his weird roommate is away for the next few days and she’s too excited to see him to say no.

(And horny. She’s… Well, it’s been a couple of days since she had more than just her fingers inside her and she knows he’ll make good on his promise to ‘ring in the new year in style’, so.)

They’re naked in his bed, watching the countdown on TV when the clock strikes midnight.

“I miss you,” he whispers sometime after three in the morning, hugging her to his chest. “I miss you a lot.”

If this was a cheesy fucking chick flick, she’d say something stupid like ‘Don’t! I’m right here!’ but this is her life, and she’s not cut out for romance so she snorts, pushing him onto his back so she can put her head on his chest.

She can’t do this again if he won’t commit. Commitment’s fucking scary, but mixed signals are definitely scarier.

“Don’t say shit like that if you aren’t sure.”

He sounds pretty damn sure when he kisses a line up her neck and whispers it in her ear.