I opened my eyes to the sunlight that streamed through the floor-to-ceiling windows.
The heavy, velvet curtains had been pushed open to reveal a large tree, and its green, leafy branches were reaching out to the cotton-candy clouds that glided across the powder blue sky.
Last night, Julia forgot to mention that her loveseat unfolded into a comfortable bed so I didn’t have to worry about waking up this morning with a pinched nerve in my neck.
Even so, I needed to book a suite at a nearby five-star hotel. I’m a diva – hence the army of Louis Vuitton luggage in the corner – and if I plan on making the most out of this so-called vacation, then I’m going to need a spa, a gym, 24/7 room service and a luxurious Queen-sized bed.
If my parents think I’m going to share a bathroom with someone who could double for Wednesday Addams, then the education they received at Stanford University has been in vain.
Suddenly, I cringed at the smell of coffee, mixed with burnt rubber.
“God Julia, it’s not even nine o’clock and you’re already polluting the air with some foul stench!” I growled, waving my hand in front of my face. “Can’t you do your sacrificial rituals on the balcony?”
“Shut up!” Julia yelled back and opened the windows. “My cappuccino maker just self-combusted!”
I rolled my eyes. “Big deal, just get Starbucks from across the street.”
“They’re incompetent when it comes to making a tall flat white with dead shots.”
“I had no idea Starbucks named a drink after you,” I called over my shoulder as I entered her microscopic bathroom and slammed the door shut.
An hour later, and with my wet hair in a tight bun, I was dragged out of her apartment to Starbucks under a false claim: that her Wi-Fi would be down for a few hours.
While I batted my faux eyelashes at a cute guy in line, she casually invited me to check out her internship at creativ[un]block.
Now, Julia does not bend over backwards to include me in her non-existent social life and I never care to be part of it anyway. But, on rare occasions such as this, she would extend an invite out of pure desperation or fear.
The act of desperation came two years ago when she needed to meet a certain guest quota at her art exhibit in Downtown Los Angeles so as to avoid looking pathetic. So, she casually invited me, knowing that my mother would force me to make an announcement on Instagram for all of my two hundred thousand followers to read, and that I would bring my Nouveau Riche crew to her show.
In this case, it was fear.
Julia was afraid that while she’d be interning at her artsy-fartsy design firm, I’d turn her bat cave into party central in a matter of minutes. Even though I had no desire in rubbing shoulders with her type, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to at least check it out.
So, three metro stops later, my lace peep-toe booties were ushered through the sliding doors of a modern, glass building and pushed inside one of the elevators.
We walked out on the third floor and halted in front of the modular reception desk. Behind the white, polished counter sat two women in their mid-thirties and a young, freckly girl with copper-red curls.
She greeted me with a broad smile and said, “Hello, how may I help you?”
“She’s with me,” Julia answered in a glacial tone and filled out the visitor’s information on the iPad that was propped up on the counter. “She’s my sister.”
The receptionists raised their eyebrows and without missing the beat I added, “I know we look nothing alike but then again, she’s adopted.”
Julia muttered a string of curses under her breath, snatched the sticker that a miniscule printer on the counter spat out, and shoved me towards the frosted, glass doors.
I glanced down at the sticker she handed me. “Idiot?” I asked.
“It suits you rather well,” she hissed back.
I opened my mouth to spit back a nasty retort but when we walked inside an open, industrial space that buzzed with the energy of a successful design firm, I lost my trail of thoughts.
Each element of the modern décor oozed with inspiration.
Yellow light fixtures, that resembled sea urchins, cascaded down from the exposed ceiling at varying heights and cast soft glows on the intricate doodles and street graffiti that decorated the walls.
Casually dressed employees lounged on contemporary sofas, chairs and beanbags, while listening to music on their headphones and typing away on their laptops.
Rows of adjustable desks, laden with computers, plants and decorative accessories, and cube shelves lined the concrete floor. As we zigzagged through the open maze, I glimpsed a giant, stainless steel slide that stretched from the fourth to the third floor, and dominated the heart of the futuristic-looking office.
I had envisioned creativ[un]block as a stuffy place that reeked of tasteless décor and swarmed with ancient snobs in suits, conventional ties and tacky toupees. I had never imagined it to be modern, vibrant and deliciously creative!
“This place is a freakin’ sanctuary,” I breathed in awe.
“Thank you,” said a deep, masculine voice behind me.
I swung around and froze at the sight of a rugged, modelesque face. He was tall with a mop of unruly dark curls that lightly brushed across his high forehead and curled around his ears. He wore a graphic tee shirt that stretched across his broad shoulders and hugged the tight muscles of his hard-rock abs. His dark washed jeans rode dangerously low on his hips, and slightly accentuated his muscular legs.
I tossed a quick glance at the words that were etched into his rustic, vintage belt buckle. It read, “Jack Daniel Tennessee Whiskey”.
His hazel eyes twinkled with mischief when he held out his hand and said, “Hello, my name is Cristiano. Welcome to creativ[un]block.”
Before I had the chance to pump his hand and introduce myself, my sister squeaked, “C-Cristiano!” the way fans do when they finally meet their idol.
“Good morning, Julia,” he greeted her warmly, his deep voice tinged with a light accent.
I thought she’d have a heart attack by the way she bulged out her eyes and flapped her lips.
“You’re so gorgeous—” she blurted out and suddenly stopped, with a look of horror on her pale face.
Cristiano smiled politely. No doubt that he was used to this kind of a behavior from girls. He did, after all, looked like he belonged on the cover of GQ magazine.
“Hi, I’m Olivia,” I chirped and shoved the beet-red Julia out of the way before she could downgrade herself to a creepy, stalker.
“I’m visiting from Calabasas. That’s in California, by the way, and I decided to stop by and check out creativ[un]block. Oh, and this—” I gave Julia a hearty slap on the back and stuck on the visitor’s sticker, “—is my older sister, Julia.”
“Welcome to creativ[un]block, Olivia.” He shook my hand, and I have to admit, the touch of his warm skin sent a shiver down my spine.
He could be a suitable boy toy for this summer.
Almost as though sniffing out my dirty, little thoughts, he pulled his bee-stung lips into a lazy smile and asked, “Would you like for me to give you the tour of the office?”
Julia tried to tag along, but Cristiano politely assured her that I’d be in safe hands. In loose translation, he told her buzz off.
She pursed her lips into a thin, bitter line and stormed off. Cristiano stifled a chuckle when he glimpsed the “Idiot” sticker on her back.
“You’re very close, aren’t you?” He asked.
“We’re like this—” I twisted the middle and index fingers together.
Cristiano led me up the concrete steps that led to the fourth floor. I followed him into an open, palatial space that bathed in sunlight that seeped through the tall windows.
Bursts of green, orange and fuchsia dripped down the high walls, coated the contemporary furniture and blended with the color block carpet. Glass partitions divided the space into different departments, and served as writing boards. The glass surfaces were covered in doodles, and a mixture of English and Czech words, along with strange, scientific formulas.
I trailed behind Cristiano as he waved between elongated, acrylic desks and greeted the faces that hid behind the giant iMacs. A handful of young guys, in their mid-twenties, raised their coffee mugs in the air to salute him and welcomed me with a broad smile.
I bumped into Cristiano when he came to a sudden stop.
“Do you see the offices over there?” He pointed to the glass cubes that lined the tall windows.
I gave a hesitant nod.
“They’re reserved for outcasts,” he continued. “If you make a mistake on a project, it’s my duty as the Lead of Creative interns, to banish you to that green office in the far corner. There, you’ll spend the remainder of your internship in total solitude. And, your team members will have every right to point and laugh at you.”
“So how come Julia is not in there?” I noted with a smirk.
“Touché!” He laughed. “Oh—hey, Mira!” He stopped a young guy. “This is Olivia. She’s visiting from California.”
Mira looked up from his iPad and I couldn’t breathe at the sight of his sapphire-blue eyes.
Remember the first time Cher met Christian in Clueless? The scene was played in slow motion and accompanied by a cheesy, love tune?
That’s exactly how I felt in that brief moment. Lovestruck.
The sound of my heart beat inside of my ears like an 808 drum, and I couldn’t peel my eyes off his razor-sharp cheekbones, strong, angular jaw and cleft chin. He was tall, tan and undeniably gorgeous in his dark tee shirt, bomber jacket and dark, skinny jeans.
He curled his lips into the kind of a smile that could slash a girl’s heart open and stretched out his hand.
“A pleasure,” his voice poured out like honey.
I rummaged through my brain for a cool, witty response but couldn’t find anything. So instead, I tied a string of familiar words together and said, “Yeah. Awesome. Likewise.”
He gently took hold of my hand when it became evident that I wouldn’t because I was too drugged by his hotness to function.
The combination of his sandalwood cologne and warm skin triggered Katy Perry’s “Fireworks” inside of my head. I kept singing the chorus over and over, until Mira dropped my hand and waved goodbye.
Suddenly, I felt breathless, almost as though I had finished a triathlon, and my mouth turned into the Sahara desert.
Even though Cristiano was still talking, I couldn’t hear a word he said. It felt as though I was under water, and even the sounds of telephones ringing, people shouting and keyboard clicking were suddenly muted out.
Hallelujah, I found me a scrumptious boy toy!