“I’m so into you, I can barely breathe… and all I wanna do, is to fall in deep…”
Ariana Grande’s advice on that album wasn’t the best, and certainly not something I should have listened to and acted upon. But I did listen to it. I was drunk, a bit stupid, and honestly, being in a weird long-distance relationship with someone I couldn’t freely contact was starting to get to me a bit. In a new country for work for at least a month (acting and performing never had a fixed timeline), I wanted to make some friends. I’d been there a week, and already felt lonely as anything. I spent my evenings in the apartment I’d rented, eating dinner and watching movies… and listening to music and dancing around like an idiot. I wasn’t entirely alone; I had my best friend with me, working the same things as I was working. It was nice, being with her… but she had a long-term boyfriend to keep her sane, and I had no-one when she went for some Special Time on FaceTime with him.
It was at the private gym in the studio of all places that I met him for the first time. He was there with his personal trainer, and I was recording a sponsored workout for Under Armour. We were just finishing up when he walked in, looking a bit sheepish. Clearly out of his comfort zone in the Iron Paradise, he watched me and Josie for a bit while his trainer set up a few circuits for him. I smiled, wiping sweat from my brow. 5am was not the time I’d expect anyone to be there – we’d been told it was quiet until around 6am – but beggars could not be choosers. Risk being recognised in the public gym? Not a chance. Not when I had a secret Iron Paradise to play in.
Anyway – I’m getting distracted.
Josie and I finished up the workout video and started cooling down and stretching. Three times, Cutie had to be brought back to his own reality.
“Hey! Earth to Vanya! Attention here, please!” So, his name was Vanya… sweet. I smiled at Josie.
“Sorry, sorry… bit difficult to concentrate when we have a Victoria’s Secret show over there…” I had to stifle my laugh with a cough. No-one knew I spoke the language fluently. Not even Josie, who I spent a lot of time with, knew I spoke the language.
“What’re you laughing at?” Josie asked me, as we both stretched hamstrings.
“Nothing. I just remembered that stupid fucking meme Dave sent us this morning.” Josie rolled her eyes.
“Terry the Fat Shark isn’t funny, Beth.”
The second time I met him was again at the gym. This time, Josie and I had opted for an evening workout, since this one wasn’t sponsored. He arrived at the same time as us, with his trainer.
“Hi,” I smiled, fresh from a treadmill warmup. Josie had gone to refill our water bottles.
“Oh – you ladies again,” said Vanya’s trainer. “I’m Mikhail. You’re our two visiting dancers, right?”
“Well, dancing, acting – we’re here for both. We’ve a tenure for the next month at least with the City Ballet, and I’m here on an acting gig too.” I shook Mikhail’s hand. “Bethan. Nice to meet you. My friend is Josephine, Josie for short.” I gestured to where Josie was stood at the water fountain.
“Bethan, Josie. Nice to meet you both.” Mikhail grinned. Vanya was looking at the weight plates stacked neatly on the rack. “This is Vanya.”
“Hi.” Vanya looked at me, and gave a tight smile. I grinned. He was nervous. Understandable. Josie and I did look like Victoria’s Secret models when were in a peak training cycle… like we were then. It took a lot of time and a lot of dedication, but it was worth it for the performances we were able to give. And I had a contractual obligation to be able to fit into a tiny catsuit – think Black Widow levels of sexy. I did long for a decent pizza, though…
“Well, we won’t get in your way,” Mikhail smiled.
“Why don’t you join us? We’re doing some weighted cardio today. I saw you guys watching us last week. We can do girls versus boys?” Josie appeared at my shoulder and handed me an ice-cold water bottle. I was grateful that she didn’t do her usual trick of pressing it against my abs. But I spoke too soon. She put her hand there instead, and I yelped.
“You bitch!” I gasped, turning with a grin. Josie stepped back before I could retaliate.
“I’m going to need to pour that over my head if she doesn’t stop, Mika,” Vanya murmured in his own language. I looked over, wide eyed. Vanya looked at me, confused. Had I understood him?! Did I speak his language?! I panicked.
“Shit – did I bring my phone?!” It was the first thing I thought of. Stupid, really, since I had it in my fucking hand.
“Look at your hand, Einstein.” Josie stared at me. I flushed.
“Okay, well, back to the original question,” Mikhail smiled. His accent was beautiful, English slightly broken. “We’ll join you. I think we’re doing the same kind of things anyway. Is that good for you, Vanya?”
“Sure.” Vanya was still eyeing me warily. I turned away, grateful to have a bag to rifle through for my workout plan.
“This is what we’re doing tonight.” I explained the workout to Mikhail while Josie chatted with Vanya. Mikhail made a few small modifications, and then we began.
By the end of the hour, whatever tension and confusion there had been over my understanding of that language had been long-forgotten. We all lay on the floor, drenched in sweat, weights strewn, chests heaving. We’d been fairly well-matched, which had made the competition rise in all four of us. Fitness-wise, I was more a match for Mikhail. But that didn’t stop me from squaring off against Vanya when it came to planks and sit-ups.
After a few minutes of somewhat stunned silence, we put the weights back and started stretching a little bit.
“Hey,” Vanya said, stretching his quads. “We usually go for morning run, if you want a nice way to see whole of city?”
“That sounds really nice, actually – we haven’t seen any of the city yet,” I smiled. “We’ve been to a food store, and a pharmacy. That’s it.”
“Then it’s settled. Saturday morning, 6am?” Vanya’s eyes were on me. I felt both exposed and very much seen. I nodded.
And that brings me back to the club I was in. Friday night, I’d had one drink too many, a pair of eyes kept meeting mine across the room, accompanied by a smile that – dare I admit it – sent tiny little shivers all the way south. Ariana Grande’s words were striking a chord. I didn’t know if he was single or not. I also only knew his first name. And I also only knew that he must work for the studio hosting the filming of my movie, because otherwise he wouldn’t have been allowed in the private gym… but outside of that, he was a mystery. Regardless, we found ourselves a little closer, until we met in a darkened corner, away from prying eyes.
“Hi,” I grinned, running my finger around the rim of my fresh drink. “I didn’t think I’d see you here.” I didn’t speak English. Vanya’s face both lit up and fell.
“You – do speak our language!”
“Guilty as charged. Josie doesn’t know, though. No-one does. It’s my little secret.” I winked at him, and he laughed.
“Well, it sounds so beautiful in your accent…” he sipped his own drink and smiled at me. I blushed. “But I made a fool of myself at the gym, then. I didn’t realise you could understand me.” I leaned forward, mouth by his ear.
“I’m glad I could. Because now I don’t have to wonder if you want me as much as I want you.” I kissed his jaw and grinned. I want the confidence I always get when I’m drunk permanently.
Another couple of drinks went down, and we left the club. Hand-in-hand, we ran through the city streets to an apartment block, keeping our heads down as we passed the thankfully-empty concierge desk.
No sooner had the elevator doors closed, we were on each other. He had me pinned against the wall, lips on mine, my hands already pushing the jacket from his shoulders. I gave up when I realised it wasn’t the right moment, and tangled my fingers in the soft curls at the base of his skull.
The elevator doors opened, and Vanya wasted no time in dragging me out. We ran along the corridors quietly, drunkenly stopping outside what was apparently penthouse number 2. He turned and kissed me as soon as we were inside, clothes dropping everywhere as he guided me to the bedroom. I didn’t get chance to take in the place – I was entirely preoccupied with him, his honey-hazel eyes, his smell, his breath hot on my skin. Both of us were just drunk enough not to give a shit about anything, or anyone, else.
“My god, you are my dream girl,” he breathed, kissing my collarbone as we finished. A giver. A definitive giver. I ran my fingers through his hair and brought his face to mine so I could kiss him.
“Mmm, and you’re a dream yourself…” I murmured, closing my eyes. His hands roamed over my body again. For the night, at least, it was his. It felt nice to be wanted. Appreciated. Adored… fuck it, worshipped. He flipped me over and froze. I froze, too. I’d forgotten about the scars.
“Be… Beth…” he whispered, running his hands over my shoulder blade, where the skin twisted the worst. “What…” I pushed my face into the pillow.
“A stepfather who hated me, and self-harm,” I said quietly. He reached forward and pulled my face to look at him.
“I’m so sorry that happened to you, my darling,” he muttered, eyes sincere. He was the second person outside of my close circle to see my scars. Only the third man, too.
And he did worship me. Over and over, until the faintest rays of sunlight started to turn the sky a delightful shade of lilac. 4.30am. The alcohol had worn off a few hours before, and Vanya and I were snoozing. The sound of a bird chirruping on the balcony outside woke me up. I felt groggy, my head hurt from dehydration. My body ached – and it had nothing to do with the workouts. I looked at Vanya, his face peaceful and soft in the gentle blue morning light. I still didn’t know anything else about him. I didn’t want to, either. That long-distance kind-of-relationship I told you about? That guy was so public, being seen with him would be global news. So to be with someone who the world knew nothing about… it was like an oasis. I was so grateful it was only my second week there.
Somehow, that morning, we made it on our run. It wasn’t just me, him and Josie – it was a couple of his friends, too. They were chatting, and I could understand every single word they were saying. They were asking him if he’d spent the night in the city again, or if he’d gone home to speak to Alina. He said he didn’t want to talk about it, but yes, he’d stayed in the city. Josie and I ran side by side, almost in perfect step with each other, as Vanya and his friends pointed out each beautiful or interesting spot in the city. For me and Josie, it was a light jog. For the rest, it was a bit of hard work. But we had fun, even if at times it was a bit obvious that Vanya and I were both painfully tired.
It took another full week of covertly seeing each other before Vanya finally came clean.
“I’m married. But it’s… I think it’s ending. I hate it. The tension at home is the reason I’m living in the city… we have this apartment for when I’m working…” he gestured around the bedroom. Outside, the city glittered below. “It’s difficult. She hasn’t spoken to me about why she’s pissed – I’m just supposed to know. And then when I ask, it makes her even more angry.” He sighed, drawing little circles on my bare shoulder. I rolled on top of him.
“So, I’m officially a homewrecker.” I looked down at him. It was hard to be angry with him. How anyone could be pissed off at his puppy eyes was beyond me.
“No. I wrecked my own home.” He sighed, hands on my thighs. “I should have told you. This is wrong.”
“Nah. I get to go back home in a few weeks. And we’ll never see each other again, and no-one has to know…” I leaned forward and kissed him. “We said we’d never kiss and tell… I for one don’t plan on shouting from the rooftops about this.”
“Good girl.” He returned my kiss and sighed, swallowing. I knew it was wrong, too. I’d seen his wife. Older than me, looked it too… but she’d made him fall in love with her enough that they also had two kids. I was just an object of lust. As I lay there beside him, my phone blowing up because I was supposed to be somewhere with Josie I’d totally forgotten about, I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe this could turn into a Happy Hollywood Ending…
The truth is, Happy Hollywood Endings don’t exist. They don’t exist at all. Vanya’s friends had cottoned on that something was happening between famous actress/dancer Beth Edwards, and the actor/performer Vanya Kanzhchev. And if his friends had cottoned on, the press wouldn’t be too far behind. He stopped appearing at the gym when Josie and I were there, and after telling me his friends had hunches, we stopped seeing each other nightly, and instead only saw each other a couple of times per week.
But it was the night of our main performance that really stuck a knife in my gut. I’d had this fantasy growing that I could move there, be with him, go public, end the long-distance shit that was and wasn’t and thing, and live happily ever after. Or, he could move to live with me, and we’d live happily ever after. He’d divorce his wife, and all would be perfect… but as I stepped out onto the stage with the other girls, I saw him and her sat together. Vanya and Alina. Her face was soft and content, until I got a little closer and winked at Vanya. Then, her expression grew hard, and Vanya looked a little sheepish. Alina leaned over and kissed him. He returned it. He wouldn’t look at me. He watched the others on the stage even as I climbed a pair of silks and started another routine. He watched everyone else, but me. I felt sick. I couldn’t hold it together – it was like I didn’t exist! And I knew I shouldn’t exist, but the jealousy that gripped my very core was too much to bear, and I found myself feeling both desperate to run away, and desperate to do a little Audience Participation… He’d seen my scars. He’d seen me at my most vulnerable… this shit didn’t end like this!
After the show ended, there was an after party. I started drinking. The backless dress I wore showed none of my scars – I still had on the skin-coloured mesh undershirt I wore on stage to hide everything. A piece of engineering genius that saved me from questions. Vanya was there with Alina. I felt sick again. I watched him. She saw. She watched me. I glared at her. She glared at me. I made my way over nonchalantly.
“Hi,” I smiled. “Thank you for coming tonight!” I was pleasant enough. Warm. Her back was up. Understandable. Me and the dancers got a lot of attention for a reason.
“You’re welcome.” Her tone was stiff. She had Vanya’s hand in a vice grip. “You already met my husband, I think?”
“Yes, briefly, a little while back – at the studio, wasn’t it? At the gym? You were leaving as we arrived.” I extended a hand. “A pleasure, again.”
“Likewise.” Vanya smiled smally. I felt sick. I felt so sick.
“Well, I’d better get on. Thanks again for coming!” I walked away. I looked back, and Vanya was watching me. But when he looked at Alina, I saw a similar look in his eyes that he’d had for me only a few days ago. I walked straight into Josie’s table, bruising my hip. I spent the rest of the night miserable.
He’d patched things up with her, he told me via email. He’d spoken to her, and they’d discussed their issues, and got back on track. What we had was fun, but it was a mistake, and he shouldn’t have made it. Dream girl or not, he’d fallen in love with Alina for a reason – and I wasn’t enough to make him leave his family for good. I didn’t write back. I couldn’t.
As I boarded my flight to the next country I’d be staying with, I sent a text to my long-distance, and told him I’d be his for six weeks, and I needed to forget reality. Hollywood Happy Endings don't exist, and I'd be trapped in a long-distance forbidden relationship forever. I knew who I belonged to, in reality.
Okay, my beauty. I’ll be ready for you.
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I got a kick out of the opening, where the MC chose to follow Ariana Grande's advice. Modern mainstream music seldom even provides enough lyrics to draw any "advice" from, but when it does, people should take it not only with a grain of salt, but cotton stuffed in their ears too. Good lesson in this story about life not being like in the movies. I'm getting pretty serious about self-publishing a novel right now, so won't be spending much time on Reedsy until it becomes a reality; but I'll be checking in once in a while to read your latest ...
hahaha, thanks so much Gip!! I had fun writing this - I get a bit tired of those fake Hollywood endings where people leave perfectly good relationships and don't even try to work at them if there's a chance it could be fixed! So I created something where it doesn't work out. Refreshing, to say the least! Oh, your novel endeavours sound incredible!!! I wish you the very, VERY best of luck! And if you need proofing or anything, do reach out! I'm an editor for work, and I'd be more than happy to grammar/proof some chapters! :D Reach me on twi...