Home > First Comes Like (Modern Love #3)

First Comes Like (Modern Love #3)
Author: Alisha Rai


Chapter One

JIA AHMED knew how to make herself look good. Angles, lighting, makeup, clothes, poses, postproduction editing. She could manipulate eternal factors to the point where cameras caught only the best parts of her, the funny, charming, clever, beautiful parts.

They didn’t catch the parts like now, when she was so anxious and insecure she was hiding in a bar’s bathroom and applying and reapplying her lipstick ten times.

She carefully traced her lips with the pink liquid. It’s perfect.

Except for the bow of her upper lip, which was blobby. Blast it. Her hands were getting more shaky, not less.

Leave the blob. Leave it!

Like she wasn’t a perfectionist when she wasn’t meeting a potential love interest. She pulled out yet another makeup wipe and swiped the pink off.

She needed to chill. No need to be nervous, couples met on apps and then in real life all the time. True, this was a little different, given that she was crashing a party to get face time with the man who had slid into her DMs.

What was a girl supposed to do! It had made sense to only talk via text when they’d first started chatting over a year ago, given he lived so far, and they were rarely awake at the same time. Though she’d been smitten, without physical interaction, the conversation had fizzled out after six weeks.

She’d been so busy with everything going on in her life and exploding career, she hadn’t really spared him much thought until she got sick a couple months ago. She was recovering, he was across the world; she’d accepted that he wanted to see her face for the first time in person.

But he’d been in America for a week now, within driving distance of her. She’d pressed to see him, but there was always some reason he couldn’t.

Do you want to get dinner?

How’s life in America treating you? Want to get a drink?

Do you like bowling?

And his responses:

I’d love to, but am tied up with work this week.

We can meet once I get adjusted.

Jet-lagged right now. Rain check?

So she’d done what any normal red-blooded woman would do. She’d used her frightening Google skills to track down where the cast for his new show was having a little party, scored an invitation through her various influencer connections, et voilà. Here she was.

Jia leaned closer to the mirror and applied the lippie again, going slow and steady. Finally, no blobby blobs. She critically inspected the rest of her face for any other possible flaws. She’d gone with a smoky eye for the evening and paired it with a light bronzer and nude lip. Her God-given cheekbones didn’t require much contouring, but she’d done a heavy beat tonight regardless. One of her sisters had once accused Jia of using makeup as a shield, but it wasn’t that deep. Art had always been her favorite class.

The bathroom door opened and a beautiful redhead walked in. She came to stand next to Jia at the sink, her own compact in hand. Jia gave her a smile and dropped her lipstick in her purse. She washed her hands again, though she’d already done it. One could never wash their hands enough. Plus, it would delay her having to leave the bathroom and put on her big-girl pants. Metaphorically speaking, since she was wearing a dress.

Jia caught the sideways glance the woman gave her, and then the double take. “Hey, do I know you from somewhere?”

A little thrill ran through her, the same thrill she always felt when she was recognized in L.A., a city where half the population was vaguely familiar. Internet famous was a weird thing, one where it was easy to forget that people might recognize her. She spent most of her time filming on her own or with a single cameraperson. There were modeling gigs and sponsorships, but those had dried up lately.

Part of her wished she could feel weary about attention—that was how humble people reacted to that sort of thing, right? But she loved attention, especially now. It was a nice reassurance that her recent mandatory illness-induced social media absence hadn’t totally tanked her career.

“You might.” Jia used a napkin from the classy stack on the counter to wipe her hands. “Are you plugged into the beauty side of social media?”

The woman brightened. “You do makeup tutorials! You’re that model!”

That model, which was better than oh you! or is that a real job? “That’s me.”

“So cool. You’re not as tall as I thought you’d be.”

Jia resisted the urge to straighten up. When one was five foot nothing in an industry where height was a conventional beauty standard, one grew accustomed to such comments. “Uh, thanks.”

“I love meeting influencers. I’m an entertainment reporter.” She named an outlet, but Jia had never heard of it. “Can we take a selfie, and can I tag you?”

Something else to delay her crashing a party? “Sure!”

“Oh my gosh, thank you!”

“No problem!” One of the big benefits of this industry was that she got to indulge her love of speaking in exclamation points. “Wait, move like this.” Jia scooted so the toilet stalls weren’t behind them, but a more flattering red wall.

“Ha, I forgot we were in a bathroom. Do you want to step outside?” the woman asked.

No, Jia did not want to step out of the protective force field that this bathroom was providing. If she stepped out, she might explode from anticipation and anxiety. “Fun fact. Bathrooms often have the best selfie light.” Jia feared her smile might be more strained than not, but the woman seemed satisfied with their pic.

“Thanks again,” the redhead enthused. “Are you going to the party? I’m covering it. Hoping to snag a pic with Richard Reese.”

“I am going to the party.” Jia hesitated. If she said the words out loud, maybe she could manifest it. “I’m hoping to meet Dev Dixit.”

The woman gave her a blank look. “I don’t know him.”

“He and his family are kind of legendary in Bollywood. Vivek Dixit? Shweta Dixit? Arjun or Rohan?”

“Nope, nope, nope, nope. Sorry, I bet he’s more popular for Indians.”

Jia could explain that she was Pakistani American and had known about the Dixit clan despite being not very familiar with Hindi cinema, but she had too much on her mind tonight to sweetly explain geography and the popularity of a foreign film industry to outsiders. “You’ll get to know him. Anyway, Hope Street is his U.S. debut.”

“Ooh cool.” The redhead glanced at her phone, her interest exhausted. “See you up there?”

“Yup.” She just had to . . . leave the bathroom and take the elevator up. Her new bathroom selfie friend made it look easy.

“You got this,” Jia whispered to her reflection, then bounced on her feet and lip-synched a few bars of Destiny’s Child. Surely if anything could get her motivated, it was Beyoncé telling her she was a survivor. She was gonna make it. She was a survivor. Keep on surviving.

No, that didn’t help. She had never felt like this before, terrified and excited and nervous. All those feelings separately, yes, she’d had them, but never all together.

Was this what infatuation felt like? Was this what she’d missed all those years when she’d been studiously avoiding distractions?

Jia pulled a wireless earpiece from the hidden pocket of her dress and stuck it in her ear. Then she navigated to her audio files and hit play on the latest one.

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