Trashed, p.15
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       Trashed, p.15

         Part #2 of Stripped series by Jasinda Wilder
 
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“Thanks, Thom. That’s nice of you to say. But all that aside, I’ve got a career plan. The semester is about to start. I can’t just leave. ”

  “A career plan, huh?” He eyes me, long, thick lashes touching his cheeks. “That’s good. Great. I’m sure you’ve worked your ass off to get where you are. But honey, think about this for one second. Really think. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to get out of Detroit, to do something different, something exciting. You weren’t even posing in those pictures, you were wearing like, no makeup and your hair was great, but obviously done by you. And that dress? Honey, think about how amazing you could look in a couture gown, with professional hair and makeup. You have the kind of face, hair, and body that could sell mad copy, okay? I’m serious. ”

  “Thom—”

  He takes my hand. “Des, this is coming from one fabulous bitch to another: You’ve got it going on, and you have to capitalize. People want you now. School will wait. Your career will wait. This opportunity? It won’t wait. You’re relevant now. I’ve got work for you now. In a month or two or three, they’ll have moved on, found someone else. You need to let me get you in front of a camera now. Not tomorrow or next year, but now, while they want your look. ”

  “Wow, Thom. You’re a really good salesman, you know that?”

  He grins at me. “Sweetie, I didn’t get where I am in my career by sucking. ” He pauses and puts an index finger to his lips. “Well, on second thought, that may not be entirely true…”

  I color scarlet. “Oh my god. ”

  He laughs. “I’m only kidding…or am I?” He holds up his hands when I open my mouth. “For real, though. This isn’t just a sales pitch, Des. I’m serious. ” He hands me his card again. “Google us. Think about it. Talk to your friends. And when you come to a decision, call me. But don’t wait too long, okay?”

  “I’ll think about it,” I tell him.

  “Come to New York, Des. You won’t regret it. ”

  The bus squeals to a stop, and Thom gets off. I watch him as he coughs and waves a hand in front of his face to clear the diesel fumes. He gets into a black car that apparently had been following the bus, and then he’s gone.

  The rest of the way to my stop, I stare at the business card.

  Page 42

 

  All through my shift cleaning classrooms, I think about the card in my purse and what it represents.

  All the way home, I think about Thom, and wonder if I could do it.

  Ruthie is watching the latest episode of Orange is the New Black on her laptop when I come in. I pull Thom’s card from my purse and set it on her keyboard.

  She pauses her show and examines the card. “What’s this?”

  “This guy followed me halfway to work today. He claims that a modeling agency wants me to move to New York and be a model. ”

  Ruth gapes at me. “A model?”

  I shrug. “That’s what he said. A plus size clothing model. ” I hate even saying that phrase; I am who I am, and fuck labels.

  She brings up her browser and types in the name of the agency. I sit down and watch as she scrolls through the results. After a few minutes, she turns to me. “They look legit. I’ve seen some of these models before. ”

  “But…I mean, me? A model? I don’t even know what to think. ”

  She shrugs. “Does it sound interesting to you? You’ve watched America’s Next Top Model with me. You know how they portray the business. ”

  “I don’t know,” I say. “I mean, part of me wonders. Having all those questions shouted at me, that was rough. But actually having my picture taken…that was fine. I mean, not the walk of shame picture, which sucked. But…I don’t know. Part of me wants to at least try it, you know?”

  “You’d really move to New York? Put your master’s degree on hold, leave Detroit, leave me?” She closes her laptop and traces the logo on the top cover. “Look, Des. I want you to be happy. You’re my best friend. And if you go, I’ll be happy for you, if that’s what you want. I just…I mean, I’d miss you. But…this is a big step. And it doesn’t seem like…you. ”

  “I’ve never felt beautiful before, Ruth. I’ve learned to love myself, to accept the way I’m built and to rock what I’ve got the best I can. But that’s not the same as feeling truly beautiful. And I felt that way with Adam, and at the dinner. And Thom, the guy I met today, he made me feel the same way. And I mean, what do I have to lose? My loans and scholarships can be put on hold, right? This is the kind of thing that may never come along again. If I finish my master’s and get a job, I’ll probably never leave Michigan. That’ll be it. This is my chance to…do something. To maybe be something other than what I’ve always been. Does that make any sense?”

  She nods. “Yeah, it does. I get it. I really do. ” She smiles at me, but it’s a sad smile. “Better give him a call, then, huh?” She hands me her cell phone.

  I dial the number on the card. It rings once, twice, three times, four, and then there’s Thom’s voice on the other end. “This is Thom. ”

  “Hi, um, this is Des. ”

  There’s a lot of background noise, shouts and laughter and music, and then a door closing and it all is muffled into silence. “Des, hi. You coming to New York with me or what?”

  “Yeah. I think I am. ”

  “You’re making the right choice, Des. Give me your address and I’ll pick you up Wednesday afternoon. ”

  “This Wednesday?” My voice is thin and shaky. Today is Monday; I’ve been home from my summer job for less than a week.

  “I knew you’d say yes, so I called Sidney and she’s already scheduled your first shoot for next week. We’ve got a lot of work to do in the meantime, sweetie. Gotta get you ready for your modeling debut. ”

  “Is there a contract or anything?”

  “Oh, sure there is. But I’ll explain all that to you when we get to Manhattan. Sidney, Rochelle, and I’ll go through the whole thing from start to finish and explain it to you step-by-step, clause-by-clause. You’ve also got about a thousand appointments with beauticians and stylists and all sorts of things, plus Sidney wants to meet you, and then there are headshots, and…just a bunch of fun things to do. For now, get packing. I’ll see you Wednesday. ”

  And then the line is dead, and my head is spinning.

  I’m going to be a model…in New York.

  * * *

  Gareth is pissed as hell at me, but I don’t even care. We’re supposed to be leaving for London tomorrow, and I’m in Detroit right now. We finished the studio portion of filming, and now we’re doing the location shoots. London, Prague, and then Tokyo. I’m supposed to be with the rest of the cast, supposed to be doing the cold read-throughs. But instead, I’m in the registration office of Wayne State University, trying to hunt down a particular black-haired beauty.

  I’ve spent the month since the charity dinner trying to act like I’ve moved on from Des, but I can’t fool even myself. I keep thinking about her, dreaming about her. Even Gareth noticed something has been off with me, and he’s typically oblivious to pretty much everything unless it’s film-related.

  Rose finally dragged me offset and took me out for drinks and told me—in so many words—to quit being a fucking pussy and go find her.

  So here I am.

  “Can I help you?” The woman behind the counter is older, with graying brown hair and tired eyes. She doesn’t seem to recognize me.

  “Hi. I’m trying to find a friend of mine who I think is a student here. ”

  “Name?”

  “Des. Des Ross. ”

  She taps at the keyboard for a few seconds. “She’s not registered. I have her in our system, but it doesn’t look like she’s registered for classes this semester. ”

  “Do you have an address or phone number you could give me?”

  The woman peers at me over the rims of her reading glasses. “I’m sorry, I don’t, and even if I did, I couldn’t give that inf
ormation out to you. ” She squints. “Do I know you?”

  Am I above using my fame to find Des? Hell no. “You might,” I say, wanting her to recognize me but not wanting to make a scene.

  She taps her finger on the desk, and I can see her putting two and two together. “I do. My grandson dragged me to some shoot-em-up movie. Was that you?”

  “It may have been. I’ve done some acting. ” I lean close, crossing my arms on the desk and whispering conspiratorially. “Look, ma’am. This is important. Des and I…lost touch, and I’m trying desperately to find her. Is there anything you can do to help me?”

  Page 43

  The woman clicks her mouse, types something into the keyboard, glancing at me every once in a while. After a moment, I hear a printer whirring, and she stretches to grab the sheet of paper that spits out. She grabs a pen from a cup, and slides the pen and paper toward me; I take it, seeing that she’s printed out a promo shot of me from Fulcrum.

  “What’s your grandson’s name?”

  “Dan. ”

  I scrawl in the white border above the picture: Dan, you have an awesome grandma. Thanks for watching! And then I sign my name, large and messy, above my head. I hand her the picture, and she reads the note, and then gives me a look that is equal parts sour, amused, and flattered.

  “Well, Mr. Trenton. Do you know Ruth Nicholson?”

  “Yeah, I met her once. ”

  “Well, if you wait outside room A-one-thirteen, a class will be letting out in…fifteen minutes. Ruth might be able to help you. ”

  I thank her and leave the registration office. It takes me most of the next fifteen minutes just to find the room, and then I wait at the end of the hallway, my Chargers ball cap pulled low over my face, a pair of wide aviators over my eyes. It’s the look that I call “celebrity incognito”, meaning that it doesn’t actually ever fool anyone if they bother to look right at you, but it makes you feel like you’re at least trying to go unnoticed.

  I only wait a few minutes, and then a door opens and students file out, most of them chatting in pairs or singly and staring at their cell phones. A few glance at me, and only one kid seems to recognize me. I give him a slight shake of my head, and he grins at me and keeps walking. And then I see Ruth. She’s walking beside a young, good-looking Asian guy wearing a Tigers cap, and neither of them notice me.

  They’re about to pass by when I snag Ruth’s sleeve. “Ruth. Got a second?”

  She halts and stares at me, and her eyes go wide, but she recovers quickly and turns to her friend. “Hoang, I’ll catch up to you, okay?” She inclines her head toward the exit leading outside. I follow her, and she pulls me around the corner into an alcove, lights up a cigarette, and stares at me. “Well, well, well. If it isn’t Adam Trenton. ”

  “Hi, Ruth. How are you?”

  “Peachy. What do you want?” She’s got her arms crossed over her chest, one hand lifting her cigarette every now and then. Her posture is closed and she’s either angry or suspicious or both.

  “Des. ”

  She frowns at me and blows smoke past my face. “You let her go a month ago. ”

  “Not by choice. She…I don’t know how to even put it. She shut me out. Just closed down. ” I shove a hand in my pocket and scan the area around us, making sure there’s no one taking pictures or noticing me. “I really like her. I wanted to…see where things could go, I guess, and she just wasn’t having it. I let her go because it’s what she seemed to want. But I can’t get her out of my head. I need to find her. Where is she?”

  “Gone. ”

  I wait, but no more information is forthcoming. “Gone where?”

  “Did you see the magazines?” She takes a drag and speaks around the smoke. “Reporters hit you guys up, hard. She was in a dozen different magazines. ”

  I shake my head. “I don’t read that shit. Never have, not before I got famous, and sure as hell not now. It’s all lies and bullshit. Ninety-nine percent of it’s as fictional as fucking Star Wars. ”

  “Yeah, well, they still had pics of you two. Not just at the dinner, either. After. One where she was wearing your clothes the next morning. ”

  “Shit. ”

  “Yeah. ”

  I let out a frustrated breath. “Did she get harassed or some shit?”

  “No. ” Ruth is definitely guarding her friend’s back. Good for her.

  I step close to Ruth and uncurl my posture, standing straight and flexing to look bigger, more imposing. “Ruth. You’re avoiding my question. ”

  Her eyes widen and she tilts her head back, defiant and bold. “Yeah, I am. I don’t know you, and I don’t trust you. ”

  “I remember our conversation, before you let me in, you know. I didn’t hurt her. I was good to her. I took care of her. ”

  Ruth smirks, and then it’s gone, replaced by the same hardness. “Yeah, I’ll say. ”

  I roll my eyes. “You know what I mean, goddammit. Where is she?”

  She contemplates my question, taking three long drags of her cigarette, and then she tosses the butt to the ground and steps on it. “She moved to New York. ”

  “What? New York? Why?”

  “Some modeling agency saw those photos of her and offered her a contract. She took it. She’s gone, dude. ”

  “Which agency?” My mind whirls. She’s modeling?

  “Sam Weaver or something like that. I don’t know. ” Ruth hikes her backpack higher on her shoulders. “I gotta go. ”

  “Hold on a second. What’s her new address? I have to find her, Ruth. ”

  She rubs at her lower lip with a thumb. “I don’t have her address. She still doesn’t have a phone either, to answer your next question. She calls me every couple days and we talk—and no, I don’t know that number, it’s unlisted. All I know is she’s staying with a couple other models somewhere in Manhattan. ”

  I think fast. I dig my Sharpie out of my pocket. “Have a scrap of paper?” Ruth pulls a notebook from her backpack and hands it to me. I write my name, phone number, and email address neatly on the top line and hand it back to her. “Next time she calls, tell her I’m looking for her. Give her that information. ”

  “Okay, I’ll let her know. ”

  “And Ruth, I just have to say this: do not share that information with anyone except her. If I find out that you’ve spread my shit around, it will not go well for you, okay? I’m not trying to threaten you, but this is serious to me. ”

  She nods. “I got it, dude. I wouldn’t do something like that. ”

  I lean in and give her a one-armed hug. “I know. You seem like a really cool chick, Ruth. Thanks. ”

  She goes stiff. “Cool. Now get off me. ”

  I back away. “See ya. ”

  “Yeah, probably not. But I’ll pass the message along. No promises though. ”

  The car I hired is waiting for me, and I slide in and ask him to take me to the Metro Airport. I have a first-class ticket on the next flight to London, which is for early the next morning, so I get a room at the airport hotel and wait.

  Page 44

 

  The night is long, and the flight even longer.

  A week of filming in London, two weeks in Prague, and another two weeks in Tokyo and no call, no email, no nothing.

  I stop in Manhattan on the way back to L. A. from Tokyo, and spend two days looking for her. I try the modeling agency, which I’d heard of, but they stonewall me. The receptionist won’t even tell me whether Des works for them or not. Short of causing a scene and possibly getting arrested, it’s a dead end.

  Finally, I go home to L. A. and begin the long, painful process of trying to forget her.

  Again.

  Chapter 10

  “Good! Good! Now turn this way. Great. One more. And now try to look aloof—pretend you’re too important for this shit. Good, perfect. Now turn away and look at me over your shoulder. No, don’t smile, just…look at me. No e
xpression. YES!” The photographer spews a non-stop stream of instructions, encouragement, and sometimes meaningless babble, just signifier words like stellar and fantabulous.

  I’m standing in front of an exposed brick wall in an old warehouse somewhere in the far lower end of Manhattan, wearing a tight pair of jeans and a flowing, low-cut top. There’s a huge industrial fan blowing from my left, making me look windblown. There are a dozen people all milling behind the photographer, some of them the photographer’s assistants, others for hair and makeup, and others from the clothing line. And there’s Rochelle, a glamorously beautiful woman about thirty years old with straight, fine blonde hair hanging just past her shoulders and hard, intelligent brown eyes. She’s always perfectly attired, usually in slim slacks of either black, brown, navy blue, or khaki, and tops of varying cut and color. She never wears dresses or skirts, and she never smiles. But she’s hideously, frighteningly efficient at her job, which is getting models from one place to another, making sure they’re ready for the shoot, and that they look their best. Since most of the models I’ve met are usually a little on the…flighty side, this can be a challenge.

  She also acts, in some cases, as a buffer between the photographer and the model. Some of them are…yucky.

  This guy, for instance. I can feel his gaze through the camera, feel his leering stare even though I refuse to look right at him, and refuse to interact with him any more than necessary. He’s middle-aged and balding with a shoulder-length ponytail, weak blue eyes, and a potbelly. But, apparently, he’s one of the best photographers in the business, and I’m lucky to get him.

  He’ll make me look incredible…or so Rochelle and Sidney claim, at least.

  I turn, pose, smile, don’t smile, smolder, and look mysterious. And then I change outfits behind a screen, assisted by two girls no more than eighteen and a flamboyantly gay man with black hair going silver at the temples. And then I pose again, smile, and repeat the whole process over again. Change, repeat. Change, repeat. Hours, and hours, and hours. I’ve been at it since seven this morning, and I’ve had three bites of a Caesar salad and half a bottle of water since then, and it’s now past six in the evening.

  Judging by the rack of clothes, I’ve still got three or four outfits to go.

  I stifle a sigh and change outfits yet again.

  I hear Rochelle’s phone ring—which happens at least once every ten minutes—and she pokes her head around the screen. “Des, I’ve got to step outside and take this. You okay here?”

  I give her a thumbs-up as Mark tugs a tank top over my head and then drapes a short-sleeved button-down sweater over my shoulders. I stuff my arms through and step out of the jeans. At that moment the photographer, Ludovic, steps around the screen. He acts surprised, like he forgot where he was going, but I see his eyes rake over me, calculating, hungry. Mark shoos him away, and the shoot resumes.

 
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