Trashed, p.16
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       Trashed, p.16

         Part #2 of Stripped series by Jasinda Wilder
 
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Finally, after two more changes of clothes, I request a break.

  Rochelle waves me away. “Ten minutes. Ludovic’s time is more valuable than yours, dear. ”

  Yeah, but Ludovic gets to sit down and smoke cigarettes while I change clothes, and while the stylists check my hair and makeup. I get to stand there and be tended to, not sitting, not eating, not drinking, not even given a moment to breathe.

  Quickly I head outside, grabbing the clear plastic box that contains my six-hour-old salad and the half-empty bottle of warm water. It’s all I’ve got till I get home, and I’m getting faint with hunger. I perch on an overturned milk crate around the corner and force the salad down my throat.

  I feel him before I see him. “Here you are. I wondered where you’d went. ” Ludovic.

  I glance up at him and offer a tight, small smile, hoping he’ll go away.

  He doesn’t.

  “You’re a lovely girl, you know. ” He crouches beside me, his back to the wall, and lights a cigarette. His eyes flick sideways and rove up my body and then down. “With the right help, you could go places impossible for you, otherwise. ”

  I ignore him and keep eating the flat, limp, disgusting salad.

  “I’m doing a beach shoot next week. Down in Florida. I have spoken to Sidney about this, and she has arranged for you to be in the shoot. Many lovely girls, a big beach. A good time, I think. ” He eyes me again. “Bikini shoot. You…you will be the sexiest, no?”

  I have to stop eating now and respond. “A beach shoot? Sidney didn’t tell me about this. I’m not doing a beach shoot. ”

  He smirks, and his eyes latch onto my cleavage. “She has not told you yet. ” His tongue slides across his lower lip, and he flicks the butt of his cigarette. “If you are nervous, perhaps we could do a…private shoot. Yes?” He grins suggestively.

  I fight against the revolt of my stomach. “Let’s just finish this shoot. ” I stand up and move toward the door.

  He’s in front of me, too close, and he reeks of cigarettes and body odor. His hand grabs mine, forces my hand against his crotch. “Be reasonable, beautiful Des. You help me, I help you. ” He leans close, his lips touch my neck. “I can make your career, you know. All you have to do is go with me, for drinks, and maybe some dessert in my apartment later. Yes?”

  I back out of his reach, jerk my hand free, and suppress a shudder. I’m saved from having to respond by the appearance of Rochelle. “It’s late and I have a date. Come on, Des. Quit holding me up. ” I don’t argue, god no. I’m grateful she showed up, and something tells me she did so on purpose, judging by the way she floats between me and Ludovic and herds me inside. “Come on, Ludo. Let’s go. ”

  Page 45

 

  We finish the shoot and Ludo hovers as his assistants pack his gear. He glances at me, and even winks once when he thinks no one is looking. I change back into my own clothes quickly, and then grab Rochelle and pull her aside.

  “Ludovic, he—”

  “I know. He does that with all the models. He’s a nasty old horn dog, that’s all. ” Rochelle’s phone trills and she pulls it from her purse, glances at it.

  “Can he make trouble for me for refusing to go along with his offer?”

  She shrugs. “Trouble? No, not unless you make a scene or do something stupid like outright insult him. Just avoid him and don’t worry about it. ” She eyes me over the top of her phone. “He does have a lot of influence, though. He knows people. He can get you places…if he likes you. Just saying. ”

  “Rochelle! I’m not going to—”

  “And I’m not suggesting you do,” she interrupts. “I’m merely informing you of the facts. Your job is to be a model. You’ve done that. What you do on your own time is your business. ”

  I shudder and wipe at my neck where his nasty mouth touched me. “He said something about a beach shoot. ” I shake myself and grab my purse. “Do you know anything about that?”

  “I don’t know, let me find out. ” Rochelle types a text message, her fingers moving so lightning fast it seems impossible. I hear her phone buzz in her hands a few seconds later and she reads the message, then looks at me. “He did indeed book you for a beach shoot next week. A very exclusive group, from what Sid is telling me. ”

  “I don’t want to—”

  Rochelle’s eyes flick to me, hard as stone. “Refuse his advances, avoid his groping hands, whatever. I don’t care. But you don’t deny work. Not when it’s Ludovic Perretti. ” She lowers the phone, indicating how serious she is. “He’s a nasty old horny dirtbag and he’ll try to fuck you if you’ll let him, but he’s the best damn photographer in the business. ”

  “Okay, Rochelle. Okay. I get it. ”

  She softens. “Good. Now go home. Tomorrow we find you a bikini. ”

  My stomach twists into a knot and rises into my esophagus. A bikini? Hell to the fuck no.

  But I don’t have a choice, it seems. Not if I want to stay in New York and continue to get modeling work. Which is what I want, right?

  I head home, grabbing a sandwich from a bodega on the way to the subway. It’s not enough, but if I’m trying on bikinis tomorrow, I’d better go easy on the calorie intake. None of my roommates are home when I get there, so I take the opportunity to call Ruthie on the landline.

  “Des, hey. How are you?”

  I groan and flop into the beanbag on the floor beside the phone. “Tired. Hungry. And feeling violated. ”

  “Violated? What happened?”

  “The photographer at today’s shoot, he propositioned me. Said he could further my career. For a price, obviously, and the price was very explicitly implied. ” I shudder, feeling his hands and lips all over again. “God, he’s so nasty. And worse, he’s basically forced me into working a beach shoot with him next week. ”

  “A beach shoot? Won’t that be fun, though?”

  I snort. “Yeah, when was the last time you saw me in a bikini?”

  “Oh. ”

  “Exactly. Oh. ”

  “How can he force you?”

  I sigh. “Because he’s ‘the best photographer in the business’. ” I lower my voice to make the phrase into mockery. “You don’t turn down work. You just don’t. ”

  “Will he try something again?”

  “Without a doubt. ”

  “So what are you going to do?” Ruth asks, a blender whirring in the background.

  “Do the shoot and try not to let everyone see that I’m going to feel like a fucking whale wearing a stupid bikini. ”

  “God, Des. Are you sure you’re happy there?”

  “No. ”

  “I thought modeling was supposed to be…I don’t know, good for your self-esteem?”

  “I thought so, too. Only it’s not. It’s the opposite, if anything. Everyone else I work with is skinnier than me. More tan than me. Higher, tighter boobs than me. Better facial structure than me. Better at posing than me. More willing to suck off the photographers than me. And the unspoken but very real pressure to keep my weight down really does a fucking number on my psyche. No one’s outright said in so many words ‘Des, you have to lose five pounds. ’ Not yet, at least. What they do is measure me and weigh me and second-guess my food choices and cluck and tut when I have to wiggle myself into jeans so tight I feel like a stuffed motherfucking sausage. I just want some goddamned cheesecake, Ruthie! I’m in New York City and I haven’t had one single piece of cheesecake. It’s ridiculous. You know what I’ve eaten today? Limp, warm caesar salad, a small one at that, and a pre-made turkey and swiss sandwich. You know what I had yesterday? A handful of veggie sticks and half a bagel, no cream cheese. ”

  “My god, Des. That’s criminal. ”

  “That’s modeling. ”

  “Well fuck modeling. ”

  “I can’t quit now, Ruth. I’ve barely gotten my feet wet. ”

  “You’re miserable. ”

  I don’t know what to s
ay. I hate it here, most days. It’s loud, hectic, high-pressure, intense. And that’s just New York. I’m hungry. I’ve been hungry since the day I landed at LaGuardia. I miss Ruth. I miss Detroit, as crazy as it sounds. I miss Mackinac Island.

  I miss Adam.

  Ruth is silent, and I know her so well I can tell she’s got something to say but isn’t sure how to start. “Just say it, Ruth. ”

  I can hear her take a long sip of whatever she made in the blender, a piña colada or something delicious I’m sure. “There’s no way to ease into this, so I’ll just say it. Adam showed up at school. ”

  “He—what? Adam? At Wayne State?”

  “He was looking for you. ”

  My head spins, and if I wasn’t already sitting down, I’d have fallen down. “Holy shit. What did he—what did you tell him?”

  “The truth. That you’re modeling in New York, that I don’t have an address or phone number for you. ” She’s quiet again, and I wait for her. “He gave me his contact info to give to you. ”

  “He did?”

  Page 46

 

  “He looked…like he missed you, Des. Like he regretted letting you go. ”

  “He didn’t. I let him go. ”

  “Why, Des? He seems really cool. ”

  “How is that gonna work, Ruth? I follow him wherever he goes? Sit in some mansion in L. A. , waiting for him to get back from filming? I barely know him, and he doesn’t know me at all. ”

  “It’s called taking risks, Des. You should have given him a shot. ” She sighs, and she sounds frustrated, or disappointed, or just resigned. I can’t tell which. “Do you want this info or not?”

  “Yeah. ”

  She rattles off Adam’s information, and I write it down. We talk for a few more minutes and then hang up. I stay in the bizarrely comfortable yet hideously uncomfortable beanbag chair, staring at the numbers. I find myself writing his name above the phone number, circling it, underlining it.

  But I don’t call.

  My reasoning is vague, even to me. Is it about not admitting that I was wrong? That I should have…what? That I should have handled things differently? Told him more about myself? Told him why I got the tattoos? What difference would any of that made?

  So I don’t call.

  Not that day, or the rest of that week.

  I spend a few days trying on bathing suits, and it goes as well as could be expected. Sidney frowns, and Rochelle’s plucked and waxed eyebrows lower in consternation. They hand me bikini after bikini, and reject each and every one. Finally, they settle on two. One is a bandeau top and boy short bottoms in basic black, the other a red and orange swirl design in a halter-top and a high-waisted bottom.

  And let me just say, even wearing those standing in front of Sidney and Rochelle was hard for me. I squirmed, fidgeted, adjusted the halter-top, played with the bandeau strap, and tried gamely not to pluck at the wedgie the high-waisted bottom gave me.

  And then Sidney dropped the bomb. “These are good, Des. As good as they’re going to get, at least. ” Her hazel eyes fixed on me, and she trailed a hand through her expensively-dyed red hair. “You really need to drop a few pounds, though. If you could manage that, the suits would fit just that much better. You have…what…four more days? Even three or four pounds would make all the difference. ”

  My face went red from equal parts of anger and embarrassment. “Sidney, I—”

  She held up a hand, palm face-out to me. “I hate having to say that. I really do. You think anyone wants to hear that? You know how many times I heard that, when I was modeling? ‘Five more pounds, Sidney. ’ At least once a week, I heard it. It hurts, I know it does. And I’m sorry. But it’s the business. ” She waved a hand at me, dismissing me. “You can do it. I’m sure you can. ”

  I leave the office with a small bag containing the bikinis, and a heart full of hurt and anger.

  I swallow it, and spend the next four days barely eating, walking faster, taking stairs. I try on the bikinis every morning, and every night, and see that, yes, as I shed two pounds, and then three, and then four, they do fit slightly better. My cleavage is accentuated when the rest of me is slightly more…streamlined.

  But I’m so hungry.

  And the anger percolates in me, deep down.

  Florida is hot and humid. We spend a good portion of the first day choosing a location, which means hiking up and down the beach, hunting for exactly the perfect location. Each spot looks the same to me: hotels and restaurants and resorts on one side, sand and the sea on the other, as far the eye can see in both directions. But Ludovic seems to be looking for something specific, so we all follow him here and there like stupid little ducks trailing after their mama.

  And then he chooses a stretch of sand exactly like all the others, nods, and announces that this is it. His crew scrambles to set up reflectors and all the other gear. Hair and makeup start dabbing and brushing and twisting, and we’re peeling off our cover-ups. The other girls all do so easily, confidently. They toss their wraps to the sand and adjust straps and bikini lines, and strut around happily, chattering to each other and kicking at the surf, giggling. A crowd is gathering, watching, and I find myself hesitating. But I can’t hesitate. I untie the front of my cover-up and shrug out of it and focus on not seeing the crowd of gawking tourists and sunbathers. I fold the cover-up and set it on the sand, kick off my flip-flops and let hair and makeup finish with me. All eyes are fixed on me.

  Because I stand out.

  The other girls are all rail-thin and lithe with tiny but perfectly shaped tits and bubbly little butts and skin that looks airbrushed even before they grace the magazine pages. I’m the tallest one by at least three inches, and the biggest one by at least thirty pounds.

  I’m the only “plus size” model doing this shoot.

  I see people staring at me, I feel it. Guys amble by and I feel their gazes on me. Ludovic is taking pictures of the ocean or something, endless pictures, adjusting the settings on his massive Nikon. With the reflector, without, then with some kind of gray lens filter, and without.

  Finally, he points at one of the models, a girl from Brazil named Nina. Her bikini is so negligible that it would probably fit in an empty Keurig coffee pod.

  She’s fucking stunning.

  She lays in the gentle surf, rolls around, droplets of water beading just so on her dark skin. Her smile is white and genuine.

  Anya is next, a Russian-American girl with platinum hair and massive—but fake—tits. Her waist curves in, and her ass bubbles out, and her thighs are slim but shapely, and she’s just absurdly perfect looking. Ludovic pays special attention to her. He shoots hundreds of photos of her, handing his camera to an assistant and kneeling beside her, adjusting her hair and saying charming little things to her that have her giggling. Then he has her roll onto her back so her tits are thrust into the air and her hair is splayed wet and fine on the sand while the waves lap at her knees.

  It’s an incredible shot. Sports Illustrated perfect.

  When they’re done, he stops her and whispers something in her ear, handing her what looks likes a room key card. She smiles coyly at him. The next model takes Anya’s place at the water’s edge, and Anya plops down onto the sun-warmed sand beside me.

  She uses the key card to scrape a line in the sand between her legs. “God, what a pig. ”

  I play dumb. “Who? Ludovic?”

  She nods, not looking at me. “Yes, Ludovic. Touching me. Telling me how sexy I am. Of course I’m sexy! I’m a fucking model, yes? Like I’m going to sneak into his room in the middle of the night and let him fuck me. I don’t care if he can get me on Sports Illustrated. Not happening. God, what an asshole. ”

  Page 47

 

  “Do you want to be on Sports Illustrated?” I ask.

  She looks up at me and her expression is one of disbelief. “Of course. You think I go on this diet and s
pend so many hours in the gym to look this way for to get a date or some shit? No. I am a swimsuit model. The swimsuit edition is what every bikini model wants. But to do what he wants me to do to get it, I don’t think so. I have standards. ” She glances at me again, curiously this time. “I’m sorry. Did you do something like this to get here? I don’t mean to insult you, if you did. ”

  I can’t help but laugh. In trying not insult me, she insults me. I shake my head. “No. I’m only here because he’s hoping I will. ”

  “And will you?”

  I dig my heel into the sand, trying to disguise the anger and disgust. “Fuck no. ” I wiggle my toes. “Not if he was the last man on earth. ”

  “Then we have at least that in common,” Anya says, and stands up, brushing sand from her ass.

  Another backhanded insult. I try not to let it bother me as I wait for my turn in front of the camera.

  Hours later, as the sun is lowering into the sea, and I’m bored out of my mind all the other models have left, except Li Fei. And then she’s shoving her feet into sandals and leaving without a word to anyone, and it’s just Ludovic, me, and the crew.

  I try to leave space between me and Ludovic as I pass him, but he moves toward me, puts his hand on my arm and turns me.

  “Just there, yes. ” He snaps a few shots, checks them, adjusts his settings, and snaps a few more, dropping to one knee.

  With no direction, I just stand there, hands at my sides, weight on one leg, unsmiling. My skin tingles where he touched me, and I want to rub at it, slather hand sanitizer on it. He lets his camera hang from his neck and puts his hands on my waist, guiding me toward the sea. I step out of his reach, and I see a flash of irritation cross his features. He closes the space between us and his hands go to my waist again, and he positions me. His hands linger, and his eyes search me.

  “Don’t play coy, Des,” he says to me in a low voice only I can hear. “You know your options are limited. ”

  And with that fury-inciting statement, he backs away and starts snapping, kneeling, bending, standing up, twisting the camera to portrait, changing a setting, shouting pose instructions. The next hour passes slowly, my muscles stiff and sore from changing positions and poses so frequently, holding a particular pose as long as I can every now and then.

  He gestures at me at the end of an hour. “Nice, nice. Now change to the other bikini. ”

  There’s no screen, and a small crowd is still watching. “Um. Change where?”

  He has to stifle a leering grin. “Here, here. They can shield you with your cover-up, if you’re so worried. ”

  Two girls on the makeup crew take my cover-up and the light reflector, positioning themselves between me and Ludovic and the crowd, so there’s only the ocean to see me as I strip the top off and stuff myself into the halter top. Fortunately, there’s no one out paddle boarding or jet skiing at the moment. I feel Ludovic watching me, and I know he can see my feet and calves, and my shoulders. He unashamedly lifts up on his toes to try to watch, winking at me.

  When I’ve changed into the other bikini, we spend another hour going from pose to pose, until the sun is half-buried in the rippling horizon and we’re losing the light.

 
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