"Pardon me?" The platinum haired woman sitting at the desk looked up at me briefly, scanned my exterior over the frames of her scarlet glasses, then looked back down with a bored expression on her face.

"If you're looking for a job, you're not exactly fit for it, sweetie," her slightly southern-accented voice dripped with fake sympathy and I resisted the urge to throw one of my sneakers at her. I didn't need her sympathy; I'd lived looking like this for nineteen years. I didn't need sympathy when I was little, and I sure as heck didn't need it now.

"I'm here to see Ms. Palmin," I managed, though I was still a bit stung by her remark about my looks.

"And what business do you have here for the owner of this modeling agency?" Blondie asked, still not looking up from whatever it was she was doing.

"I'm her daughter."

Blondie looked up with that same bored look plastered across her features, "Honey, I think you need to leave." She looked me up and down again, pursing her pert lips, "A girl like you shouldn't be making such outrageous claims."

A girl like you… Yeah, that's a nice way of putting it.

Frustrated, I started digging around in my purse for my wallet so that I could show her my ID. I couldn't find it anywhere. Sometimes, I swore that someone had cast an undetectable extension charm on my purse; I couldn't find a thing in there.

"Aislyn, is that you I hear?" My mom stepped into the lobby, looking perfect as always. Her shining pale gold hair perfectly curled, blue eyes sparkling with life and makeup totally flawless. She took one look at me and a smile brightened her face, "Darling! I thought I heard you!" She clacked over to me as fast as she could in her four-inch heels and pulled me into her arms for a hug. "Gladys, why wouldn't you let Aislyn in?"

The receptionist seemed to be struck dumb. "I-I do apologize, Ms. Palmin, I didn't realize-"

Mother laughed her infectious laugh, the sound bouncing off of the marble walls that enclosed us, "Gladys, dear, there's no harm done!" She smiled sweetly and turned back to me to pat my cheek fondly. "Come, sweetheart, you've grown so much, and there must be so many things you need to tell me!"

I followed her silently to the golden elevator and stepped inside, making sure to keep my eyes on my toes so that I wouldn't have to face my reflection in the polished metal.

"Aislyn, my dear, sweet Aislyn..." My mother murmured, looking at me fondly. "It's been much too long, dear. Next school year, you are coming home for the holidays, long flights be darned." I imagined that she must have been a bit lonely over the holidays, despite her wit and charm. She was always surrounded by friends, but sometimes friends don't amount to family at the holidays. I was her only child, her only family.

I had been born when she was 17, making her a disgrace to her family. Once they were sure that she could support me on her own, they turned her away; forcing her to fend for herself and a year old baby at the young age of 18. My father wanted nothing to do with me or her.

"Hey, Mom," I turned to look at her, willing myself to smile a bit.

The elevator doors dinged open and we quickly stepped off, walked briskly through a creme carpeted hallway, and into my mother's office.

"Now," she began, settling comfortably into her large, white-leather office chair. "Tell. Me. Everything."

She may have been only been 36, but she still acted as if she were a teenager. She demanded to know everything about how my life was at the private prep school I attended; how my classes were going, if I had met any handsome young men. I told her everything I could, though I carefully side-stepped the minefield that was the boy-department, and by the time I was finished, only five minutes had passed.

"Well, you certainly lead an exciting life," Mom remarked sarcastically as soon as I had finished. "I had expected at least some kind of interesting things." She looked at me and shook her head teasingly, "Lyn, if you can sum up your entire school year in one minute, there's something wrong with your social life."

I laughed, bitterly at first, but soon remembered to make it sound light and happy, "School makes me busy," I shrugged and tried to look uninterested, uncaring, "If I want good grades, I can't have a good social life."

"Oh, come on, Lyn. You need to lighten up, have some fun. A 'B' is an acceptable grade every now and again."

"Not for me, it isn't..." I complained, slouching in my chair. She probably thought I was being immature right now, but I didn't care; a girl needed to be immature sometimes.

"Academics isn't everything, dear," Mom reminded me gently. "A man could go to Yale and get a degree, but it means nothing if he doesn't put it to use."

"Yes, but-"

"I didn't have an education, you know." Oh boy, here it comes, the big 'But Look At Me Now' speech. "But look at me now." Told ya. "I'm the owner of one of the largest modeling agencies on the West Coast, and doing much better than some people who went to a university."

"But I'm not you," I pointed out, standing and pacing across the room. "I'm no good at the whole 'designing' thing, I don't have a strong will, and I'm not-" I faltered for a moment as that coveted word got stuck in my throat. "Beautiful..." I finished finally, though the word died as it left my lips it was spoken so softly.

My mother was silent for a few moments before standing, a kind of steely look glinting dangerously in her eyes. "Who told you that?"

"Who told me what?" I decided to play it dumb; act like I didn't know what she was talking about, maybe then she would drop the subject.

"Who told you that you weren't beautiful?"

"Can you really not see it?" I looked up at her with my dull brown eyes, as if challenging her to contradict what I knew to be true. "Can you really not see that I'm nothing like you?"

"You're nothing like me, but you're everything like your father... Intelligent, stubborn," she smiled a bit when she said that, "handsome..."

"Not even handsome. Handsome is a word used to describe men; not women." I scowled and moved away from her.

"Aislyn..." She said in almost complaining tone. "How many times do I have to tell you? You're not ugly."

"Was the word 'ugly' ever mentioned, mother?" I sneered, now not caring how I acted around her at the moment. "No. It wasn't. I never said a thing about ugly. And your mention of that word only sets in concrete what I've known for most of my life."

"You've never been-"

"I. Am. Ugly." I said, calmly and clearly, enunciating each word. "And I always will be."

Suddenly tired, I walked back over to the chair I had previously occupied and slumped back into it, using my lanky blonde hair to cover my face. I was ashamed for my outburst, but my pride wouldn't let me apologize to my mother for it. If I had nothing else, I had my pride.

Instead of being mad as I had expected, however, Mother walked over to me and placed a comforting hand on my shoulder. "Someday... someday, you'll see what I see in you." Her hand slipped from my shoulder as she walked away, to her desk, I assumed.

"I have a surprise for you." Her voice came from nearer the door and not from the desk like I had thought she was. "How about you see it?"

Wearily, I nodded my head, truly not in the mood for a surprise. I pushed my hair back from my face and settled my hands carefully in my lap. She threw the huge, wooden doors wide, and, before I could do anything, I was enveloped in the biggest bear hug of my life.

"Ais!" A deep, masculine voice crowed in my ear. "I haven't seen you in ages!"

"Gavin!" I hugged the young man back tightly, my eyes squeezed shut, "It's been too long!"

The smile was apparent in my mom's voice as she left her office saying, "I'll just let you two catch up."

I pulled back from Gavin quickly to look at him. It had been a full school year since I had seen him, much too long for best friends not to have seen each other.

As I observed him I was struck, as I always was, by how handsome he was in comparison to myself. He was no Alex Pettyfer, but that didn't mean he wasn't attractive. He had the classic black hair and brown eyes ensemble working for him, and, if a girl can say this about her best friend, he pulled it off well; he was—to me, anyways—"hot".

"You haven't changed a bit." I declared happily, squeezing his neck tightly again.

"And neither have you." He replied, squeezing me back.

"And there go all my hopes and dreams..." I half-joked. Gavin was the only one who I told all my problems, whether they were school, boy, or self-esteem issues, and he listened to each and every one patiently. He was like an older brother to me, or the father that I never had.

He laughed, and pulled me up from my sitting position to twirl me for a moment in the air; the sensation of flight was delicious. Once I was set safely back on the ground, he grabbed me by the wrist and began tugging me towards the doors, "Come on, let's go get some coffee or something and you can tell me about the exciting life at Mannfred Prim."

Laughing, I corrected him, "It's Manfield Prep."

"Eh, same difference," he replied shrugging as we entered the elevator, "it's just a bunch of snobs all stuck together in place." He paused. "Present company excluded, of course."

"Of course." I giggled, we walked past Gladys, the fakely sympathetic receptionist, and she shot me a huge grin.

"Have a beautiful day, Ms. Palmin!" She called, giving a slight wave.

"Suck up..." I breathed; I didn't mean for Gavin to hear, but I guess he did because he sniggered much too loudly. Gladys' smile quickly soured.

"So, how has the wonderful world of Aislyn been?" Gavin inquired as we stepped out of the modeling agency and into the crowded streets of San Francisco. "It's got to be much more exciting than this place."

I giggled as I surveyed all the bustle around us. Tourists in their ridiculous shirts snapped pictures of the sour dough bread animals in bakery windows, cars lined the steep streets, and people were everywhere. Yeah, a school full of prim and proper students was so much more exciting than 'Frisco.

"Well..." I told him all that I had told my mother, and it took about the same amount of time: five minutes.

"I stand corrected," he laughed, as we stopped for a moment at a crosswalk. "Your life is a heck of a lot more boring than mine is."

I laughed and shoved him, sending him stumbling into a metal pole that stood nearby. "Alright then, Mr. Party-animal, what have I missed since going to that stupid school?"

"Well, for one thing, you missed my nineteenth birthday."

"Yeah... Sorry about that, would it make you feel better if I said that I have an awesome present for you?"

"It would make me feel loads better." He nodded vigorously, almost looking like a small child at Christmas and his thick, black hair flopping about like a mop.

"Well then, sucks for you, because I don't have a gift."

"You, ma'am, are a horrible person." He declared, pounding a fist over his heart. "You wound me deeply."

"You'll get over it." I shrugged, acting not at all caring.

He shoved me, and I shoved him right back, and we continued on like that until we reached the cafe.