A shrill ringtone brought Ari out of her NCIS marathon. "Heck it," she muttered, pulling herself off from the couch and away from her boyfriend, who hadn't been bothered with the sound of the phone, whose noise was growing more urgent by the second. The caller ID was not one that Ari recognized, but she knew that the parents of her schoolchildren had her number, and that she did not have theirs.
"Hello. May I speak to Arielle Sulliven?"
"This is her."
"Excellent! We wanted to inform you of your acceptance to take part in a photo-shoot that is going to be done by , and that we hope you will join us for the shoot. The shoot is going to take place Saturday, starting at eleven in the morning and ending probably about three, possibly five in the evening. Would you be interested?"
"A Shutterstock shoot? Uhm, this Saturday?" The scowl on Ari's face became a confused look and a sheepish smile. She hadn't signed up for any shutterstock thing, and was confused as to why they had her name and why they wanted her at the shoot, especially because she didn't even use their website.
"Yes, this Saturday."
"I… I'll be there, sure. Oh, wait, am I getting paid, or is this like a volunteer service sort of thing?"
"You will be getting paid for your hours with us, more if your image ends up on the website. I do not have the figures on me, sadly, but your check will come in the mail a few days after the shoot, when we pick who goes on the website and, you know, who doesn't."
"I guess that sounds relatively decent."
"Great. We will see you then. Thank you."
She hung up the phone, smiling slightly. Cillian called out to her, and Ari willingly shared the news that her phone call had brought her.
It was an incredibly bad decision. She was sure that the whole idea was going to end badly; after all, it was shutterstock, and even her students giggled at clippings of their images when she printed them to do collages with the class. Yet here Ari Sullivan was, standing in front of a rather odd looking building wondering how she was going to pull off such a photo-shoot. According to the person that had called her, it was a photo-shoot that would depict teachers, one that was supposed to be a back to school kind of thing, even though Christmas had only passed a few weeks ago.
She did not know why she agreed. Nathan said that she just did not have the ability to say no to anyone who asks nicely and politely, while Cillian just scoffed and warned her not to eat the fake apple they would place on her fake desk. Ari had laughed at that.
Ari hoped it would be entertaining. Shutterstock itself was fake, as popular as it was. She wondered why it was so popular, and why they could not afford a better place. The building she was standing in front of vaguely resembled a remodeled warehouse. Shimmering silver coated the outside wall, and the large windows all had metal gates clinging to them, as if they were scared someone was going to jump. The metallic door was not easing her mind. "Perhaps," she thought, "perhaps I have the wrong address."
She knew she did not have the wrong address when she knocked on the door. A-to-cheerful lady opened the door for her and took her up the stairs to the second floor. The floor was no longer a dull waste of space; rather, it now carried the weight of the entire shoot, ranging from camera equipment to make-up artists and the soon to be photographed as they all bustled around, deaf to the cameraman yelling for someone to make a pose or for them to smile a bit wider.
Ari felt almost normal among the people on the floor. The girls in the corner who looked about her age were smiling with smiles that could potentially kill, while all the workers looked rude and smirked as anyone walked by. One sat in the corner, looking like he needed a drink.
Her head hung high, however, and she kept her back straight, replaying all the manners she had taught her students in her head. She took a seat in front of the giggling Barbie dolls.
Ari felt her patience running thin as this one girl posed with a desk, simply standing behind it. According to the screaming director, she wasn't smiling enough, though you could see most of her teeth. The talking and loud laughter of the girls behind her didn't help, and Ari found herself turning around, her smile a replicate of the Barbies now in front of her.
"Hi! I'm Ari. Are you guys here for the shoot too?"
The girls immediately stopped laughing. They went from looking like comical relief to people who had just seen a killer fish. One of them, the tallest of the girls (and the one with the largest head), got up and walked away, with the remainder of the girls following her.
"You all look like a bunch of miniature poodles following a mutilated tree!" Ari turned back around, watching them go, laughing as the employees by her tried to hide their own giggles. The Barbies were not amused.
She sat silent after that, nodding to workers who said hello to her, few as they were. She watched the scenes unravel, watching as the Barbies took turns going in front of the camera. Arielle ended up waving off the make-up lady, refusing to look like a clown if she could help it.
A voice from closer to the green screen rose, calling a surprised Arielle. The hope that she would be called to the camera fluttered in her heart, but Ari had thought that the other Barbies would be called again, just to spite her. It had felt like an eternity, that was for sure, but the actual waiting had only taken about thirty minutes of her time, which wasn't bad at all compared to the hours she thought she had sat in that rather uncomfortable chair.
The actual photographing was worse than the sitting. The director complained about the fact she had refused the make-up artist. Apparently she didn't look good enough, so Arielle was left with no choice but to succumb to the artists while the director rubbed his temples and helped set up the scene. She watched as they did. A bunch of muscular men, something Ari quickly noted, brought in a large desk to put in front of the blackboard. Around 30 desks were carried in, equipped with chairs. Notebooks, pens, and textbooks were stacked a bit too neatly for students on the desks, and an apple sat on the largest desk. The apple was clearly a plastic model; it almost shone in the light, and not a bruise was located on the damn thing. The leaf didn't even sway along with the draft on the floor. The director himself wasn't lifting anything, which was quite odd for a man his size and age; but rather, he was standing there, instructing people to put things where he wanted, and if they didn't do so, he screamed and turned an unnatural color until the queasy looking other person did as they had been told. It seemed like the director got a certain satisfaction out of seeming people uncomfortable or scared, and the assumption was definitely correct. Director Frik was always one to terrify, and he loved it more than anything. He liked control of his set and all the people that belonged to it, no matter what it took to remain in control. Even the amount of salt that covered his lunch had to be a specific amount.
The first thing Ari was told to do was to sit down on what was supposed to be the teacher's desk, which was far too empty, and take a bite of the apple they had placed conveniently close to her.
"No." Ari decided she was going to stand up to the man who faintly resembled the mayor of Whoville. The cameraman, who also turned out to be the director, rolled his eyes, his face turning as red as the pen behind his ear.
"I was warned not to bite into any apples."
"You were warned by a lunatic! It's a fake apple!"
"Exactly my point. It's fake, and you want me to bite into it. Also, are you calling my boyfriend a lunatic?"
"Ye- Well, no, I'm not, but you're just pretending for crying out loud!"
This time it was Ari rolling her eyes. "Whatever. I'm not biting into it." She liked to think that Cillian would have been proud of her at this moment. If he hadn't warned her about biting into apples, she would be the girl who just went for it. Naturally, she would also have been the girl to regret it afterwards.
The banter continued, however. It seemed that with every sentence thrown, Ari's walls tumbled down then rose like a castle while the directors slowly dissolved into shambles, until a hole appeared in her wall, in which case his was quickly mended. She gave in when the director began to approach her. Ari had noticed he was slowly creeping forward, but upon noticing that he was already standing by the first desk closest to him, the farthest one from the green screen, Arielle found herself giving in, as long as she did not have to actually bite the apple. She did not know why she had suddenly given in, but something inside her had risen in fear and swallowed the compromise she had tried to work towards, the same way a river monster would.
Arielle smiled for the camera, complaining every few minutes about the flash going off, but not saying much more. Her smiles grew tooth full and full of fake happiness, and her apple rose closer to her mouth. She sat on her desk, she pretended to teach, she scolded a kid, and she laughed at a joke that had never been brought to life. She contemplated the purpose of the entire process and wondered who even taught under such conditions.
The director, on the other hand, contemplated why horrible teachers who couldn't even take a proper photo existed, and why it was always him who had to put up with these teachers. It confused him and irritated him all at ones, his mouth always a grave line, as though his thin lips had turned into a brand new needle. He watched the preschool teacher sit on the desk he told her to and continued to be bored, shouting various commands even when they didn't make sense and making sure that her smile was bigger than his wallet.
By the end of the shoot, Arielle's face was numb from smiling. At that moment, she would have happily sworn that she would never again smile. She swore that she was not going to be dragged back on the shoot for the next few minutes, as she was supposed to shoot again, but this time in a group alongside the Barbies. Not something Ari wanted to endure at the moment, Arielle ended up hiding behind another one of the various desks, hoping not to get spotted. She had seen the faces of people around her during her shoot, and she could safely assume she shouldn't be anywhere near any of these people. It just wasn't going to be a good idea.
Her luck ran out rather to quickly for Ari's liking. Before she knew it, four of the co-workers that had been previously laughing around found themselves right across the desk from her, and they were leaning over it, their smiles wide and their eyes twinkling. Ari bit down the urge to comment on the strong aroma of whiskey and cheap cigarettes that had filled the air.
"Bite the apple! You've gotta! My photoshoot won't be as fake without it!"
"Oh, but that's not enough! Do a pose on the desk, yeah, that's right, teachers do it all the time!"
"Perfect, perfect, now… laugh! Because everyone laughs like a donkey!"
"Looking terrible! Laugh harder dammit!"
"Hush up, he'll hear you!"
One of the men shrugged. "Ain't going to be the first time he's heard us. We've got our freedom of speech, miss. I'm Donald, by the way. These two are Trever and Tom; one on my right is Dominic."
She nodded at them. Her previous worries were washed away, and she decided to go with whatever happens. "I'm Ari. And apparently I'm not a good teacher because I can't smile as much as someone with hyper extended lips."
"I demand you sit on the desk!"
"Cross your legs!"
"Maybe wear a tiara?" Tom's smile grew wider as he pretended to place a tiara on his head, his other hand moving as though he were holding a skirt that was swaying in the wind.
"I'll fire you both!"
The laughter stopped, and the four musketeers on the other end of the table ran off faster than lightening, covering their name tags and their faces. Their laughs were still audible, and the director had turned a shade of purple that Arielle was certain was not in any crayon boxes.
As soon as the director's eyes fell on her, she realized she should've been smart like the other four, and should have ran somewhere else, preferably out of sight. "Out of sight, out of mind," she thought, exasperated. She kept his gaze, staring right back into his angry eyes. She found that she wasn't thinking of what she was doing; in any other situation, she probably would have averted her eyes, mumbled an apology, and tried to leave the situation. It seemed like Ari wasn't going to have any of that today, and she wasn't even noticing the difference in her person. Her eyes began to mirror his, and the challenge stood plainly on the table, waiting to see who would pick it up first.
It turned out the director did that for her. "Laughing over my shoot, eh? It's funny, eh? My work is funny to you, huh?"
Arielle's lip curled into a smile. "Your shoot? Yes, it's hilarious. It's like walking into the huge palace at Toys R Us, but as for your work? It's photography. And not even good photography at that. I mean come on, you're the same guy that photographed a bunch of woman laughing with salad as though it was the funniest thing on the planet." She stopped for a second, enjoying watching the cameraman as he struggled to find words to use against her. "By the way, I think someone drew all over your face. It's such an unnatural color, and it looks ridiculous on you. You should find an outfit that complements such a color, really, as it'll look silly if we put you in front of your own camera."
She decided to say no more. She turned around, her head higher than she could have thought, and Ari walked out with a smile on her face. Arielle was more than glad to get out of that building. As she entered her car, however, a message lit up her phone screen.
TEXT MESSAGE FROM BETI: DO NOT GO TO SHUTTERSTOCK. THE PRINCIPAL GAVE THEM OUR NUMBERS FOR SCHOOL POPULARITY. 0/10 THINK IT'S A GOOD THING.
"Great. This day just keeps getting better and better."