"Give us your brooding look, Fin," Nicholas, the photographer called out to him.
Fin sighed and threw them the biggest scowl he could manage.
Nick nearly rolled over with excitement."Yes, perfect. Really sets off your cheekbones. Now hold that... come on, just a few more."
Dammit, how long was this gonna last anyway? He was cold, hungry, and dying for a cigarette. The shoot had lasted all morning, and the old industrial building was beyond drafty. Half of the windows were broken, and the other half were just plain missing. They might just as well be outside. In fact, it was probably warmer outside, as at least there would be a bit of sun. Not that he would be permitted to be in the sun – it would ruin his perfect ivory complexion, and his agent wouldn't like that. The only sun he saw was when he got into a cab to go from one shoot to the next. Life was ever so exciting...
Become a model, they said. It's glamorous, they right, freezing your balls off in a warehouse in early spring was the epitome of glam. Couldn't they at least switch off the damn wind machine? His nipples were stone cold and about to drop off.
"Just one more, Fin. Try to smile a little this time."
One more shot? He'd smile for that. Well if his jaw still let him.
Of course, what the photographer really meant was one more set. Which meant another twenty-four pictures. It might be the digital age, and he might be working with a digital camera , but Nicholas still saw the old film roll number of twenty-four shots as a holy.
Models started coming in for the next shoot. Fin was getting bored with the shoot and started to watch them – it was kind of interesting to see them move, trying to be graceful, not always succeeding. Not everyone had natural grace; but since this was a photo shoot, it didn't really matter. The girls were trying to suck in their non-existent stomachs as the guys tried to pump up their six-packs and pouted harder than the girls.
And then he noticed her. Could somebody stand out for looking normal? Well in this crowd, anything was possible. The models were being ushered behind two different screens by a girl that looked totally out of place here. Most people that worked in this business, you could tell what they did. The make-up artists mostly looked like clowns, as did the hairdressers, since they tried most things out on themselves before they laid a hand on a model. The agents looked sour, as if somebody had stuck a pin in them. Then again, maybe somebody had – to be honest, he wouldn't have minded sticking a pin in a voodoo doll of his own agent. Then there were the PA's, who were either so young that they still had to make it in the industry or so old that all hope of modeling work was gone. All had a model figure though. With this girl, he did not have a clue what she was supposed to be. Plus she was... fat, compared to the other women present. In any other company she would be considered average, even slim – but here she stood out like a sore thumb. He watched her potter around, carrying things from left to right and back again. She was struggling, but none of his male colleagues who were hanging about offered to help her. That was the life of a model, he guessed. Egotistical, and idle to the bone. He hated to think that he might not be that different himself.
"Fin, eyes to me, " Nicholas yelled, "I don't know what you see behind me,but you can flirt with her later... or him, whatever floats your boat."
What? That had not been what he had been doing. He felt a slight blush rise to his cheeks, and hoped the camera wouldn't pick on it. Had she noticed? He hoped not – he had enough models run after him without having to deal with some lovesick cow mooning over him. He shot one more look in her direction and saw she hadn't even looked up from whatever she had been doing. Well, that was a blow to his ego. Maybe she was lesbian. That would explain her unfashionable sense of dress too... there wasn't a designer thread on her – she looked like she had come fresh off the farm.
Somebody put this girl out of her misery and send her back home please. He almost felt sorry for her. He could see others looking at her and disapproving. It wasn't fair... but that was modeling. Superficial to the bone.
Alright, focus. The sooner this was over, the sooner he could step down and put on his sweater, giving his icy body a chance to warm up a little. Though he needed some fuel to warm up too – definitely. Skipping breakfast to be here before dawn – because the light would be so perfect then, according to Nicholas – had definitely been a bad idea. He hadn't got a break since, and he was now far beyond hungry. His stomach was making growling and grunting noises, which he tried to ignore. Fortunately, the others were far away enough not to hear, and Nicholas had turned the stereo up loud for the right "ambiance". It was runway music, and frankly it got on Fin's nerves. Well, that did help when he had to look angry and brooding. Fin's smile was no more than a mask.
Ten minutes later, he could finally step down. He felt like an old man – all his joints had locked themselves in the impossible pose he had been asked to stand in for hours. It might have looked natural on the pictures, but there definitely was nothing natural about it. He nearly fell of the podium, straight into the arms of... awkward girl.
She caught him, saving him from falling face first into the sharp corner of a table. Unlike the stick insects behind her, she felt... solid. A real person in this world of fake make-believe almost made gher feel unreal.
He felt embarrassed. Chivalry had not quite died in him yet, and it just was not right to be caught by a woman. It should be the other way around. Not that she looked like she needed his help. She helped him back on his feet without blinking, or even really acknowledging him.
"Careful," she said, as if she were helping a three-year-old that had tottered over; then she kept going as if nothing happened. He was sure he heard some of the other models laugh.
"Get me some coffee," Nicholas snapped at no one in particular, but the girl seemed to heed the command. So she was a gopher. Most gophers were model wannabes though, biding their time until they had the chance to be noticed – this girl... was definitely not one of them.
Well, what did he care? Time to get some coffee himself – hot coffee, get himself warmed up. He grabbed his sweater from the chair and checked his phone. Two messages, both from his agent. He really needed to get a social life. He was one of the best paid male models in the business, but he hardly got out.
Awkward girl was now walking through the room, carrying plates of food that she was trying to hand out. Models, of course, did not eat – they lived on air and other... substances. Everybody knew that... except her, it seemed. Who the hell had hired her? This was abuse. So many so-called perfect people in one room was bound to give anyone an inferiority complex. That was why so many of the models – and the photographers, for that matter – used coke. It was the easiest way to stay slim, as it stopped you feeling hungry. Fin stayed away from the stuff, though. He had seen what it did to people, and it just wasn't worth it for him. It was bad enough that he smoked, his mom would say. Man, he was dying for a cig.
Still, modeling made good money. It meant that he could retire in a couple of years and dedicate himself to his true passion: art. If things worked out, he would never be a starving artist, and maybe he would just gain enough fame that his name alone would give him the edge.
"Penny for your thoughts," Lydia said, snatching away the last of the croissants, which he had been eyeing all morning. They had been lying there on a platter, calling to him. He almost had wanted to paint them. And now she waltzed in and grabbed the last one? It was not happening.
Lydia was a model he had worked with before – and an absolute bitch. She wanted him, he knew, to add to her ever growing list of conquests. Everyone knew Lydia's favorite exercise to stay in shape was sex, and she had worked herself through half of the agency list – both models and photographers. That last one had been very advantageous for her career.
"You know, there are a lot of calories in that. You really shouldn't eat bread... Not in this business." It was mean, playing at her insecurities. But he had wanted that croissant... that croissant was his.
"Fine. Have it."She unceremoniously dumped it on his plate. "Why are you always such a jerk, Fin?"
"Because I can be, Lydia dearest." He shot her a perfect smile, as she glared at him. "Hold that look, darling. It will fit perfectly in this afternoon's shoot, you know."
She rolled her eyes. "Thanks, I guess." Sarcasm was wasted on her.
"And don't frown so much. It gives you lines."
That made Lydia run off in a huff. He felt a little victorious
"You know, you didn't have to do that," a voice behind him said. "There are more croissants on the other table." He looked and saw she was right. Then he turned round to see who had spoken to him like that. Awkward girl – who else?
How dare she speak to him that way? Didn't she know who he was? … Alright, a nobody... but he was supposedly the star here. He needed his cigarette badly... for that, he needed to go outside.
It was rather busy here, and he wanted some peace. Besides, that way Nicholas couldn't drag him in the next shoot, and he could eat without the stare of a hundred cuts. Most models he knew were obsessed by food and constantly starved. If you ate something in front of them, they were either looking at you if they could murder you or living vicariously through you. That was no way to eat your lunch.
Following the signs that said "Emergency exit," he found his way to the roof. Good – no one would bother him here. The sun shone bright, warming up the dark roof. What the heck – he'd risk a tan if it meant getting a bit of heat back in his bones. His agent could scold him later.
He heard the door open behind him and turned around to see who it was. Her. Was she stalking him or something? "Hi," he said, not to be totally rude.
"Oh, you're up here too." Very welcoming.
"Tell Nicholas I'll be back later, okay? He's been working me from 5 am, and I deserve a break." If she wasn't going to be civil, why should he?
Awkward gir had a tray of food in her hands, he now noticed. "Don't worry, I'm not here for that. I'm just looking for a place to eat.. Where people aren't looking at me as if they want to eat me."
He grinned. She was learning. "Welcome to the modeling world."
"So if I sit here and eat... will I need to fear for my life?"
"Not if you share those strawberries."
"Fine... I can get more later, I guess." She sat down on the ground, tray beside her. "Damn it's cold. I've been freezing all day – I should've brought a jacket."
Fin wasn't about to offer his sweater... he was finally warming up. But he would scoot over. "Sit in the sun. Nicholas doesn't think about anything but the end product when he's doing a shoot."
The girl moved to sit beside him, shoulder to shoulder, brushing against him. She was warm,he could feel her heat beside him. There were freckles on her nose, Fin noticed... she was kinda cute... in an unconventional way
"That's selfish," she said. "I never thought the fashion world would be so... cliché. I mean, I thought all those movies and TV shows were over the top. But really, these women will kill you just for looking at them... and those guys... ugh. They think they are fantastic just because they are models. And they spend more time in front of the mirror than I do in a month... maybe more."
"Then what are you doing here? If you don't mind me asking... how did you get the job in the first place?" The first strawberry was his. It was hard enough smuggling that sandwich up here,let alone a whole tray of food. But as a gopher, she was one of the untouchables – no one would try to steal her food. Well, except for him. That strawberry was the best thing he had eaten in weeks. He was sick of justeating protein bars to keep him skinny.
"Nepotism." She took a bite of her sandwich that was so full of tuna salad it was actually spilling from the side. It probably contained more calories than he was allowed in a day, and he was jealous. Well... he could eat... but then he would have to spend more time in he gym, workng on that six pack his agent insisted him on having. And right now, he didn't have the energy for that.
"What?" He must have misheard.
"Nicholas is my uncle. I am a … budding author – at least, I'm working on it." A writer, he thought – so she was creative. In her plain jeans and white shirt, she looked rather bland to be a creative type – but then again, you never knew... "This seemed like an interesting setting for a story, so I offered to work as an assistant for my uncle. Well really, it was more my mom – she called my uncle and practically forced him into it. She can be quite persuasive. And that's how I got here." She was staring at the horizon, looking a bit unhappy.
"How are you liking it so far?"
There was a huff. "Ask me again at the end of the day."
"Alright, simpler question. What's your name?"
She looked away from him. "Call me Sally."
"What's that short for?" Lighting his cigarette, he took a first draw.
"Nothing..." She crossed her arms defensively.
"That's not true. I've got a sixth sense for liars." In this business you needed it, or people would cheat you.
"Fine – maybe I don't want to tell you."
"Why not?" He didn't understand, but her whole demeanour seemed to change.
"Because I say so...stop blowing smoke my way."
"Sorry, just making conversation." He tried to stay relaxed, but she was getting very wound up.
"How long do you think that perfect skin is gonna last on a packet a day?" she bit at him.
He knew she was right, but..."What do you care?"
"You're right, I don't. It was just an observation. Never mind. Go ahead." She turned around and stomped out the same way she had come. "So much for getting a bit of fresh air," he heard her mumble as she left. The girl was okay, he thought – she had spunk after all. And she had left her tray.