“Nice, Hart! Give it to me, now,” famous photographer Sam Galloway said with another bright flash. “That’s it. Lift your chin up a little more.” He was down on one knee now, angling his camera up at me as I tried to look wistful. That was the vibe we were going for that day for an article about cologne for GQ, the magazine I modeled exclusively for now.
Senter Comme Homme was the fourth cologne I’d modeled for this month, and in my opinion, it smelled the worst. Who wanted to smell like pine needles and tar with a hint of seaweed? But I couldn’t let my opinion of the scent make me look any less daydreamy as I looked off into the distance, pretending I was looking for a familiar face in the crowd. I’d been doing my best to make all of the pictures for the magazine article look different, but I wasn’t sure it was working out as planned at the moment. Not with this many people standing around.
That was the actual problem for me today. A crowd. Why in the world were there so many people staring at me, milling about on the set, while I was trying to concentrate? People think that modeling is the easiest job in the world. Stand there and look good for the camera. Let the photographer push the button a few times, make your millions, go home and watch your eighty-inch LED TV while you stroke your pet miniature giraffe. People are wrong, though. A lot more goes into modeling than anyone who hasn’t done it could ever imagine.
With all of these distractions going on around me, fear that I was giving him more “little kid lost in a department store looking for his mother” than “vulnerable yet tough guy who will defend you in a bar fight but also rub your feet after dinner” shot through me. This was going to take forever.
“Raise your eyes a bit,” Sam instructed. “Good. Now, a little less… resentful.”
The resentfulness had to do with the people pointing at me. I needed a break to find out what the hell was going on. Most of the time, there were four or five people on a set, tops. Today, there were at least three dozen, and it wasn’t like they were there to help with the props.
“Can I take a break?” I asked Sam. “I need some water.”
“Sure, sure, of course. Anything you need, Mr. Erickson,” Sam’s assistant, Lydia, who was a people pleaser for certain, told me with a bright smile. “Will ten minutes do?”
“Yes, thank you.” I gave her a brief head nod and stepped away from the backdrop we’d been using to green screen in a cityscape later. Originally, we’d talked about filming on top of the building, but the wind was too strong today, and Sam had been afraid it would mess up my hair. Thank god for modern technology.
My assistant was there the moment I stepped off set, thrusting a bottle of water into my hand. “Here you go, Hart,” Pete said with a smile. “You’re knocking them dead.”
I popped the top and took a long drink before thanking him. He was young, enthusiastic, and organized, which was why he’d had the job for a couple of months now. Most of the time, my assistants didn’t last long because they were missing one of those key components, but I thought Pete could be here long-term if he kept it up.
He wasn’t the person I needed to speak with, though. This particular advertising shoot was so important, my agent had decided to come today. She was one of the extra people hanging out behind Sam’s camera, but it didn’t explain all of the others. I gave her a little wave, and when Phyllis finished her conversation with one of the executives from GQ, she came over to me with a smile on her face that told me whatever was going on, I was supposed to be happy about it.
Phyllis Anderson had been my agent for almost eight years, since I’d first gotten started in this business. She was almost old enough to be my grandmother, but nothing about her screamed “let’s bake cookies.” No, she was a no-nonsense haggler known for her business sense and fashionable appearance. Her heels were always the highest in the room, unless we were at a haute-couture runway show, and she always looked like she’d spent a million bucks on her outfit, which maybe she did. She could afford it, as good as she was at her job. Phyllis made money when I made money, and I made lots of money.
“Is everything all right, Hart?” she asked me, straightening my collar that didn’t need straightening. “You looked a little constipated in those last shots.”
I grimaced. Was she really going to use that comparison? “I’m a little off today,” I admitted. Everyone had their good days and bad days, no matter what their line of work. “What’s going on? Why are there so many people standing around today?”
“Oh, well, while you were in the middle of the shoot, GQ announced that they are hosting the annual Face of the Year award in a couple of months, and of course, everyone expects you to go home with the main prize. So… everyone wants to speak with you about it.”
My mouth dropped open as I realized what she was saying. Those people standing around out there weren’t just any ol’ oglers. No, they were reporters, the worst kind of audience one could possibly have for something like this, especially when having a bad day. They were like sharks, circling around, waiting for me to accidentally give myself a proverbial papercut so they could rip a limb off.
“It’s fine, Hart,” Phyllis said dismissively. “You can answer a few quick questions when you’re done with the shoot, and then you can go on about the rest of your day.”
I couldn’t help the heavy sigh that left my lips. “Phyllis, you know exactly what they’re going to ask me, and I absolutely do not have an answer for them.” I ran a hand through my hair and then realized I’d probably brushed out all of the product. Cindy would have to come and fix it before we started shooting again.
“Well, maybe you’ll think of someone,” Phyllis said with a shrug. “You’re the most eligible bachelor in the entire city, maybe the country. Of course, they want to know who you’re going to bring with you to such a major event. And I’m sure they’d like a word or two about how amazing it feels to be nominated.”
“I don’t mind discussing the nomination,” I assured her. “It’s the rest of what you just said that I don’t want to talk about.” Pulling her even further away from where the reporters were salivating, many of them holding notebooks or tape recorders now that I wasn’t actively shooting and they thought I might be free to speak to them at any second, I took a deep breath. They looked like wolves on the prowl.
“You don’t have to name anyone today.” Phyllis seemed so nonchalant about the entire distressing situation, it sort of made me want to take her as my date. How would she like it to have the spotlight on her for a change? I doubted her husband of thirty years, Melvin, would appreciate that, though.
“I guess I’ll think of something,” I said with a sigh. This wasn’t going to make it any easier to finish the photoshoot for a cologne I honestly did think should be called eau de toilette—toilette water in English—because it smelled a lot like something one should do in the bathroom.
Patting my cheek, Phyllis did remind me a bit of a grandmother now when she said, “I’m sure you’ll think of something, dear. Now, I will herd these cats into another room with the promise of getting a chance to speak with you so you can get back to looking for your long-lost love somewhere over by the espresso machine.”
I couldn’t help but chuckle at that. When put into the context of what we were actually doing while we were modeling, it did sound a little silly.
Cindy came over and fixed my hair while the makeup girl applied fresh powder, and then I headed back to the set where Sam was ready to get started. This time, with everyone out of the room who didn’t need to be there, I was able to give him exactly what he wanted, and within ten more minutes, we were done.
That meant it was time to face the music with the wolf-sharks.
I paused for another drink of water, and Phyllis came back into the room to get me. “Don’t be nervous,” she said. “You’ve spoken to thousands of reporters over the years. They all like you, especially the girls.” She gave me a little wink and giggled, sort of like some of the women did when they attempted to flirt with me.
“I’m not nervous about the discussion, just the questions,” I reminded her. “I still have no idea who I’m going to take.”
“Don’t feel pressured to take a date,” she said, which left me a little stunned. “I know it’s expected, and it will be more fun that way, but you don’t have to take anyone at all.”
“I think I’m supposed to,” I told her. “And honestly, it might be worse for me if I don’t take anyone. If I have a date, it’s less likely to draw attention to the fact that I’m currently single. But if I go alone, well, there are bound to be plenty of women who want to know how their chances look.”
“Good point.” We were near the door that led to the room where she’d assembled everyone for what I hoped would be a brief press conference. “I’ll tell you what. For now, play it off like it’s a surprise or something, and I’ll figure it out.”
I looked at her with wide eyes, not sure what she meant by that. “You’ll figure it out? What are you going to do, Phyllis? Conjure up some vixen temptress from another dimension? I think I’ve basically gone through every single eligible bachelorette in the city by now, and they all pretty much end up being train wrecks.”
A crooked grin spread across her face. “Leave it to me, dear. Have I ever steered you wrong before?” She lifted a perfectly sculpted eyebrow, and I recognized the fact that she had not.
“All right. I trust you,” I told her.
Phyllis patted my shoulder. “As you should.”
Everyone was in a tizzy as I walked into the room, and several of the reporters who couldn’t control themselves started shouting questions. That didn’t go over well with Phyllis. She got them to quiet down and began calling on them in an organized fashion. She really was magical in many ways. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so worried about this date situation after all.
The reporters launched all kinds of questions at me about the shoot today, my excitement about the upcoming awards show, and how I felt to be nominated for the top award. I answered them all with as much charisma as I could muster after a long photoshoot that I felt didn’t best reflect my abilities as a professional model. I was tired. I wanted to go home.
I might be off the hook. We’d gotten through most of the reporters, and no one had dared to ask the question I dreaded. But then, a petite woman with her hair up in a severe bun wearing a white button-down shirt and a black pencil skirt began to speak, and my heart dropped into my stomach.
“Mr. Erickson, I’m Serenity Hightower with Exposition Daily.”
Oh, no. Anyone but Exposition Daily. Her professional attire was misleading. She worked for the biggest gossip rag in the country.
“Yes, Ms. Hightower?” I said, keeping my faux smile plastered to my face.
“Who will you be bringing as a date to the event? We all want to know!” She held a tape recorder thrust out in front of her, and as I looked around the room, so did many of the other reporters. She was right—everyone did want to know.
With my best movie star grin, I said the only thing I could think of. “I guess we’ll just wait and see.”