By Connie Alexander
I’m not sure just what it is that wakes me but whatever it is it’s coupled with the vague notion that I’m being watched.
Being aware of nothing so much as still being bone-tired I try to shake it off and find sleep again. No such luck and the sound of crashing pots coming from the kitchen puts an end to my trying and wakes me enough to make me aware of my surroundings.
I’m laying face down on my pillow on the couch with one leg off and the other soon to be if I’m not careful.
Groaning I turn my head and pull myself back fully onto the couch. Peering through all the hair in my face I see the source of my sense of being watched, a skinny boy of about my own age, maybe a bit younger.
Confused I ask, “Who are you?”
With a crooked smile and laughing eyes behind his horn-rimmed glasses he replies, “Your future husband.”
Oh, just what I need. “Mom!”
“Morning, sweetheart. Kevin, breakfast is ready. Why don’t you join the boys?”
I look up behind me and see Mom coming into the living room.
“Okay, Mrs Conners,” with another smile at me he says, “later, beautiful.”
Groaning I pull my pillow over my face as Mom comes and sits down next to me.
“Who’s Waldo and what did Dad do, open a bed and breakfast while we were gone?”
Taking the pillow from my face I point towards the kitchen. “Him, my new stalker. Give him a knit hat and a red and white shirt and he’d be the spitting image of the ‘Where’s Waldo’ character.”
Mom chuckles and says, “That’s Kevin, he’s a friend of your brothers and he spent the night. Our other guests are Brandon, Jack and a friend of theirs, Mark. They were up visiting and Ellen and your father invited them to stay here.”
“But in my bed?”
With a grimace Mom replies, “Apparently there was a mix up and everyone thought PM for our arrival instead of AM. Sorry, honey.”
“Hrumpf. What time is it anyway?” I ask around a yawn.
“A bit before eight-thirty.”
“Eight-thirty? Cripes, no wonder I’m still exhausted. How can you look so refreshed?”
“I fake it well. I figured I’d better get up so I can sleep better tonight and fight the jet lag.”
“I don’t plan on fighting it, I surrender. Get me a white flag. Is Brandon up?”
“He just came down, why?”
“’Cause I’m moving to my own bed.”
Putting action to my words, I swing my legs down and stand up.
“Oh, you’re probably right about the jet lag so could you wake me around lunchtime?”
“Okay, honey, sleep well.”
Smiling I say, “Thanks, Mom,” and shuffle up to my room.
Entering my room I close the door behind me, fully close the blinds and fall into bed. It’s still warm and pulling up the covers I snuggle down into my pillow. As I fall back to sleep I can’t help but notice that my bed and pillow smell like a mixture of a pine forest and an herb garden. How strange.
Once again I feel like I’m being watched. I swear if it’s Waldo or whatever his name is, I’ll punch him.
Peeking through my lashes I see it isn’t Waldo but the smiling face of my sister.
“Morning, sunshine, or should I say afternoon, sleepyhead?”
Smiling and stretching as I come fully awake, I reach out and catching Ellen off guard, I pull her onto the bed.
Laughing I give her a hug. “I missed you.”
“Missed you too. We weren’t expecting you until this afternoon.”
“Yeah, I heard about the mix up. Want me to go and come back later?”
“Hmm, maybe,” she teases.
I give her a poke in the ribs then we both start laughing.
“Ellen, I have so much to tell you. These past few weeks have been such a blast.”
“And I want to hear every single detail. I have news too, guess what?”
“You and Jack are getting married?”
“No, not yet at any rate.”
“Ah ha, I knew it! How about you’re pregnant?”
“No,” she answers laughing.
“Oh, I know, you were the second gunman on the grassy knoll?”
“No and now you’re just being silly.”
“Okay, you’ve always been silly. No, the news is I’ll be showing in Bryant Park this spring! My line was one of the three that got chosen for New York Fashion week!”
At this news I sit up and hug her, both of us bouncing up and down with excitement. We continue as I get up and get dressed.
“Oh, Ellen, that’s so great. I bet ol’ what’s-her-name your model is glad she’s still with you.”
“Tee-hee, she isn’t, the bitch.”
“She bugged out on me saying she had a better chance with someone else and did it just before my review. Fortunately one of the agency girls was near enough to her build to work the clothes. She’s out and the review board is letting me pick a replacement from the girls that didn’t make the cut with the designers.”
“I’m so happy for you. Well a bit of my news is when we set up my contract with Next, I made sure they knew that if ever you need and want me and my schedule is open, then I walk for you gratis.”
Ellen starts to hug me which is a bit of a problem because she didn’t wait for me to finish putting my top on.
“Alex, that’s so great, thank you!”
“You might not want me once you see my walk but the offer will always be there.”
“You goof, of course I’d want you and I have seen your walk both on your comp CD and on YouTube. Some of the shows are already out and you’re in some.”
“I am? You’ve got to show me.”
I finish dressing and we continue to chat then we head on downstairs. I’m dressed for running but want to grab a light bite before I go.
Once downstairs we go into the kitchen where Brandon is at the counter talking with Mom. No one else is in sight.
“Hey, Brandon, ’morning Mom.”
“Good afternoon, sweetheart, sleep well?”
“Like the dead. Where is everyone?”
“Well your father is in his office. Bill, Mark and their friend are off to school and Jack and his friend Mark went to run some errands. Everyone is on their own for lunch, make sure you eat.”
“I will. I’m just going to get something light right now. I thought I’d go for a run to try to re-energize myself so I can make it through the day.”
“Want some company?” asks Brandon.
Looking over at him I reply, “Wellll…no offence but can you keep up?”
“I think I can manage,” he replies with a smile.
“Okay then but I’ll be leaving soon so you might want to go change: you’ll even have time to shave if you hurry.”
“Oh, Brandon is going for the scruffy look these days,” pipes in Ellen, “isn’t that right, Brandon?”
I wrinkle my nose and give my head a small shake. I’ve never liked that look on guys. Some of the male models I met wear it that way I guess to get the rugged look but I think it just looks unkempt.
“No, I’ve been meaning to shave, it’s just Alex was sleeping and since my stuff is in her bath I didn’t want to disturb her.” With that he gets up and goes upstairs.
Ellen’s eyes follow him then turn to me, then back to him and back to me again.
“What?” I ask as I build my smoothie.
“That was sudden—he’s been animated on keeping the look. You know, sis, you could do worse,” she says with a smile.
“What do you mean?...Oh no…”
“She’s too young,” interjects Mom.
“I’m too gay.”
“Don’t close your options until you try it and she’s the same age I was when I started dating and you too, Mom. Brandon’s a gentleman and I’m not saying go to bed with him but you ought to go on a date or two with a guy before you completely write them off your list. Besides, they can be fun if you train them right,” she adds with a smile.
Mom rolls her eyes and says, “Let her set her own pace and don’t push her.”
I just say, “I’m not having this conversation: I’m going for my run.”
I finish up my smoothie and yell upstairs, “If you’re going, you better hurry. I’m about to leave.”
“I’m almost ready, I’ll be right down,” I hear in reply.
Shrugging my shoulders I pull out my phone and give Blair a call and get her voicemail. I leave her a message to call me when she gets a break and as I’m hanging up, Brandon comes down the stairs.
When Ellen sees that Brandon is clean-shaven she starts to laugh which prompts Mom to pull her back into the kitchen.
I roll my eyes and with a quick, “Bye” I head out the door with Brandon.
Once outside I tell Brandon to, “Come on” and head down the drive at a jog. The gate’s open or I would have jumped the wall just to see if Brandon would try. We’ll see what he does when we get to the park.
At the park I jump up on the four-foot retaining wall and walk along it. The other side is about eight-feet down.
“Wanna play follow the leader?” I ask.
“What do you have in mind?”
With a smile I reply, “Just you go where I go and see if you can keep up.”
I’m still standing on the wall facing him.
“Great, come on.” And with that I do a back flip half-twist, land into a forward roll and am off across the park in a flash, laughing as I go.
Looking over my shoulder I see Brandon let himself down the wall and start after me. Wimp.
I let him catch up then start going up, around and through all of the playground equipment. Brandon bonks his head or his shins any number of times but still tries to follow. After running up the support pole for the big swing set, I sit and balance on the crossbar waiting for Brandon to catch up.
When he finally does I pat the bar next to me. He just smiles, shakes his head and sits on one of the swings catching his breath. I push myself off and land next to him and sit on the next swing.
Smiling he asks, “You do that all the time?”
“Nope, I didn’t want things too hard for you so I went easy.”
“Ha, and I thought I was in shape.”
“You are in shape, I’m just really good, probably one of the best around.”
“Modest too I see,” he replies with a smile.
Trying to form what I want to say just right I pause then respond, “It isn’t conceit. It’s not something I have a big head about, it’s just the truth.”
At his look I continue, “This is something I’ve really thought about lately, especially in relation to my modelling. Listen, you really are in good shape but not for this. You play water polo and that’s gruelling to do. It’s certainly something I can’t do very well and I’m not a bad swimmer but you’ve trained in the sport and are good just as I’ve trained and I’m good at what I do. Everyone has their strengths and I don’t see why you should be ashamed to mention them. Granted there isn’t a whole lot of space between stating fact and bragging, but it’s a line that can be walked so long as you don’t let it go to your head. I try to be very careful that it doesn’t go to mine.”
“I don’t think you have a big head, I was just teasing you a bit.”
“I know and I was teasing you. I guess because I’ve been thinking about it so much I’m a bit sensitive.”
“That sounds like something happened. Anything you’d like to talk about?”
I was about to say no but then I could tell that Brandon was really being sincere and then what surprised me even more was I realized that I do like Brandon, not as in, ‘he Tarzan, me Jane’ but as a friend.
“I don’t want to bore you.”
“You won’t, besides I’m good at listening and seeing how my brother and your sister are getting on, we’re practically family and if you can’t talk to family who can you talk to?”
“Okay then but you’ve been warned. Also, I haven’t worked all of this in my own head so bear with me I’ll probably ramble quite a bit.”
I pause to gather my thoughts then continue. “These last few weeks have been a real eye-opener for me. I think there are two worlds in fashion and modelling: The real world and the one that everyone not in the industry perceives. When I first started I really thought that there wasn’t anything about the industry that could be very hard—from modelling to designing. That is until I actually saw what everyone went through.
“It’s easy to open a magazine or see a fashion show and think that it must be easy. After all, how hard is it to get your picture taken or to walk in a straight line? No one thinks that to get that picture in the magazine took eight hours or more, with short breaks and being in constant uncomfortable poses or that the designer has spent the last six months designing and building their line and over the last few days prior to the show hasn’t slept more than a few minutes at a time or the model spending eighteen hours a day going to castings or fittings or running desperately between the two.
“Until I have to again, I am not putting anything on that has a heel. I can’t tell you how much my feet hurt. One show I was in, my heels were two sizes too small and I don’t think my feet have forgiven me yet. But I had to wear them and I had to do it without anyone seeing how uncomfortable I was. It’s all part of the job.
“I read an article, I can’t remember in what, where the author said that, and I quote, ‘self-absorbed, spoiled, jealous, mean, vapid: are some of the words that are used to describe models’ and she’s right you hear that a lot and then she went on to say that something seems to happen to a person when they become a model. That models are essentially being paid for what they were born with, and by implication they don’t need any talent, and that models are constantly being told that our body type and features are superior to others. This creates a powerful ego trip. We’re being paid for our looks, and on a daily basis we’re being treated differently and more privileged than everyone else that we, models, act entitled because well...we do always get what we want! People don’t say no to us because we’re pretty.
“It’s bullshit. I got so mad when I read this because I had just gotten back from doing castings and go-sees and heard nothing but ‘you’re too tall, too skinny, not skinny enough, too dark, too light, my eyes are wrong, I’m too sexy or not sexy enough, you’re too muscular, sorry, honey we’re looking for blondes today. I’ve got to tell you that you really have to have a thick skin in this business.
“Every girl I’ve met so far has been so nice, and that shocked me. I have to admit that I probably had a bit of that preconceived notion myself of models having these swelled heads and thinking they’re better than everyone else but I never saw it and I met some big time models too. If anything they were nicer than the others. On top of that, if you want to find a girl who’s insecure about their looks, then look no further than backstage at a fashion show. I’ve noticed, and I include myself, that models tend to be more insecure about how they look, not less. It’s probably due at least in part to the constant rejection you get in this business.
“Oh, I’m sure there are prima donnas out there, they’re in every profession and not just modeling. It surprises me that all models aren’t certifiable though. You spend ninety percent of your time being told you aren’t right because this is wrong about you or that is wrong about you, then when you get the job you hear nothing but how great you are and how well you’re doing. It’s messed up but I like doing it. Guess that makes me crazy too.”
I look over at Brandon and he smiles and says, “Probably a bit, yes. Nothing wrong with that though.”
I smile back and continue, “There was a rare bit of time I had between when I had to be somewhere so I sat down at this little café in Milan to have some coffee, a bite of pastry and just rest my feet. Mom had to run do something and I just welcomed the chance to rest.
“The café was quite full and with little available space to sit. I was just sipping my coffee and resting my eyes when a shadow blocked the sun from my face and a rather timid voice speaking horrendous Italian asked if they could join me at my table.
“Opening my eyes I saw two young ladies looking expectantly at me. I smiled and taking a chance from their accent I said yes in English.
“I can’t even remember their names but they sat down and were very chatty and friendly. They asked if I was a model and I said yes, at which they seemed far too impressed. Anyway, they were going through this fashion magazine and commenting on things when one paused on a page, squinted, and looked closer at the magazine.
“‘Wait,’ she said, ‘Doesn’t that look a little like?...’ and then she hesitated.
“‘Like who?’ her friend asked.
“‘No, I don’t know. I was gonna say, she looks a little bit like me.’ After saying this she looked immediately guilty and started to apologize. ‘I mean, not a lot, but maybe just a little—there’s something about her face from that angle. Do you know what I mean?’ She pushed the picture closer to me, still talking. ‘I’m not at all saying that I’m that pretty. Obviously she’s really beautiful and I am not, I’m not a model or anything. But for a second she just reminded me—’
“‘No, no,’ I said quickly, ‘I can totally see it. She has the same high cheekbones and her features are sort of delicate like yours. I can definitely see it.’ And I pushed the magazine over to her friend.
“‘Yeah, right? I mean, I’m much less—’
“‘You’re beautiful,’ her friend said.
“‘Aw,’ she said, laughing and shaking her head no. ‘You don’t have to say that.’
“‘She is.’ And I had to agree with her friend. No, she couldn’t be a model, she was too short and didn’t quite have the figure but that didn’t make her or her friend for that matter any less beautiful.
“And I catch myself doing it, too. That thing you do when you suddenly realize you’re complimenting your own appearance. When you’ve gone too far and implied that maybe you’re pretty. It’s almost like a nervous reflex. Oh no, what if someone corrects me, and tells me, ‘All right now, honey, let’s not get too carried away here...’
“I met a girl in Milan, another model, who never does this. She’s from Poland I think, and sometimes I wonder if it isn’t a cultural difference. She says things like, ‘Of course, everyone was checking me out’ and ‘I know I look good right now.’ And she doesn’t sound like she’s bragging or obnoxious or conceited. She sounds like she owns a mirror and has looked in it before. She smiles sometimes when she says these things, as if to acknowledge that people aren’t really supposed to say them.
“I remember laughing out loud the first time I heard her comments, not really believing someone would say something like that and I shook my head in disbelief.
“I keep telling myself that I am not beautiful like these other models, why am I here? I can’t compete…
“Movie stars and supermodels are supposed to find, and identify their own physical flaws so when they’re interviewed they can prove that they’re real people too. You know the voice-over in an ‘E! True Hollywood Story’ would put it like, ‘What she REALLY thinks about love, her hair and being the latest greatest whatever.’
“And when we see these stories we think, Oh my god. It’s shocking. She thinks her thighs are too fat! They’re not fat at all! She thinks her eyes are too big! But that’s her most famous characteristic! She thinks her boobs are too perky! She’s eating a burger in this picture, as though she eats them all the time!
“We read these things and we think that she’s insecure like us. We find it refreshing, thinking to ourselves, I’m glad it hasn’t gone to her head. I’m glad she doesn’t think she’s too pretty.
“I think that’s wrong, why can’t we take pride in the way we look no matter?…”
I pause and gather my thoughts before continuing and Brandon gratefully lets me do so. “This has been both the best and worst year of my life. I must have pissed off some old Chinese guy ’cause the old Chinese curse of ‘may you live in interesting times’ certainly applies to me.
“Growing up I always thought I was a boy and I never really felt right in my own skin but since I never knew anything different, I didn’t question it. Then low and behold it turns out I’m not a boy but a girl and once the chaos of that discovery settles down I feel like I’ve had an enormous weight lifted off of my shoulders: being a girl is right and I feel it down to the center of my being.
“So, there I was just getting used to the idea of being a girl when my puberty that had already started, and how we found out I was a girl, really takes off and I mean at warp speed. My development,” and I wave at my body, “is happening at a tremendous rate. Dad had the same thing happen to him and it is not pleasant. You’re in constant pain from growing so fast, you can’t keep your balance ’cause your equilibrium is constantly being messed with and the clothes that fit last week no longer fit you this week, a regular and quite literal pain in the ass.
“Now then, throw on top of this kid who just found out that she’s really a girl and not a boy and then starts growing super-fast, that she’s not bad looking. Don’t get me wrong it beats the alternative but things are coming a bit fast and wild to handle, especially with the constant chatter and dialog everywhere it seems that being pretty, I mean really pretty, is bad. All girls should celebrate their own individual looks, unless you’re really pretty, don’t go after what the models represent: a bunch of chain-smoking, anorexic heroin users with a conceited self-absorbed mindset. If you’re really pretty, well, you know how pretty girls are…well, there certainly seems to be a double standard out there—be proud of how you look unless you look good, then keep quiet.
“So here I go, trying to deal with all of that when…when I get kidnapped.
“…One of the things, well besides just being a sick sadistic bitch, one of the things she wanted was to make me ugly, and not just on the outside. She wanted to do to me what she did to Luther. If I was ugly, if I felt that I was worthless inside and out, that because of how I looked and how I felt about myself, then I would look only to her. That’s why she beat me and…well other things. If she hadn’t felt pressured to kill me then things would have really gotten bad.”
Brandon has a surprised look on his face and asks, “Worse than what she already had done?”
“Yeah, Luther had extensive scaring, physical scaring. Inside I’m sure it was so much worse.
“She hated all forms of beauty. She was the type I think who could never see the beauty in themselves so she had to destroy it wherever she saw it. Why, I don’t know, and I don’t care. But because of her, because she came so close I keep telling myself that it’s okay to be pretty, ’cause if it’s something she hated, then it must be good.”
At some point I started crying and Brandon started holding me to comfort me.
“I’m not really sure why I’m worried. So what if someone thinks I’m arrogant? So what if someone thinks I’m not that gorgeous? Wouldn’t it be better to go through life feeling gorgeous anyway? Or at least pretty. I’ll take pretty.
“It doesn’t happen very often, but every so often I think I’m really lovely. Occasionally, I am content and pleased with this whole person that I seem to be turning into. I keep trying to feel like that more and more but I find that the rest of the time, I’m apologizing, mostly to myself. I’m backing away slowly, my hands up, waving placatingly. I’m making sure no one gets the wrong impression. I’m not a threat!
“That girl at the café did look like the model in the magazine but even if she had compared herself to another model who looked nothing like her, would it have really mattered? And if she had said, ‘I would look amazing in that dress she’s wearing. I have the legs for it,’ would there be something wrong with that? What if she had stood up and yelled, ‘I am friggin’ gorgeous!’ Well, sure, that would’ve been a little weird, but really—whatever. It would be better for her to think that. It would be better for us all to think that. But at the very least, it would be better for us to stop apologizing, to stop feeling guilty or wrong or whatever about how we look.”
As Brandon holds me, gently rubbing my back, he says, “You are beautiful. Don’t doubt that. Inside and out, you’re beautiful.”
Pulling back from him I smile up then lean in and kiss him on the cheek. Wiping the tears from my face I reply, “Thanks, Brandon, thanks for listening...and lending me a shoulder to cry on.”
“You’re lucky: usually I really get into bawling, stuffy runny nose and all. Especially when…oh crap, I did it again.”
“What, what’s wrong?”
“I was going to say, ‘especially when I haven’t taken my meds’. Guess what? I haven’t lately. All the traveling has screwed up my schedule and to tell you the truth, I hate taking them. Remind me when we get back. Speaking of which, we’d better go. Thanks again for listening.”
“And like I said, anytime. I mean that too. If you ever need an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on, call me.”
As we start to jog back I reply, “I will.” And start to laugh.
“What’s so funny?”
“Ellen thinks we’d make a good couple.”
“Oh, ah well…”
“Don’t look so frightened, I’m not looking.”
“Listen, Alex, I meant what I said, you are truly beautiful, you’re also smart and funny, it’s just…”
“I’m fifteen and you don’t want a serious relationship right now anyway.”
“Well, yeah. Friends though?”
“Yeah, friends, and I am only fifteen, well almost sixteen, and I’m not looking for a serious relationship either.”
We smile at each other and finish the run home.
When we get near the house we agree that he’ll go upstairs to use the shower and change so he can get his stuff out of my room and I’ll stay downstairs and get something to eat…and my meds.
Once inside Brandon goes upstairs and I nearly collide with Ellen leaving the kitchen.
Wiggling her eyebrows, Ellen asks, “So, how was your run with Brandon?”
“Great and you know something? You were right, I could do worse so I’m going to get the whipped cream out of the fridge and then we’re going upstairs and have some crazy sex!”
Ellen’s eyes go wide and there’s a crash and the sound of something breaking in the kitchen. Peering around Ellen, there’s Dad with an even greater stunned look on his face.
I start to laugh and say, “…No Dad…I was just…teasing…” and at this point I’m on the ground laughing so hard I can’t stand. Ellen starts to laugh too and Dad just looks confused until I can finally get out that I was teasing Ellen and that Brandon and I are just friends. Dad doesn’t look one hundred per cent convinced, especially when Brandon comes down after his shower and joins us for lunch. He keeps shooting daggers Brandon’s way while Brandon looks confused by mine and Ellen’s constant giggles.
If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudo!
Click the Good Story! button above to leave the author a kudo:
And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks.