Garret said to meet him on the Lovers’ Bridge, which I found hilarious considering he and I had dated for an entire two weeks back in high school before deciding that we should never, ever try that crap with each other again. He must have forgotten or simply didn’t care. I didn’t care either, but the irony amused me. He’d only chosen the spot because it was near him and near the pubs on Riverside Avenue.
I’d been banged up in my studio for four days, and just a stroll down the streets did wonders to my head. Quitting a job in anger with no backup plan was not quite what I’d planned to do last week, but I supposed luck had something against me. Planning it or not, I ended up without a job, no matter how menial and boring, and with just enough money to get me through the next month. My grand plan of action? Meet up with Garret and Lee for a drink.
It would all be fine. A cup of coffee never meant financial ruin.
They stood in the middle of the bridge, leaning over the railing, staring at their phones and chatting half-heartedly, while their thumbs scrolled the feeds. I sneaked up and stood, but neither noticed me.
“You two are such zombies, God,” I moaned.
Garret looked up. “There he is.” He slapped Lee’s shoulder. “C’mon.”
Lee winked as a way of greeting and grinned afterward. “We thought you were exiled from the country.”
“Nope. Just exiled from the kitchen of a multi-million dollar fast-food chain,” I said.
Garret laughed. “Which one is this? Third? Fourth?”
“Ha-ha.” It was true, though. It looked like I couldn’t keep a job. They weren’t the jobs worth keeping, but since when could beggars choose?
I followed Garret and Lee off the bridge and, to the left, down Riverside Avenue. The evening lights bathed the street orange and yellow. The summer rainstorm had made the air fresh, if only a tad too humid, and people in sleeveless T-shirts walked by. My gaze darted from one man to another, each hotter than the last. It was escapism at its finest, picturing these men with less fabric covering their torsos. It was almost like a hobby of mine. Some people collected stamps or wrote about the birds they spotted. I pictured undressing cute guys in all sorts of positions. Perhaps I should have written these down and called it a hobby for real.
“How about there?” Garret asked.
Lee shrugged and called it fine.
I didn’t protest, either. All the bars and pubs on Riverside Avenue were exactly the same. Sure, the shade of wood was a little different, and some had barrels instead of tables; others used colorful bulbs while some preferred the traditional orange glow of their lights, but the prices were the same, and the menus were nearly identical.
We sat down, and I felt the first breeze of chill air pass around me, sending tingles down my bare arms. I rubbed my hands together and checked the menu to keep myself occupied. When the waiter came around to take our orders, I was ready. What I wasn’t ready for was when the waiter brought our drinks, and I reached for my wallet. Garret pushed my hand away and shook his head, then paid for all three of us.
“Garret,” I whispered.
“It’s fine,” he said. “Don’t worry about it.” He gave me his signature fuckboy smile, then grabbed his phone. “That T-shirt looks cute on you.” He wasn’t flirting with me. We’d sworn not to go down that road again. Our relationship had been a meager attempt of two gay boys to have a semblance of normalcy in their high-school lives. Everyone around us had experienced those teenage relationships, and we’d been friends for a long time; we’d come out to one another. Still, a kiss later, we both knew it wouldn’t work. There was no attraction between us then, and there was none now. Love? There was plenty of that. Garret was my best friend, with Lee sharing the spot now.
Garret took a photo of me before I even had the time to give a shy laugh in protest and shook his head. “Some people just have it all,” he said. He turned the phone for me to see, and true enough; I looked pretty cute. My black hair shone with the orange reflection of the lights above us, eyes caught looking somewhere distant, half-smile frozen in time, and arms bare with hints of muscles and tanned skin. “Do you know how long it takes me to prepare for a shoot?” he asked rhetorically and chuckled.
“I guess I’m just blessed.” I shrugged.
“You should do some modeling,” said Lee after he’d glanced at the photo.
I just laughed it off.
“Seriously, you’ve got what it takes,” he said. “Apart from confidence, but that would come.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” said Garret and frowned. “It’s not like you’re busy doing anything else.”
I gave him the look to drop that train of thought, but he snickered and went on.
“It’s not the most stable job in the world, I grant you that, but an easy buck here and there wouldn’t do you any harm.”
“I don’t know.” I sighed and thought about it. I’d done a bit of modeling in high school. It was nothing spectacular, but I could hold my own. To say it paid little would be an understatement of the year, but back then, anything was better than nothing. That much never changed.
I wasn’t quite desperate yet, but I knew this cycle well. I would lose a job, cling to some hope of something inexplicable turning my luck around, and slowly embrace the reality that those things never happened in real life, then start the grind all over again.
No, I wasn’t desperate yet. Next week, though? I could already see the beads of panic sweat on my brow.
“I’ll get you in touch with my agent,” said Garret. “You’d need a few head-shots.”
“I’ll do those,” said Lee. “We can meet up tomorrow for a shoot.”
He was no pro, but he could do well with his camera. It wasn’t half as bad an idea as I’d thought. “I don’t know,” I said again. “What the hell, let’s do it.” I forced those words out with fake excitement and nodded as if to make my body feel it, to provoke the desire inside of me that wasn’t there yet.
Garret clapped his hands. “Brilliant. I’ll call my agency in the morning and check for updates.”
“And I’ll pick you up around three,” said Lee. “We can do a shoot on the bridges.”
I would have told them they were the best, but they would just tease me for saying it, so I nodded instead and kept my sentimental mouth shut.
Lee picked up his beer and caught my glance. “Want a sip, kiddo?” He laughed out loud.
The joke never seemed to get old for him. He was twenty-one, Garret and I were nineteen. Those eighteen months of difference meant he had a free pass to drink beer in front of us and make it look like he’d achieved something unachievable.
Garret and I shared a look and let him have it.
The next morning, the alarm I kept forgetting to turn off woke me up at six. Once awake, I couldn’t fall asleep again. I stared at the ceiling and pictured the life of those popular models I’d seen online. They seemed to have it all, even if it was all fake. I couldn’t tell whether it was fake. Maybe they were just rich boys who picked up modeling because of their looks. Maybe they really earned their status by being a part of the industry. I liked the second thought more because it meant there still was a way for me to escape the treadmill.
It wasn’t until I’d finished my morning cup of coffee that my phone buzzed, and I picked up.
“Good news.” It was Garret. “The agency has some new stuff going on. They want your headshots.”
“Really?” I asked, not quite believing it could be so easy.
“Yeah, there are a few projects about to start. They’re looking for some fresh faces. I gotta say, I’ve got a good feeling about this, Dyl.” His voice was encouraging, and I almost dared to hope.
“Thanks,” I said, but it didn’t feel right. “I mean it, Garret. Thank you.”
“C’mon, you know it’s not a problem. You deserve a break.”
I laughed. “It’s not a done deal yet.”
“I know, but there’s no reason not to hope. I’m sure you’ll get in.”
Garret promised to be there for the shoot and bring me more details about the projects the agency he modeled for was working on, then said goodbye.
I made my way to the bathroom, took off my pajamas, and glanced at the mirror. I’d taken care of my eyebrows the other day, and they still looked neat. My skin was clear; my eyes sparkled under the light. I had the gift of a good body; my muscles responded well to any exercise, so I wasn’t a toothpick in a trench coat, but could pull off wearing a lot of things most people wouldn’t dare wear. That had to be a plus.
I took a long shower, finally able to afford to pamper a little, if only in time, and had a grooming session. Making sure I was all smoothly shaved didn’t make a difference to someone who wouldn’t see me undress, but it made all the difference to me. It empowered me and gave me the courage to face the world. It made me feel sexy and strong.
As I dried myself with a big, fluffy towel, I pressed my groin with it and pushed the towel down. Something about the pressure there turned me on a little, and I glanced at the mirror only to find my face blushing from the combination of scalding water, steam, and this sensation running through my body.
With plenty of cologne and a bit of hair product, I wrapped up my hour and a half of pampering, put on a pair of tight black pants that were in stark contrast with my red striped boxer briefs, and a lithe, sleeveless T-shirt with loose edges. The T-shirt revealed a bit of skin on my sides and was ripped a little in places to tease at more. I wasn’t sure whether any of it would be visible in the photos since it had been a few years since the last time I did any sort of shoots, but it, too, encouraged me.
I strolled down the street under the burning sun with a pair of glasses shielding my eyes and felt like I was doing a catwalk. Quite a few people spotted me and kept their gazes on me. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it.
Garret and Lee waited for me at the exact spot as last night. Lee had his camera hanging from his neck, and Garret had made sure he looked gorgeous as usual because he never left his home before reaching his top shape.
“Wow, look at this Sugar Baby,” he said and whistled.
“Shut up,” I threw back at him.
“It’s a thought, too,” said Lee. “If this doesn’t work out, you can always find yourself a Sugar Daddy.”
I bit my lip to suppress a chuckle.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” I said. The Lovers’ Bridge was for pedestrians only, so we had plenty of space to move around. I leaned against the railing, my back turned to the river, my head turned to the right, and my chest facing Lee and his camera.
From the corner of my eye, I could see Lee examine the angles and take a few test shots. The snapping of the shutter did something to me, and my chest trembled. Then I saw Garret circle behind Lee and position himself in front of me, just outside the frame.
“So, we’ll send the pics today,” he said. “They made some deals with photographers…”
“Look at me,” said Lee.
I did, just above the lens. My body shifted in the flow and I moved my weight from one foot to the other, swayed my shoulder back and forth. As Lee took a step back, I felt naughty. My hand reached for the edge of my T-shirt and lifted it. When I looked down at my body, I found an inch and a half of my red striped boxer briefs peeking above the edge of my pants.
“Mr. Sexy Panties,” Lee said.
“… and they’ll check out the photos that the agents selected. It’s basically up to the artists to choose from there. If someone expresses interest, you’ll have the interview, a test shoot possibly, and then the answer. If you’re hired, you’re hired. If not, your portfolio will move to the next artist that might be interested.”
“No catwalks?” I asked and grinned. Lee took a photo of that moment.
“Not right now,” said Garret. “But it’s possible, later.”
“Done,” said Lee. “How about we try a different spot?”
He already started walking, and Garret and I followed. Lee wasn’t looking where he was going. Instead, he was browsing through the shots he’d taken and nodding to himself.
“Now, don’t panic,” said Garret. “You can always say no if an artist picks you.”
I cocked my head and frowned. “Why would I panic?”
Garret had a little smirk on that never boded well. “Nicholas Sanchez is one of the new photographers.”
My heart skipped a beat.
Lee stopped browsing and turned to look at Garret. “Seriously?” he gasped.
It had been at least a year since I last heard of him. Nicholas Sanchez was one of the most famous photographers around and often behind a lot of emerging faces that later had successful careers. He also disappeared from the public eye and locked all his social media accounts.
“I heard he sleeps with all his models,” said Lee.
“Yes, we know,” said Garret. He turned to me. “You don’t have to accept if you don’t want to work with him. And not just because of the rumors, but because he can be a tough man to work with. I mean, I don’t know what’s true and what isn’t, but one thing is certain, he’s not just any random guy with a camera.” He looked at Lee, and we all burst out laughing, but it didn’t last long.
Nicholas Sanchez wasn’t a hated figure. Quite the opposite, he’d been loved and hailed as a proper artist in this community. Still, he was a controversial one. The least of it was the fact that his entire body of work featured nudity and erotic art.
Would I even attract his attention? My mind skipped ahead, and I pictured that interview, then those photo shoots. Would I even be able to undress in front of the camera, or would I cave in and let my fears take over? I couldn’t answer that, and I had a feeling I wouldn’t be able to answer it until the moment of truth arrived.
I was getting ahead of myself. It didn’t matter because he wouldn’t pick me.
After all, he had plenty of boys competing for his attention.
Still… If he did, it would be a life-changer. For better or worse? That remained to be seen.