“Are you sure? You’ll be the one getting the harassment for it.”
During the course of their dinner, Marianne’s signature Russian Red lipstick had left increasingly spreading marks along the rim of her water glass. The inner edges of her mouth were now pink instead of a biting red, but the simple flaw did nothing to lessen her beauty. Her sharp cheek line, pointed nose, and fanning lashes had bought her many a magazine cover and, more recently, several starring roles in summer blockbusters. Before she had even received her Caesar salad—hold the Caesar—there had been several fawning passersby who had paused outside the restaurant window in order to wave or to try and snap less than discreet photos. Enis, while he wasn’t getting his hopes up, did like to imagine that at least one of them had waved to him as well.
“Yeah, no problem,” Enis reassured her. Harassment was not exactly along the lines of what he wanted to get out of the arrangement, but the value of the attention that harrassment brought could not be diminished. “I’ll get the press out of it too. It’ll be fine.”
“Is it the press you want, though?” she asked, running painted fingernails through starkly black hair. The color went well with the red lipstick. For as long as they had been friends, Enis could not be sure of her natural color. Unlike his own, hers changed depending on her ongoing projects. He expected it to be different the next time he saw her and rather envied her hairdresser.
“No such thing as bad press, right?” Enis winked, using his fork to push around the final bite of his roasted chicken with fresh garden herbs and a mandarin reduction. He still could not believe the waiter had actually waited for him to read the full name of the dish while ordering.
Marianne rolled her heavily mascara-laden eyes and left more of her lipstick behind as she sipped the last of her water. Enis quickly swapped their glasses to make sure she had a full one. “So what's the story I sell them?”
“Whatever you want,” Enis replied. He had thought she might already have an idea, since she had been the one to propose the scheme.
“Enis, darling, please.”
Enis flipped his blonde hair, using the motion as an excuse to check over his shoulder. He could see the sun flare off the nearby camera lens, all ready to go. “Say I made a comment about your recent botox.”
Marianne’s beautiful face instantly went sour. Rather than use the glass of water he had pushed toward her earlier, she grabbed the half-empty mimosa that had been resting at the edge of their table and threw it straight into his face.
The woman seated behind him gasped, springing up to check what had hit her.
Enis groaned. “Really, the champagne?” The drink in the face he had expected. The stickiness that would accompany it was less welcome.
“Sorry,” she whispered, making sure to bang the table on her way up. She cleared her throat and scowled, raising her voice to a highly audible level. “How dare you?!”
“How dare I?! How dare you?!” Enis shouted back, gesturing down at his soaked designer shirt before mouthing, “Get out of here.”
Marianne did, making a show of storming off. As she passed him, she flipped her middle finger and whispered, “Thank you.”
Napkin raised to dab the combination of orange juice and champagne off his face, Enis adopted a look of utter scandal as their waiter rushed to his side, accepting the few more napkins held to him. He had caught the camera flashes going off, affirming that their “outburst” had been documented. Marianne would be outside, huffing like the wonderful actress that she was, and the paparazzo who had been observing the entirety of their lunch would be having a field day.
Enis did make a show of flicking mimosa from his hands, rising from his seat and gracefully avoiding the remnants of drink dripping off the side of the table. He excused himself, avoiding eye contact with the other diners.
The attempt to rinse and dry his shirt in the restaurant bathroom went only about a thousand times worse than Enis had expected. Marianne was going to owe him double for the mimosa assault. As if he hadn’t set his glass of water in front of her for that exact purpose. He was certain, however, that if he brought it up she would sell him a line about how the mixed drink sold the act better: a woman scorned by the careless comments of a brainless model. What did it say about her taste that she was the one who invited him out, then?
Enis paused to look at his unamused reflection in the mirror, glaring at himself. No, that didn’t work for the story, did it? He was definitely the one who had asked her out. Rubbing elbows, buying influence through four-star restaurant tabs. Even the avocado toast had been twenty-five dollars. Ridiculous. Not that either of them would dare eat carbs.
“Uhhh, dude. Do you mind?”
Enis stood bare-chested in front of the hand dryer, dipping his shirt in and out of the device. He still had a booking after this and while he would be getting a change of clothing at the fitting, after it finished he did not fancy putting back on a shirt that would, at that point, be gummy with dried orange juice and champagne. So, he had done the smart thing and rinsed the shirt in the restroom sink. However, while the patented Dyson Airblade was a wonder for drying hands, the lack of heat it generated made drying his shirt an agonizingly slow process. He could take bets for a snail and molasses jar race while he waited, to pad his vacation fund.
“No, go ahead.” Enis stepped aside to let the other restaurant patron dry his hands, touching up and down the fabric of his shirt as he waited. Still damp. He should probably just run down the block to a coin laundry. If the paparazzo was still around, it would generate more press. Enis glanced down at himself. Hmm, maybe, but only if he remembered to keep his stomach sucked in as he ran. The post-brunch photos would be doing a favor only to Marianne.
“Thanks, man. Sorry about your girl. She was hot, though.”
“The crazy ones always are,” Enis joked back, sighing. At least this bloke had washed his hands. The two less-than-gentlemen prior to him had simply left after finishing with their business. He doubted that his dominion over the hand dryer had contributed to that.
It took him a grand total of ten minutes to get his shirt rinsed and adequately dried, though it did sit oddly once he slipped it back on. He did a quick check in the mirror, adjusted his hair, and headed back into the restaurant.
To give the waiter credit, he did wear a look of concern as he waited beside their table. Enis had hoped for the goodness in the world for all of one moment, until he was handed the check presenter. All that and he wasn’t even comped the meal, how tragic. More tragic was that he did not have enough cash in his wallet to slap down some bills and leave with an air of head-held-high dignity. Instead, he was forced to hang by the table, fielding curious looks from other customers as he waited to receive back his credit card. Charming. Fantastic. Hi. Yes, yes, he was the one from the recent Dior cologne commercials, and if anyone wanted to take a selfie, he would be more than happy to pos—
“Your card, sir.”
With a muttered thanks, Enis doubled the sales tax onto the tip line of the merchant receipt copy and signed his name. Marianne would be buying him dinner at Trois Mec to make up for this one.
To his dismay, the paparazzo was nowhere in sight when Enis departed from the restaurant. The likely factor was all the time Enis had spent in the restroom. Fine, that was fine. It gave him more time to come up with quips for when he was inevitably asked about it.
He made it to his fitting with fifteen minutes to spare, though he did notice the coordinator crinkling her nose when he checked in. “What?”
“You smell like alcohol.”
Marianne, goddamnit, why not the water, why?! “It’s the shirt. Someone threw a drink at me.”
“I’m sure you’ll be able to read all about it tonight,” he replied, dryly.
“If I have the time.”
That’s what they all said. Enis had a full schedule for the day, but he still found a moment to do a Twitter search as he waited for the coordinator to bring the clothing he was meant to be trying on. Paparazzi were great but the general public was even better at spreading gossip. With his and Marianne’s names entered into the search bar, humanity did not let him down.
An @orangegymster95 had tweeted a photo from inside the restaurant. Although it was a little dark and a little grainy from cell-phone-quality zoom, it clearly showed Marianne standing at their lunch table, the empty champagne glass still in her hand. From the angle, the photo did not clearly show that Enis had received a faceful of the drink but subsequent photos in the thread did. The tweeter had, apparently, been excitedly live tweeting from the restaurant upon finding out she was having lunch in the same location as an admired actress. Sweet success, indeed.
Omg guys, Marianne totally just threw a drink in Enis’ face! What did he say to her?!?!?
The blessing and curse of the modern era. Someone out there knew everyone, and everyone had a camera. There was no getting away with anything anymore.
Enis’ smile faded when he reached the bottom reply on the post. The white text on a black background was a simple but grating “lol, who?”
Ouch. That was not a good sign.
As was clearly evidenced, the life of a model—even a successful one—was not nearly as glamorous as television crime dramas liked to make it seem. Enis wished he had time for all the sex, drugs, rock and roll, and murder. Or even two out of the four. Take your pick.
Most days began with a six a.m. wake-up call, his alarm clock blaring out a morning greeting. As the routine had been established, Enis no longer had trouble waking up early but he did resent that his body refused to let him sleep in when he actually managed to have a full day off. He dreamed of rediscovering what a bed felt like at ten a.m., but also feared the realization of the dream would mean an empty calendar.
He had his own elliptical in his spare bedroom, and every other day he ran across the apartment complex to the gym for weight training. Getting in early meant not having to share with anyone other than Ms. Barker, the seventy-something-year-old who liked to dominate the lone stationary bike. How was that for glamor? Enis spent half his workouts alongside a lady more than thrice his age who had calves the size of Christmas hams. Two years he had lived in that complex and he still wasn’t sure what to make of it.
Just a bit past seven he would be in the shower and, a scrub-a-dub-dub later, breakfast would consist of scrambled eggs with spinach and a few cherry tomatoes on the side. If he didn’t have anything scheduled too early on, he might throw some frozen berries into the blender along with a half-cup of plain yogurt. Brunches with actresses and thrown mimosas were not a typical part of the schedule, but Enis was also open to almost anything.
After his fitting was done, Enis was off to another appointment: a photo shoot for a designer watch advertisement meant to run in magazines. The fact that they expected to choose a single image for the ad meant he was in hair and makeup for only an hour.
“Why do you smell like booze?” the hairdresser asked him, being non-too-gentle as he teased Enis’ roots and stiffened them up with an ungodly amount of hairspray. Goodbye, ozone layer, or what was left of it.
Rather than give the same answer as before, Enis pulled out his phone and showed off the Twitter thread he had found earlier.
“Did you ask her about the lip injections?”
“Oh, honey, that question is so a decade ago. No wonder she threw her drink at you.”
In Enis’ opinion, that was meant to be the joke. He would wait to see what story Marianne ended up going with before changing his, though.
The photoshoot itself went over an hour. For a single photo. Enis considered himself good at taking direction, but the trick with shooting ads was finding a balance. The ad director would want the focus on the product. Enis, as a model trying to land himself more gigs, wanted to steal as much focus as he could back for himself—without overshadowing the product, of course. Overshadowing the product was the fastest way to get himself booted and never invited back again.
For the concept they wanted here, he needed to sell a sexy and alluring ohhh, look at this incredible watch and then at me but then back at the watch type of thing. Isaiah Mustafa had really perfected the technique with the Old Spice commercials and everyone else was just trying to keep up.
Pout, smolder, watch, done. Enis shook hands with the photoshoot staff and made sure to doubly thank the ad director before he left, due to another fitting for an upcoming runway show on the other side of the city. He checked his phone as he waited for a ride. Emails, emails, emails, a number of Instagram notifications, and no news alerts tagged with his name. He did have a few messages from his agent and tapped over to see whether she came bearing good news or bad news.
>> Aud: Thurs, 2:15pm, YSL (!!!) BD/ABO.
Hallelujah, good news at last. A quick check of his online schedule showed him that Lorraine had already rearranged a previous engagement of his to make time for the audition. All black and a button-down, he was pretty certain he had that ready to go. He sent her back a flurry of hearts. A reply came half a second later.
>> Marianne Young?
Ahhh, yes, that. He would wait to explain in person. Although, that did mean news was spreading. Which was fantastic.
<< It’s fine, don’t worry about it
Bless Lorraine and her understanding of all things extra. Enis waved down his ride when he saw the car pulling up, sliding into the backseat just as a Google alert with his name attached popped up on his phone. Splendid.
Buckling himself in, Enis clicked the link. It led only to mild disappointment. The “article” was nothing of note, merely one of those quick social media compilation posts that added zero perspective and didn’t even have a comment section at the bottom. He was going to have to wait a little longer for something of substance.
By the time Enis’ second fitting was finished, it was well dark and his professional smile was beginning to slip. A few more alerts came through and, from quick glances, Enis could tell they were not worth investing his time in. However, Marianne was popular enough that by the late afternoon the photos from their brunch would have been purchased by some entertainment news company and, by late in the evening, a real article should be expected.
He was not disappointed.
Marianne Young and Enis Bywater’s Lunch Date Turns Sour
Gorgeous, successful, young, but obviously not in love, Marianne Young and Enis Bywater were spotted having an early lunch at one of LA’s hottest daytime restaurants. The presumable date—as both have recently admitted to being single—took a turn for the worse when Young threw her drink into Bywater’s face and stormed out of the restaurant…
The previously fading smile turned into a smirk. Well done, Marianne. Her latest film was set to premier in a week, but a few of the early screenings had resulted in less-than-great reviews. One of the critics had referred to her as “overused.” That was more of an insult than being called talentless. It implied that audiences should be seeing less of her. Only Marianne was too smart for that and, rather than taking offense, she had made sure that everyone would be seeing more of her. Gossip rags and online drama were one thing, but by throwing a drink in Enis’ face she would be gaining both sympathy from those who would think she was somehow wronged and also favor from anyone pushing for female empowerment. He could see why she had done it.
Skimming down the article, Enis was curious to see what Marianne had claimed was the cause of their dysfunction.
When Young was pressed for comment outside of the restaurant, she declined to say what exactly Bywater had done to earn himself a faceful of champagne.
“Nooooo, whyyyyyy?” Enis groaned, his shoulders slumping. It earned him an over-the-shoulder look from the person waiting in front of him in the grocery store line, but if Enis stopped for odd looks, he would never get anywhere.
Opportunity gained, opportunity blown. Marianne really should have thought about her plot in full before she had recruited him. Without an explanation, people were going to speculate endlessly and it would stretc—oh, okay, he saw it. That was the point. Keep people guessing, keep people talking. Generate those search results and hopefully boost interest, which would boost her movie ticket sales, and boost her chances of landing more roles. Although, it could have been better if they had coordinated that together. She was lucky Enis had not shot off his mouth trying to sell the scandal. Not that anyone had reached out to ask. But this was fine. He could play coy—a wink here, a shrug there. No problem.
Bywater’s agency did not respond to requests for comment.
Enis set down his cut of fresh salmon and bunches of leafy greens on the checkout conveyor, casting a friendly smile at the clerk. Then, he hastily snapped a screenshot of the article and shot it over to Lorraine along with a “????”
Her response came a moment later.
>> Nope, got nothing from them. Would have forwarded. What’d you do this time?
<< It’s fine, no worries!
Well, that would just be lazy reporting, then.
Sighing, Enis paid for his groceries, loaded them into a paper bag, and started home. Now that there would be a bit of a buzz building in the right online circles, he could push it. He needed something clever and with plausible deniability. Maybe a selfie in the bath or one of himself rinsing off a facemask. Following one face wash-up with another, that type of thing. Yes, that would make a good caption.
“Oh, my god. Wow, excuse me, hi?”
Enis had been at the edge of the parking lot upon hearing that telltale tone. Two young women, university students by the looks of them, had paused their evening jog in order to stare in his direction. “Hi,” Enis replied with a camera-ready smile.
“Ahhh, it is him!” The brunette grasped the bicep of her blonde friend, squeezing excitedly. “We’re, ummm—can we get a photo?”
Enis had his arms full of groceries, but he would never refuse a request for a photo. It was how he made his living, after all. He found a place to set down his bag, waving off apologies for taking up his time, happy to smile for the camera as the girls grabbed selfies.
“Thank you sooo much!”
“No problem,” Enis replied after both appeared satisfied with their photos. He went to pick up his bag.
“I have to tell you, I loved your latest film!”
His grip slipped and he almost dropped the bag back onto the ground. Not that there was anything breakable in it. Instead, it was his pride that was smashed. “Film?”
“Yeah, that new horror one!”
Go ahead, take that smashed pride and kick the scattered pieces down the sewer drain. “That’s not me. That’s that Russian guy. People say we look alike.” They looked nothing alike. Enis found himself to be far more attractive.
And here it came. The awkward silence and slow blinking.
“Yep.” From the highest of the highs, to the lowest of the lows. If she was embarrassed by the mistake, Enis felt a thousand times worse. “I’m a model.” He was met with a blank look. “Recently, the new Dior cologne commercial…”
“Yeah, I don’t watch TV.”
It also played on YouTube and was a promoted ad on most social media sites…
“Who does anymore?” Enis laughed, cutting through the depressive atmosphere. “It’s fine. If you look it up, that’s me. Have a good evening, ladies.”
As professionally and as positively as he could, Enis slinked away. Nothing like a kick in the gut to help fuel motivation. Although, at this point, he was going to end up doing something desperate. Perhaps Marianne had the right idea with her plot for the preferred kind of attention.
The natural fading of fame could come slowly enough that it was impossible to notice until it was too late. The signs were there, yet they were hardly obvious. Fewer likes and comments on social media posts, a missed callback from a designer, one less invitation to brand events. Enis realized he was not a household name. Very few models managed that, even the ones at the top. However, that did not mean it was an unattainable goal. It had been a while since he had met someone in the industry who did not know who he was; extending that to the world at large was the next logical step.
Except Enis currently had fewer likes and comments on his social media posts, his last walk for a designer had resulted in no callback, and if he didn’t receive an invitation for a catalogue event he knew was coming up in a few months, he might as well throw in the towel. He had thought it was hard when he had been starting out, when he would have fifteen castings scheduled in a single day and could expect to hear back from none of them. There had been many occasions when he had gotten home at ten, washed up and collapsed, only to get a message asking if he could make a walk trial at eleven. The late nights and early mornings had been a destructive combination. Luckily, that was no longer a common occurrence.
Instead, he had three different cities on his schedule the following week, then six days in London next month. Getting through summer was always a hassle, as scattered events made stacking jobs more difficult. Designers were between seasons and all the behind-the-scenes work meant that exposure was limited. And exposure did pay, since keeping his face on people’s minds meant keeping his name on their pick-lists. But such was the life he had chosen to live.
Most days ended similarly to how they began: a rinse, a meal, a bit of exercise. Enis washed the product out of his hair in the sink, massaged a combination of peach kernel and lemongrass oil from the roots to the tips, and then went through the steps of his skincare routine. A double application of his favorite cleanser, followed by toner, essence, eye cream, then finally nightly moisturizer. Mondays he added in an exfoliative treatment and Wednesdays were for hydration masks. It took a lot to stay pretty.
Dinner was light. He seared the salmon he had bought and mixed his greens with a homemade raspberry vinaigrette, topping them off with a sprinkling of pine nuts. He followed his meal of fish by giving his fish a meal, muttering a light apology as he sprinkled pellets into the tank of his halfmoon betta. That was his spirit animal right there, lonely and gorgeous.
Enis watched his fish hunt the slowly descending pellets before doing his nightly stretches, knees locked in place with his feet shoulder width apart as he touched the floor with his palms. Up, down, side to side. Muscle was good for display but he had seen models lose jobs because they could not flex into whatever wild position the photographer wanted. He’d had anxiety dreams about it and was determined not to let them come to pass.
The night concluded with a single streamed episode of a crime drama he had been trying to catch up on and a strict ten-thirty bedtime. Beauty sleep was invaluable, especially on the nights that he didn’t have late bookings.
Enis did check his phone prior to sinking under silken sheets, sorting through emails and an array of personal messages before conducting one final search of his name. The news and photos had spread to a few different news sources and the comments were building. Watching the speculation unfold was rather delightful. His favorite had to be one which worked in his favor, claiming that the date probably went awry upon Enis telling Marianne she was not his type and that he preferred someone with a bit more Y in their chromosomes. Now there was a constant rumor mill that could buy him weeks of attention if he decided to exploit it. Maybe later, if the right boy came along. For now, he had more pressing things to concern himself with.
With a groan, Enis left his phone to charge and switched off the lights, melting into the mattress. The good thing about being run ragged all day was that he was out the moment his head hit the pillow, able to save any worries about tomorrow for tomorrow.
Everything was going well. Work stayed on schedule, and he left his Thursday audition confident. The put-on drama with Marianne was playing like a perfectly tuned fiddle, fueled by tidbits they both dropped here and there. She implied that he was envious of her recent success; he implied that he was not fond of her recent performances. They both received their desired attention and Enis ended up as her date for the official premiere of her film. They claimed to have chosen to put their differences aside and make amends, buying themselves praise for a mature resolution to their mysterious conflict. Marianne demonstrated her charm and remorse, while Enis showed sympathy and humility. Arm in arm on the red carpet, they laughed about how flawlessly their scheme had gone off.
The morning after, Enis boarded a plane to Chicago, not at all well-rested and definitely hungover. He passed out in his seat for the majority of the flight, sunglasses still on, waking shortly before landing to rinse his face in a too-small plane restroom, applying concealer under his eyes and a tinted moisturizer all over. After a quick stop at an arrivals lobby Starbucks, he was set to go.
Chicago was a job for a makeup boutique that wanted to show off both dramatic and everyday looks catering to men. Enis spent the day getting his face painted ten times over, making idle chat with the artists between application strokes and laughing off their prying questions about his potential affair with the summer’s hottest actress.
A day later he was back on the West Coast—way west—doing a fashion shoot for “winter beachwear” in Hawai’i. He chose to hold back comments on how ridiculous he felt wearing a faux fur coat, swim trunks, and nothing else while posing on the black sands of Punaluʻu Beach. With his blond hair, his fair skin that freckled in the sun and his lanky build, he could definitely pass for a surfer, but no one ever guessed him to be an island native. Still, it was good to be home, even if it were only for a grand total of forty-eight hours. Enis wished he had a day or two to spare, so he could hop over to Oahu to engage in a bit of nostalgia and surprise a couple of old friends, but time was not giving.
From there, it was a long flight to New York. There he had a few final fittings and rehearsals for the Men’s Fashion Week in London, all of it going off without a hitch. He was leading two of the lines, and making appearances in four more, plus he had invitations for a few of the event parties after the fact. If he managed himself well, he would be able to make it to all of them.
The two weeks were a whirlwind. Upon returning to Los Angeles, Enis had half a day of rest. Just enough time to catch up on flattering social media comments and then post a selfie from the backseat of a cab on his way to a club event. It was also just enough time to review his schedule and realize…
His audition had gone without a callback.
Rejection was part of the industry. No matter how popular, no matter how well-connected, no matter how in-demand he was. Variety was a necessity in the fashion world and no trend lasted for long. Enis had been trending for two years and that was a shelf-life longer than many. He was bound to expire eventually, with only luck and grit to thank for it not having happened sooner.
The club event ended up a little less than a disaster. Enis liked walking into a room and seeing heads turn, smirking as gazes lingered. It was good to feel gorgeous, and better to be recognized and acknowledged for it. Except tonight he had competition.
Enis was proud to say that he did not have any issues with the women in the modelling world, well-established or fresh. The demand was different and thus there was hardly any overlap in terms of fighting for jobs. His popularity did not threaten the success of any of the top female models, and vice versa. Naturally, there were a couple of women he did not get along with but those that he did not like personally, he respected professionally. As much as he lamented his own struggles, he did realize that the fashion world was a hundred times more cutthroat for any woman trying to survive in it.
As for the men, Enis did not keep many male friends from work. Everyone was too busy focusing on themselves, Enis included. It was necessary to look out for their own necks, and friendships without envy at their backbone were difficult to forge. But again, Enis knew how to remain professional and to keep any dirty little opinions to himself. He had learned early on that one misplaced comment, even to a trusted confidant, could come back to bite and hard.
Enis, however, was a bit less tactful when it came to the competition brought about by “influencers.” In addition to a few runway and editorial models whom the club had invited to beautify their first anniversary event, they had also invited a popular Instagram model. In Enis’ opinion, it was difficult to find someone vainer and more talentless than himself, but the world had managed to produce miracles before.
“Did you see? Charles Hunt is in the VIP area!”
Enis narrowed his eyes at the passing chatter as he picked up a drink at one of the club’s three bars. He had access to the VIP area. Except he was actually interested in doing the job he was hired for, which was interacting with attendees and making them feel like they had a once-in-a-lifetime shot at meeting and socializing with celebrities “in a natural environment.” At least, that was what his event guidelines had said. It was quite possible that Charles Hunt, aka @lahuntman, had received different instructions. Enis did not feel like approaching and finding out through pleasantly put-on small talk, afraid that if he glanced in the Instagrammer’s direction he would be blinded by the amount of highlighter the man wore. Enis had highlighter on as well, but he had the decency to keep his subtle.
Realistically, Enis knew that being bitter over someone else’s fame and how they had claimed it was a useless endeavor. However, emotions and logic were two different things and, besides, everyone needed a rival of sorts to motivate them.
Enis spent the night being an influencer in his own right, chatting with club-goers that approached him and gladly taking photos with anyone who asked. He posted his own set, tagging the club and including shots of his drinks, the interior, the DJ stage, and himself. Come on down to one of LA’s most exhilarating nightspots and join the party. Enis knew what sold well and he was damn proud when, around an hour later, a group of girls stumbled into his arms, excitedly telling them they had seen his post and had come straight from another club, asking if they could please, please take selfies.
The music was loud, the lighting was chaotic, the cocktails were expensive, and the booze not strong enough. Enis still allowed himself to have a good time, dancing and shout-chatting with a few of the girls, ensuring that they would remain giddy fans for a minimum of a few months to come.
At some time past three in the morning, Enis left the club with his phone on twenty percent power and his own energy level running even lower. There was a cluster of photographers outside, gathering close enough to the doors to snap prime photos of anyone of value making their departure, but not close enough to merit warnings from the bouncers. Enis had made sure to check his reflection before exiting, as a model leaving an event looking messy was never a good look.
As his luck would have it, Charles Hunt had chosen the same moment to make his exit, drawing the attention and flashes of camera away from Enis. Well, that was fine. Enis didn’t need his tired eyes flooded with bright lights anyway.
He tried really, really hard not to look bitter as he waved down one of the cabs waiting nearby. As it pulled up, Enis did notice a few shots going off, reflecting in the cab’s dark windows. With his hand on the door handle, Enis threw a brilliant smile back at the one photographer who had not turned away to lavish megabytes of card memory elsewhere, wanting to gift them a better photo.
There were occasions in life when things did not go as expected, nor anywhere near the realm of predictable options. Enis recognized the man behind the camera, which itself seemed out of place, more compact and modest than the ones the entertainment news vultures normally carried. Normally, Enis would not have been able to connect the developed facial features and barely-there smile. Yet, in this case, he would be hard-pressed not to recognize his very first friend, despite a decade or so of separation.
Enis did not have any memory of it, but his mother had photos of him at one year of age, dressed in denim overalls and looking mighty confused by the even smaller child who had been placed in front of him. Reportedly, tiny Enis had liked poking the baby’s feet and would do so anytime they were in the room together.
His earliest memory of Keanu that remained clear to this day was from when he had been around five or six. Their families had taken a trip to the nearest beach together, to enjoy the sand and surf and perpetually warm sun. After digging unsuccessfully for turtle eggs, Enis had persuaded Keanu to climb a palm tree with him, convinced they would find coconuts at the top of it. That had not ended well either, resulting in Enis having palm frond cuts on his palms and Keanu with a twisted ankle. They had both received their first grounding for that.
The Hight family ended up with four kids in total; Keanu had two older brothers, and a sister who came along a few years after he did. Enis, on the other hand, remained an only child. All that really meant was that, while growing up, Enis had spent almost as much time at the house next door as at his own. Dinners, weekends, and even a few holidays had passed with him seated toward the end of the Hight family dining table.
They learned to ride bikes and took swimming classes together. Made up nicknames for friends together. Jumped off sofas with bed sheets tied around their necks as they played superheroes together. Chased away the wild chickens that would come pecking through their yards together. Enis remembered refusing to go to his first day of middle school, because Keanu was a year behind and a year at different schools was incomprehensible.
Keanu liked going through photos, so for his tenth birthday, Enis gifted him a six-pack of disposable cameras. They went through them within a couple of days, running around snapping photos and winding the jagged plastic wheel until their thumbs hurt.
At age thirteen, Enis got his first girlfriend. Lani Morris was arguably the prettiest girl in the school. She was a brown-eyed brunette who was head of the poetry club and was the goalie on the soccer team. For the month that they “dated,” Enis ditched Keanu completely. Teenagers had to do their teenaged things and that did not include hanging out with their kid neighbor. Lani Morris was also the first girl to dump Enis, and she certainly would not be the last. Keanu was there to pat him on the shoulder when Enis came sulking back, accepting an apology that came way too late with a flat “no problem.”
When he was fifteen, Enis sat on a beach with Keanu at dawn for six weekends straight, moaning and groaning and complaining as Keanu stalked out the sunrise with a new camera, hoping for a shot of dolphin fins under the breaking color. Despite his whining, Enis came out with Keanu each time, making enough conversation for them both. Keanu never got the photo he wanted, but Enis never called it a waste of time.
While Enis was loud, Keanu tended to be quiet. While Enis liked flashy colors mixed with variations on black, Keanu’s closet consisted of natural tans and greens. While Enis loved being the center of attention, Keanu was more than happy to hang back, his hands in his pockets. Despite that, Keanu was the one who got into more trouble, usually for sneaking into places he wasn’t supposed to be in order to take photos.
The day after his sixteenth birthday, Enis started a weekend job working for a surf shop and, with his first paycheck, he took Keanu out. They ate at a sushi restaurant meant for tourists in Waikiki, feeling like adults as they clinked water glasses and laughed about it. A few days after that, Enis’ mother introduced him to a man she had been seeing for a while.
Less than half a year later, Enis was yelling as he shoved things into boxes, not seeing why he had to move just because she was getting remarried. California, sure. Who wanted to live in California when they could live in Hawai’i?! Enis spent a week sleeping on the floor of the bedroom Keanu shared with his two older brothers, refusing to go home.
Social media was not nearly as prevalent back then, and text messages racked up ridiculous bills when sent enough times. Enis and Keanu had exchanged emails before his move, but that was the age when goodbye actually meant goodbye. Enis had not seen his best friend since then.
And yet there he was, looking much the same—only eleven years older and a bit taller. He even still had a camera in hand.
“Keanu?” Enis called out, disbelief raising the pitch of his voice. The fingers he had curled around the handle of the cab slipped down.
“Who’s asking?” His voice was deeper, but the blunt no-nonsense monotone was like a punch in the metaphorical gut. There was no mistaking it. And any lingering doubt Enis might have held onto was erased by the green hoodie that Keanu wore, faded white print reading University of Hawai’i.
Having an often hectic schedule which would, on occasion, include trips to multiple countries in a single month left Enis’ social life a bit on the skinny side. He knew everyone he needed to know for business, was friendly with more than a good portion of them, and had a contact list that numbered in the thousands; yet, when asked for an emergency contact, the only person he could think to put down was his agent.
Enis never felt lonely and when an evening did come when he ached for a bit of company to get him out of his own head, he had more than a few choices in models and actors and artists who would be thrilled to have a good time on a short notice. Having someone in front of him that he knew from birth, though, that was different.
Enis did not wait. He launched himself at Keanu, wrapping his old friend in a bear hug. The height difference, combined with Enis’ heeled shoes, meant that Keanu’s chin ended up resting on his shoulder.
A single hand patted Enis on the back and the low chuckle that escaped Keanu was melodic. “Yeah, yeah. Good to see you too.”
“You’re here!” Enis exclaimed after pulling back from the hug, resisting the urge to cup Keanu’s face and squish his cheeks in joy. “Why are you here? Vacation? Work? How long has it been?! How did you find me? Actually, no, don’t let me assume that’s why you’re here. What are you here for? Who?”
“Is there a question in there I should answer first or should I just go through them all in order?”
Enis vividly recalled complaining to Keanu’s mother about how much of a bully he could be sometimes, only to be told to stop exaggerating for sympathy points. To everyone else, Keanu had always been a sweet, polite, quiet boy. Yeah, sure. And Enis had never put lifts into his shoes when he knew he’d be walking a runway with taller models. “I was heading home. If you’re not busy, how about a really early breakfast? That way you can answer all of those questions, in order.”
“Sure, if you know a place that’s open that isn’t serving twenty-dollar drinks.”
The cab Enis had flagged down earlier had already taken another rider, but another one pulled up as soon as he turned around. Fifteen minutes later, they were inside a forest-green twenty-four hour diner, Keanu still making his way through Enis’ barrage of questions. He had been in LA for three weeks, having come out for a job offer. He was staying with his sister, who was studying at the UC but had a spare room in her apartment after a roomie had moved out. He, like the group of girls from earlier, had seen Enis’ Instagram post tagging the club and had gone by on a whim, hoping to spot an old friend.
Enis was flattered to know Keanu was following his account, instantly whipping out his phone in order to find Keanu’s. To his complete lack of surprise, Keanu’s account was filled with gloriously shot island nature, although recently the photos had changed to chronicling street art and the few wild animals that could be found around the city. There was one of a raccoon that had climbed into a restaurant dumpster, its butt and tail pinned between green metal and the plastic lid.
“So what’s the job?” Enis asked, sliding a menu over to Keanu, who had taken a seat across from him in their corner booth. The waitress had already stopped by to fill coffee mugs from a glass pot. Bottomless coffee might not mix well with a night of signature club cocktails, but Enis was confident he would be able to knock out and catch up on sleep as soon as he got home. He didn’t have anything scheduled till the evening anyway, hallelujah.
“It fell through,” Keanu sighed, shrugging his shoulders. “Was supposed to be for a magazine but, apparently, right after I got here, their company told them they’d be cutting print issues. And cutting staff. So right now I’m… you know, searching around.”
“Is that why you figured you’d try to snap some shots of me to sell?” Enis asked, trying to shift the tone toward the lighter side. That was rough. And maddening. And likely happened far too often.
“Because I can get you photos that are far more saucy,” Enis winked, laughing when Keanu did not immediately come back with a quip.
Keanu had been cute in high school. Enis remembered tussling his messy black hair at least once a week, usually on the mornings that it had been obvious he had rolled out of bed and headed straight out to avoid being late for their daily walk to school together. A decade had made him downright handsome: a good jaw, thick brows, tan Polynesian skin, dark eyes that promised hospitality and concealed a sarcastic streak. Enis knew a few top designers who would die for his look, if Keanu hadn’t been missing several necessary inches.
“Like photos of you with Marianne Young?”
Enis grinned. He picked up his coffee mug and blew across the steaming surface. “Actually… if you need a job, I think that can be arranged.”
After the waitress came by to take their order, Enis explained what he meant.
Marianne had not been the first celebrity to consider staging photos. Far from it. Pick up any magazine and flip to a “candid” photo that featured a good angle, clear focus, and the celebrity in question leaving the gym with smooth hair, perfectly fitted spandex tights and their skin glowing to the gods. It was as common as Photoshopped touch-ups. Marianne did not have a formal arrangement with the paparazzo that had photographed their brunch date, but she had tipped them off for that purpose. She had been smart about it, though, letting the paparazzo think he was there to capture a flirty date, one that had then gone unexpectedly wrong. If Enis wanted to stage photos, he needed to be smart about it too.
The hard part was constructing a convincing story that would capture public attention, but not cost him his ongoing contracts. Morality clauses were making a comeback and becoming more and more non-negotiable. Enis knew what sold. It was what had always sold: the classic combination of sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
At present, Enis was rather sexless. Putting on a relationship was an option. New love and breakups, those were guaranteed to gather attention. He could always find someone hot and eager for the same type of curated press, but that would also mean putting his faith into someone else and Hollywood liked to get messy. Yes, Marianne owed him a favor. However, he did not want to call it in just yet. So, that angle was one he needed to consider a bit more.
The drugs, Enis was staying well away from. It wasn’t the nineties anymore; models were a bit more into kale juice cleanses and sponsorships from sugarless energy drinks to keep them buzzing through the long hours. A scandal involving crime would get attention, but not the kind he wanted. It would have to be the Robin Hood type of crime, that gathered public support and got him out with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Enis could research a few of his local state politicians and see if anyone merited a drive-by egging.
Rock and roll kind of scandals usually meant dragging someone else down in order to boost himself up. Not the best idea, since it often came with retaliation. There wasn’t really anyone he despised enough to want to go through the trouble of orchestrating a hit. Besides, rock and roll was more about partying too hard, crashing cars into swimming pools, and biting the heads off things. Well, it used to be. Even rock and roll had calmed down after the nineties. Nowadays, it was about all the classics touring again with their senior discounts.
To put it frankly, for someone who wanted to stage some attention, Enis did not have a great idea of where would be the ideal place to start. Anything he had thought of thus far was either too much or too little. He needed to do something in between leaked sex tape and scarfing down fast food while wearing sweatpants.
“There’s an outdoor pool at my apartment complex. A few months ago, there was a notice posted by the main office telling people they weren’t allowed to go skinny-dipping at night,” Enis stated, giving his explanation slowly as his brain worked together a plan on the fly. “Actually, it wasn't allowed anytime but the offenders in question were doing so at night.”
“Was it you?” Keanu asked, loading the bacon and over-easy eggs he had ordered onto a slice of toasted and heavily buttered white bread. Enis, with his bunless and baconless burger, continued to feel like he was being bullied.
“It wasn’t me.”
“You sure about that?”
Enis’ protest died as Keanu’s smirk tipped him off that he was teasing. “It will be me. Say…” he pulled up the calendar on his phone, checking his schedule, “...around eleven or so next Tuesday.”
“Takes you that long to plan a skinny-dip?” Keanu asked, taking a bite of his bacon-egg-butter-toast abomination. A droplet of greasy yolk pooled at the corner of his mouth. He promptly licked it up. Enis’ stomach did not growl but it wanted to. “Pretty sure I remember my mom chasing you down the beach with your trunks in her hand.”
Enis did not blush. He was a professional model and being a professional model meant putting up with all sorts of embarrassing situations for the sake of the job. He did not blush; he had expensive, designer-name blush expertly applied to his cheeks when it was called for. At present, those blushless cheeks burned undeniably hot. “I’m a busy man.”
“And I want to make sure you know how to take a photo,” Enis followed up, shaking off the momentary fluster. “Of people.”
“Why don’t you hire a photographer that actually does that then?”
“Because then the photos will look too clean. And when they look too clean, people start questioning them. So give it over.” Enis held out his hand for Keanu’s camera. He received it, with full faith, a moment later.
The few photos of him that Keanu had taken earlier were not great. They were a touch on the blurry side, with unideal lighting, awkward framing, and the kind of glare that would get them discarded by any buyer with a quarter-sense of decency. It was to be expected. Keanu’s interest had always been in taking photos of nature, not of models outside of nightclubs way too late at night. They would have a lot of work to do if they were going to go through with it.
Enis grinned. “These are perfect.”
Just like that, Enis had his plan.