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Soulless

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January 2016

“Alright this is the last one, keep your arm still.”

From the corner of his eye, Adrien saw Plagg peek out from his jacket pocket across the room. He placed his tiny paws over his eyes.

“I can’t look!” He exclaimed.

The warm gooey substance was spooned onto his skin. Jeanne spread it about with the spatula and reached for the strip.

Her fingers pressed down.

“And one… two… three!”

Plagg shrieked. His eyes rolled back and he fainted into the pocket.

After a couple prods with a pair of tweezers and a squirt of lotion onto his sore skin, Jeanne stepped back.

“Let me tell you, I’ve worked with guys and honest to god they don’t make it without screaming their heads off. And these are like twenty-thirty somethings I’m talking about; grown men bawling like babies. You took it like a champ Adrien! Just like your mom, god you’re so much like her I forget--- oh never mind…how old are you now? Fourteen?”

“Fifteen,” Adrien sat up. His hand rested on his bare, oil slicked leg.

Fifteen. You know your mom was fifteen when I first met her.”

“Really?”

“Yep kid! So you got me: twenty- one, and straight outta beauty school and the spa gets a call from a modeling agency. Needed waxing appointments for their girls and several were first timers. Back in those days you had girls as young as thirteen doing gigs and most of them were scared shitless---”

“Oops! I didn’t mean that to slip!” Jeanne placed a hand over her mouth.

“It’s fine,” Adrien shrugged.

“So where was I? Oh yeah, so at that spa there was me and another girl who worked waxing. She got sick so I had to take over. So I go out into the waiting area and I see this girl: fifteen, tall, thin, absolutely gorgeous, I mean just gorgeous So I call her in. And she gets on the cot, right where you are now, looks up at me with those baby green eyes, and asks---“

Does it really hurt that bad just like they say?

You know, other people go into their it takes pains to be beautiful type spiel. Me? I don’t do that stuff. You know what I say?”

It’s gonna hurt no matter what you do. It’s how you handle it that counts sweetheart!

“And she smiled. I knew right there that we were gonna be friends. The next time she came in they asked her if she wanted the waxing to be done by me or the other girl and she’s all—“

Can Jeanne do it? She’s super cool.

Jeanne sighed.

“God I miss your mom,” she said.

“Everyone does,” Adrien said lightly. “Thanks Jeanne for squeezing me in on such short notice!”

“Don’t sweat it kid! You’re not the first to do a day before shoot wax.”

She closed the door.
**********************
Adrien sat in the spa waiting area for Gorilla to pick him up. After checking to see if the coast was clear, Plagg slid out of Adrien’s jacket and climbed up the zipper to his shoulder.

“Why do you humans torture yourselves by ripping off your hair?” Plagg asked.

“It’s a beauty thing,” Adrien said. “People don’t like body hair.”

“But don’t you get cold? Doesn’t it leave you vulnerable to infections and germs and things that don’t happen to me because I have a layer of hair to keep me nice and cozy?”

“Human body hair’s different from animal hair. It doesn’t really do much to keep you warm,” Adrien explained.

“But it still doesn’t make sense! ” Plagg threw up his paws, confused.

“Can’t have pit and leg hair for a swimsuit shoot; it’d look gross,” Adrien replied. “At least I got lucky. They’re harder on girls. They have to get rid of everything.

“Even the hair at the top of their head?” Plagg was horrified.

“Well…not like that,”Adrien said with a chuckle.
*************************************************
It was three thirty when Adrien arrived on set. The Agreste line had rented the pool of a private club outside of Paris. He headed over to the locker room to get changed. The crew made the finishing touches to the set:carrying out the lifeguard and beach chairs, and hanging up the green screen that would provide the beach backdrop during the editing process.

January was too early in Adrien’s opinion to start the summer swimwear campaign but his father wanted to get it over with before Fashion Week.

When he came out, he saw his father chatting with one of the photographers. Several people checked to see if the lights were working. A girl in a white bikini was having her makeup applied by one of the stylists.

She stood about awkwardly after the stylist left. Adrien approached her.

“Hi! You new here?” He asked.

“Yeah. I’m Emeline,” she introduced herself.

“Adrien,” he held out his hand.

“Nice to meet you,” they shook.

“Where’ve you worked before?”

“Ralph Lauren and Zara teen collections with a few advertisements here and there,” she said.

“Cool. I’ve done a couple things for Zara but not Ralph Lauren. Dad doesn’t like him.”

“Oh,” she smiled.

A crackling sound came as the megaphone was turned on.

“There’s no time for idling about! We have a shoot to do! Everyone get into place!” Gabriel shouted.

Adrien walked up to his father and greeted him with a nod. His father motioned for him to stand by his side. It was the first time they had interacted with each other that day.

Everyone who met them said that son was the splitting image of his father. Adrien could see how they got to that conclusion: blond hair, light eyes, a similar body structure,but they were wrong. His father was angular and bony; a sharp jaw, a beaklike nose, thin fingers, a bulge of a muscle here and there, and square shoulders. Adrien’s round boyish features stubbornly refused to adapt to the changes of adolescence: dimpled cheeks, a heart shaped face, pudgy limbs, and smooth shoulders.

Gabriel held up a hand to demand their attention.

“Summer is the essence of youth,” Gabriel began. “It is a time of adventure, excitement, freedom, and discovery. People look back fondly on the summers of their youth; from sun kissed beaches, road trips with no destination, sneaking out to late night parties, the joys of first love. We want to tap into that nostalgia with this campaign. We want our audience to vicariously relive their summers through our models. Can you do that?”

“Yes sir,” Adrien and Emeline said at the same time.

“Convince me,” Gabriel answered. “Alright everyone let’s start with our lovers!”

Adrien was seated in the lifeguard chair. Emeline was placed on a float in the pool.

“You are a lifeguard! And she is the pretty girl who catches your eye!”

Adrien pretended that Emeline was Ladybug. The long brown hair that sat at her shoulders transformed into black hair streaked with blue that dangled from two teardrop shaped pigtails. Her hazel eyes, a crisp ocean blue. Her tan contoured cheeks, round and pink.

Click

Grinning as he tossed a beach ball to her.

Click

Laughing as they splashed each other in the pool.

Click

Sitting at the edge of the pool with an arm around her.

Click

A flirty glance as she handed him a towel.

Click

Posing side by side in matching sunglasses.

Click

Delicately placing his hands on her hips as they stared at each other.

Click

Closing his eyes as their lips met, imagining that he and Ladybug lost themselves in a passionate kiss after a dangerous mission.

“Cut!”

A snap back to reality. He embarrassedly pulled back from Emeline.

“Uh. Sorry if I—“

“Dude, compared to other guys I had to kiss you’re tame,” She said with a laugh. “It’s actually nice!”

“Uh thanks?”

“Individual shots! Ladies first!” Came his father’s voice.

Adrien wrapped himself up in a towel and sat on the sidelines. A stylist retouched Emeline’s makeup. His father and one of the photographers muttered to each other before he clapped his hands for the shoot to commence.

“Ok, the first shot will be you in the water—“

Emeline started to the pool steps.

Gabriel’s mouth opened.

What?

All the color from her face drained. Her body sunk inward as her arms hovered protectively over her torso.

“Excuse me?” She asked softly.

“You heard me---“

The towel fell from Adrien’s shoulders. A hand was on the floor as he raised his body up.

“I—I—don’t want to” Emeline stuttered.

“Come on love we don’t got all day!” The photographer chimed in, followed by something incredibly rude.

“But I’m fifteen!” Emeline protested. “I-I can’t do stuff like that!

“You’re not going to get anywhere in this business if you act like the world revolves around you,” Gabriel exclaimed in a frustrated tone. “You want to get paid? You do as you’re told.

Her hands went to her back. She held back tears as her fingers clutched at the fabric---

“Dad that’s illegal!

Everyone stopped what they were doing. Gabriel turned towards his son.

“Adrien? Are you the one running this shoot?” He coolly asked.

“Emeline’s uncomfortable!” Adrien angrily exclaimed. “And you should know better than to tell her to do that!

“You are wasting valuable—“

“I don’t care!” Adrien shot back. “You say you want to inspire people? What kind of a message will you be sending if you can’t even respect those who work for you!”

“It’s artistic expression.

“It’s not! You’re just using her for your own twisted view of what you think a woman should look like!”

“Stop this right now!” Gabriel yelled.

“I’m not going to just stand here and watch as you take advantage of her! Because it isn’t right!

He went over to Emeline and offered his towel to her. She took it.

“I don’t want to do this,” she whispered.

“Come with me,” he said.

They crossed the set to the pool entrance. He was uncertain whether to give her some space or to place a comforting arm around her. Emeline reached out to hold onto him. He let his arm hover over her shoulders.

Adrien!

“Who’s your manager?” He asked in a low voice.

She let out a sob.

"It's ok...it's ok..."

“Adrien, you listen to me boy; get back here with that girl right now!” Gabriel barked.

“Ignore him. Ignore him,” Adrien hastily said.

“You are being rude and disrespectful to everyone on this shoot! I did not raise you to be such a spoiled brat! Your mother would be ashamed to see how you’re acting!”

Adrien flinched as he heard his father’s words, but his hand reached out and pushed the door open.

“Get back here! Get back here right now!” Gabriel screamed.

They left the room.

Get back here!