B-Day Ch. 04byPhantasy_Star©
By Friday afternoon, so many head shots had passed over my desk that they began to merge as a composite in my mind. One big, dull blur.
Granted, I was a bit burnt out from the work week. But the simple fact was that, on any given day, none of those faces would have stood out to me. Most of the women were attractive, yes, but only in the most vague of senses. We needed someone distinct. Someone memorable.
Exhausted, I flipped open the last folio of the night, my eyes met by an umpteenth woman delivering "edgy" affectations with the arch of a well-trimmed eyebrow and the curl of a glossed lip. So unconvincing. So...boring. Go back to LA, girly.
I took a deep breath and flipped the page. A bloodless-looking girl with a "deer-in-headlights" expression. I wouldn't be surprised if she'd been forced to model at gunpoint (and given the industry, that may not have been far from the truth). Maybe she'd be a good non-speaking extra in an art flick, but that's about it.
I thumbed through a dozen more photographs of equal mundanity. I started to lose faith. Soon there was only one more picture left in the folder. If this girl didn't fit the casting bill, I had nothing but more deliberation to look forward to come Monday.
Opening my eyes, a joyous peep immediately escaped my lips.
I'd found the one. The timing of her appearance seemed almost uncanny. Call it fate, call it dumb luck, I didn't care. This was exactly the kind of closure I needed before the weekend.
Her visage was immediately arresting. Her complexion was as deep could be—nearly obsidian in shade, yet warm. Her wide, deep set eyes seemed to leap forward from her smooth oval face. Her hair was voluminous and gloriously coily, falling in downy tufts. Her expression was unaffected and placid.
This picture exuded such a captivating energy—knowing, yet innocent. And I loved the natural hair! Go girl!
The only other time I'd been so viscerally taken at a single glance was when I'd laid eyes on my lover years ago. And maybe my enthusiasm now was partially the product of a subtle predilection he'd unlocked within me.
As I looked over this girl's photo longer, I realized this might be quite true. She looked so similar to him in a strange way, age and gender aside. They could almost be related.
"We got it!" I said aloud, springing up from my desk and almost skipping down the hall to the senior casting director's office.
"Hmm," Ms. Zentner uttered as she squinted and frowned severely. I knew this was a bad sign. She was normally blank of expression, unless she disapproved of something, in which case her lips drooped forbiddingly as they did now.
"This girl doesn't seem like an appropriate spokesperson for our brand," she said, pointing to her attached resume. "She's got virtually no work history, for one."
I couldn't argue with that. The girl's resume was strangely light on details; she did some fashion modeling work for a few obscure clients, and a voice-over for a Listerene radio spot some years ago, but not much else. Still, she was young, and the industry is hard to break into. I wanted to give her a chance.
"I know, Ms. Zentner. Trust me, I understand your cautiousness. But I really think we should at least interview her. You know my intuitions are usually reliable...we cast Natalie as the last Clairvisia spokeswoman on a whim, and she went over really well, remember?"
Ms. Zentner turned her head and looked at me with those same squinting eyes. Her thin, salmon-pink lips pursed tightly. She then pointed at something on the resume I had merely glossed over. "But Natalie had experience. Look, there's a 4-year gap in this girl's work history," she said, tapping the paper aggressively with her bony finger.
"She could have been going to college," I said, feeling the sudden urge to defend this girl I hadn't yet even met. I hated how suspicious and conservative Ms. Zentner was when it came to these things.
"Didn't seem to land her a degree, unless it's one she forgot to mention," she snapped back.
"But, Ms. Zentner—"
"We keep our information transparent, Abigail. That's part of our company's identity and ethos. If we hire an inexperienced spokesperson for our product, word will get out, and that will make us look desperate. If she flops, that'll reflect on us even more poorly. It's too risky. You seriously couldn't find anyone else?"
I shook my head. I figured one tacit reason for Ms. Zentner's reluctance was the girl's look. Her purported physical attributes were quite unexpected. I pored over them again.
Name: Monette Avarry-Jones
Height: 5' 11"
Weight: 133 lbs.
Hair Color: Black
Hair Length: Medium
Eye Color: Brown
Language(s): English, Spanish
Skills: Modeling, acting, singing
Honestly, no other girl who applied for this position even came close to those numbers. They almost seemed unreal. I began to wonder if she knew the proper way to take measurements (this is a rampant problem in the industry).
And while it wouldn't have made much sense for her to exaggerate—she wasn't applying for a job at Hooters, after all—that didn't seem entirely out of the question. Tall and chesty was one thing, but the astronomical 26-inch spread between her waist and her hips? Definitely another.
I decided to try withholding my skepticism. If the reality of her physique came anywhere close to those dimensions, then it would take a lot of work to de-emphasize it. My main fear was that Monette was frankly be too sexy and unique-looking for such a boring product.
This was something I sensed drove Zentner's reluctance as well. We were conducting a campaign for pimple cream, after all. We needed a girl who was relatable and imperfect, not someone possessing otherworldly beauty. We needed someone who would compliment our product rather than draw attention away from it. But still, that look in her photo commanded me to petition in her favor.
"Ms Zentner, you have a point. But risk-taking IS part of our company's identity. We took a risk with that PETA spot. We took a risk casting a cancer survivor in a glamour ad. We're not afraid to challenge, even polarize. We shouldn't back away now," I said, trying to sound as convincing as possible.
Ms. Zentner paused, shaking her head silently, then standing up and handing me Monette's folder back to me. "Alright, look. This is on you, Abi. I don't think this is the best idea, but do what you need to do. Just don't forget that we have to close this casting decision by Monday afternoon," she said, flicking off her desk lamp and walking to the door.
In the darkness, her body looked more feeble and hunched than I'd realized. She had been in this business much longer than me. It occurred to me that I should be taking her warning seriously, seeing as she'd been in the business for ages and made a good name for herself.
But this was a new age. She hired me to get a fresh perspective, didn't she? This wasn't the 70's anymore, and she knew it. I had to go with my gut.
"I won't fail you, Ms. Zentner!" I said, walking past her swiftly and waving goodnight. I heard her grumble to herself as she locked her door behind me and walked in the opposite direction down the hall towards the elevator.
4:53 pm. I would make the call and then clock out. Simple and easy.
I dialed the phone number on Monette's resume as I stood in my office, my heart beating faster than it should for what was a relatively mundane job duty. But I knew something about this girl was special.
And, though I try to maintain a professional mindset while on the job, I couldn't help but admit to myself that calling her made me slightly aroused. The phone rang a few times, and finally she answered.
"Hello?" she said, her voice soft and squeaky.
"Hello, Monette Avarry-Jones? This is Abigail Khaing from Reese Merging Markets. Is this a good time to call?"
"Oh...wow. Yeah, now's perfect," She said, her timid, high-registered voice taking me by surprise. It didn't quite seem to match what her photo had me anticipating—I imagined she'd have some kind of deep, sensual tone—but this curveball only made her more compelling.
"Great. Monette, we received your application for our casting call recently, and we're interested in having you come in for an interview," I said as I paced around my cramped office. "How does Monday, 9:15 am work for you?"
Evander and I reclined on the couch. He sat upright, and I lay by his side with my head on his lap. It was a muggy evening, so I unbuttoned my white blouse halfway to ventilate myself. We were both exhausted from the demands of the day.
I pressed my ear to his stomach, feeling the ripples of sinew beneath his t-shirt. It was good to connect with my lover again. I needed it.
"Hmm. Your day must have been almost as long as mine," he said with a breathy laugh, patting me on the forehead. I looked up, his chiseled face momentarily eclipsed by the mug of tea he raised to his lips.
"Yeah, today was rough," I said, slinging my legs over the edge of the couch and kicking off my heels. My calves rubbed against that scratchy spot on the armrest where Michiko had left a stain years ago. I never quite managed to scrub it off completely.
Her image flashed through my mind a moment...and then I was reminded of something extremely important. Evander's B-Day was coming soon—too soon! Damn it, how did I forget? I suddenly started to freak out. His birthday was on Tuesday.
I realized that while my predicament was in part due to my usual procrastination and reluctance, it was also true that my new job played a role. It was rewarding work, but it was also hard and consuming. And I probably wouldn't have even landed that job if it weren't for his help. That MBA I was riding on didn't come cheap.
Even though a good quarter of his paycheck went straight to my bursars for three years, he asked for nothing in return. Well, nothing except that elusive "B" which I had yet to properly deliver to him.
I suddenly felt a burst of guilt. Would this be my last chance? My "strike out"? Though he never alluded to it, he could easily drop me for a better woman. At least that's how I felt, especially now.
"Rough day, huh? Well, what happened?" Evander asked, clueless to my panicking. He stroked my temples a moment, then paused, looking at me curiously.
He has this keen way of reading me. I could see the glimmer of suspicion in his eyes, even as his smile remained. It was only a matter of time before he figured out what was wrong...that is, unless I could come up with a distraction. I wormed my way out of his grasp and sat up abruptly.
"Oh! I should show you the girl we're interviewing next week. I'm almost positive she'll be perfect for the Clairvisia skin care line," I said, dashing over to the portfolio case I had leaning against the living room doorway.
Evander blinked. "Uh. Is that so? Sounds like good news. I remember you were bugging out trying to find the right girl..."
"Just look," I said, grabbing my portfolio case and dropping it on the couch next to him. "Open it up." I turned and grit my teeth, my mind racing. How the hell am I going to find a girl for Tuesday this late? Maybe I could try craigslist again...
I heard him unzip the large floppy case. Then he paused, and I heard him push air out through his nostrils.
"Um..." he started, his voice full of what sounded like mounting amusement.
"What?" I said, my attention split.
"She's...she looks very familiar," he said slowly, flipping the page of her portfolio to read her bio and figures. "Very familiar..."
Finding this a curious response, I turned to him. I clutched the sides of my skirt nervously.
"Well Abi. I'm not 100% sure, but...I think this is Majika Starr," he said, looking up at me with a wide grin.
I peered into his magnetic eyes uncomprehendingly, wanting to understand.
"Who is that?" I asked. He sat leaned forward on the couch, staring at her portfolio for a few more seconds, then shaking his head.
"Damn. I'm almost positive it's her. Measurements even look dead on," he said, standing up and handing me back the papers. "I want a second opinion, though. Hold on, hold on," he said as he dug into the pocket of his khaki shorts and retrieved his cell phone.
He tapped on it a moment, then leaned over so that we could both see the screen. My eyes widened when I saw what he was talking about.
It was a porn site.
I felt the faint booming of a subway train. It hurtled across the nearby bridge, narrowly grazing the far end of my office as it did reliably about five times every hour. In every instance, its arrival caused my desk and shelves to vibrate and hum. This was simply the way things were built.
When I first began working at Reese M.M., these interruptions startled me. But I eventually came to not only expect them, but enjoy them. Somehow these small tremors that filled my office gave me a concept of motion, especially in those moments when everything felt too still, too quiet.
I heard a ring on my landline. I picked it up quickly.
"Ms. Khaing, uh. You have a 9:15 appointment with a miss, uh, Averry-Jones?" said a mumbly front desk guard.
"Yes, send her right up," I said, my heart racing. I placed the phone back on the receiver and stared out the window. It was bright and cloudless, but for some reason I didn't want it to be.
My brain was completely scattered. My two seemingly disparate concerns—one professional, one deeply personal—had somehow coalesced. There was no heading back now. Given my situation, being proactive was mandatory. This was one train that wouldn't miss me. I had to either jump on it, or get run over.
I swayed nervously back and forth in my seat, digging my fingernails into the corky underside of my desk.
I'd dressed a bit more revealingly than I usually do, but within reason: patent leather peep-toes, a black skirt cut 2 inches above the knee, and a sheer red blouse with braided strings that caged my subtly hiked-up cleavage. My dark hair was clipped tightly to my head. And thanks to our company's recent YSL sponsorship, my lips were a darker shade of red.
I heard a knock at my door.
"Come in," I said, trying to sound as relaxed as possible.
Monette walked in. Her figure was nothing short of Junoesque, and even a fleeting glance could confirm her previously reported dimensions were, if anything, underestimations. But it was her penetrating eyes that took me off guard. They immediately held my attention hostage.
As our eyes met, I felt language slip away from me, as if my brain had been scrubbed free of pretense. I was struck truly speechless. I felt something dark and sensual rise deep within me, moistening at my centre.
"Ms...Khaing?" she said with an innocent smile on her immaculate ebony face.
I shook out of my daze, hoping I hadn't been staring too long.
"Oh! You must be Monette," I said, standing up and blinking rapidly. I came around the side of my desk, feeling her tower over me by nearly a foot, and extended my hand.
"Yes, that's me!" she responded in a bubbly voice, her breath smelling of fresh mint. She meekly extended her hand, her shake surprisingly dainty—even a bit weak. I could tell that, despite her imposing looks, she was quite shy.
My eyes fell a moment, and I noticed the ankle tattoo she had. It was a tiny black star with some kind of script writing around it. Against her deeply dusky skin, it would be easy to miss from farther away. But at this proximity, it was crystal clear—and very telling. The girl in the porn video I saw had the same tattoo, in the very same place. I was almost certain it was the same person now.
She was dressed fairly conservatively, with a simple cream-white sweater, roomy black slacks and suede loafers. A folder was tucked under her arm, and she clutched a small burlap handbag. She wore no jewelry, and sported no makeup. Not that she needed any.
Despite her show-stopping curvaceousness, I would have never figured her for an adult film star if I hadn't already been tipped off. I was insanely curious. And I felt slightly intoxicated just standing before her. The nasty video scenes I witnessed over the weekend darted through my mind. But it wasn't time to swoon. Not yet. I had a job to do.
"Well, please, have a seat," I said, releasing her hand and walking over to my desk and sitting back down.
Monette placed her things by her side, seeming to rifle a bit with her bag before placing it down with an unusual amount of care. She then sat down in the chair I had propped before me. She gazed around my room curiously. I smiled at her, and she returned with a demure lift of her heart-shaped lips.
"So! Tell me about yourself," I said, crossing my legs and easing back in my seat.
She eagerly jumped into a well-rehearsed rigamarole. Some of it was easily ignorable filler, but other details stuck in my mind.
I learned that she used to sing in a gospel choir; that her favorite actress was Dorothy Dandridge, and her favorite model was Ajuma Nasenyana; that she grew up in a bilingual household because of her Brazilian godmother; and that she'd done more voice-over work since she'd sent her resume to me (though I hadn't heard of any of the clients).
I also learned that she grew up in Fort Wayne, which actually sparked an unexpected bit of extra informal conversation, as I'd lived there as a stopgap between Burma and Harlem for 2 years.
I opened up to her as we chatted about our former lives in Indiana. Hers was much more detailed than mine, but we found intersections, points of reference that made us comfortable around one another.
I told her I now lived in Harlem, which didn't phase her. She told me she commuted from Patterson, where she lived with other two roommates who were also aspiring models (I could only imagine the cat fights!)
We were hitting it off swimmingly. But I had a big bomb to drop, and I had to do it now.
"So...Monette. I noticed you have a little tattoo on your foot. What does that say?"
"Oh I'm sorry, Miss! I know it's not very professional to have that exposed—"
I laughed. "No, Monette, that's not a problem at all. We're quite casual here, if you haven't noticed. I was just curious, is all."
"Oh. Well, it says...magical...star. I mean it's nothing important, just thought it was cool, haha."
I nodded my head. "I see...Monette. I'll be honest. I would normally be inclined to hire you right here and now, but there's something one of my supervisors brought to my attention that gave me a bit of pause."
"Oh," she replied, blinking cluelessly.
"...this 4-year gap here in your work history. Is there a reason for that?"
She feigned unknowingness, her hands rubbing nervously against her broad thighs as she sat upright. "Oh, Ms. Khaing. I was traveling abroad during part of that time," she said in yet another calculated burst. I wondered if that was the line she'd been feeding everyone she interviewed for.
"Is that so? Where did you go?" I asked, smirking. She paused, her eyes dodging around before dropping to my chin.
"Um, I went to Europe, you know...France, London, etc." she said unconvincingly. "I did some modeling work out there, and um, some networking and stuff. I just needed to get out for a while, but now I'm refreshed and glad to be back, hehe," she said, raising her eyes to mine a moment only to look away again nervously.