The Test Shoot


Some quick admin before we start: This story comes in at a little over 30K words; the sexy stuff is spread throughout, but as usual, it's definitely more in the back half than the front. Furthermore, my apologies to anyone who speaks Hindi for my use of Google Translate; I've never had much luck soliciting help through the forums, and asking my Indian friends for help with my jerkoff stories is...a little awkward. But please, feel free to drag me in the comments if you deem it necessary.

Other than that, I hope you enjoy!

= = = = =

Devika Singh didn't move out to Los Angeles to be "discovered."

One day, it occurred to her that there was a whole subculture of humanity that was obsessed with celebrity, emotionally invested in Brad Pitt's relationships with Jennifer Aniston or Angelina Jolie or Marion Cotillard or whomever he was going to cheat on Marion Cotillard with. She wondered what that had to be like, to have every aspect of your private life speculated on by vain teenagers and bored housewives as if it was their favorite TV show, to have every last piece of shitty, smoky gossip scrutinized as fire. She asked herself how one would stay sane under such suffocating circumstances; she couldn't come up with a good answer. So while some of her friends entertained wild pipe dreams of red carpets and glamour, Devika set her sights lower: A menial job with good pay, a small house in a friendly neighborhood. If she could find that in her life and hold onto it, she'd be happy.

Still, when she was staring down the barrel of college and the next phase of her life, her knack for coding and yearning for sunshine led her to California. She expected to move to the Bay Area after graduating magna cum laude from USC and land a Silicon Valley gig. Instead, she got a competitive offer from Umbrla, an LA-based startup that would save her the trouble of a move upstate.

It was work, no matter how much they tried to gin it up with casual language, yoga classes, and an arcade and fro-yo machine in the break room. In fact, it was work that never seemed to end; Devika went from 8 to 8 Mondays through Fridays and every other Saturday and was on call 24/7. But maybe that was the point, she thought: To find life in the spaces between the gears. She thought she did a pretty good job with what little she had to work with. She moved into a Marina Del Rey apartment with a couple of other friends, did her morning jogs out on Venice Beach, and kept trying new and curious spots for her dates (which, to her chagrin, were always first or second dates). Work sucked, but it was part of the ebb of life that made its flow more satisfying. Right?

She slept in on the Saturdays she had off; she needed it. Usually, she was out cold until 10 or 11, but that particular Saturday she barely got any sleep because she was told she had a performance review when she came back on Monday—a "check-in hang," they called it. These were usually excuses to subtly berate her for not being devoted to Umbrla's "mission." The culture there was mostly white, mostly male, and scarcely private, both physically ("Walls are, like, bad, brah. Why should we put them between you guys?") and emotionally (she hadn't heard this much catty, gossipy bullshit from and about her peers even in high school). She could tolerate it, and she still did good work, but she didn't slide into it, and all she could think about from the cold comfort of her bed was how her management team always seemed to turn her lack of devotion to The Mission into a liability.

That, and how it wasn't her fault that every time they talked about "Umbrla's mission," her mind went to the zombie apocalypse. The question she always wanted to ask in these "check-in hangs" was "Seriously? You've never played a Resident Evil game? Watched any of the movies?"

She thought about these things while watching the sky brighten into dawn through her tiny bedroom window. She used to welcome the sight, but she was running on four-maybe-five hours of sleep and her leg kept shaking and her mind kept screaming until finally, she realized she wasn't going to make herself feel any better by staying still.

It was a Saturday in June, not even 7 AM when she got to the beach and already 84 degrees, so Devika dressed a little skimpier than she usually did for a morning run: white sports bra, powder blue nylon shorts, her dark, frizzy hair tied back in a tight ponytail. She had already gone about a mile by the time she reached Groundwork Coffee; normally around this time, she'd consider turning back. But there was the matter of all that nothing waiting back at the apartment, and despite the temperature, there was a nice breeze coming off the Pacific and the sky was a beautiful shade of crystal blue, accented by the occasional wisp of a cloud. So she figured she'd push herself a little farther before relaxing on the beach for an hour or so, maybe with a breakfast smoothie. With all the stress she was under, a peaceful-ish change of scenery could only do her good.

Being discovered was the last thing on Devika's mind.

But during that jog, just past Groundwork Coffee, discovered she was.

A voice called out to her, barely above Adam Levine's hook on "Stereo Hearts": "Excuse me, ma'am? Ma'am?"

She pulled out her earbuds and came face to face with a trim dude in a dark green Hawaiian shirt and board shorts, with wavy golden hair under a trilby hat that screamed: "I am a big, big fan of that band you never heard of." Yet it somehow worked for him; his vibe was an odd mix of "cute surfer boy" and "artsy hipster type," the appeal bolstered by the narrow yet sculpted arms that hinted at a toned figure underneath his clothes.

Anyway, he didn't seem to be holding anything she might have dropped. Devika connected her inquisitive brown eyes to his friendly blues.

"Hi, I'm sorry to bother you," he said, taking out his phone, opening the back of its case with a click. "I normally don't do this because it's super rude, but I'm in a bad spot and you might be able to help." Off Devika's cocked eyebrow, the man handed Devika an off-white business card he fished from the compartment of his phone case. "My name's Levi Fisher," he introduced himself; his card had his name, phone number, e-mail, Twitter handle, and website printed on durable, textured stock. "I'm a photographer," he continued, "and I was hoping you could model for me."

Devika blushed, taken aback by the unexpected, roundabout compliment. She did have a damn good shape about her; a soft, petite hourglass figure with hips that were slightly wider than her bust, and dark cinnamon skin that shimmered like bronze whenever she worked up a sweat. "Wow," she giggled. "Seriously?"

"Yeah, I know," said Levi. "It sounds like a line, but I'm dead serious. Listen, have you eaten? Can I at least buy you some breakfast while I tell you what's up?"

* * * * *

If it was a line, it worked; stuck in the thick of a year-long dry spell, Devika was more than happy to be plied with free food by a cute guy. After she introduced herself, Levi took her back to Groundwork Coffee. While she tucked into her breakfast burrito, he laid out the situation as plainly as he could: He had come here to meet up with a model he was doing a test shoot with, only for her to call and tell him she'd been throwing up all night. "Test shoots being what they are, it's hard to find a last-minute replacement; you normally just reschedule. But I've got a way bigger shoot happening Monday, and I'd really like to put my new camera through its paces before then."

"So I'm assuming that's where I come in?"

Levi nodded.

"You know, Levi, I think we've both seen a few movies on the internet that started just like this."

He laughed and ultimately nodded in acknowledgment. "Here's what I'll tell you," he said. "One, this won't make you a star. It's a test shoot, it's bullshit. I'm not going to show the pictures I take to all the 'talent agents' that I 'rub shoulders' with. So now that I've dashed any hopes you might have had for fame and fortune, I can't hold them over your head."

"For what it's worth, I don't give a shit about fame."

"Really?" Levi seemed genuinely, pleasantly thrown by this.

"I mean, I still love money," said Devika. "Don't start thinking I'm all Zen Buddhist just because of the color of my skin."

"Ah, this is LA," shrugged Levi. "We all need to love money to live out here."

"Very true. But yeah, I know enough about celebrity culture to know I'd rather not be one."

"I get that," said Levi. "I meet a lot of people chasing stardom in my line of work, and...well, look, I shouldn't judge, but it's cool that you're not like that."

"You seem like a decent fella, Levi," Devika admitted after swallowing a bite of her burrito. "Even if you are a big perv."

"Well, that's number two," laughed Levi; he had a good laugh, light and genuine. "By all means, visit my website, my LinkedIn, Google me, check my Twitter mentions, do whatever homework you have to do. I'm not some shitbird frat boy with a camera. I take my work seriously, I respect the people I work with, and I'm very, very good at it."

"Those sound like all the right answers," said Devika.

"Good, because here's a wrong one: When you do poke around, you'll find I've worked with my fair share of nude models."


"Yeah, look, I can defend it as art, but art is subjective and nudes are nudes. Point is, I don't want you to think that we have to go there just because I do that a lot."

"I get that," said Devika.

"That said," said Levi, "The girl I was going to work with was a friend of mine, so I'm not working with any crew on this shoot, and I'm doing it out of my home. I mean, all things considered, I figure this might feel like, you know, a lot. So if you want to bring one or two friends along to hang out, I won't mind at all."

Devika nodded, appreciative; Levi seemed pretty chill all around. Of course, those were the types one had to be extra careful of, and he did seem to be trying pretty hard to convince Devika he was all right, but it wasn't in a way that suggested he had an ulterior motive; just someone painfully self-aware of what he was asking.

"Okay," Devika finally said. "So if I say yes, what's in it for me?"

"Well, for every hour of your time today—at least two, likely four, maybe more if I feel like I'm on a roll..."


"...I'll pay you fifty bucks, and I'll send you the shots I take after I touch them up. Like I said, I can't make you famous; a kind word from me doesn't get that far. But assuming you enjoy it and you photograph well, I'll point you to some agencies that could set you up to model on the side if they like you."

"But you need me today."

"I need you today," admitted Levi. "And at the risk of putting you under pressure, it'd be irresponsible of me to stop looking for a replacement while I wait for your answer, hard as I think it'll be to get one."

"Of course!" Her burrito finished, Devika stood up and stretched her legs.

Even though their talk was strictly business, and he did most of the talking, Levi turned out to be pleasant company. Painfully self-aware, but upfront and honest. He was casual, but not "cool." He always looked her in the eyes while he pitched her, and didn't seem to hold any expectations or demands of her acceptance. The only problem she had with him is that she didn't get a chance to know him better.

Devika picked up Levi's business card from the table while taking out her own phone. "I'm assuming this is your cell number?" she asked while tapping out a text message.

"That's right."

After a final, definitive tap, Devika locked her phone and put it back in her pocket. "Okay, so let me think about this, and I'll get back to you within the hour. If you do find someone else—" Levi's phone buzzed. "That should be my number. Just give me a call and let me know."

"Sure thing."

"Great!" Devika extended her hand. "Well, if nothing else, thanks for the burrito!"

"My pleasure, Devika!" Levi shook the hand she offered. "Thanks for not macing me!"

"Well," Devika said, dipping her toe into the metaphorical sex water, "I wouldn't want to send you back to your girlfriend with your eyes all burned out."

"Joke's on you," said Levi, "I don't have a girlfriend."

"Ah!" Devika nodded. "That would make it way easier to bang your models!"

"Uh, yeah," said Levi, from his back foot. He pulled himself together and tapped the temple of his head. "Yeah, that's the galaxy brain shit right there."

And he was funny, too. Damn, why couldn't this have been a date?

* * * * *

Devika did have a few acquaintances who were well-versed in LA's modeling and fashion scene, so on her jog back, she blasted a text to them with his name and picture. She didn't expect them to get back to her within the hour, though, so once she got back to her car, she directed her phone to Levi's website for a little research.

Any doubts that Levi was legit vaporized upon setting eyes on his portfolio, which covered a wide range of subjects and styles. He shot landscapes and portraits; people at work, play, and rest; snowy mountains and sunny beaches. She never knew black and white photography could feel so warm and inviting, or that a colorful meadow could be so depressing. He seemed medium-time at best, but he clearly knew what he was doing.

She poked around the internet beyond his website, finding many more pictures he shot with models who would constantly associate him with terms like "joy," "privilege," "fun," "brilliant," and "wonderful." In the middle of this, one of Devika's acquaintances, Cassie, texted her back:

Oh, I worked with him! He's a good guy! A little thirsty, but I still had fun; never felt unsafe, never felt pushed into doing anything uncomfortable. Granted, his approach here is...interesting, and if it was anyone else, I'd say "don't." But I think you can trust him.

Just to cover your bases, though, have him send you something in writing that lays out the ground rules: no nudity, pre-approval on outfits, etc. Get your lawyer friend to look it over before you sign, too. Have fun!

A fair assessment...and a curiously intriguing one. It inspired Devika to go looking for his NSFW portfolio—which, oddly enough for her, pushed her over the top.

It was clear from those pictures that Levi loved women in the same ways any average straight guy did. The difference between him and the average straight guy, however, was as vast as Hell was hot. For one, Levi seemed to understand the power of imagination. Many of his best pictures were teases, hints, suggestions. The ones that weren't relied on more than the woman's form to sell her beauty; one of her favorites was of a skinny redhead, fully and joyously nude, with flowers in her hair. Levi had washed out the colors a bit to give the picture more of a 60s vibe, which enhanced the girl's innocent appeal. Later, Devika found another picture of that same girl—this one, her hands-down favorite. This one was noir-inspired; her figure was draped across a bed, now bathed in hard shadows with splashes of rain-soaked amber street light cast across her face and her breasts. Levi had taken his model from sweet to sultry as easily as one could snap their fingers.

And God Almighty did it drive her wild. A man as cute and charming as he was, who could look at a woman like that? Forget it; she was about to have what could politely be referred to as "a problem." She reached for her key to turn over the engine so she could go home and take care of this problem, but suddenly remembered that Levi wasn't waiting up for her. So she picked her phone back up and dialed him, quickly, before she could wake up from this dream.

"So I looked at your portfolio," she said after they greeted each other. "First of all, you're an amazing photographer."

"Thank you!"

"But here's the thing: You actually worked with a friend of mine a while back, Cassie MacGregor?"

"Uh...sounds vaguely familiar."

"Really? She said—oh, I'm an idiot. You'd know her as Cat Gregory."

"Oh, Cat!" Just from the sound of his voice, Devika could tell Levi's entire body had lit up at the mention of her friend's name. She took no offense; Cassie had that effect on people. "Holy shit, that's crazy," he exclaimed. "How's she doing?"

"Good! She actually had a really good time working with you and she told me I should go for it. She's a pretty smart person, being British and all..." Devika took a second to laugh at her own joke, another to worry that she laughed too much at it, yet another to chastise herself because Cassie was Scottish, God that was so stupid. "Anyway, uh, if you can send me something in writing, I'm in."

"You seriously just made my day," he said after a brief, excited silence, and Devika wondered how he could be so excited if he could've been photographing her actual model friend that liked working with him. "Absolutely," he continued, "text me your e-mail and I'll send you a contract. It's pretty straightforward, should only take five, maybe ten minutes to read through; it just goes over what we're going to do, what we're going to get out of it, and what happens if we want to change things up. But feel free to read it carefully, do whatever you have to do, and call me back if you have any concerns."

"Awesome. Thanks a lot!"

"Believe me, you're saving my life here. It's my pleasure. Actually, can I trouble you for one more—sorry, two more things?"


"First, by all means, bring an outfit you'd like to be photographed in, but I've also got a specific idea I wanted to shoot, so if I can get your measurements, I can set aside something that should look good on you—assuming you're okay with it, of course."

"Sure! Last I checked, 32D-24-34."

"24...34. Got it! Thanks!"

"Of course! What's the other thing?"

"I'm texting you a menu," he said. "Let me know what you'd like for lunch."

* * * * *

Devika one-timed the contract into her friend Sandip's inbox as soon as it landed in her own; she had called his office in advance, and he agreed to help her out, if only because the thought of Miss Celebrity-Culture-Is-Soooo-Fucked-Up moving to LA for the weather and falling into modeling was delicious.

"Look, in my defense," she said on the phone, "I'm doing it for a really cute guy who isn't you for once."

"Right," he laughed. Devika had a thing for Sandip since 9th grade. Sandip found the tragedy of it adorable. "A really cute guy who may or may not work for Reality Kings," he added.

"Reality Kings is based in Florida!"

"How do YOU know Reality Kings is based in Florida?"

"How do you know Reality Kings is a thing?"

"I watch straight porn the same way Joel Hodgson watches shitty movies or white people watch Worldstar videos."

"Those are different things!"

"Well, yeah," sneered Sandip. "It depends on the porn, obviously."

With the contract out to Sandip, Devika opened the PDF and looked it over for herself. It was, as promised, quite straightforward; only a couple pages long, light on legalese, clearly laying out their responsibilities to each other and what they're each allowed to do with the pictures he would take. There was one paragraph that caught her eye, though, one she was warned about up front. Sandip called back to talk about it while she drove back to her apartment.

"I don't know if I'd call it a problem, but it's something you should be aware of," he said.

"Paragraph 4 of section 1?"

"Mmm-hmm. You know what it says?"

"Well, the paragraph before says I can turn down any outfit he lays out, and that I'm not obligated to strip for him. He might ask anyway, but I can still say no, right?"

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