Last week I attended the inaugural “Dart Speak – A Writers Open Mic” at the Dart Gallery. I’d intended to read a short passage from Ocean’s Lure, but several people present asked if I could read something from my work-in-progress, Picture This.
Like Ocean’s Lure, Picture This is a contemporary romance. A mid-twenties model, out of work and out of luck, hires a freelance web designer, struggling artist, and divorced parent of twins to collaborate on making romance novel covers. Neither wants a relationship, but the faked emotions on the covers soon become real.
I read the prologue, because hopefully it requires no introduction or explanation, and hopefully it makes people interested in what comes next. Having shared it there, with a crowd of about three dozen, I’m aiming to double that audience by sharing it here. Comments appreciated.
January 14, 2016
The music was too loud for Derek to hear his phone ring, but he felt it vibrating in his pocket. Caller ID showed it was his agent. He wasn’t in the mood for business tonight, but the party wasn’t much fun either. And Jerry never called after office hours, which were long past, even in Toronto. He hadn’t heard from Jerry since before Christmas. Derek pushed through the crowd to the smallest of the four bedrooms in the luxury penthouse apartment. “Wait a sec.” He didn’t hear the response.
“Okay, I can hear you now.”
“Sounds like a quite a party.”
It wasn’t Jerry, but his assistant, Margo. She never called after hours either.
“You know how it is. What’s up?”
“Bad news. Are you sitting down?” Derek tried to imagine what news could be worse than the phone call he got on July 14. Six months ago. No wonder he wasn’t enjoying the party. He sat in a desk chair, looking past the three black monitors at snow falling on the trees of the Halifax Public Gardens. He assumed the rent for this place was a fortune, but Jerry told him the tax advantages were worth it.
“I’m sitting down. You okay?”
“It’s over. Jerry got arrested.”
“What do you mean, it’s over? Why would Jerry be arrested?”
“Look, I can’t talk long. The police are still here, they had a warrant, they’re taking the computers and everything. I’m out of work, and so are you. I’m letting you know that there’s no money. Your credit card is cancelled – didn’t you notice it wasn’t working today? None of your bills — rent, phone, hydro — will get paid. Your car lease is prepaid until next summer, in fact there’s an early termination penalty, but everything else is done.”
“I don’t understand. What about my money, my contract?”
“No, there’s nothing. No money. I don’t have time to explain.”
“What about the contract?” Derek had several contracts, but they both knew he was talking about Under-U, the underwear modelling contract. For three years he’d been the androgynous body of Under-U, a national unisex clothing company. He’d modelled neck warmers, socks, and everything in-between. The work meant lots of exercise, careful eating, and so much shaving, but it paid very well, and had led to other work, including posing for romance novel covers. It also made him a minor celebrity, which was why his apartment was full of people he didn’t know.
“Jerry didn’t tell you?” Margo gave a brittle laugh. “Under-U didn’t renew at the end of the year. That’s probably what pushed Jerry over the edge. So, it’s sort of your fault.”
“I’m fired, I have no money, and it’s my fault?”
“At least you aren’t getting arrested. Sorry, but I’ve got to call the other models. Good luck.”
Derek started at the phone in his hand. None of that call made sense. He clicked a delivery app, clicked reorder, and requested the Buddha Delight salad he had purchased last night. The order failed: Payment method invalid.
Shrieks of laughter broke through the music. Derek was tempted to run from the bedroom screaming at everyone to get out, leave him alone, but years of carefully maintaining his public image restrained him, even if he was no longer under a contract morals clause. He went back to the party, smiled, and took off his shirt when the inevitable chant circulated. After the last stragglers left, disappointed but not surprised they were not invited to spend the night, he walked out onto the balcony.
The late hour and the muting effect of the snow ensured a peaceful view. The wrap-around balcony let him observe everything from the looming darkness of Citadel Hill to the twinkling lights on the container cranes at the South End Terminal. He’d arrived in Toronto broke and alone, six years ago. Now he was broke and alone again, and in Halifax, without any of the opportunities of Toronto. Not as broke as before, he thought, recalling the hundred or so he had stashed in the kitchen, thanks to his mother’s advice. He looked past the Public Gardens to the dark area of the Camp Hill Cemetery. But more alone.