Funny Face: Chapter 2 by Lbilover

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Notes: My knowledge of professional photography is mostly all Internet gained. Be kind! Please note that much (not all) of the dialogue in this part is lifted directly from the movie, with slight modifications here and there.



There was nothing that gave Sean greater joy than working in a darkroom. Sure, he made use of digital technology like every other photographer these days, and his Canon 400D was a reliable workhorse that took terrific photos when he was out in the field and couldn’t use the Deardorff. But there was nothing like the sense of satisfaction he got from hands-on developing, from being in total control of the process from start to finish. He loved every aspect of darkroom work, with its combination of technical precision and artistry. Even the smell of the harsh chemicals was a dear and familiar friend.


Tension gradually built inside him while he created his prints, developing the film, choosing the exposure, the filters, adjusting the colors; the rush he got when the finicky, demanding work done in near total darkness resulted in a photo of stunning beauty was better than the best orgasm he’d ever had.


Today, though, Sean was having trouble achieving his usual state of photographic nirvana. It was entirely the fault of Elijah, the young man from the bookstore whom Cate had impulsively involved in the shoot. He hadn’t been able to shake Elijah from his mind; he was still under Sean’s skin, irritating and itching, like one of those damned chiggers he’d picked up several years ago during a fashion shoot at a resort in South Carolina.


Sean finished rinsing the final photograph and set it on the drying rack. His task done, he didn’t experience the elation and sense of accomplishment from the fruits of his labors that he usually did. Instead he grimaced, and shaking his head at his own weakness of will, reached for one of the first photos he’d developed. It was nearly dry now, and he removed it from the rack, holding it carefully between his hands as he studied it.


Orli’s white suit and teal scarf provided a vivid contrast to the earth tone browns and muted golds of the shop. The model’s serious expression leant him an air of scholarly detachment that achieved exactly the effect Cate had wanted: a guy dressed in stylish clothes, who wasn’t interested in style but, in this case, great literature. Her decision to use Embryo Concepts as the backdrop for Ian McKellen’s spring collection had been inspired. Orli looked smashing, the bookstore suitably intellectual, and while the final decision on which photos to use in the spread rested with Cate and Andy, the magazine’s art director, Sean was secure in the knowledge that no matter what she chose, his photographs would help to sell copies of Quality Magazine—a lot of them.


But smashing as he looked, it wasn’t Orlando who held Sean’s attention. It was Elijah, awkwardly clutching an armful of sloppily arranged books to his chest as he gazed up at Orli with what could only be called a ‘what the fuck’ look on his face.


He took Sean’s breath away.


There were faces the camera adored. This face the camera worshipped.


Sean never knew for certain until he developed a photo how the subject would appear; some of the most unlikely faces, faces with exaggerated or uneven features, photographed the best. Often faces considered beautiful by conventional standards photographed bland and uninteresting. Elijah, with his enormous, luminous blue eyes, skin that even without powder appeared flawless, and bone structure that was a photographer’s dream of subtle hollows and intriguing planes, was a total knock-out.


Everything about the set-up should have worked against Elijah—his inexperience, his dark clothes, his posture, the scruff that blurred the outline of his chin—but it didn’t. An aching, nigh overwhelming desire to photograph that face again, and again, and again, to explore every facet from every angle, filled Sean. He huffed a rueful laugh. Too bad the possessor of said face considered fashion photographers barely one step up from serial killers, and would doubtless run screaming at the very suggestion that Sean be allowed to shoot him.


It was a pity, and yet despite himself, Sean felt a reluctant tug of admiration for Elijah. He was thoughtful and intelligent, he had spirit, and he definitely wasn’t afraid to stand up for what he believed in. Those were rare and valuable qualities in Sean’s experience. Hell, Elijah had given Cate a run for her money, and not many people could claim as much.


With definite regret for what might have been, he restored the photo to its spot on the drying rack. Elijah’s image, though, wasn’t so easily put away. Nor was the memory of how soft his lips had felt beneath Sean’s own.


_____________________________



One week later...


“When you hear my new idea you are going to die,” Cate said the instant Sean stepped into her swank office with its panoramic view of the city. “It staggers me that no one has ever thought of it before.”


“All right, kill me,” Sean invited, perching a hip on the edge of an acre-sized antique mahogany desk littered with model portfolios, tearsheets, swatches of fabric, and current issues of competitors’ magazines.


She struck a dramatic pose in front of the window. With her willowy figure flatteringly outlined by a Dior suit, her height augmented by Manolo Blahniks, and her high cheekbones and elongated cat-eyes emphasized by an upswept ‘do, she could easily have been a high-end model herself, but as she’d told Sean any number of times, “I wouldn’t be caught dead on a runway.”


“I’m going to select a man to be the Quality Man,” she announced. “This one man will represent everything the magazine stands for.”


“It’s a great gimmick,” Sean said, pursing his lips as he considered the idea.


“Gimmick?” Cate repeated scornfully. “It’s a triumph! Sean, Ian McKellen has agreed to design an entire collection around our Quality Man, and he’s going to allow us to photograph it before the opening of his Paris show in two weeks.” A glint of triumph sparked in her gray eyes. “We’ll scoop every other magazine.”


“Wow.”


“Staggers you, doesn’t it?”


“Absolutely. I can’t believe Ian agreed to it.” And if Sean hadn’t known that Ian was an old queen, gayer than gay Paree, he’d have suspected a little romantic persuasion on Cate’s part. Ian stood to piss off their competitors, who weren’t going to take the betrayal lightly.


“Can’t you?” Cate smiled like a cat who’d got at the cream. She loved it when she was able to surprise him.


“So, who do you have in mind for the ‘Quality Man’?” Sean asked.


She threw up her hands. “God knows. I’ve been going through portfolios all morning and those are the best I could come up with.” She pointed at the lightbox on her desk.


Sean considered the three photos on the box. Each of the models was a top notch professional and would cheerfully commit murder to land such a plum assignment. “Any of these men would be all right,” he said.


“He’s got to be better than all right. He’s got to have pizzazz. Sean, I need you to come up with some other suggestions for me.”


“When do you need them?” he asked, setting down the photos.


“Yesterday,” Cate replied crisply. “Ian is already going great guns on the designs. He expects us in Paris with our Quality Man in a week for the fittings. That doesn’t leave us much time.”


“I’ll do my best.” Sean got up and sketched an ironic obeisance. A week, he thought as he left her office. They would have to move mountains to be ready to leave for Paris in a week. But they’d manage it. For one thing, Cate didn’t accept failure as an alternative, and for another, she had uttered the magic word: Paris.


Already Sean could taste the fresh baguettes at his favorite boulangerie and smell the spring flowers in the Tuileries garden. Paris in the springtime; it was everything the songs made it out to be and then some. Maybe he’d indulge in a light-hearted love affair — sex with no strings attached, Parisian style. He knew the right clubs to frequent to meet guys similarly inclined. It had been a while, and he could use a bit of ego boosting in the wake of Elijah’s rejection.


It occurred to him that while he was in Paris, he could search out that Professor Whatsisname that Elijah had mentioned and attend a lecture on Empathicalism. It would likely be entertaining if not educational, and he was curious about this mysterious philosopher whom Elijah revered. He chuckled, imagining the flabbergasted expression on Elijah’s face if he found out…


Sean came to an abrupt halt in the middle of the corridor. Elijah, Paris. Paris, Elijah. The word association planted the seed of a staggeringly perfect idea in his brain, dislodging Parisian-style love affairs and Empathicalism. My god, and Cate thought she was going to kill him with the brilliance of her ideas? Ha! Just wait until she got a load of Sean’s.


He actually broke into a jog so anxious was he to get to his studio on Fulton Street and his files of photos. By the time he arrived there, stoked with excitement, the seed had sprouted and was growing like Jack’s fabled beanstalk.


He’d found Cate’s Quality Man.


_____________________________



The door to Cate’s office was ajar when Sean returned a few hours later with a manila folder in his arms, and he could hear a babble of voices inside.


“Wait ‘til you see what I’ve got,” he pronounced, bursting into the room.


Silence fell, and everyone stared at him. Cate was surrounded by her usual coterie of young, ambitious, good-looking, mostly gay assistants. Sean could never keep them straight, because they came and went with distressing frequency; working for Quality Magazine was not for the faint of heart. The magazine’s not-so-young, not-so-good-looking, most definitely not gay art director, Andy Serkis, was also there, and Sean was pleased. Andy was one of Cate’s oldest and most trusted employees, and therefore a valuable ally. If he liked Sean’s idea, it would weigh heavily with Cate.


“What have you got?” Cate asked, one elegant eyebrow lifting.


“The man. The Quality Man,” Sean said, handing a photo to Cate. He removed the photos on the lightbox and replaced them with three more of the photos of Orli and Elijah from the bookstore shoot that he’d brought.


She held it up. “Orlando?” she scoffed. “Don’t tell me that’s the best you could come up with, Sean.”


“Forget Orli. It’s the other man I’m talking about. Elijah.”


“That lunatic from the bookstore?” She lowered the photo and stared at him in disbelief.


Sean grabbed a red grease pen from the holder on her desk. “Cate,” he said, drawing a decisive circle around Elijah, “he’s new. He’s fresh.” He swiveled the lightbox toward her.


“You’ve gone out of your mind.”


Andy examined the photos. “Well, one can’t deny that he’s, uh, unusual. Who is he?” he asked curiously.


“Don’t even ask,” Cate said, rolling her eyes. “The thought of him makes me shudder. Dreadful, dreadful young man. Sean, if this is some sort of joke…”


“It’s no joke,” Sean replied emphatically. “He might need help to get up to speed, but with a little work, he’d be great for us.”


“He’d devour us all!”


“Oh come on, Cate.”


Cate picked up a magnifying glass and held it over Elijah. “Well, look at him,” she said. “I think his face is perfectly funny. The Quality Man must have charm, rugged good looks and pizzazz.”


“This is the first time I’ve seen you lack imagination,” said Sean. “Every guy on every page of Quality has charm, rugged good looks and pizzazz. What’s wrong with bringing out a guy with character, spirit and intelligence?”


“That would be novel in a fashion magazine,” Andy joked.


“Andy, I owe you a drink,” Sean said, offering him his hand, which Andy shook with enthusiasm.


Cate rested her chin in her palm and narrowed her eyes as she contemplated Elijah. “Can you make me some black and white enlargements?” she asked abruptly.


“Yes,” Sean said, while inside he was fist pumping in triumph. He’d won.


“Use our darkroom. Let me study the possibilities.”


“Now you’re talking.” Sean headed for the door.


“I’m not promising anything,” Cate called after him in a singsong voice.


“You don’t have to,” Sean said over his shoulder, and with an airy wave, departed for the darkroom.


_____________________________



“Embryo Concepts.”


“I’d like to order some books,” said a young and very gay male voice on the other end of the phone.


“What sort of books?” Elijah asked.


“Assorted books. Five hundred dollars worth.”


Elijah choked. “Did you say five hundred dollars?”


“That’s right. And we need them delivered immediately.”


Elijah held the receiver away and stared at it. What the fuck? he thought. It was hands down the weirdest request he’d ever gotten. “Let me make sure I’ve got this right. You need five hundred dollars worth of assorted books delivered right now?”


“Correct.”


“And you don’t care what the subject matter is?”


“Anything at all will do. But make sure they have attractive covers. We, ah, need them for a photo shoot.”


A photo shoot? A dark suspicion entered Elijah’s mind. “Where are you calling from?” he asked.


“Quality Magazine.” He might have been saying ‘Buckingham Palace’. The effect on Elijah was probably not what the speaker intended.


Oh no, not them again, Elijah thought, repressing a groan. His immediate impulse was to slam down the phone, but he couldn’t. Not when they were prepared to buy five hundred dollars worth of books. As far as he knew, it was the biggest order the store had ever gotten, and he owed it to Uncle Ian to follow through. Embryo Concepts didn’t exactly do a booming business with competition from those giants like Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Anyway, simply sending some books uptown to the magazine’s offices on Madison Avenue couldn’t hurt. It wasn’t the same as last time, when they invaded the store like the proverbial swarm of locusts, leaving total chaos behind. He was still finding books out of order on the shelves.


“Will this be cash or credit card?”


“Cash.”


Fuck. He’d have to deliver the books himself then. The very thought of possibly encountering that awful woman there, not to mention Sean… Elijah’s cheeks grew hot as he recalled the unexpected kiss that despite his best efforts he still thought about far too often. “Look, can’t you send someone to pick the books up? I’ll have to close the store otherwise.”


“Darling,” the man drawled, “the break will do you good. You sound very tense.”


Elijah sighed and gave up. “I’ll be there as soon as I can,” he said, and hung up.


Thirty-five minutes later, he locked the front door, hailed a cab and was on his way uptown. On the seat beside him was a pile of books that he hoped would meet the ‘attractive cover’ requirement. They were mostly expensive coffee table type art books. Elijah had been tempted as a matter of irony to bring weighty tomes on materialism and psychopiscoparalysm, but in the end decided that it would be a waste of good reading material.


The magazine offices were on the twentieth floor of a building in a trendy section of Madison Avenue that was filled with shops that subscribed to the ‘if you have to ask, you can’t afford it’ motto. Elijah couldn’t even begin to fathom what the monthly rent for these stores must be — enough to feed the poor and starving for a year, most likely. He knew what Professor Mortensen would say, that Elijah should put himself in the place of one of the ultra-wealthy and ultra well-dressed people he saw strolling along the sidewalk with shopping bags that said ‘Cartier’ and ‘Gucci’, and he’d discover that their lives were as full of trouble and strife as anyone else’s.


But somehow he couldn’t quite bring himself to do it, even if it made him a bad Empathicalist. He had no desire to know how this other half lived, especially after his encounter with the people from Quality Magazine.


No, he would simply drop off the books, take his money, and go back to the Village where he belonged. The cool spill of bright silk through his hands and the warm press of Sean’s lips he put resolutely out of his mind.


He was whisked up to the twentieth floor in a mirrored elevator manned by a portly middle-aged attendant in a bellhop’s maroon uniform with gold braiding on the jacket’s shoulders and breast and on the round maroon cap that perched on his grizzled hair. Poor guy, Elijah thought empathetically, forced to work in that ridiculous get-up giving rides to a bunch of over-privileged rich who probably found pushing elevator buttons beneath them. He was clearly feeling downtrodden and put upon.


He gave the man a commiserating look in a spirit of friendly solidarity, the masses against the classes, and received a cheerful smile in return. ‘God, I love my job,’ that smile said. Oops. Elijah sighed mentally and studied the toes of his scuffed black Chucks. He still had a lot to learn about Empathicalism.


He was disgorged on the twentieth floor into the lobby of Quality Magazine. It was pretty much exactly what he expected: chic, glamorous, monochromatic, and intimidating as hell. A young man a few years older than him sat behind the ultra-modern sleek white reception desk that held an ultra-modern sleek white computer and an ultra-modern sleek white phone. Somehow Elijah felt certain, looking at him, that he was the one who had called the store. Maybe it was the heavily applied black eyeliner and mascara that gave it away and the spiky black-dyed hair, or maybe it was the funky gray and black geometric pattern blazer and the fingerless gray gloves.


His dark eyes scrutinized Elijah from head to toes, taking in his grubby jeans jacket, faded Ramones tee shirt, Levis, and Chucks, and finally the books he held in his arms. “Oh, so it’s you, darling,” he said. “You’re not at all what I expected.”


Yes, it was phone guy, but what on earth he was talking about, Elijah had no idea. Whatever it was, it didn’t sound like a compliment. “I’m here to drop off the books you requested,” he said. He dug two receipts out of the front pocket of his jeans.


“The total comes to $556.48. That’s $544.38 with tax for the books, plus $12.10 for the cab.”


But phone guy ignored him. He picked up the telephone receiver and punched a button. “He’s here,” he said, and hung up.


“Um, the books?” Elijah asked. “Where should I put them down?”


A door at the far end of the reception area opened and a woman appeared: tall, blonde, elegant, dressed to the nines. Oh no, Elijah thought. It was her. He was tempted simply to dump the books on the reception desk and bolt; only the thought of the $556.48 he was owed prevented him.


“Well, come along,” Cate said briskly. “There’s not a moment to waste.”


With a sense rather of approaching a lioness’s den, Elijah walked toward her. She held the door open wider, made a sweeping gesture with her hand, and Elijah reluctantly passed through. The door closed firmly behind him, and ridiculous as it might seem, he felt trapped.


The room was filled with people. He recognized Miranda, the make-up artist, but none of the other faces was familiar. They were all staring expectantly straight at him, however, and he began to get a sinking sensation that a replay of the insanity at the bookstore was imminent.


“Where would you like me to put the books?” he asked.


“Drop the books,” Cate instructed him.


“What?”


“Go on, drop the books.”


“On the floor?” Elijah squeaked.


“Yes, on the floor.”


Elijah crouched and set the pile of books down on the thick cream-colored carpet. As he straightened, Cate grabbed hold of his shoulders from behind and yanked on them. “Straighten up, shoulders back,” she said. “If people only knew how important good posture is.”


Elijah shrugged out of her grasp and stepped back. “Listen, I didn’t come here to enroll in a military academy, but to deliver your books,” he said. “Now just give me my $556.48.” He consulted the sales receipt. “It’s $77.95 for the Modigliani. $62.50 each for the Braques and the Hieronymus Bosch, $89.95 for the Post-Impressionists, $75.50 for the Egyptians, Fourth to Seventh Dynasties, $53.75 for the Michelangelo, and $68.85 for the Van Gogh. That comes to $500 plus $44.38 for the tax and $12.10 for the cab ride, for a total of $556.48.”


“Talks incessantly,” Cate said, shaking her head.


One of the young men in the circle that had gathered around Elijah said, “He’s short, but he’s well-proportioned. The body’s good.”


“It’ll be better when we get through with it,” Cate replied, walking around him and studying him.


“Through with what?” Elijah asked in bewilderment, swiveling his head to follow her progress.


“You know, he might do,” she went on, tapping one long, elegant forefinger against her flawlessly made-up cheek.


“Might do what?” Bewilderment was turning to alarm. Lioness’s den? Little had he known — he felt like Princess Leia chained in Jabba the Hutt’s saloon. Avid eyes examined him as if he were little better than some slave put there for them to drool over.


Cate took his chin in her hand. “The bones are good,” she pronounced, forcing his head this way and that.


Elijah pushed her hand away and took another step back. The horde stepped with him and the hunted sensation increased. “Suppose we leave my bones out of this, and you give me my $556.48.”


“Miranda, I want a light powder here—not much, his skin is excellent. But this scruff on his chin has got to go first—it’s ghastly. And the hair is a total disaster. It simply must be cut.”


“Would you mind telling me what this is all about?” Elijah asked indignantly.


“We may as well get started. First let me get this dreadful thing off him.” Cate reached for his jeans jacket, with the evident intent of removing it, while Miranda advanced him on, make-up kit in hand, along with a young man wielding a pair of shiny silver scissors in one hand and a Gillette razor in the other. Before Elijah knew what was happening, his jacket was off. The others crowded round, ready to get to work powdering and shaving and cutting.


“Hang on. Just hang on a minute,” Elijah said sharply, snatching his jacket out of Cate’s hands. He rarely got his dander up or lost his temper, but this was simply too much. When they all ignored him, he flung out his arms and yelled loudly, “Stop!”


Everyone froze in place.


“This is my second and last encounter with you lunatics,” Elijah said. “You just keep your hands off me, all of you. I come here to make a simple book delivery and find myself being manhandled. Well, fuck that.” His voice rose. It was actually shaking, he was that pissed off now. “I don’t want a haircut. I don’t want powder, a little or a lot, on my face. And I like my chin exactly the way it is — scruffy.” He began to back slowly toward the door. “I’m leaving now, and if anyone so much as makes a move to stop me, there’ll be plenty of hair cut, trust me, but I guarantee you none of it will be mine.”


He pivoted on the balls of his feet, and bolted for the door. Fuck the $556.48, he thought. He was outta there. He wrenched the office door open and ran for his life, straight past the startled receptionist, who half-rose from his chair, saying, “Well, that obviously went well.”


“After him, Bret!” Cate cried. “Everyone, bring him back — alive!”


The hunt was on. Elijah turned down the first corridor he came to and sprinted to the end. He could hear pounding feet behind him. He slipped and nearly fell as he rounded the corner but desperation gave him strength, and he nimbly recovered and ran on. He hated running. As far as he was concerned the only reason to run was because someone was chasing you, or, as in this case, many someones. He darted into the next hallway he saw, and then noticed a recessed doorway halfway down. He dove for it, huddling into the narrow shelter it offered, and listened intently.


“Do you see him?” someone said.


“Not down here,” Bret the receptionist called back.


“Well, come on then, and hurry up before he escapes.”


The voices faded. But Elijah didn’t celebrate. This was simply a reprieve. He had to find a better hiding place, pronto. He tried the handle of the door beside him. It turned. He opened the door, slipped inside, and slumped back against it in relief.


For about one second that is.


“Hey,” a voice exclaimed. “Didn’t you see that light outside?”


Elijah recognized that voice. Oh fuck. Out of the frying pan, into the fire. As if things couldn’t get any worse, it was Sean.


_____________________________



He'd found refuge in a darkroom. An amber-colored safe light overhead shed just sufficient illumination that he could see Sean standing beside an enlarger. It was beaming white light at the opposite wall, where a metal easel was mounted. What was in the easel being enlarged, Elijah couldn’t tell from his angle. Despite himself, his curiosity was roused. He’d always been fascinated by photography, had even helped out in the darkroom in high school. But his philosophy studies hadn’t allowed him to do more than dabble in it since.


And also despite himself, the sight of Sean, wearing snug-fitting jeans and a button down of some indeterminate dark color with the sleeves rolled up to reveal muscular forearms, roused other emotions in Elijah, emotions he had no desire to experience or explore.Liar, a little voice inside his head reprimanded him.


“In desperation, one does not examine one’s avenue of escape,” Elijah said with some bitterness.


Sean chuckled; the rich deep sound sent shivers through Elijah.


“Oh, it’s you,” he said, seeming unsurprised.


There was a click as he shut off the enlarger and picked up a large sheet of photo paper from the counter that ran along one wall of the room and held a sink, a digital clock, an assortment of graduates, boxes of surgical gloves, stacks of photo paper and other arcane paraphernalia. Above it were several long shelves filled with bottles of chemicals.


“I’m sorry if I ruined a print,” Elijah said, straightening. He knew that even the tiniest amount of outside light getting in could be disastrous.


“That’s all right.” Sean crossed to the easel. He unfastened it, let the paper that was in it fall to the floor, and replaced it with the photo paper he’d picked up. “What’s all the desperation about?”


He worked with the unhurried motions of someone who knew precisely what he was doing, adjusting the paper in the easel and then locking it in place. Elijah couldn’t help noticing his hands: large and capable. What would it be like to have those large and capable hands on his body? The errant thought passed through his mind. Were they as skilled at lovemaking as they were at developing photos? Elijah batted the thought away, glad of the dull light that hid his sudden blush.


“Those people,” he answered, setting his jeans jacket on the counter. “They could care less about anyone else’s feelings. That woman pulled the jacket right off me, and wanted to put powder on my face, for fuck’s sake.”


“Who, Cate?”


“Yeah.”


A knock came on the door, and the receptionist Bret said, “Sean, have you seen that guy from the bookstore? Is he in there?” He sounded almost desperate.


Elijah tensed.


Sean looked toward the door then hesitated. “Maybe you should give them a chance to…” he began sotto voce.


Elijah shook his head vehemently and hissed, “Please don’t give me away.”


Sean nodded. “No,” he said loudly, “there was no one here when I came in.”


“Well if you see him, darling, hang on to him.” There was a babble of voices that died as the posse moved off.


“I’ll do that,” Sean said, and huffed a laugh. “I’m afraid this is all my fault,” he added as he returned to the enlarger and turned it back on. “I thought you’d make a good model.”


Elijah was flabbergasted. “You mean this is your idea?” He should be mad at Sean for setting him up to be hassled by that crew of nutjobs, but he couldn’t be. And not because Sean thought he could make a good model, which was totally insane, but because he hadn’t simply dismissed Elijah from his mind after he left the store that day. He’d actually thought about him afterward. Wow.


“Yeah, I’m the one that you sue,” joked Sean.


“Oh, how could I model?” Elijah protested. “I have no illusions about my looks. I think my face is funny.”


Sean chuckled again. “That’s what Cate said.”


“I hate to admit it, but she’s right.” Finally, something that he and that madwoman had in common. Who’d have thought?


“But what you call ‘funny’, Elijah, I call ‘interesting’,” Sean said. He consulted his watch, reached up and turned off the enlarger.


Elijah grimaced, thinking of Orlando in that white suit making all those exaggerated expressions and gestures. “It’s too ridiculous even to think about. I couldn’t do it.”


“Let me be the judge of that.” Sean strode back to the easel and removed the photo paper. He carried it to the row of print trays in the center of the room and slid it into the one on the far left. “I wouldn’t take you to Paris if I didn’t think you’d work out.”


Elijah straightened as ramrod straight as even that dictator Cate could have wished. “Paris?” he repeated, as a dazzling vision of the City of Light opened before him. He went to the end of the print tray table and clutched it with hands that were trembling. He stared at Sean in amazement.


“Yeah,” Sean said, gently pushing the paper into the chemical wash with the tips of his fingers. “Look at it this way. Modeling may not be as bad as you think, but if it is, at least you’ll be in Paris. You can see your Professor Whatsisname.”


“Mortensen?” He breathed the name reverently.


“Yeah. You can talk to him, go to his lectures… That way it won’t be a total loss.” Sean lifted the paper from the tray and set it in the one adjacent. He gently tilted the tray from side to side to let the wash run over the developing photo.


“A—a means to an end,” Elijah said, his mind racing. To meet Viggo Mortensen, to listen to him lecture, maybe even to talk to him one on one about Empathicalism… Why, he’d practically walk over burning coals for the opportunity. Surely modeling couldn’t be more painful than that!


“Or a means to a beginning,” suggested Sean. “According to how it works out.” He removed the dripping paper and slid it into the final tray to rinse it. After a few seconds he lifted it out. “Now let’s see…” He grinned, and held the finished photo toward Elijah. “There we are.”


“Oh no!” Elijah exclaimed. It was his face, his funny face, grossly magnified so that his big bug eyes looked buggier than ever, and his pointy nose and his uneven lips, which were higher on one side than the other, practically jumped out at him and yelled ‘Weird!’


“What’s the matter?” Sean asked. He sounded genuinely puzzled, which would have been flattering if Elijah could have torn his gaze away from the horrifying sight of his enlarged face.


“How can you possibly make a model out of that?” he asked in dismay. “You can’t be serious.”


Sean huffed a laugh. “When I get through with you, you’ll look like…” He pondered a moment. “What would you call beautiful? A tree? You’ll look like a tree.”


“A tree with bug eyes,” Elijah said.


Sean set down the photo. “Come with me,” he said, taking Elijah by the hand, and led him over to the easel. He stood him with his back to it. “Now stay put — consider this your first modeling assignment.”


Elijah stayed put, wondering what Sean was going to do. He watched as he strode back to the enlarger and flipped the switch. Brilliant white light shone full on Elijah’s face. He squinted and half raised one hand to shield his eyes, but dropped it as Sean approached. His heart started to beat faster. Sean placed a finger under Elijah’s chin and lifted it. His touch was gentle and respectful, totally unlike the imperious Cate, and Elijah thought, amazed, I could enjoy working with him.


Suddenly the idea of going to Paris held an appeal unrelated to Viggo Mortensen. Maybe modeling wouldn’t be so bad after all.


“You are going to make a killer tree, Elijah,” Sean said, and though his tone was light, his hazel eyes were serious.


For a moment, Elijah thought that Sean was going to kiss him again. This time if he did, he would definitely be practicing Empathicalism. But to Elijah’s secret disappointment, he removed his finger and turned away to pick up the photo.


“You ready to beard the lioness in her den?” he asked, and Elijah involuntarily smiled at Sean’s use of the same simile he’d used in his mind earlier.


“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Elijah said wryly, retrieving his jacket. He sighed. He was attached to his chin fuzz, which was de rigeur for budding philosophers.


Sean gave him an encouraging smile. “Just keeping thinking about Paris and Professor Whatsisname,” he advised.


“I’ll do that.” But Elijah was pretty certain it wasn’t thoughts of Paris or Professor Mortensen that were going to help him survive the coming ordeal.


_____________________________



Sean pushed the door to Cate’s office open with his foot and marched triumphantly into the room, holding the photo of Elijah in front of him like a bullfighter’s cape. Elijah’s dismay to the contrary, the photo was a knock-out, and Sean knew it. He’d been right. The camera worshipped Elijah’s face. God, he couldn’t wait to get to Paris and starting shooting it.


“Ladies and gentlemen,” he announced, “feast your eyes on our Quality Man.”


“Oh, that is marvelous!” Cate enthused, clapping her hands together like an excited child. Sean passed the photo over, and the rest of the crew oohed and aahed over it.


Elijah trailed in after Sean, looking very much as if he were having second thoughts.


But Cate, as Sean well knew, had her moments of humanity and humility. When she set eyes on Elijah, she exclaimed remorsefully, “My dear boy, I owe you an apology. I behaved abominably.”


Sean bit back a smile at Elijah’s reaction. If Cate had started turning cartwheels around the room he couldn’t have appeared more shocked.


“Elijah’s agreed to go to Paris,” Sean said. “Not only agreed, he can hardly wait.”


“Oh, marvelous!” Cate said again.


Elijah raised his soon-to-be-scruffless chin. “I hope you understand that this is not a loss of integrity,” he said with dignity. “It is purely a means to an end, and…”


“Well, there’s no time for talking now,” Cate interrupted him. “You can tell us about it later. All right, everyone,” she said briskly, “we’ve got to get cracking. To work and to Paris!”


In seconds Elijah was surrounded, and his transformation into the Quality Man got underway. His eyes met Sean’s, and he smiled, the rueful smile of one who has realized he can’t escape the whirlwind, but simply has to throw himself into it and be swept away.


It was a start, Sean thought.