“Just a few more seconds. Hold it...”
Syd needed to get the perfect angle for the final shot and both she and the model had contorted their bodies. The model, wearing a sapphire-colored halter gown with a high slit that went all the way to her hipbone leaned so far back her ribs protruded and neck muscles strained. Meanwhile, Syd who started the set in a simple squat, had leaned so far that her right leg was stretched out and most of her weight rested on left leg that was bent under her.
Syd looked at the screen previewing the shot and let out a breath. “Okay, perfect!”
The model returned to an upright position and released her breath before running over to Syd. “How’d it turn out?” She said anxiously.
Syd clicked through the final few shots they’d taken. “You’re really a natural, Mandi. I won’t even have to do much editing. I’m so glad we were able to do this shoot today,” she beamed.
"You’re glad? I’m the excited one! It’s nearly impossible to get on the legendary Syd Johnson’s schedule.”
“I wouldn’t say legendary,” Syd smirked. “Besides, none of it would happen without living works of art like yourself allowing me to capture your images.”
“You’re too kind,” Mandi responded with a flattered smile. “When will you be done with editing? I’m hoping to get these photos into my portfolio ASAP!”
“Hmm...” Syd touched her hand to her chin. “What’s today? Wednesday? I’ll have them to you early next week at the latest. Does that work?”
“Yes! Of course! I really appreciate you doing this. It feels like my first real break. Things have honestly been so difficult since I moved to the city, I was really hoping I’d —”
“How about I keep you in mind for upcoming jobs?” Syd interrupted. Mandi had already explained several times before the shoot even started that she recently moved to New York to pursue her modeling career after having success with local brands and designers in North Carolina, but soon realized that breaking into the scene in a city that’s quite literally the center of the world would be difficult.
“Really?” Mandi put her hands on her cheeks as her eyes began to water.
“Of course,” Syd smiled. “It’s tough out here and I finally feel like I’m in a position to help people. Oh, but one condition.”
“What’s that?” Mandi wiped the tears from her eyes.
“Next time you visit home, make sure to bring me back some of that famous pulled pork,” Syd winked.
Mandi burst out laughing and pulled Syd into a tight hug. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you so much!”
“Okay, okay,” Syd said, nearly choking as she peeled Mandi’s arms off of her. “I haven’t gotten you any work yet, so don’t get too excited,” she chuckled.
“Right. Well, I guess I’ll get changed and go. Thank you again!”
Mandi walked off and Syd started packing her bag of supplies and straightening up the studio.
“You’re the only one I know who manages to turn photographing human models into an extreme sport.”
Syd jumped, startled by the familiar voice. “How long were you there, Hector?” She questioned, not hiding the agitation in her tone. She tried her best to avoid looking at her ex-boyfriend, afraid that making eye contact would cause her to fall apart.
“I’ve always loved seeing you work, cielo. You know that.” Hector approached Syd, handing her one of the lenses she was missing from her bag.
Syd snatched the lens and put it away. “You sure about that? Seems like you much preferred to watch the models I was shooting considering I found you fucking one — no wait — two of them in our bed.” She sped up her pace, rushing around the room to clean up and get away from him.
“Wait, cielo.” Hector pleaded as he grabbed Syd’s arm.
She pulled away from his grip. “Déjame en paz! I told you I didn’t want to see your ass again. How did you even know I’d be here?”
“This is your favorite place to shoot.”
Syd rolled her eyes as she finished packing and bolted toward the door when she was blocked by Hector.
“Cielo, please. You haven’t even given me the chance to explain! I miss you so much it hurts.”
“Nah, you know what hurts? Catching the man that you spent five years with cheating on you in your bed and having the time of his fucking life doing it. You did that to yourself. This is your fault. So, fuck off.” Syd pushed Hector out of the way and ran through the door before the tears finally reached her eyes. It’d already been two months, but she still found herself crying at the images in her head catching Hector in their bed with two models that she had worked with on multiple occasions.
“Please!” Hector ran after her.
“If you follow me, I promise you will fucking regret it more than you claim to regret cheating on me, so I suggest you stay the fuck back there,” Syd warned with a cold voice without turning to look at him.
Hector stopped his pursuit and Syd rushed out of the building.
It was mid-fall in New York City, Syd’s favorite time of year. Nights weren’t too cold just yet and tourism appeared to somewhat slow, though it’s always tourist season in the city.
Syd hopped on the subway and took the 6 train uptown. It was already late, but she was behind on editing for several projects and needed to pull an all-nighter to make a dent in her growing pile of work. Damnit, Hector, she thought to herself. Her heartbreak had taken a toll on her ability to focus over the past two months. Syd stopped by the bodega just a couple blocks from her apartment to pick up canned coffee and snacks.
“How are you doing today, mami?” Celia asked from the other side of the counter as she scanned Syd’s items.
“I’m fine. Just a long night ahead of me. How are you? You haven’t been around as much lately.”
“My husband is sick, so I’ve been taking care of him. He’s —” The bell at the entrance interrupted her when two men entered the bodega. They both appeared about 6′4" or so in height with dark-colored hair cut in similar styles. One had piercing green eyes and the other brown. Wearing slacks with form-fitting button-ups and expensive watches, they looked like they were on their way to a party.
“Good evening,” Celia smiled at the two of them who gave her a nod and headed toward the beverages.
“Is it serious?” Syd asked with concern in her face.
“We’re not sure yet. We should be getting news from the doctors in a few days on some expensive tests that he was finally able to get done after weeks of waiting.”
“Our healthcare is shit in this country,” Syd said flatly.
“Language!” Celia scolded. Syd could only laugh until Celia abruptly stopped, her eyes wide and looking at one of the men who entered before.
Syd followed her gaze to see a handgun tucked in the green-eyed man’s belt. He seemed focused on the wall of drinks like he was deciding what to get. Syd immediately started looking around for the other, brown-eyed man when she turned around just to see he was standing directly behind her. She let out a startled squeak.
“You okay there, sweetheart?” He smirked as he shamelessly raked his eyes over Syd’s body.
She immediately snapped out of her flustered state when she noticed the way he looked at her. “I’m fine,” she responded, trying to appear unbothered by looking him in the eyes. Her gaze soon traveled down to see if he may also be armed, yet unsure what to do if he and the other guy intended to rob the place.
“Not so subtle, now. Are we, sweetheart? See something you like?” He sneered, biting his lip and looking down at her.
Syd rolled her eyes before glaring at him.
He raised his hands defensively with a playful smirk on his face. “Only joking. I’m Emiliano. And you are?” He reached out his hand.
“Syd,” she responded, putting her hand in his expecting a shake just for him to pull her hand to his lips. Emiliano smiled at her surprised reaction.
Syd snatched her hand away and turned back around to see Celia giving her a disapproving look. Right. I shouldn’t be giving this quite large, armed man attitude like this, she thought to herself.
“Luca, have you picked something yet? We need to go.” Emiliano called to the other man he came in with.
“Yeah, I got it,” Luca responded.
Emiliano threw a $100 bill on the counter. “To cover us and whatever Syd here is getting.”
Syd turned around to look at Emiliano who winked at her before leaving the bodega. She returned her gaze to Celia who gave an uncertain expression before the both of them shrugged, said “New York,” and carried on with their conversation.
“Did you know her?” Luca asked as he and Emiliano settled into the back of the Suburban that was taking them downtown.
“No. But I damn sure would like to. Those thighs, that ass, those lips,” Emiliano groaned. “A woman who looks like that just casually hanging out in a bodega? I fucking love this city.”
Luca shook his head at his brother. “Doesn’t take much for you, does it?”
“Just know, I’ll need to be making more trips up here until I find out where that ass lives and can bury my face in —”
“Okay, I get it.” Luca interrupted. “Now, on to our plan for tonight’s meeting with the lieutenants...”
A/N: If you made it to the end of this first chapter, thank you for reading!