"Ok mommy," she shook her head solemnly.
I really didn't like being away from my daughter, and I don't think I get to spend that much time with her to begin with, but I was finally offered a contract from a modelling agency and today was my first day. I got rejected by so many, at one point I was about to throw in the towel. Today was the day I would do my first professional photo shoot and I guess we'd see where things go from there. While making my way to head into the driver's seat, my husband sped into the driveway. I could tell he was upset about something and I wanted to be long gone before he got home. My mom would be babysitting my daughter and she was expecting us very soon.
"And where the fuck do you think you're going?" He asked sipping on a beer and slamming his car door with intense rage.
"I told you already, Chris, I'll be going to the modelling agency today. I don't have time to talk. I have to go." I attempted to close the car door and he yanked it out of my hand.
"Look at you, you look like a piece of shit. You're worthless and these people really think that you are fit to model and represent them?!?!? Fucking cunt. Where the fuck are you taking my daughter?"
"She's gonna spend time with my mo-"
"Hey princess! You wanna stay with daddy while mommy goes out to be the slut she is?" He interrupted me as he turned his attention to our daughter. "Let daddy take you for ice cream."
"I wanna go see nana today, daddy," she remarked, with that sweet innocence in her voice. The innocence that pushed me to rebuild my self confidence after all the emotional and mental abuse I've endured from her father. The innocence that makes me hungry for success because my greatest desire is to give her the best that life has to offer.
"Okay that's fine...I'll see you when you get home then and we can go get ice cream tomorrow, ok baby girl? Daddy loves you." He took another sip of his beer.
"I love you too, daddy." She smiled at her father.
"Alright have fun at nana's." He grabbed my chin and forcefully pulled my cheek up to his lips, planting a kiss and stepping away from my car door. "I'll see you later."
I slammed my door and reversed out of the drive way, taking deep breaths and trying to remain calm. "It'll be over soon." I remind myself.
"Mommy? What's a slut? Daddy says that word a lot and I don't know what it means." My daughter asked with her brows furrowed; curiosity plastered all over her face.
I sighed in frustration. "Ummmm....nana will talk to you about it, ok? I'm not really good at explaining what it means. But I'll let nana explain it to you, honey."
"Ok, momma." She redirected her attention to the skyscrapers outside as I drove through the city.
Sunny Palm Court
Upon approaching my mother's apartment, I was greeted by her warm smile. She quickly opened the back door of my Honda Civic and helped Melinda out the back with her belongings.
"Nana!" She leaped into my mother's arms.
My mother embraced her, kissing and gently squeezing her. This was their weekly ritual, as if they'd five years at a time without seeing each other.
"I told her you'd explain something to her when she sees you today." I told my mother.
"And what would that be, darling?" she asked.
"I told her to ask you something. Perhaps remind her about the word she wants to know the meaning of that her father keeps using."
"Hmmmm....alright honey. Well good luck at the agency today. I hope you land a gig soon. Love you." She blew me a kiss. I caught it and sent one her way before speeding off.
I know my baby is safe and sound with my mom, but I can't have her grow up thinking this lifestyle is acceptable in any way. My husband, Christopher Manccini, was also my high school sweetheart. In the department of love and intimacy, he's all I know. We met when I was in the tenth grade and he was a year above me. He never bothered to pursue college seeing that he and his older brother, Alex, would inherit and become the sole proprietors of their family's successful beer brewery. Their parents are now retired and living in the Bahamas. The business is quite fruitful for both brothers. My husband was able to purchase our house when he was twenty-three and I was twenty-two. Before that, we rented a condo on the hillside, overlooking Lake Ontario and the rest of the city. I was unemployed, coming straight out of high school, travelling with him and his family all the time. We went on dates and several cruises throughout the year. He took care of the bills and all other expenses. All I had to do was to sit back, relax and enjoy the pampering. Late nights on the town, fancy cocktail parties, hot sex under the stars on the balcony of our condo, shopping in the most expensive brand name stores, spa appointments every weekend. Life was fabulous. And then came marriage, followed by the conception of our beautiful daughter, Ella-Mae. But that's when all the pampering stopped. He seemed to have been disgusted by me being pregnant. Our marriage changed and so did our sex life. Intimacy and romance were a thing of the past. He wouldn't even look at me anymore. Since then, life with Chris has never been the same. One of the biggest mistakes I made was putting my life and my dreams on hold to be with him and to be the woman he wanted. And sure it was great for what it was. But now I'm pushed to the side, he has his mistress, he's verbally and emotionally abusive and I have to deal with the embarrassment of everyone knowing who the infamous Christopher Manccini is, along with his adulterous track record while being his wife. I'm sure the women I've managed to become acquainted with at all the cocktail parties snicker and laugh at me behind my back when they gather to drink expensive bottles of White wine and gossip. Of course, I'm never invited to these things. I'm not born into this luxury lifestyle and they look down on me for it. At first it bothered me, and Chris knows that. He would always reassure me that I'm his equal and I wasn't any less than them. Now, ha! He reminds me daily that the garbage on the streets of Downtown is worth more than I am. It breaks my heart when I know that my daughter has to witness and hear all of this and I just can't wait to get her out of it.
I finally pulled into the parking spot at the modelling agency and I quickly grabbed my phone to call my agent to let him know that I've arrived but it rang without an answer. So I simply took my bag and walked inside the office.
"Good afternoon, how can I help you, ma'am?" The receptionist asked.
"I'm here to see Brad, I was recently signed by him. My name is Nicole Manccini," I said with a smile.
"Ok, just a moment please." She got up from her desk and went around to the back of the studio.
My eyes began roaming around the room, admiring the beautiful decor of the office; the black Persian rug, with the expensive chandeliers and not to mention the impeccable black and white framed photos of models that adorned the walls, most of which probably gave Brad his success. And then I was greeted by a young man who looked no older than twenty years old, dressed in a tux. "Good day, welcome to The Azan Modelling Agency...do you care for a glass of Chardonnay?" He asked offering me a glass of white wine.
"Uhh no thanks, I'm just here to see Brad, please." I stated politely.
"Ok, well follow me please." He smirked.
I walked with him through a passage of dim lights, more pictures of models and a few paintings. Then he lead me to a door where he gently knocked and then opened it, gesturing for me to enter.
"Yes, but let me talk to you another time. I'm not interested in that right now. So you have yourself a wonderful day." He spun around in his chair finally facing me while taking a puff from his cigarette. "Nicole, honey, you made it. Come and take a seat." He pointed to a chair in front of his table.
I sat down nervously, taking note of the blank expression on his face upon greeting me. I wasn't sure what to expect.
"So today, Mrs. Manccini, you have to do your first professional photoshoot with us. Why? So that we can post your pictures and have you signed with different designers. And speaking of being signed with designers, we are having a party tonight right here in my building on the roof by the pool. We start at 8pm. A lot of designers from the different brands will be here looking for new faces. Tonight is your first chance to land yourself a contract with one or more and get your career on the road. It's also an opportunity to make a name for yourself, so I know you may be shy and that's ok, but mix and mingle as much as you can with the other models and strike up conversations with the designers....I don't know....use your magic on them, baby. Suzanne!!!!!!" He calls out after pressing a button on his landline phone. "I need you in here Suzanne!"
While waiting for Suzanne, my eyes caught a framed photo on his desk. It was Brad with his jet black hair slicked back perfectly, with what seems to be a glass of Martini in his hand, while in the middle of laughter, with another man slightly taller than him kissing him on the cheek. Beside that picture was another with the same man, but this time they're both in swim trunks on the beach. The guy was blonde and muscular with a chiseled jawline while Brad was thin but well toned with little muscle, and high cheekbones. They were both very handsome middle-aged men who seemed to enjoy a life of travelling, partying and just overall living lavishly.
"Like what you see?" Brad smirked while dropping ashes from his cigarette into his ash tray.
"Yeah I guess," I wasn't sure how to answer.
"That's my husband, Charles. My best friend and my heartbeat all in one. You'll meet him tonight if you show up at the party." He said enthusiastically.
Suddenly, the door flies open. "Mr. Azan, you called for me?" A curvy redhead woman with a thick Russian accent enters the room.
"Yes I did, Sue. Meet Nicole Manccini, she's newly recruited and I need to have some professional photos of her taken today. Nicole, this is our agency's head cosmetologist and fashion consultant, Suzanne. She is the manager of the beauty department here at my agency basically. She will set you up with a hairdresser to have a quick blowout done and I need you to have all that makeup removed from your face. Your first set of professional photos will be all natural. The designers need to see what they're working with and your true beauty when they lay eyes on you. But of course, you can wear makeup to the party tonight if you choose. Anyways, after they do your blowout.....," he pauses while squinting his eyes at me. "Actually, no. Forget the blowout. Just get rid of the makeup. Let your curly hair down and Suzanne will find an outfit for you to wear. Ok you guys get out of my hair now. I promised my mother a lunch date today and I'm running late. I'll see you around, Nicole."
"Come with me." Suzanne says as we exit Brad's office. She had a stern, "I'm all about business" kind of attitude and she wore black jeans, with a white shirt tucked in, a black jacket and black stilletos. Her cheeks were plump and rosy with pink blush, her thin European lips with red lipstick and her bright green eyes adorned with black eyeliner. She lead me to another room with a decent number of models, both males and females; some talking and laughing, others occupied with whatever business they had on their phones. As we entered the room together, silence fell and all eyes were glued on us, making me slightly uneasy.
"Okay everyone," Suzanne began. "We have a new model on board with us. Her name is Nicole. Please do your best in making her feel welcomed as she is apart of our family and she's new to the modelling industry. Also, I'm reminding you all about the party tonight at 8 on the roof. New models are encouraged to attend but of course this is just another party Brad is throwing for us to familiarize ourselves with each other and the designers. Anyways, thank you for your time, you may resume your activities." As soon as Suzanne finished addressing them, she turned her attention to me and I could hear whispers coming from different corners of the room. "Are you ok?" She asked.
"Y-yeah I'm fine....just a little nervous," I answered shyly.
"Oh sweetie, all that shyness goes flying out the door here. Nothing to be shy about. You'll be just fine." She smiled.
But I barely heard anything she said after that, as someone in the room captured my attention. He was sitting on a couch by himself, slightly slouching with his meager legs spread wide apart. He had a low-cut Afro that was slightly curly, high cheekbones, a sharp jawline, semi-thick lips and deep dark brown eyes that were captivating. He was lighter than the colour of chocolate, but slightly darker than caramel; his complexion was flawless; not a freckle, not a zit, not a scratch. I got lost in his gaze and it felt like no one else existed; for a moment it felt like time had stopped and it was just us two. His eyes were locked with mine while goosebumps plagued my skin.
"Nicole! I don't have all day. The photographer is waiting for you. Come with me. You can always come back here and make friends." Suzanne said yanking me away from the room and finally leading me to the photographer.
"Put this on." She gave me a red satin dress. "Please remove her makeup. Brad wants her all natural for her portfolio." She ordered a lady who came up to me gently but quickly wiping my makeup off. I changed into the dress and the photoshoot commenced thereafter.
Later that night
The Azan Modelling Agency, On the roof
Michael Jackson's, "Butterflies", blares through the speakers. Models sit by the lounge under the gazebo having drinks and talking, some talking with designers, while other designers spoke amongst themselves. In the sea of guests, I finally found Brad who seemed to be engaged in a serious conversation with a designer with his husband standing beside him. The party reminded me of the ones I'd always go to with Chris; caviar, shrimp cocktails and smoked marlin with any drink of your choice that you could order by the bar or send a waiter/waitress to grab it for you. No boisterous behaviours, no one getting drunk and passing out or people dancing wildly, it was all about socializing with class, establishing connections with as many people as you could and building your reputation. I sighed, returning my gaze to the city lights while sipping on my Cosmopolitan. I know I didn't fit in here. Designers were here from brands like Gucci, Versace, Chanel, you name it. I should be over there with them trying to get signed. After all, this is what all that dieting and workout programs were for. I'm almost where I want to be; one step away from giving myself and my daughter a better life. Being here reminds of those stupid cocktail parties I'd go to with Chris, constantly having to pretend to be someone I'm not. I hated it. I hated myself for putting myself through so much for Chris, only to be treated like crap now. Tears starting welling up in my eyes. I love that man. Or I did. I don't know what I feel anymore but I know exasperation is certainly thrown in the mix.
"Seems you've got a lot on your mind. Wanna talk?"
"No thanks. I'm fi-" I swallowed trying to catch my breath. I cleared my throat upon seeing who it was. I was met with those deep dark brown eyes again from earlier. "Oh, umm." I sipped on my drink, while gripping the railing to keep my balance. "Ummm...hi." I struggled to utter with my throat feeling constricted.
"Nice to meet you, I'm Johnny." He flashed his pearly whites and my face grew hot. Oh shit.