Chapter 1: Juxtaposition
“Why the hell did I agree to this?” Stan groused as he stood by the open door of the closet with nothing but a loose towel, hung around hips. Droplets of water dripped from his hair, down his perfect muscular chest, over his toned abs, and down to his chiseled v-line.
He had a scowl on his face as a frown tugged on his thin lips.
“Anything for charity, right?” a slow, indolent voice came from the hallway.
Stan turned and shot an irritated look over his broad, damp shoulder. “Yeah, right.”
“Inspector, the studio is ready. Your stylist is waiting, follow me please,” called the photographer. A slow sexy smile curved over her red lips.
Stan eyed the tall, lean body as his eyes soften. God, the woman moved like a lynx. Just the sight of her made Stan wanted to pull her down on the bed, let go of the towel, and forget all about the morning’s ensuing madness.
He followed her to the makeshift studio they set up in the firehouse, as he shook the lustful thoughts out of his head.
It was a busy week for the San Isidro Fire Station. The Mr. Firefighter Philippines was just over a month away and the team was busy with preparations for the big day.
The Mr. Firefighter Philippines was a national male firefighter pageant sponsored by Firefighters of the Philippines Charities Inc. This annual competition was the result of the commitment to uplift and empower role models of handsomeness, health and leadership for fire men in the Philippines, and support a good cause.
The winner will represent the country in the annual Mr. Firefighter World where they could showcase their stunning physiques, show off their intellects, rescue skills and techniques and to compete with other representative from all over the world. The titleholder will travel to raise money to provide food and clothing for the under privileged.
With an immediate superior like Stan, slacking off was out of the question, even if he was told by Chief Inspector Calma to focus on the ‘pageant’ and avoid any injuries or burns.
Stan had already worked an hour before this shoot, and he found himself with a chewed up pen on his hand, while he chugged down his second espresso. He ran his hands through his hair, with regret flowing through his veins for being such a know-it-all.
“Okay, Inspector, your chief has already instructed what you need to be for this shoot. You need to be dark, while being scruffy and hot. We’re going to show the light and dark side of you, like a juxtaposition. Redeemed and damned. It’s gonna be fabulous!” the photographer explained.
Stan’s mouth twisted into a cringe. “It’s the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done.”
“Darling, you’ll do great. Now get dressed,” the photographer instructed as she set up her camera equipment.
Stan’s lips curled in irritation, a headache formed behind his eyes.
“It’s for a good cause, remember?” the stylist said earnestly.
“She has a point, Inspector,” commented Eric, one of their emergency medical technicians, who popped his head in the room.
“We could raise so much money to get new equipment for a cause that you already support,” a paramedic named Mike bumped in.
“Lagman, Arguelles, step out,” Stan said, while he strived for patience.
“Yes, sir,” they responded in unison, their soft chuckles echoed in Stan’s ears, as they stepped out of the room.
When the boys left, Stan fixed his own gear and pulled the turnout trousers on over his bare skin. He looked at himself in the mirror appreciatively.
Stan has lived an Ugly Duckling life when he was younger. He’d been a cute kid but when puberty hit him, he was tortured. He was a crippled boy with a severe case of acne. His lower teeth were crowded and some had grown rotated and twisted. He was ridiculed for his looks, bullied by the cool guys, and ignored by the pretty girls. He suffered from bad social anxiety and always seated at the back of the class.
He couldn’t help but smile at the reflection that stared back. The timid Eugenio and now vain Stan were the anti-theses of one another. They were exact opposites in nearly every conceivable way, and yet they were still one and the same.
Now, Inspector Eugenio Estanislao Buenaobra was set to represent his line unit in the Mr. Firefighter Philippines competition, and who knows? Tomorrow, he could be representing the team to the world.
“Miss, should I put on my turnout coat?” Stan asked.
“Just call me Bianca. That’s Jinky.” The photographer pointed to the petite stylist. “No coat on.”
Jinky brushed his hair with her delicate hands.
“You’ve got gorgeous short hair. What should we do? Slicked back, mohawk, side-swept?” the stylist asked Stan.
“Anyway you want.” Stan totally had no idea.
“Jinks, let’s just go for the blown-back suave style. It’ll give girls something they wish they could run their fingers through,” suggested Bianca.
“Perfect!” Jinky exclaimed, and angled Stan’s head to appraise him better.
“Is this your first photo shoot?” Bianca focused her camera to find the best angle. “Just relax,” Bianca said with a smile. “We’re going to have fun today. I’ll make sure you’re comfortable. Jinks, take good care of him,” she told Jinky, who was applying foundation on Stan’s face.
“Your skin tone is pretty even and you don’t have any blemishes. You have small pores too. What’s your secret?” She took out a large brush and dipped it into a puddle of foundation.
“Only Belo touches my skin,” Stan sheepishly replied with the tagline of a famous medical-aesthetic clinic.
The stylist giggled, as she liberally set a section of Stan’s hair with hairspray.
After a few touches, they arranged the lights and secured the reflectors in their proper places.
“Let’s get this over with,” said Bianca. “Bring in the pups, boys!” The photographer called out to the firefighters outside.
“Sir, permission to enter,” said Eric on the other side of the door.
“Come in,” Stan answered. He slipped on his boots while he stayed seated on a stool.
Eric brought in two aspins, a dog native to the Philippines, they rescued a month ago and were turned over to the Philippine Animal Welfare Society.
“Oh, they’re perfect.” The photographer hands one of the puppies to Stan. He leaned over to pat the puppy on the head.
Stan tore his eyes away from Bianca and shot Eric a look.
“Yeah, I should leave.” Eric nodded and immediately stepped out of the room.
The photographer instructed Stan to stand up, and carry one of the puppies in his left hand while he cuddled the other one in his right.
Stan couldn’t help but smile as he rested his chin on the puppy’s head. The puppy tried to lick his face, which earned a “Good!” from the photographer and the click of the camera shutter.
“That wasn’t so bad,” Jinky remarked.
Stan chuckled, as he tipped his head back. Bianca took another picture before she asked him to try a new pose.
His fears of looking dumb and awkward were dispelled when Bianca whistled playfully. “I like that pose.”
“Lay on the floor and put the pups on your chest,” Bianca instructed. “Now look at the camera. I want to see the fire in your eyes, Inspector. Think about your girlfriend or whoever it is that makes you feel hot. Give me those fiery bedroom eyes.”
At that moment, a very naughty thought crossed his mind. What if he really was able to seduce the women in front of him? What if he could project so much sex appeal that she’d set down her camera, walk right over to him and ravished him? The thought was ridiculous but he latched on to it just the same, used it to fuel the emotion he wants to portray.
“Great,” Bianca praised, face hidden behind the camera as she snapped a few frames.
With every pose, Stan found it easier to relax, and soon they fell into an easy rhythm of posing and picture-taking. Every now and then he’d pause, and Jinky would retouch his makeup.
“Are you sure this is your first photo shoot?” Bianca teased as she captured another picture. “You’re good at this.”
“Yes, I’m sure,” Stan laughed.
“Well, you’re a natural,” Jinky complimented him while she adjusted his trousers lower to show his v-line.
She stepped back and Bianca snapped a few more frames. “Let’s get that fire back. I want to see the desire in your eyes,” she prompted.
As Bianca looked at him through the camera lens, he peeked through his own private viewfinder in his mind, and imagined what his warm hands would feel like to cup her breasts. They would no doubt fit into his palms easily.
“Perfect! It’s getting warm in here, Inspector,” Bianca joked as she clicked the shutter continuously.
“You’re really heating this place up.” Jinky walked over to Bianca, tied her hair in a ponytail, whispered in her ear that made her blush and giggle.
At first, his face has contorted in confusion, while he watched the two girls. After a few seconds, his face has relaxed and understood the situation perfectly.
Stan coughed. “Um, should we continue?” he asked slowly.
The two girls caught him staring and chuckled softly.
“Okay, last pose,” Bianca finally said.
The shoot finally wrapped up, to Stan’s relief. The pictures will be sorted and the best shots would be sent to the FPCI committee for evaluation.
He realized, posing with pups for charity wasn’t bad after all.