Chapter 1: Beauty
“One large peach ice tea,” Ivory says, passing me the clear plastic cup. “I don’t know how you can drink anything with ice in its name when it’s literally freezing outside.” She pulls at the flannel scarf around her mouth and takes a sip of her mocha.
“Call me crazy, I don’t care. This stuff is like heaven in my mouth.” I take a big exaggerated gulp of the tea and smack my lips for good measure. This was a daily routine for Ivory and I. A quick coffee after morning classes and banter over the insanity of my beverage choices given the weather.
Freezing is an understatement for northern Minnesota. They say hell is full of fire and heat, but I think ice, snow, and the negative forty temps of Mason City, Minnesota seem much more intimidating. It started snowing back in October. The lakes were frozen solid by December and mountainous piles of snow began appearing at the corner of every street by the end of January. Now, standing outside in mid-March, it feels like winter is an endless eternity.
Setting my cup down on the coffee house counter, I jump down from my stool. Quickly, I put on my mittens, swing my backpack and camera bag over my shoulder, and recollect my tea.
“You coming, Ives?”
“One sec, I can’t find my phone.” She frantically scours the floor around the counter and our stools. While Ivory has a beautiful and smart brain inside that head of hers, it’s also quite scattered. She is constantly misplacing things, frequently right in front of her face.
I look across the counter at the charging station and see Ivory’s pale pink phone attached. Rolling my eyes I unplug it from the dock and pass it to her, “Here Ives, it was plugged in.”
Exasperated, she takes it from my hands. “Thanks, Emery, I don’t know what I would do without you.”
“I ask myself that every day,” I smirk.
Ivory smacks me in the arms with her mittens and pushes past me towards the door of the cafe. “So irritating,” she mumbles out.
“But you love me,” I laugh, blowing her an exaggerated kiss.
Stepping out into the frigid cold is a shock to the body. Instantly the tip of my nose feels frozen and my exposed checks feel like blocks of ice. The steam from Ivory’s mug creates a smoke like puff in the chilled air. We walk alongside each other, my short legs trying to keep stride with Ivory’s long ones. Luckily, Ivory and I’s apartment is a few short blocks from campus, so we don’t have to endure the cold for long.
Ivory and I have been roommates since our freshman year of college. She moved into my dorm room the second semester after she had a falling out with her old roommate. Upon her moving in, we quickly became best friends. We moved from the freshman dorms to the upperclassmen dorms together and finally our Junior year we got our own apartment down the road from campus.
Ivory is from Mason City. In fact, her roommate before me had been her best friend through high school. They had decided to live together in the dorms once they were both accepted in but quickly discovered once college had started that they were attending for very different reasons. Ivory wanted to focus on her studies and Mackenzie wanted to screw every football player on the Mason City University team. After a semester of nightless sleep due to squeaking bed frames and unwanted dorm guests, Ivory moved out.
While Ivory is fortunate to have her family right in town, my family is a few hours south of Mason City. My tiny home town of Burnum is all but a speck of dust on the map. I am wholly convinced that they have never changed the census signs in my lifetime. They have read 143 people for the past 21 years. From my count, half the houses on Mainstreet are empty and no one has refilled them after their original tenants passed away.
Growing up in Burnum had been a blessing and a curse. Do you need gas? Hopefully, you can make it five miles to the next town over. Same with groceries or even a bottle of pop. New clothing? Try at least a 30-minute drive. Need a cold beer? Luckily, Burnums got a bar for that. The bar is Burnum’s only business. Most of the town is surrounded by dairy farms and corn fields. Just like living essentials, if you have a job outside of farming you are going to be driving at least 20 minutes each day.
Coming to Mason City had been a culture shock. I quickly realized that wealth runs rampant here. I don’t know what struck me first; the cars that cost more than my mom’s house or the large assortment of designer stores that fill the mall. The north end of town is occupied by the cities wealthiest doctors, congressmen, and lawyers. The other end consists of college town and the business district. Even the middle and the lower class residents of Mason city are still wealthier than that of the citizens of Burnum and surrounding towns. The needy do still exist here, but the town has created sanctuaries and support systems for those in need.
Without a doubt, Ivory and I were brought up quite differently. Ivory’s father is a Democratic Senator and her mother is the head charge nurse for the Alexis Memorial Hospital. While I was raised to pinch pennies and value the dollar like gold, Ivory, with no fault of her own, has had every dollar she has ever needed. She has her parents charge card in tow at all times stored carefully in her Michael Kors handbag. For her graduation present from high school, her parent gifted here with a brand new Cadillac Escalade.
When we moved out of the dorms are Junior year and into our apartment, her parents ensured that it would be furnished from floor to ceiling with only the highest of quality items. We truly want for nothing. Our kitchen is stuffed to the brim with top of the line appliances and cookware. At the center of our living room is a plush, faux leather sectional strewn with throw pillows. The walls are adorned with modern art pieces and lavish frames holding family photos. The first few nights we slept here, I would wake in the middle of the night convinced I was still dreaming due to the silk of my sheets and the bounce of the bed. I have never had such extravagant items. I offered to make payments to them as a way to pay back what they have purchased for me, but they insisted that it was a gift.
Had it not been for scholarships, I would have never made it into Mason City University. Unlike the low middle class of Mason City, I grew up truly on the verge of poverty. When I was a little older than two, My father passed away in a horrible car accident. Not long after his passing, my younger brother Hawken was born. My mother has worked as a dental assistant in a small dentist office all my life. She would occasionally pick up shifts as a clerk for the gas station in Bend just to have some extra cash. While we often struggled to make ends meet, we always had a roof over our heads and food to fill our bellies. Love was the most important thing we had and still have. Even hours away, mom and my brother are my true best friends.
Even though our upbringings were vastly different, Ivory and I are the perfect best friend pairing. Similar to the sickeningly sweet romance movies, we are the others half. Our personalities and interests just mesh. Where Ivory is confident, I am the queen of self-deprecating humor. Ivory is well mannered and poised and I am pathetically ungraceful in all aspects of life. I have a quick wit and a sarcastic sense of humor and Ivory is more subtle in her humor. We are the perfect opposites.
Ives and I both love kids. Since she was a little girl, Ivory has wished to work with struggling youth. She takes her studies seriously because she dreams of becoming a school social worker. Similarly to her, I too wish to work with the youth, but in the form of an Art teacher. I have a deep passion for art and the expression that comes with it.
Our friendship really blossomed once we discovered our shared interest in photography. Our sophomore year, we started an on-campus photography club to help bring together the community. Once a month we would meet on campus and each photographer would display their work and discuss their motivations and inspirations. They would also talk technique and the latest editing software. In balancing my education studies, I also took up a minor in photography. Ivory had hoped to find the time but unfortunately was unable to wiggle it into her schedule.
While walking outside in the brisk Minnesota winter, it’s hard to not admire the beauty of the scene around us. The way the snow glitters and dances in the sunlight, reflecting its rays. The way the tiny shards of ice sparkle at the tips of pine branches. It truly a winter wonderland. I yearn to take my camera out of its case to capture even one snapshot of this beauty, but my fingers are frozen solid in my mitts. Our apartment is fast approaching, the brick building standing solid amongst mountains of snow.
“What time to we need to be at the Venture?” Ivory asks, rattling around in her purse for our apartment keys.
I clicked on my phone to check the time. “It’s 9:30, now and Ashton said that they would be pulling in for mic check and rehearsal around 11:30-noon.”
“That’s definitely enough time to get ourselves looking hot,” she elbowed me and winked, turning to unlock our door.
I just rolled my eyes at her, stepping into the entryway and throwing my jacket and backpack onto the bench. Camera bag still in tow, I head to the living room and the flight of stairs leading to our bedrooms. “I’m going to shower, Ives!” I shout down.
Pushing open my bedroom door, I kick off my boots and inhale the sweet scent of my wax melter. Carefully, I set my camera bag on my desk and head into the bathroom attached to my bedroom. The tile floor is cool against the pads of my feet. I flick on the shower, turning the heat to scalding in hopes of curing my chill. While the steam envelops the room, I strip quickly, avoiding my reflection in the mirror and get into the shower.
When finished, I step out and wrap my bath towel around my chest, a slit left open from my tummy down due to the towel not being large enough. Making my way back into the bedroom, I give my body a quick pat down and discard the towel into the hamper. Turning to face my vanity, I catch a glimpse of myself.
Some say beauty is in the eye of the beholder and others say beauty is skin deep. They say a photographer can find beauty in the simplest of snapshots. Yet, I stand here, in the vanity mirror, scrutinizing my reflection in the search for a hint of beauty.
My mop of dark chocolate curls is a tangled waterfall down my spine and my eyes are rimmed with dark circles that even the thickest of concealers fail to cover completely. I’ve never seen myself as really beautiful. I don’t necessarily believe I am ugly but average perhaps when compared to others. I was always the pudgy little girl all through elementary. I had big bouncing cheeks and a plump tummy. As time passed by and I entered high school I thought the plumpness and the bounce would melt away, but instead, it stuck around and multiplied. I was no longer the little pudgy girl, but instead, I transformed into a fat young woman.
While I struggle to find my own beauty, I still try my hardest to put on my best red lipstick coated smile and strut the small amount of confidence I do have. Even though I find my naked body a sight hard to behold, I find that dressing it in pieces that I find beautiful helps in my search for confidence.
I rummage my closet in search of the perfect outfit for tonight’s events. I pull out a pastel pink dress with strapping across the chest. I hold the garment up to my body in the mirror, imagining the way it would cling to my rolls. I quickly toss it back into the closet. I do the same for an array of dresses and skirts. Finally, I pull out a simple and flowy black peasant top. Holding up once again in the mirror, I decided that it will do. The bell sleeves will be perfect to hide the bulkiness of my upper arms and the flow of the shirt will pair nicely with a simple pair of dark washed distressed skinny jeans. Dark colors and flowy tops and dresses have become a staple in my closet.
Like clothing, I find comfort in the way makeup can camouflage the imperfections of my face. With a bit of foundation and concealer, my blemishes and dark circles are hidden. With a line or two of contour, my face appears more angular and elegant. With a swipe of mascara and a flick of eyeliner my eyes transform to life.
As I finish applying my final coat of ruby red lipstick, I hear the door to my bedroom creak open followed by the patter of feet into the room. With a not so graceful thud, Ivory flops onto my bed, feet in the air and hands under her chin.
“Emery, you look perfect. Spend any more time in that mirror and we will be late,” Ivory states with a small huff of annoyance.
“I’m almost done, don’t get your panties in such a twist!” I throw back at her. “Perfection takes time and I need to look perfect. It’s not every day you get an opportunity like this!” I exclaim dramatically.
Ivory rolls her eyes and flips over on her back. Her long, shining golden hair cascading off the edge of the bed and onto the floor. I don’t believe Ivory understands what it means for perfection to take time. She is perfect without even trying. She is tall and willowy with curves exactly where they need to be. Her eyes are a bright blue and her lips a perfect pouting pink. Even without make-up and a well-planned outfit, she is stunning.
“Yes Ms. Dramatic I know, it’s all you have talked about for weeks. I would think that since it’s such an important opportunity you would at least like to arrive before the gates open.”
I roll my eyes back at her and turn back into the mirror. It wasn’t even 11:00 yet, now whos dramatic?
This opportunity tonight is quite possibly going to be a life changer. For my senior photography final, I have to complete an internship as a personal photographer and create a slideshow to showcase both my clients and my own work. The client that I have been assigned to is a local, up-and-coming rock band called Skylines. To say that there were a few jealous ladies, and a couple of men, in the classroom when I was assigned to them is an understatement. I recall seeing their posters hanging around campus over the past few years, but I have never had the time or honestly the thought to look into them.
As excited as I am for this opportunity, it’s a nerve-wracking concept to wrap my head around. My career and my reputation as a photographer will hang solely in the balance of my performance over the course of this semester. The work I put out will entirely determine if I will receive my minor. Yes, I can always do freelance work, but there is something about having a degree to hold in my hand and showcase that makes my skills as a photographer feel more realistic and validated.
My first session with Skylines is tonight at the Mason City Venture Center. The Venture, as many of the college students and locals refer to it as, is our local convention center as well as the college hockey arena. Every couple of months or so, they host various concerts, mostly country in nature, but occasionally they will get a popular rapper or even more rare a rock band.
Tonight, Skylines will be opening up for a favorite band of mine, Midnight Black. I have loved rock music all of my life. I was born and raised on rock n’ roll. As I got older, my taste in rock music evolved. I will always love my classic rock n’ roll, but through high school I found myself turning towards the harder rock scene. I found a great love for the bands whose music has been deemed ‘screamo’ and ‘emo.’ While many shy away from this type of music, the music these bands have created tell powerful stories. They sing of finding oneself, self-love, and overcoming trauma. From what I have heard, Skylines musical style seems to be very similar in theme.
I have yet to actually meet the members of Skyline. The day I was assigned to the band, I was given a small info sheet about them, as well as the contact for Ashton Levens, the band’s manager. When I spoke on the phone with him a few weeks ago, the band was on a short tour around the surrounding states and would not be home until their show with Midnight Black. It would have been nice if I could have met the guys before tonight, but I guess flexibility is key in this profession.
Ashton had assured me that the night wouldn’t be too difficult and that the boys just wanted some live action photos to use on their website and for their posters. He called the Venture and had them set me up with backstage passes for Ivory and myself, as well as early entrance, and access to the pit below the stage where the security guards hold back the crowd. We are to meet them at sound check to finalize our plans for the night.
I took one last one over of my appearance in the mirror and decided that it would have to do for the night. I turn towards Ivory, who is lying face up thumbing through a magazine.
“Alright, I’m good,” I sigh.
“Finally,” she moans out, “you’re finished. Can we please go now?” She rolls off the bed, flipping her hair as she stands. Ivory looks stunning as usual in a simple black t-shirt dress with a red flannel tied at her hips. It’s unfair how effortlessly she looks beautiful. I took me two hours of standing in a mirror to feel even slightly satisfied with my appearance.
“Who is Ms. Dramatic now?” I smirk. “Yes, let me grab my bag and our passes and we can go.”
“Don’t forget to double check your lenses, Em!” Ivory shouts from the bottom of the stairs. “We’re not coming back once we get there.”
“Thanks, Ives,” I shout back, grabbing my camera bag from my desk. I unzip the bag and double check that I have my wide frame lens and my spare memory card. I throw my USB charger and an extra block into the bag and zip it back up.
I make my way down the stairs and place the camera bag on the kitchen table. Ivory is rushing about the living room, frantically searching for her earrings. I turn to the key tray on the table, finding the small diamond studs sitting in it.
“Here Ives, you really need to stop leaving your earrings, and everything else, everywhere,” I chuckle out.
Ivory snatches the earing from me with a huff, pushing the diamonds into her ears. “Why would I do that when I have you to find them?”
I grab my small black crossbody from the living room closet and toss Ivory her wristlet. I take our media passes from the kitchen drawer, sling my camera bag over my shoulder, and slip into my black heeled booties.
“Whatcha think, is it too much? To simple? Should I wear flats?” I turn to ask Ivory, suddenly questioning my attire altogether.
Ivory looks me up and down, “You look stunning Emery. You are going to make one hell of a first impression. You really need to kick some confidence into that fine ass of yours,” she exclaims and swats my rear playfully.
I laughed, embarrassed by her exclamations, “If you say so, Ivory.”
“I say so.”
Ivory grabs her car keys from the key rack. With a final check to make sure we have everything, we head out the door to the car.
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