I recount my stack of money for the fifth time before depositing it into my bank account. I earned a little more than the original $1,000 I was aiming for and victory has never felt so sweet.
I get to Tony’s place and curl up in his arms with my laptop perched in front of me. As I purchase my flight and hotel room in California, I can’t help but feel grateful to him for opening my eyes to the idea of branching out and trying something new.
“I wish you could come with me,” I tell him.
“ I do too. But I’d get fired from the store if I called out that many days in a row.”
“I know, I know,” I groan.
Being in his arms feels like heaven. It’s strange that this level of comfort could have potentially been part of my life for so many years but instead, I overlooked the possibility.
The drive to the airport on the morning of my flight feels bittersweet. I’m excited to embark on this adventure but I equally do not want to leave Tony’s side. That honeymoon phase that all couples have when they first start dating? We’re deep in the middle of that right now.
He pulls up in front of the airport and we turn to face each other.
“This is going to be so huge for you, Nora.”
“You think so?”
“I do. Can you just promise me one thing though?”
“Of course. Anything. What is it?”
“If things take off for you in Los Angeles will you try not to forget about me?”
“In what world could I ever forget about you?”
“Um… The same world that you didn’t notice me in between first grade and this year.”
“I’m only going for one week,” I say, squeezing his hands.
“I know, but just listen. Please take me seriously. I am falling in love with you, Nora. I would never hold you back or get in the way of anything for you, but can you just promise you won’t forget about me?”
“I can promise you I would never do that.”
“Thank you for the reassurance.”
“Thank you for being there for me these past few weeks. I was a literal mess after I lost the pageant. I felt like my entire life was genuinely in shambles. But being with you has somehow cured all of that.”
He helps me get my luggage from the trunk and we kiss each other goodbye.
I board my flight thinking about how heavy that conversation just was. He admitted he was falling in love with me. I didn’t tell him out loud but I’m certain I’m feeling the same way too.
After landing in Los Angeles, I realize it’s really nothing like the movies make you believe. The street where my hotel is located is crowded, covered in graffiti, and riddled with trash and litter. There’s got to be more to this city than this.
I catch an Uber ride to Hollywood Boulevard where I spend the early evening checking out the city, enjoying the views, basking in the warm breezy weather, and trying new food. The Hollywood Walk of Fame catches my eye as I admire all the golden star-shaped plaques representing some of the world’s most iconic celebrities.
A white guy with long blonde dreads tries to hit on me. I politely tell him, “I have a boyfriend.”
As soon as the words slip out of my mouth, I catch the fact that I’m not technically lying. Tony and I haven’t defined our relationship nor have we had that official conversation to label what we are, but we’re pretty much a couple at this point.
Another guy with face tattoos tries to hit on me but I use the “boyfriend” card again to regain my personal space.
I keep walking down the pathway, sipping my iced coffee, checking out the gold plaque stars belonging to Paula Abdul, Christina Aguilera, Cameron Diaz, and more.
My phone buzzes and I see that it’s a text from Doug.
All it says is: hey. miss you
I can’t help but choke on a sip of my iced coffee. Doug? Misses me? I thought he was busy dating Trixie. I don’t even want to take the time to entertain his text message, respond to him, or see what is going on with him because I am actually really annoyed that I ever even dated him in the first place. If he’s already moved on to someone new, then what business does he have texting me and telling me that he misses me? Everything about him is so messy and problematic.
“In town visiting?” a handsome guy nearby asks me. I look up at him and can’t help but notice what a heartthrob he is.
I silently nod and keep it pushing. He casually follows a few steps behind me.
“Where are you visiting from?” he asks.
“Indiana,” I reply.
“I love meeting non-locals,” he tells me. “I’m Zach.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Nora.”
“Can I buy you a drink?” he asks.
I know I really shouldn’t say yes… but I do anyway. One drink can’t hurt. It’s not like I’m going back with him to his place or inviting him to my hotel.
“I’m not 21 yet,” I say before we start walking in any particular direction.
“I know a few places that won’t give us a hard time.”
We sit down next to each other at a bar called the Fueler Room. He orders a Greyhound and I order a Bay Breeze.
“So tell me about yourself,” he says smiling at me. He is truly as charismatic as they come.
“Eighteen. I just flew in from Indiana. I’m trying to meet with a fashion exec named Mary Ashford this week… which is why I’m here. Have you heard of her?”
“You’re a model?” he asks.
“No. I guess you could call me a 'fashion designer.' Unofficially.”
“Have you ever modeled?” he asks.
“I’ve done beauty pageants. That’s as close to modeling as I’ve ever been.”
“And you won those pageants?”
“Well... Two out of three.”
“Two out of three is pretty impressive. Odds are in your favor.”
“I was aiming for three out of three but… we don’t always get what we want in life I guess.”
“You seem like the type of girl who would be very comfortable in front of a camera.”
“I mean yeah. I guess so.”
“Have you ever considered starring in an adult film?”
“Are you referring to pornography?” I ask him, my eyebrows raising.
He stares at me nonchalantly as if he didn’t just ask me a totally out-of-pocket question.
“Yeah, never. I would never star in a porno. Not that I’m trying to criticize or judge others who do… but it’s just never going to happen with me.”
“Okay. Well that’s a shame.”
“Why? And why would that matter to you? Are you some type of recruiter or something?”
He pulls out a business card and slides it over to me with a twinkle in his eye. It says Triple X Kitty Productions in bold font.
“Busted,” he replies with a slight shrug.
I can’t even hide the disgust from my facial expression as I stand up to leave.
“Goodbye,” I say as I walk out leaving my unfinished drink on the bar next to his. I quickly skedaddle out the door and order an Uber to take me back to my hotel.
Almost get recruited by a porno leach during my first day in LA? Check.
I organize my portfolio as neatly as possible and then settle into the hotel bed as soon as I’m in my room.
I FaceTime Tony to tell him all the details of my day, minus the part about going to a bar with a total creep, before I fall asleep for the night.