mine-Page 7

And I did all of it for a paycheck.

What am I even doing here? Is the money worth it anymore?

I’d gone to college and earned a degree in sociology, graduated, and had no ability to get a job. And then a woman spotted me on the street, loved my height and lanky frame. The next month, I booked my first job. I felt blessed. How could I not?

But there were downsides too. This past fall, I’d lost three friends to overdoses. Drugs played a big part in my industry, especially cocaine. It kept the illusion going—that everything would be okay just as long as one remained young and beautiful.

Bullshit.

The photographer snapped. “Where are you, Zola?”

“Sorry.” I arched my back, while my head spun in a downward spiral.

Since this stalker had come into my life, I’d opened my eyes to the dark side of the beauty industry. The creepy stalkers. The invasive paparazzi. The overdoses and eating disorders.

Beauty was a cruel business, billions of dollars invested annually to keep everyone unhappy with how they looked. The cosmetic industry grabbed $20 billion a year. The diet industry pulled in $33 billion. Dollars spent on the quest for beauty. Liposuction and breast implants. Face lifts and fat siphoning. Even men did it, hair replacement treatments and silicone implants in their chest to appear more muscular.

Stop it, Zola. Just stop it!

Still, I thought about the people I might’ve harmed. The people who my pictures preyed on. The ones who had committed suicide over beauty. The depressed souls thinking they would never match up to a model’s face or the slimness of her frame. The ones that felt empty because of it. The ones that gave up. The ones that mastered the art of being less.

“Zola!!” Pissed, the photographer snapped his hand. “Your face is screwed up and you look angry.”

I snapped out of my thoughts. “Sorry.”

“What the hell?” he asked. “Do you need a break?”

“No.”

“You’ve got your period?”

“No.”

“Boyfriend or girlfriend broke up with you?” he asked.

“I’m not dating anybody.”

“Depressed or something?”

“A little.”

He waved my confession away. “Snap out of it. The people need this cover.”

The People? Really?

“This cover is going to be the rave of September. There are women whose only joy in life is picking up that new edition of Livid magazine and finding out the best seasons outfits to grab.”

Yippee! Now I’m all cheery again. My life has so much purpose.

The photographer snapped another picture and then sighed. “I give up. You’ve lost the sparkle.”

Two people helped me off the zebra.

I muttered, “Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry. Be better. There’s thousands of girls that would be happy to sit their pretty asses on a zebra all day.”

Fair enough.

He gestured at a blonde model in a yellow beaded bikini. “Come on, Tara.”

Yellow? What animal will you be sitting on?

A violent roar sounded in the distance. The photographer rolled his eyes. “What’s up with the lions? Are they coming or not?”

His assistant hurried over with a notepad. “Sorry. They were feeding them first—”

“I don’t care. Get them out here now, before we lose sun.”

Maybe, you should make sure the lions are fed though. I’m just saying.

I walked off set, barely making it in those silver-tipped shoes.

Where’s Rico?

My bodyguard usually stood right on set. I hadn’t seen him leave.

Now’s not the time to be disappearing, Rico.

Panic hit me. My best friend, CiCi met me and kept my pace. She was a gorgeous woman with red hair and pale skin. Freckles brushed her cheeks. “Are you okay, Zola?”

“Yes. Now that you’re here.” I breathed a sigh of relief. At least someone could walk me back to the dressing room. I’d felt like such a punk these days, scared to be on my own.

“Don’t let this sicko get to you.” CiCi offered me her bottle of water.

I shook my head. “Thanks. I’ll grab something in the dressing room.”

She scanned the area around us. “Where’s your bodyguard Rico?”

I checked over my shoulder. “He must be in the dressing room.”

“Don’t worry. I’ve got your back. No one’s bothering you on my watch.”

“Thanks, CiCi. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

She snapped her fingers twice. “I’m freaking awesome.”

Giggling, I admitted, “You are.”

Over the years, we’d been there for each other. Friends. Confidantes. Allies. We’d dealt with rejections and successes in the modeling game. Long-term friendships were rare in this world. Somehow, CiCi and I had beat the odds.

“Let’s just get you to your dressing room.” CiCi whistled at the people walking by. “Damn, Z. This is a good gig. I wish I could’ve been hired. But black is in. No one wants to see my white ass right now.”

I flinched a little, but let it go. Ever since several top grossing movies featuring all black casts dominated Hollywood, every other entertainment industry had gone Pro-Black. Suddenly, the darker, the better. The more African features, the more the person was needed. Cringe-worthy concept or not, the Pro-Black mania kept me booked.