Authors: Dara Girard
hen the shoot was finally over, Mariella wanted to collapse with relief. This feeling fled quickly, however, when she noticed the two figures in the distance. She’d expected them to have left. No, that was wrong, she’d hoped
had left. Josh she could handle, Ian was another issue entirely. She could feel him staring at her. She was used to men staring, but never with such intensity. Never with such brazen determination to make his presence known. She felt like a prisoner in spite of the distance that separated them.
Perhaps she was wrong. Perhaps he wasn’t looking at her at all. She couldn’t tell since he still had his sunglasses on. She glanced at them again. No, she was certain he was watching her. She suddenly felt grateful for the sunglasses—they created a nice barrier.
She looked at Josh who was busy trying to swat away a cloud of gnats. Mariella had never seen brothers so dissimilar, but then that’s what people thought when they saw her and her younger sister Isabella. Josh was of a slighter build. Although tall, his build was far from intimidating. He had awkward, yet warm features: an angular nose, nice mouth, ordinary eyes and ears that were a little too large. No one would call him handsome or even attractive, but he didn’t have to be because he was smart, rich and had a famous father.
Ian, on the other hand, was gorgeous. She reluctantly used the term to describe him, but it was accurate. He reminded her of a puma—if a puma were to become a man in jeans and a black T-shirt that fit like a second skin and emphasized a well-sculpted chest. Interestingly, he looked like a man who wore his clothes for comfort rather than vanity. Mariella decided that her first assessment of him was accurate. Although he was not the model for the shoot, he was too large, too arrogant and just too much of everything to be a good model or a good man for that matter. Jeremiah had been a devil. Ian was probably ten times worse.
For a moment, Mariella wondered what his eyes looked like, but she sensed that being curious about him was dangerous. She brushed the thought aside. His presence was already a nuisance.
Mariella began to gather her things together, ready to leave. The rest of the crew had left thirty minutes earlier; she was the only one there. To her dismay she saw the puma slowly rise and come toward her. He covered the distance quickly and quietly, sending goose bumps up her arms despite the warm day.
“Not bad,” Ian said.
She continued to pack her equipment.
“Some of your angles will be off, you’re not an expert on how to use lighting yet, but no one will look too closely. All that matters are the clothes.”
She zipped up her camera bag. “Everything was perfect.”
“You don’t believe that and neither do I. It’s okay, you were nervous, but hid it well.”
“I wasn’t nervous.”
“Do you miss it?”
She blinked. “Miss what?”
“No. I’m a photographer now.”
“Not out of choice.”
“Of course it was a choice. I chose it.”
He shook his head. “Let’s stop playing games. We both know why your career ended.”
“It ended because I decided to end it.”
“That’s not what I heard.”
“Then I suggest you get your hearing checked.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my ears, but there may be something wrong with your memory.”
“I don’t think so.”
He was quiet a moment. “No, you wouldn’t.” He turned his head to stare at something, but made no movement to leave.
Mariella opened her mouth then closed it. She sighed and folded her arms impatiently. “What do you want?”
He turned to her and smiled. “Thank you for asking. Your consideration will be a great asset when we’re working together.”
“I never said I’d work with you.”
He wagged a finger and shook his head. “
me, not with me.”
“It doesn’t matter,” she said nonchalantly.
“It will.” He held out his card. “I want you to come to my office.”
“I don’t think—”
“You’re not a stupid woman, Ms. Duvall. Don’t act like one for my enjoyment. I have a proposition that could catapult your career.”
“I don’t model anymore.”
“I’m interested in your photography.”
“I see,” she said, trying to keep a handle on her growing excitement. “Do you want to start where your father left off?”
Ian became very still. “Is that an offer?”
Mariella wondered about his strange response then remembered how her words could be misinterpreted. “Regarding photography? Yes.”
“Meet me in my office, tomorrow at eleven and I’ll explain my proposition. And see if we can come to an understanding.” He turned and left.
Mariella stared at his card, resisting an urge to jump with triumph. She couldn’t believe it. What an opportunity. Perhaps
magazine wanted to use some of her celebrity portraits. Maybe Jeremiah spoke to Ian before he died. Slowly her mounting joy began to fade. But it was obvious that, just like the others, Ian thought that her relationship with Jeremiah was different than it was. Although that image had served its purpose in the past, Mariella didn’t want to use it now. She gathered up her belongings, and threw them in a large mesh bag lying next to her, and dashed after him. She caught Ian as he was about to get into his car.
“There’s something you should know.”
He stopped halfway. “Yes?”
She glanced at Josh then Ian. “I know what the papers said, but they weren’t always right. Your father and I were friends. He helped me with my photography. There was never anything more between us. So if this is some kind of bribe in order to keep me quiet about something that wasn’t true, there’s no need.” She waited, ready to hand him back the card. While Jeremiah had been alive, she had gotten many offers, only to find out that they usually wanted more than her photography talent. Many assumed she was a certain type of woman based on her relationship with Jeremiah. It had angered her on several occasions because some of the “contacts” Jeremiah considered to be his trusted friends and colleagues, were the worst, and she had never had the nerve to tell him.
Mariella hesitated, not sure what those two words meant. “Does that change anything?”
The corner of his mouth kicked up. “That changes everything.” He got into his car. “See you at eleven,” he said then sped away.
Mariella entered her place exhausted and ready to collapse on the couch, but the savory aromas coming from the kitchen renewed her spirit. “Dinner’s ready,” Gen called out. “Do you want to take a shower first? Or are you ready now?” Before she could finish her sentence, Mariella had found her way to the kitchen and was already trying to sneak one of Gen’s spicy stuffed cabbages. Mariella’s favorite.
“Mariella,” Gen playfully scolded.
“Just one bite.”
“Okay,” she said.
Gen was Mariella’s perfect roommate. Being a former model helped. She knew the pressures of the industry, the competition, the drive, and her experience of living in a model’s apartment at sixteen helped her become self-sufficient and know how to handle living with others and hustle when necessary. And as Mariella’s assistant she was ready for action at any time.
Mariella knew that Gen played a much greater role than her title credited her with, but that didn’t bother her, especially since Mariella was a very generous boss when it came to her salary. They lived in a trendy three-bedroom, two-level condominium, with an exquisite view of the Hudson River. While they were very different in temperament, they both shared a love of art.
Mariella’s interest in art had been greatly expanded when she had worked at an art gallery in upstate N.Y., and she spent most of her discretionary funds buying unique and exclusive pieces. Shopping for art was her second love, next to buying cosmetics. The hallway entrance, with its twelve-foot skylighted ceiling was a showcase of black-and-white photographs, which included several signed copies by Jeremiah.
Throughout the shared space, the walls were painted a soft blue, with eggshell white trim, and an eclectic array of furniture. In the living room, with its vaulted ceiling and high windows, was a long teak couch, with overstuffed maroon cushions, an assortment of oil paintings, one-of-a-kind blown glass lamps, and two high-back artist chairs.
Mariella went directly to her room, still high from the potential offer. Her room was her oasis, with calming colors, pared-down décor, and richly textured accessories. With a large picture window facing the Hudson, her walls were covered with cream brocade-textured wallpaper. On one large wall, there were framed pictures of some of her most memorable cover shots, and of course the ones that made her look the best, even though none ever made her look bad. Dispersed in between were mirrors, of varying sizes and shapes, adding an element of fantasy.
Off to the side, was a three-way mirror and a Japanese Shoshi screen. On her large oak chest and jewelry armoire, were numerous photos of her sisters, their families and her parents, in an assortment of gold frames. Her matching bedroom set included a large poster bed with voluminous white curtains, tastefully adorned with cashmere throws and linen pillows, providing soft touches. And of course, there was excellent lighting, provided by ornate track lighting that could be adjusted to either daylight or evening lighting, at the touch of a button.
Above the bed was a prized possession Jeremiah had given her: a three-photo series of children playing. Mariella walked into her bathroom—a sleek, upscale alcove with every comfort money could buy. Her makeup table looked like the backstage at a theater. There were numerous books on makeup and characterization, and pictures, with instructions on how to get a wide array of looks.
Although she always had makeup and hair professionals at each shoot, Mariella was known as being very gifted in doing her own. As a child growing up, she had practiced for hours, changing her look and appearance, using her mother’s makeup. Once she went so far as cutting her hair into a really short do. Needless to say, her new hairstyle did not go over well with her mother, and from then on she practiced on her dolls instead. When it came to having the look, Mariella always had everything on hand.
That night after a quick shower, and hurried dinner, Mariella completed the paperwork for the Bretton shoot, then she went on her laptop determined to find out everything she could about Ian Cooper. She told herself she was just curious to find out about the man she might be working with. She didn’t want to admit that he intrigued her. From the dark glasses that shielded his eyes to the dark shirt that emphasized his build, he was a man of mystery.
She remembered that Jeremiah rarely talked about Ian and she’d never seen a picture of him anywhere. Even after he’d taken over the magazine he hadn’t allowed his picture to be shown in the paper. When Jeremiah did speak about his son, it was in general terms and he only referred to Ian’s temper and recklessness—the words were usually spoken with both pride and pain. She knew about Josh from the start. Josh was always there. But who was Ian? And why did he want to work with her? Was Jeremiah behind it?
Mariella entered her query online, determined to find out more. What she uncovered left her speechless. Ian had been an award-winning photojournalist for nearly ten years. His photographs had been featured on the covers of
. He’d covered the Olympics, several wars, and both natural and man-made disasters. The online collection of his work astounded her. It was dark, ruthless, clear and dangerous. No light, no brilliancy of color. Stark, yet moving as though he was unaware of the compassion he’d brought to the composition.
One moving photograph showed homes decimated by a hurricane looking like toothpicks scattered in a puddle, contrasted with kids playing soccer in a FEMA trailer park nearby. Another picture showed the setting sun spreading its warmth on the devastation of a structure that had once been a home. In the middle stood the faint image of a couple embracing among the debris of their former life; yet another picture showed a silhouette of bare trees, their leaves ripped from the branches, standing tall, with the string of a deflated yellow balloon dangling from the tip of a branch, lonely and dejected. That picture shook her with an unexpected wave of sorrow although she didn’t know why.
This couldn’t be him. This had to be a mistake. This couldn’t be the arrogant, condescending jerk she’d met today. A man like him couldn’t portray such humanity, show reality with such tender cruelty and gentle pain. She could see that he was as talented, if not more, than his father. Yet, his work was so different than Jeremiah’s. Jeremiah approached photography with a light fanciful air. Almost as a game, which was why she had enjoyed working with him. He’d taught her to feel the image through the lens. To not be afraid to arrange a scene, or to create one, no matter how contrived it looked. The final outcome was what counted.
The emotion the photographer wanted to capture and impart to the viewer was paramount. Jeremiah had been markedly different than her father who had given her a camera at eight and said “Take a picture of anything so that I can see what you see,” his island accent caressing each word. He’d found beauty in the strangest, ordinary places—a broken leaf, footsteps in the snow, not feeling the need to alter them. Unlike her mother, he didn’t emphasize her beauty. Instead, he taught her, along with her three other sisters, to enjoy as much as they could, and that beauty was all around them.
She hadn’t been a very good student of his philosophy. On her mother’s insistence, she had focused more on refining her social skills, and had to admit she liked all the attention, but there were times when she wasn’t attending some recital, or taking tap and voice lessons, that she would be outside taking pictures.
Of course, her mother never approved and always reminded her that she should be in front of the camera, not behind it. Her father had understood her. He was probably the only one who did, beside her sister Isabella. He knew and nourished her love of taking pictures and would always tell her that if she ever wanted to do something different, that she would make a good photographer. She never dreamed that one day it would come true.