Copyright © Grace Harper 2021
The right of Grace Harper to be identified as the author of this book has been asserted by the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Copying of this manuscript, in whole or in part, without the author and her publisher’s written permission, is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved
I paced the living room of my home, long strides eating up the rug while I waited for Carol Vindall, my agent, to quit talking to get a word in edgeways. A large cobweb caught my attention from the corner of the high vaulted ceiling, mocking me with the prospect of a spider lurking near. Ignoring the empty threat of an extra from Arachnophobia I opened and closed my mouth when I thought I could speak. Only to clamp my lips closed again when the clipped south London accent prattled on about Paris fashion week. She was pitching to me like I had never been. She continued to speak to me like I had never walked down the catwalks for ten years straight. After a solid ten minutes, Carol broke the news that I wasn’t invited this year. She then carried on, saying Starlight, the hundred year old high street fashion chain wouldn’t be renewing my contract next month.
I looked around for the camera. Was this a hilarious prank?
Double whammy. Carol talked about how great I’d been, how much I was loved. All past tense, nothing she said was present tense. Most of my life over the last fifteen years had been in front of a camera.
Not anymore, it seemed.
I stopped mid-stride, when Carol talked about her newest model. I couldn’t give a fuck about Helen and how youthful she appeared. My sister, Margo, looked up from the sofa, her mug of coffee midway to her mouth like she was watching her favourite soap opera. Margo had been staying with me for the last three months while she worked on an assignment for her job in London. Her home was in Australia, in a house three doors down from my parents. At some stage Margo had silenced the TV, I could see the remote balanced on her knee. For a moment I had a pang of jealousy that Margo could sit in the lotus position for hours and not get pins and needles in her legs. She looked at me, expectant that I would be chosen to go to Paris by one of the top fashion house designers and this was the call. I had been waiting for the phone to ring for weeks. We were both on standby on the house phone, in case Carol couldn’t get through on my mobile. I should have known after the last three phone calls from my agent telling me that my contracts hadn’t renewed, that this wouldn’t be good news.
Shame ripped through me. Nothing more shameful than being told you’re too old to model clothes aimed at women my age. I could officially say that thirty-three is the time to die in the fashion modelling world.
“Say that again?” I asked Carol in such a tone, I expected a reprimand for my rudeness.
Margo gave me a sideways glance and placed her mug on the uneven wooden coffee table. She rose to stand at my side. As Carol kept talking about my career like I hadn’t lived it, I gazed across the living room into the open dining room. I loved this house. It was a shame that I hadn’t spent more than three days in a row living in it.
I bought the old Victorian house for cash after my debut fashion spread in a sports car magazine. That editorial had projected me into the stratosphere. As soon as I saw the house, I fell in love with it. What I didn’t realise was that I wouldn’t be living in it very much.
The main issue I had after I’d bought and decorated the three-storey house in south London was that I couldn’t bear to be on my own. Throughout my life, I had been in a noisy environment. My parents owned a boarding house for the live-in students attached to a private school. Then I went to University and lived in student accommodation with a hundred other students. My university life was short lived, and soon I was modelling on catwalks all over the world. I took work wherever I got it, because the silence was too loud in the house.
“I’m dropped, just like that? Did they give a reason?” I squawked down the phone to Carol.
I gazed through glassy eyes at my sister whose arms hugged me around my waist while I continued to listen. Margo rested her head on my shoulder. While I squeezed her free hand.
Nodding at whatever Carol was telling me, I could barely speak. Tears threatened but didn’t spill over, I refused to let them.
“I understand,” I said and ended the call.
With my arms limp at my sides, I welcomed the cuddle from Margo.
“Well,” I said. “That’s my last campaign gone. I’m officially too old for catwalk modelling and now high street chain lingerie. My career is over, might as well organise my funeral now.”
I had a flair for sarcasm, never could bite my tongue.
“You’re not too old, is that what Carol said?” Margo asked, leading me to the sofa and passing a hot mug of tea into my hands.
“Yep, that’s what she said. Starlight wants to use a younger model for their new autumn lingerie range, and I’m not it. I’ve been their face for ten years, and now they’re not renewing my contract.”
“I’m so sorry,” Margo said.
“I’ve no more steady modelling work. Just a dried up prune, who nobody wants to see in front of a camera anymore.”
Taking a large gulp of tea, I puffed out my cheeks with the liquid and pouted.
“That’s not true,” Margo said hiding a snigger.
A smile edged across my face after I swallowed the tea, laughing along with my sister.
“You’ve got that meeting tomorrow at that record label, Red & Black. You’ll get the job. And you’re not a dried up old prune, I’d love to have your smooth skin,” Margo said.
“They won’t take me when they know I’m no longer a supermodel.”
The career I had a month ago had gone from New York and Paris catwalks to nothing, overnight. I could blame my Agent and her lack of effort over the last year to get me new contracts. One day they booked me solid for a year and then the next I was out on my arse, ostracised. But, it was no one’s fault apart from my date of birth. At thirty-three I had three more years than the average model, and in my heart, I knew this time would come.
Didn’t stop it hurting like a bitch.
“Well don’t tell them. The record label wants to meet you for you. Unless they ask, don’t volunteer the information,” Margo said, sipping on her black coffee. “Do you know what the meeting is about?”
“Not really, it didn’t come from Carol, the label emailed me. Asked for a meeting, all very mysterious.”
“I bet it is to appear in a video for Maverick. They are hot as hell, all of them. I’d like to spend a night with Donovan Carter, he is all kinds of sexy.” Margo sighed through her words.
“You’re married to the most perfect man in the world,” I commented.
“Doesn’t stop me admiring another man, sis.”
Margo had moved to the armchair to grab her phone to bring up Maverick’s latest song. The music blared out of the speaker. The guys in the band were a little young for me but were a similar age to Margo.
“Dreamboat Donovan,” Margo said in her moony voice when the track finished, and it went on to their next song on the streaming service. “One journalist in the UK’s biggest online music website had dubbed him a dreamboat when she’d first reviewed a Maverick gig.”
Margo handed me her phone. Donovan was gorgeous with a baby face, had the whole James Dean, dipped chin look. He was too young for me, Margo was welcome to him.
“You can have Donovan, Maybe I could have Terrance Lane, he is all kinds of bad,” she said. Margo stared at her phone, no doubt gazing into the baby blue eyes of Terrance. “He’s on the rampage at the moment, fresh from his divorce. What was the woman thinking?”
“You’re winding me up, to get me to bite.”
This was Margo’s trick when we were kids, to get me to confess something I didn’t want to. Maverick had been all over MTV in the last six months after they’d changed their front man. No one could escape from them if they were anywhere near the internet.
“If I bump into them, I’ll tell them that my sister is their biggest fan,” I said.
That perked Margo up, she uncurled her long legs and inched to the edge of the sofa. Flicking her chocolate brown braid over her shoulder, she stared at me.
“There she is, the sister who assumes she is going to get every job. Knew she was in there somewhere. You’re going to knock them dead. Then you can date Donovan, see if he’s as squeaky clean as he looks. I bet he fucks like a champ.”
“I’ll do my best.” I tried to keep my voice bright.
“Seriously, Leia, are you ok? Here I am salivating over two of the hottest pop stars of the moment, and you’ve just had the worst news.”
“Yeah, I’ll get over it, maybe I’ll go back to Uni and finish my degree,” I said and collected the empty mugs.
“That’s a great idea, finish the business degree, before you got mega famous”
“Not sure it would be appropriate now. I don’t have any desire to run a business.”
“Oh yeah, Leia’s Fashion House.”
“That was before I became a model and saw the other side to running a fashion emporium. Don’t think I have the money or the stamina for what it takes.”
“You are the most hardworking woman I know. You’d make it to the top in no time,” Margo said.
“Thanks, sis, I’ll give it some thought over the next few months.”
I took the mugs into the kitchen, swilled the contents down the sink and put them in the dishwasher. I loved this house, not just because I owned it, but it was a creaking old lady of a house. It had survived two world wars, not a scratch from any of the bombings. I had the top floor. The open attic stretched the whole depth of the house. At the back of the room, overlooking the landscaped gardens, I had built an outdoor bathroom. On those rare warm summer evenings, I soaked in the bath, looking at the stars. The architect had designed glass walls and ceilings, and using the existing fireplace, in the winter months I could still see the stars and pretend it was summer.
Leaving Margo to Facetime her husband, I crept up the stairs to my sanctuary to find what I would wear for the interview tomorrow. Erin Devlin, one owner and who had written to me, hadn’t given me very much to go on, apart from they wanted me to appear in an advertising campaign for one of their artists. Margo had assumed it was for Maverick but according to their website, they managed solo artists and bands. It could be for any of them or someone who they’d not made public yet. Of the ten artists they had on their website, most of them had become popular in the last year. The record label dominated the streaming charts, according to Millennial Music Magazine. Their top journalist, Megan Moreland, had made it her mission over the last six months to report everything that Red & Black’s label did.
When Erin had emailed me a few weeks ago to ask if I would come to their record label for a chat, I set about learning all that I could about the label. I didn’t need to go anywhere else that Megan’s website page. Her bio picture showed a statuesque woman, a cartoon caricature. She would be any designer’s dream, but I suspected that Megan was older than me and would only have the same fate.
All of my clothes were on open rails under the slope of the attic wall. Years of swiping hangers on a metal rail kept the habit alive when I moved in. Having wardrobes with doors seemed to be more effort than needed. I wanted to see all of my clothes at the same time to make dressing easier. Each rail held different clothing. The shirt rail was calling me, a dozen white shirts mocked me from the corner. They were my standard go see shirts for designers and agencies. I loved a decent tailored white shirt. I had great tits even for thirty-three. With long legs, a tiny flare of hips and a short torso, jeans and a shirt with high heeled ankle boots showed a designer everything he needed to see. I hoped this worked with Erin and Red & Black. Judging by the look in her eye on her website, I knew she would be a woman I would admire. I hoped she liked the look of me and didn’t ask too many questions.
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