Model Love by S.J. Frost
Published by MLR Press, July 7, 2016 *Re-release edition*
His head bowed, Ian stared blankly at his clasped hands dangling between his knees, not really seeing them or anything around him. On a shelf across from him, an urn of unadorned bronze sat in silent vigil over him. A beam of weak winter sunlight shone through the living room window, but faded across the dusty hardwood floor before reaching him. He slowly raised his head, his gaze fixed on the brass plaque attached to the wooden stand the urn rested on, reading, Aiden Arthur Eldridge, Beloved Son and Brother.
Three years. Ian hadn’t thought he would make it past the first day without his twin brother. Now it was a month past three years since Aidan’s death. How had he survived for so long without him? More importantly, why had he?
Trying to think back on his life over the recent years, no clear memories came to mind. He’d stopped gathering memories the day Aidan died. From that day, he’d lost his hope, his faith, his dreams. Aidan took them with him and left him behind to live in the ugly world alone. In the time since, all he did was sleep, eat, work…survive. Where before, he and Aidan were special…or so he thought.
Being identical twins, their lives were intertwined before birth. Besides sharing the same black hair and gray eyes, they both stood six foot three, each of them with medium frames. They also shared the same dream of becoming models and their striking appearance put that dream within reach. When they signed with their agent, Mitch Bennett, of the world renowned Kallos Modeling Agency, their dream came true.
Within a year, the world opened up to them; magazines, fashion shows, commercials, traveling, parties, money, the most beautiful men for them to sleep with. And out of it all, what brought it to an end was one the one thing his brother enjoyed the least.
Aidan hadn’t wanted to go partying that night. He never did. For as alike as they were in physical appearance, they were total opposites on many things, and hitting the clubs was one. Aiden preferred quiet evenings, reading or watching TV. Whereas, Ian didn’t see the point in being home if he could be on the dance floor or in someone else’s bed.
Knowing Aiden would cave under a little pushing, he’d pressed him until Aidan gave in and hit the clubs with him. By the time one o’clock in the morning rolled around, Aidan was at his limit and wanted to go home. But their friends were far from ready to call it a night, so once again, he’d pressed Aidan to stay out.
Ian lowered his head further. He buried the fingers of both hands in his hair. If he had listened to him, had he allowed Aidan to go home, it never would have happened. The red light never would have been run. The SUV, speeding and driven by a drunk, never would have crashed into the side of their limo.
As if the phantom image were in his apartment before him, Ian could see it all so clearly. Through the haze of smoke and dust, one headlight and half the front end of the SUV sat near the black leather backseat of the limo. The sight had confused him. He couldn’t comprehend how it had gotten inside the limo. Then his mind, working through the shock, realized what had happened.
Over the ringing in his ears came frantic shouts. The bitter, acrid scent of smoke and twisted metal filled his nose. A heavy weight was on his side and across his lap. Looking down, he saw Aidan’s limp body. The collision on Aidan’s side crumpled the limo to where there was hardly enough room for one person inside.
Even as he stood over Aidan’s body at the hospital, he didn’t understand. His brother was so strong, his personality so bright, he couldn’t be gone. How could something like this destroy someone so vibrant?
He still didn’t understand. Maybe, he never would.
A booming knock on his apartment door pulled Ian from his thoughts. He cleared his throat and called, “It’s open.”
Mitch flung the door open and stepped into the apartment, aiming a scolding look at Ian. “We’ve been waiting for ten minutes. If we’re going to catch the plane, we’ve got to go. The security at O’Hare waits for no man. And how many times have I told you not to leave your door unlocked? You’re not exactly living in a penthouse anymore, sweetheart.”
Ian’s gaze remained on the floor. “I’ve been thinking, maybe I shouldn’t go.”
Mitch huffed out an impatient breath. “As if I wasn’t expecting you to try and wiggle out of this. Again. Now what’s your excuse? You got more important things to do than getting sun soaked in Bora Bora?”
“My boss wasn’t real thrilled at me for taking this time off.”
“And because you just love being a waiter, you wouldn’t want to jeopardize it.” Mitch marched across the living room and snatched Ian’s light-blue duffel bag off the couch. “Get your ass up and let’s go.”
Ian looked up at him. Mitch seemed barely touched by age in the nine years he’d known him. His hair was rich black, though Ian suspected a skilled stylist kept the silver at bay for Mitch, and his face only bore the lightest of lines around his green eyes. But then, Mitch’s career was beauty. He made his living selling it, and at one time, had been one of the commodities being sold. Mitch gave up modeling before he fully broke into the big time, preferring the business end as an agent, but when it came to making others look their best, he knew every trick there was. So it made sense to him that Mitch would seem hardly touched by time, even if he had turned forty-three the month before, in December.
In the first year after he’d lost Aiden, most of their friends had abandoned him, realizing he’d never again be the free-spirited party boy he’d always been. He had expected Mitch to be the first to leave. Mitch was their agent. A business connection. And with no longer having the motivation to continue in that business, he thought their relationship would end.
It didn’t. Instead, it shifted from business to friendship. Of all the “friends” he’d had in the modeling world, Mitch was now the only one he had contact with. Sometimes he wondered if it was because Mitch truly cared, or wanted to get him modeling again. At every chance, Mitch would mention modeling gigs as casually as if discussing the Cubs game.
Even this trip to French Polynesia had him suspicious of Mitch’s motivations. One of Mitch’s top models was letting him stay in their private beach house. At first, it seemed to be nothing more than a kind offer extended to him to come along, too. “Get out of this gray and gloomy city!” Mitch had said.
Admittedly, the idea of sunshine and soft sand was appealing, so he agreed to go along. Then he learned also tagging along on this trip would be, in Mitch’s words, “a super hottie destined to bring in loads of cash.” In the words of less money-obsessed people, an aspiring young model who had a very promising future.
They were apparently going to take some shots of the guy around the islands. What he couldn’t figure out was what his role was supposed to be. Did Mitch expect him to mentor the guy? Be a part of the shoots? Screw the guy to keep his nerves calm? Whatever it was, he wasn’t going to do it. Well, maybe he’d consider screwing him. But his main plan was to do nothing except sit on the beach, drunk off his ass, until someone dragged him back on a plane to come home.
The final thought gave him enough motivation to push off of the couch. He glanced a final time at Aidan’s urn and turned for the door.
Mitch swung Ian’s duffel bag as he followed. “This isn’t all you’re taking, is it? You can’t have two weeks’ worth of clothes in this puny little bag.”
“I hardly have two weeks’ worth of clothes in my closet anymore.”
Mitch stepped out the door, waiting while Ian locked it. “That borders on a tragedy.”
Ian rolled his eyes and turned up the hall. Taking the elevator down to the ground floor, they stepped out of the apartment building to a black limousine waiting for them. The driver opened the door. Ian moved to get in and saw he had two options facing him; he could either sit next to Rodney Duval, fashion photographer and Mitch’s husband, or he could sit next to the blond twink, who must be Mitch’s next meal ticket.
Rodney gave him a bright smile and a bubbly wave. Only two years younger than Mitch, Rodney was a complimentary opposite to him. His blond hair was cropped short, gelled and spiky on top. Rodney had a thin and small frame, whereas Mitch was athletic and muscular. More eccentric and artistic in dress, Rodney didn’t shy away from bright colors in his wardrobe, even his glasses were in pink frames. Mitch tended to fall into the muted tones of a professional businessman.
They’d been together before he met Mitch and still when they looked at each other, he could see the love in their eyes. He used to wonder what it would be like to love someone so much that others could see it. He didn’t waste his time thinking about it anymore. It was something he’d never have.
Ian nodded to Rodney and glanced at his other option. The young blond guy looked at him with curious blue eyes. His preference was to sit by Rodney, but knowing that was Mitch’s unspoken for spot, he slid in next to the blond.
Rodney stretched across the limo and patted Ian’s knee. “How’ve you been, sweetie? It’s been forever since I’ve seen you. You look like you’ve gotten thinner, and you were too thin before.”
Mitch climbed into the limo beside Rodney. “He’s fine. He doesn’t need you to mother him.”
“He’s not fine. He has no color in his face.”
“It’s January in Chicago. No one’s got any color in their face unless it’s red from getting pelted by snow and freezing wind.” Mitch looked to Ian. “Ian, this is Jared Tate, twenty-one year-old model extraordinaire. Or soon to be at any rate. Jared, this is Ian Eldridge, former model extraordinaire.”
For a split second, Ian considered slapping Mitch for his ending comment rather than accept Jared’s offered hand. He took Jared’s hand, but not without shooting Mitch a dirty look.
He focused his attention on Jared. He could see why Mitch had high hopes for this one. The guy looked like he’d have a nice build beneath his puffy black winter coat. Jared’s facial features were strong and sharp, though, a little too cookie-cutter for his tastes, which was probably why he’d be successful. His generic, hot blond look could be adapted to just about any job.
But maybe it was bitterness making him be hard on the guy. He could almost see himself through Jared’s youthful eyes. His black hair hanging down the back of his neck, shaggy from not having been cut in four months and even that was a ten-dollar hack job. He had two days of stubble shadowing his jaw. His tired gray eyes were accessorized by gray circles beneath that seemed to never go away no matter how much sleep he got. His rough hands not only no longer remembered the feel of a manicurist’s tools, they hadn’t seen a nail clipper in ages since he’d developed the habit of chewing his fingernails down. No, his name and “model” didn’t belong in the same sentence anymore.
“Mitch showed me some shots of you when you were younger,” Jared said, looking at Ian as though he doubted he was the same person. “You were really awesome.”
“Awesome isn’t quite the right word,” Mitch interjected. “Captivating, enchanting, charismatic, now those are better words.”
Ian shook his head and looked out the side window.
Jared leaned toward Ian. “What do you do now?”
Without looking at him, Ian replied, “I’m a waiter.”
Jared sat back again. “Oh.”
“That’s life after modeling, kid,” Ian said. “Save your pennies now and go to college while you can afford it, so you got something better to look forward to.”
“That’s not life after modeling,” Mitch snapped. “And your life of modeling isn’t over.”
Ian slowly turned his gaze on Mitch in a sharp glare.
Mitch cleared his throat, his voice turning tentative. “All I’m saying is, just because you’ve been out of it for a couple of years—”
“Regardless, there are still plenty of opportunities out there for a mature model.”
“I’m going to be thirty this year. That translates from model to human years to about fifty. So unless Has-Been Monthly is looking for a new cover boy, it’s a little late for me to get back into the game. If I wanted to, which I don’t.”
Jared snickered beside him. “Has-Been Monthly. That’s funny.”
Still looking at Mitch, Ian pointed at Jared with his thumb. “And I don’t know why you’re pushing on me when you’ve got the future sitting right here.”
Mitch frowned at him.
Rodney clapped his hands together. “Things are getting a little too snippy in here for my tastes. I don’t know how anyone can be in a bad mood when we’re going to paradise.”
Ian summoned a smile for Rodney. “You’re right. I’m sorry for being shitty.”
He looked out the window again, deciding it was better to let the tension dissipate as the others made small talk. If he tried to enter the conversation again, he’d only bring it down. The trip hadn’t even started and he was already spoiling things for everyone. It made him wonder again why he was bothering to go, especially now that he knew it would be endless hounding from Mitch about getting back into modeling.
Ian sighed, watching the city slip by. Everything was dull, gray, bland. He wanted to say it was because of winter, but he couldn’t remember the last time he noticed color in the world. Maybe if nothing else, he could find a little bit of that in Bora Bora.
Ian watched the sun sink lower in the crimson and orange streaked sky. The reflection of the fiery sky kissed the waters of the lagoon, turning them violet as the waves rolled over the white sand. It was a beauty so grand, it was almost overwhelming for him. That’s what he thought the moment he’d seen Bora Bora from the plane; a verdant jewel outlined in ivory sand embraced by turquoise waters. Even though it was the rainy season and there’d been a downpour earlier that day, almost before it finished, the sun had pushed its way through the clouds once again.
He’d never seen a sunset like this before. Often Aidan would drag him out onto the balcony of their penthouse to show him a particularly pretty sunset or unusual cloud pattern. If Aidan could’ve seen this one, he’d have tears in his eyes from the beauty. Aidan had always been more of a nature lover than him. Now he was beginning to understand why his brother had loved it so much. It was easy to forget about how breathtaking the natural world could be beyond concrete, asphalt, skyscrapers, and all things manmade.
Ian startled at the voice behind him. He whipped his head around and froze. A man stood behind him, wearing only dark-green, slim-fitted swim shorts, showing long legs lined in muscle. The tops of the man’s narrow hips peeked out of the shorts. With his gaze, Ian traced each groove in the other man’s defined abdomen, traveling up his smooth skin to thick pectorals. Even at rest, his biceps and forearms looked solid, his hands broad and strong.
Ian moved his gaze to the man’s face. He looked young. From how finely developed his body was and the maturity emanating from him, Ian guessed him to be in his late twenties. His features were a striking blend of Polynesian and European. He had fine cheekbones, full lips, but what caught Ian’s attention most were his eyes, beautifully almond shaped and golden-brown in color. His hair fell to his jawline, rich mahogany that the sunset pulled bronze highlights from. His coppery skin glistened in the waning light with a light sheen of sweat from the warm, humid weather.
Ian almost doubted it was a real man before him. He looked more like a tropical god.
The man turned his gaze from the sunset to him. “I apologize. I interrupted your solitude.”
In the honeyed baritone, Ian caught his accent with a French lilt. It was mesmerizing, and he wanted to hear more of it. “No, you’re okay.”
“May I?” he asked, gesturing to the sand at Ian’s side.
Taking a seat beside him, he extended his hand to Ian. “Temaru Marceau.”
Ian took his hand. Now that Temaru was closer, he picked up his scent, the sweet smell of coconuts edged with a delicate flowery fragrance and beneath those, the faint musk of masculinity. An intoxicating combination. “Ian Eldridge. Marceau…you’re French?”
“More like half. My mother is Tahitian, my father is French. Where are you from?”
“Chicago, in the United States.”
Temaru grinned at him. “I know where Chicago is.”
Ian directed his gaze back to the sunset. Well, nothing like starting off a conversation with a hot guy by putting his foot in his mouth.
Temaru broke the silence. “Watching the sunset is better when shared with another, even a stranger, don’t you think?”
The memories of watching the sunset with his brother flashed through Ian’s head. “Yeah,” he said softly.
“Though I’ll admit, I prefer the sunrise. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because the light is growing stronger rather than weakening. It always feels to me there’s more hope in the sunrise.”
A sarcastic snort came from Ian’s nose before he could stop it. “What are you, a poet?”
Temaru laughed. “No, I’m a scuba diver. I have a shop near the docks and a boat that I take tourists out diving and snorkeling. Have you ever been diving?”
“A couple of times. My brother talked me into taking lessons, and we dove in Lake Michigan.” Ian glanced at Temaru, seeing the slight smirk quirking one corner of his lips. “What’re you grinning at?”
“Lake Michigan? Did you see anything interesting beyond old tires and beer bottles?”
Ian chuckled softly. “Hey, it’s not that bad. It might not be coral reefs and tropical fish, but there are some pretty cool shipwrecks down there.”
“I stand corrected then. And since you’re already an accomplished diver, you’ll have to let me to take you out.”
“I wouldn’t say I’m accomplished. Aidan was a much better diver than me.”
“He’s your brother?”
“Is…and was. He passed away a few years ago.”
Temaru’s countenance shifted to an expression of sympathy. “I’m sorry.”
Ian shook his head to let Temaru know his words hadn’t upset him, but couldn’t muster his voice to say so. Not knowing what to say, he raised a hand to his mouth and began systematically biting at his thumbnail following along the edge.
“That’s a bad habit,” Temaru said.
“Yeah, I know. I don’t even know where or when I picked it up. Just sort of happened without me realizing.” Ian pulled his hand away from his mouth and placed both slightly behind him, leaning back on them. Out the corner of his eye, he saw Temaru contemplating him. He didn’t need to look at him to feel the intensity of his gaze. It wasn’t a gaze of hot attraction, but more as if Temaru were studying him. He wondered what Temaru was thinking. Did he find him attractive? Was Temaru deciding if he was good enough to sleep with? Was he regretting having spoken to him at all? His thoughts started to make him edgy.
“Did you travel here alone?” Temaru asked quietly.
Ian’s heartbeat quickened at the deep tone of Temaru’s voice, the unasked question underlying the spoken one. “No, I came with friends.” He looked at Temaru. “But just friends.”
“That’s good to hear. Would your friends be disappointed if you abandoned them for a while to dive with me?”
Ian quickly shook his head. “Not at all.”
“Then how would tomorrow morning be? About ten o’clock? You could meet me at my shop. After our dive, we’ll have lunch.”
“That’d be great.”
Temaru gave Ian directions to his shop. With their plans set, he stood, lightly slapping sand off his shorts and smiling at him. “I wish I could stay longer, but I have a group waiting for me to take them on a night dive. Until our date.”
Dumbstruck, Ian only managed a nod. He continued to stare at Temaru’s muscular back as he walked away until the growing darkness stole him from sight. It seemed a surreal dream that a few moments ago, Temaru had sat beside him. Part of him even wondered if he really had, or if Temaru was nothing more than a beautiful hallucination. But he had a date with him.
Ian’s mind locked up at the thought. He had a date. He hadn’t been on a date in years. That wasn’t to say he’d been celibate, but there was a difference between a date and a hook-up. A date meant more than sex. It was companionship…which usually led to sex. For him, at least. But a hook-up was just catching a name before the first orgasm and didn’t require him to remember it beyond the last one of the night.
Of course, he could be completely overreacting. Just because Temaru said “date” didn’t mean he thought of it as being anything more than taking a tourist on a dive. If that was the case, he’d be disappointed, but he’d also look forward to simply seeing Temaru again. Apart from getting to admire his breathtaking body, he’d felt drawn to Temaru’s calm, quiet confidence.
At the thought of spending more time with Temaru, an excited rush went through Ian. He couldn’t remember when he’d last felt excited about spending time with someone. When he did go out for a hook-up, he was never excited to be with them personally. It was more the rush of getting laid, and even that hadn’t been too great lately.
Ian reached up with one hand to run his fingers through his hair, his progress stopped short by tangles. It was wind-blown, but it was also a mess in general. He got a mental image of himself and how he must look, thought of the clothes he’d brought with him, and let out a low, self-deprecating groan. No matter what Temaru had in mind for tomorrow, he needed to get himself cleaned up. He should at least buy a new pair of swim shorts other than the frumpy blue ones he was wearing.
Ian stood and walked up the beach. He was sure one of the posh resorts would have a good salon. He needed to look as fine as possible for his date.
Copyright 2016 by S.J. Frost and MLR Press