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The Cutting Edge
By Ace Collins
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2013 Ace Collins
All rights reserved.
Unbelievable," leslie rhoads sighed.
"Well, it shouldn't be," Carlee Middleton shot back, "you've worked long enough to get it."
As Carlee smiled, the younger woman picked a magazine off the desk and walked over to the office's large window. As the sunlight hit the cover, she once again shook her head. Spotlighted in the golden haze of a New York afternoon,staring back at her from the cover was the vision of female perfection—natural honey blonde hair, a seductive smile framed with sensuous lips, a perfectly turned-up nose, deep, passionate blue eyes, and straight white teeth. The woman in the photograph was the definition of iconic beauty. She had the face women craved, men wanted, and cosmetic surgeons tried to duplicate. She was perfect—well, as perfect as anyone could be.
"I still can't believe it's me," Leslie exclaimed, the sun catching the excited sparkle in her eyes. Glancing across the city spread out below her agent's fifty-seventh floor office balcony she laughed, "Well, New York, this country girl has finally arrived!"
Carlee laughed with her, letting the twenty-four-year-old model soak in the excitement for a few moments and then, even while her visitor's heart was racing, she broke in, "A first-time national cover is always so exhilarating. I remember my first one. What a day that was!"
The older woman's words apparently landed on deaf ears. Leslie seemed far too consumed by the image staring back at her to even realize the agent had spoken. In fact, the world had stopped moving and time was standing still. Carlee knew the feeling; it was as if the best of every Christmas and birthday had all landed in one place at the same instant. And it was all because of one simple photograph.
She'd been one of a dozen models chosen to compete for this cover. None of them knew if they had the right look to get it. It was all in the hands of the CEO. The shoot had been three months ago, and when Leslie hadn't heard anything the model must have figured she hadn't made the grade. But now Carlee was giving her the proof that she was in the same league as the models she had idolized all her life!
Getting up from her desk, Carlee caught Leslie's eye, "Come on back down to earth, we have some new business to talk about." Motioning to a table in the corner of the huge office, she led her client over to a mass of clippings. Even as Leslie sat down, her eyes remained glued to the latest issue of Fashion Style.
"I just didn't realize how good it would feel," Leslie cooed. "I mean this is me! Carlee, I owe you so much for getting me this."
"Well, kid," Carlee's voice was now dry, but the smile still showed on her face, "It is a start. Tonight and tomorrow you'll be on newsstands coast to coast. Your face will be on street corners and in airports. Millions who didn't know you existed will now memorize this image. Women will try to duplicate your look and men will long to find you. That's the way this crazy business works. But it only works that way if we keep working. So now we need to move on to more important things. I've got something here that's much bigger than a single magazine cover."
Leslie stopped staring at her picture and studied her agent. "What could be bigger than this?"
Carlee didn't keep her waiting for long. "Les, I've shown the folks over at Drum Media some of your work and portfolio. They loved what they saw and they've convinced one of their clients that you might just make the perfect girl for their next national ad campaign. In fact, after talking to them this morning, I know I can get it for you. It could make your career! We're talking numbers in the six and seven figures. It could be bigger than a dozen magazine covers."
Carlee stopped for a moment to allow the young woman to grasp the magnitude of what she had just said. As she did, she looked down into a trusting face that still harbored a great deal of innocence. No artist could have created this woman. She was simply one of the most beautiful creatures she had ever seen. In a world full of plastic, she was the real thing, a vision of what every person thought the girl next door should look like. Carlee had a hundred different models, and most of them were incredibly attractive, but none of them had what this girl did. Leslie was touchable, a bit more human than all the others. There was something about her that indicated she was more than just a commodity. In four years of working in New York, she still came across as fresh, not cynical. This business hadn't hardened her.
Just three decades before, Carlee had been considered just as perfect. She was the hot model, the one that all the men were hung up on and the girl who made millions for the agency. But the business of surviving on looks and nothing else had broken her small town naïveté in a hurry. She quickly discovered her face and body were nothing more than a product without a soul. It was time to drive that lesson home to this girl as well.
"Your look is perfect right now," Carlee explained. "I know what it's like to have that moment. I had and held onto it for five years starting when I was your age. So while you might want to bathe in the spotlight right now, Leslie, you can't. You have to be cold and calculating to make it in this world. That's what I learned as a model and that's why I'm so good at peddling what you have right now. It might sound harsh but you are a piece of meat to me."
Leslie's eyes jumped from the cover to the woman. The model knew time was limited. After all, Carlee had been on scores of magazine covers. She'd been the toast of New York and Paris. But now, despite a couple of facelifts, the years of living hard and on the edge showed. Her eyes didn't glow, not even now when she was about to have one of her models hit the real big time. Yet, it might have been more than the years, it might have been all the sadness in her life.
Carlee had been married four times, all ending in bitter divorces. In between the marriages had been numerous affairs, so many that she had once told Leslie she didn't remember all the men and all the lines. There had been pills and booze, not to mention countless packs of cigarettes. And yet, she still boasted she was one of the lucky ones. She had survived.
Moving to an end table beside a leather couch, Carlee picked up a thirty-yearold fashion magazine. She briefly studied it before handing it to Leslie.
"You know who that is?" Carlee asked.
Leslie took the publication, studied the cover model's high cheekbones and deep eyes before shaking her head.
"That was Connie Creast," the agent explained. "We started together and for a while she made the big bucks. So did others who shared the stable with me way back then. How well I remember the names—Melody Reason, Fawn Telch, and Becca Woodcastle. Yet none of these girls are left in this business. When their looks played out, when age caught up with their bodies and faces, they were forced to look elsewhere. They were like you. This was their whole life and none of them ever went after higher educations. So all they had was a face and a body. The alternatives left to them when the camera saw their age were so degrading, they were rarely mentioned or seen in places other than cheap bars or motels. You need to know that, Leslie. You need to understand that you have to make it while you can and invest it. Even as we speak, the clock is ticking."
Carlee stared at the young woman whose career she guided. "You're different than I was when I was your age. You don't yet realize that in this business, you are not a person—you're a commodity. You have to grasp onto that fact! You have to understand that the person on that cover is not you, but rather it is just an image! It is nothing more! As long as you can separate what you sell from who you are, you will be fine."
Leslie nodded. "Does this have something to do with Drum Media?"
"This offer we just received," Carlee continued, "I can't begin to explain what it means to me to get this for you."
The agent sat down beside Leslie, grabbed the model's hands, and looked her squarely in the eyes. "For years, I've dreamed of landing a big-time gig. I wanted to place some-one in a campaign that could and would catch the public's imagination—something that everyone would be talking about. This is it! Leslie, they want you!"
Carlee smiled. "This is going to be amazing! Mike Thomas over at Drum has convinced the marketing directors at H & B to use you as the central girl in the Passion Nights perfume ads. It means great big bucks and a huge amount of exposure. Probably every morning talk show in the country will want you, as will magazines and newspapers. You'll be all over the Internet. You'll be the biggest face in the business.
"Consider this. These people have been looking all over the world for over a year now, everybody has been after this job, everyone has been wondering which of the big names would get it, and they want you. You are going to get to replace Erica Budig."
If Carlee had expected to be greeted with a hug and a shout, she was disappointed. All she received was a blank, stunned stare. Rather than respond, Leslie slowly got up from the table and once again looked out into the New York afternoon. The room was deathly still as one woman buried herself in her thoughts and the other waited for an answer that she knew must come.
Carlee knew that for four long years, Leslie had struggled just to make ends meet. She had eaten cheaply, worked hard, lived in run-down apartments and almost given up a hundred times, and then, just in the last few months, things had begun to click. First, she had gotten a spot as the girl on the Buffalo Scotch ads and then the cover of Fashion and Style. The first two she had taken, one with some reservations just to get a shot at something big and the other as a way of living a dream. Now that it had happened, one of the biggest companies in the industry wanted her, she acted as if she didn't know if she really wanted it. Why she was so troubled by what looked like the biggest break of her life?CHAPTER 2
Not looking at Carlee, BUT rather continuing to stare at the New York skyline and harbor, Leslie asked, "Are you sure they want me?"
"No one else but," Carlee replied excitedly.
Still studying the city, Leslie questioned, "Passion Nights always uses the ads with a woman in a very sexy situation. Isn't that right?"
She turned so her agent's eyes would be forced to meet hers when she answered.
Nodding her head, Carlee waited a moment and then replied. "That's part of it. That's what has made this such a big deal and the product so hot. That's why everybody is talking about it. It's controversial, but that sells. Still, it is really all hype, no big deal. Besides, you have a great body, one of the best. You'll look super and we're talking about a huge amount of money for just a few days work. There are no real options here. This is the best thing that could happen to a model's career."
Shaking her head, Leslie quietly stated, "I've never done anything like this. I mean they wear practically nothing." In truth, they wore less than nothing.
Immediately jumping to her feet, Carlee gently put her arm around Leslie and sincerely explained, "But, Honey, nothing like this has ever happened before. This is once in a lifetime. I've been trying to get one of my girls hooked up with this company for years. This is a big shot for all of us. It is not like being in a porn magazine. It's a commercial. It's no big deal. You're a model. Your looks—your body—that's what we sell. It's all you've got. Without it, you're nothing. You have to separate the image from the real you. You have to think of yourself as the commodity. Remember, the clock is ticking!"
Leslie might have pretended she was unaware of what was being asked, but in truth she had been fretting about this for a long time. It had to come and here it was, the moment she both yearned for and dreaded. She once again picked up the issue of Fashion and Style featuring her image on the cover. Slowly she leafed through the pages, finally stopping and staring at a perfume ad. Handing the magazine to the agent, she shook her head. There was a model barely wrapped in a towel talking to a man. The man's face wasn't shown, but the broadly smiling woman was fully identifiable. So was almost every mole on her body. One sentence accompanied the photo and it boldly stated, This is what my Passion Nights are all about.
"Listen, Leslie," Carlee's words were now soft and soothing, "It might be hard for you to picture yourself like this, but it's not that bad. It is just work. After a few minutes, you'll forget you're naked and it'll be easy. Just like any other shoot. I remember my first gig like this one. I was nervous, but after that, everything else I did was easy. Hey, now I can joke about it. So, don't blow this, Honey. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Remember, this isn't you, it's the product you are selling."
Leslie turned and stared at the city skyline through the window. Her blue eyes were now troubled as she wrestled with her thoughts. A battle was being waged in her head and her soul. With each passing moment, it seemed that her mind was getting stronger and her heart weaker. Finally, after long moments of pained silence, she collected herself and returned to the table. When she and Carlee again sat down, she tried to explain just what she was feeling.
"Carlee, I know that every other girl in the agency would kill for this. For them there would be no hesitation. But you've got to understand, there are people back home that would—well, they would ..." Leslie paused for a moment, struggling to find the right words. She was weakening and she knew it. Still, she had to make Carlee understand why she couldn't just jump at this chance.
"When I took the job as the girl in the whiskey ad," Leslie's voice quivered as she remembered the time, "some people in my hometown came unglued. You remember I told you that my cousin's husband was killed in a car accident and the kid that had been driving the other vehicle was drinking Buffalo Scotch. I knew that and I took the job anyway. I convinced myself, and you convinced me, too, that Steve's death and my cousin's loss really didn't have anything to do with me. It was just a job. The fact that I don't drink didn't even enter into it either. I remember you told me that I didn't have to like the stuff, only look like I did. Well, I rationalized that, and I did it.
"Now, if I take this job, I know that some members of my family and friends would be so embarrassed. I'm thinking of my dad right now. Seeing me in this state of undress would be bad enough, but with a man! And within days, the shots would be all over the Internet. I don't think there's any way I could rationalize that. I'm not perfect, Carlee. I've never considered myself a saint, but I don't think they could handle it. Back home, I'm still pure and chaste. I'm still that cheerleader from Springfield High. My dad would probably die if I modeled bras for Victoria's Secret. I just don't think I could do this to him."
Throwing up her hands, Carlee shook her head, smiled, and then in her best big sister voice announced, "Leslie, you're twenty-four years old. You haven't lived at home since you were eighteen. You're a grown woman. Mommy and Daddy don't run your life anymore. What anyone thinks back home is not important. It's you that you've got to think of first. Nobody else. Don't you know that?"
Leslie nodded her head unconvincingly. "But it's more than me."
"If you turn this down," Carlee continued, her worried expression revealing what this opportunity could mean to her as well, "you'll spend the rest of your life as a nobody. You will be just another model who almost made it. You'll never amount to anything and never know what you could have done. But, if you take it, you'll have a chance to be a star. I never got an opportunity this big, but if I would have, I'd have grabbed it in a minute. Don't be stupid! Playing a wild woman in ads doesn't make you one in real life. People in today's world know that. The image is just the commodity you are selling. It's not you!"
Excerpted from The Cutting Edge by Ace Collins. Copyright © 2013 Ace Collins. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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