This story is by Mara Jorge and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I was already in bed when I heard it.
“How could you do this?! I’m calling the cops!” a desperate young voice barked.
I jumped out of bed and the wood of the whole cabin cracked. The conversation stopped. Without turning the lights, I quietly slide to the window.
“Shut up, do you want someone to hear us?” a throaty voice responded.
“I won’t let you do these things to those girls! I’m finding Aaron and telling him I’m leaving!”
Josh fell unconscious, as his father started to drag his body to the country house.
With the shaky lightening of the outdoors lamps, I tried to find my phone with no success. I was desperate, thinking what atrocities Josh’s father could be doing to him, or worse, Laney.
I knew we should have never come here. I had a bad feeling about it, I tried to tell her many times.
“Don’t you find this ad weird? Who would offer somebody work on Instagram?”
“Who cares? It’s a hundred bucks per day! Besides, I DM (Direct Messaged) the guy, it’s totally fine.” carefree Laney replied.
“What do you mean by fine?”
Everything was always fine for Laney. She was the loudest and most enthusiastic person I’ve ever met! When I moved to my grandmother’s old house, I was holding a bunch of boxes when she appeared out of nowhere – out of her house across the street, but I didn’t know it at the time – and offered to help. She left the next day, after we arranged the house, had takeout pizza and watched people falling on YouTube for hours. It was the first time I laughed since the accident.
“It’s fine like it’s legit. The guy is a photographer and he’s close to a deadline for a contest or something, that’s why is paying well, he needs models immediately. Also, where else would he find cute girls for some lame project?”
“I don’t know much about photography, but I know you don’t offer money to underage girls on the internet. That seems wrong.”
“Oh my god Christina, you’re such a bummer sometimes! I’ve seen his profile, I told you he is legit!”
Two days later, we were on a two-hour drive to the location of the job. I was anxious about it, with my parents’ money running out, it would be nice to make something that I would be proud of, for once. Before the accident, I was in UCLA taking Art classes and it was the only time I felt I was part of something – I never had many friends, but my art was enough to connect with people. One day I got a call, the next day I was quitting school and moving to Oklahoma, with no degree, no job and no family. Laney was the only good thing that happened to me in the last two months. This would have been my second-best thing, at least my art background could be useful. But it wasn’t the best, it turned out to be the biggest nightmare and I was going to save both of us out of it.
“This is perfect! One week out of town, working a photoshoot together and living the Hollywood life!” she claimed while grabbing my arm with her tiny hand, as soon as we got off the car.
Well, the Hollywood part was only for her since she was one of the models – having free food and bed, standing with cute clothes and hearing how pretty she is. Her Asian beauty and outgoing personality combined was another thing that we’ve always fought about, and this time wasn’t different:
“Laney, we need to be cautious about this. What kind of photoshoot is this? What if he asks you to take your clothes off?”
“Come on Christina, I’ve told you a million times the world doesn’t work that way! We are strong independent women, I will punch his face before he even thinks of trying some Weinstein’s moves on me. Or you!”
“Thanks, but you didn’t answer me.”
“About what? Nude photos? A hundred dollars a day is not worth it!”
The photographer wasn’t the creep I anticipated – Aaron James was charming, intelligent and professional. Always very focused on his work, he didn’t talk much during the shoots, besides to give the briefing and to direct the models, but his work spoke for him. As my art once did for me. On the breaks, it was a blond smiley guy that everyone seemed to enjoy being around.
I was really appreciating myself there. I didn’t mind being the invisible crew member because I was surrounded by props, costumes and knowledge! There were three groups I had to serve: the “Directors” – Aaron, the light designer Josh and the producer, Josh’s father, who is investing on the project, the “Models” – Laney and other three girls – and the “Production”, which was my group. I was part of something again and the only thing I had to do was being helpful to everyone!
Well, I got to be helpful for everyone except my best friend. When she was invited to the “Directors” party, we had our typical discussion, with Laney being a normal young adult and me being a loser. Or attentive, as I preferred to be called. But I didn’t pay enough attention.
“You’re such a cat lady Christina! Come to the party with me! You’re so smart and cute in a nerdy way that I think these people would be interested but you’ll never get a boyfriend if you don’t meet anyone! Josh doesn’t have a girlfriend either!” she exclaimed.
“How do you know that?”
“I asked him and I think you should talk to him.” She mumbled.
“What the hell, Laney? Did you tell him things about me? I swear to God!”
“Relax, I didn’t. But I wanted to! He’s always talking about technical things that I don’t understand but I’m sure you would find exciting!”
Josh was handsome. In a nerdy way that I would like to get to know better. His work with the lights was amazing and he had the most mysterious brown eyes. Which I will never see again.
“Well, not tonight” I replied.
That was the night where I should have been there! But instead, I was on a useless search for my phone and I couldn’t risk turning on the ceiling lamp with that assassin around! I switched my mission to the pursuit of Laney’s car keys and luckily, they were on her backpack. “I can’t believe she was responsible for once and didn’t lose the keys!” I perceived, as I almost let out a smile on that horrible situation. I opened the cabin door as quietly and fast as I could. As I started running, I realized the car was parking across the set, making it was too far for me and Laney to run, possibly with a murder after us. I was doing it by myself.
I ran across to set to get closer to the country house, I needed to take Laney out of there. I exasperated to peek inside the house, but it was hard with all the disco lights and people moving around. And then I saw her – with shredded clothes, smudged makeup and laying on the floor. Her eyes were wide open but she was expressionless. I’ve never seen her like that, not even when she was sleeping. This was the most scared that I’ve ever been in my entire life. I went around the house, trying to find a window from where she could see me. I had to show her she wasn’t alone, that she could run away! Or could she? I didn’t know, I never did drugs! If I tried to get her, we would probably be both trapped in that house; If I run, I could get help and call the police. As I approached the closest window to Laney’s, I saw him – sitting on the couch, with his arm around one of the models and popping some pills into her mouth. Aaron kissed the model and as he turned his head, his eyes stroked mine.
There were no more plans, no more doubts, no more heroes. I ran. My mind was going at a thousand miles per second. With every step, the only thing I could hear in my head was “Why don’t I exercise more? I think I’m going to have a heart attack!”. I tried to forget the fact that everyone’s life was in danger, I just watched a man die for the first time, my friend is about to get raped, murdered or both and I regret ever thinking that I wanted to be in the car with my parents when they were hit by that drunk driver.
As I reached for the handle of Laney’s car, a strike of pain crossed my shoulder and shoved me into the door.
“Where do you think you’re going?” that deep voice inquired.