Chapter Thirteen

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"You look good, Miss Nicholls" Melanie assures me as I run my fingers through my hair and try to reflect in my phone screen for the hundredth time. "I'm nervous, sorry" I say, laughing nervously. "Me too" she admits. "We should've thought about this from the start, the photos." Melanie nods. "I know. But it'll be fine." "How are you comforting me right now?" I grin. She shrugs. "I don't know" she laughs. "Well, they expect you but they don't expect me." "You taught me everything about self-acceptance so don't destroy all of that with your doubts about your looks right now." "You have become way too smart" I scoff and she just smirks.

The door opens and a flash blinds me straight away. "Sorry!" a kind of nasal sounding voice calls and I follow Melanie into the studio until I can see again. Then a lanky guy wearing brown, turned up jeans and a white shirt with suspenders comes in sight, his camera still dangling around his neck. "Sorry about that" he repeats and clears his throat. "I just usually surprise people with an unexpected shot at the door, it tends to turn out to be the best one, most authentic, you know?" he says, speaking quickly, his voice a bit more croaky now. I nod slowly, slightly confused. "Cool, um, I'm Bev" I introduce myself, unsure if that's even what he wants. He laughs and shakes my hand. "Yeah, hi, you're Daley's roommate. I'm Oli. And you're...?" "Melanie" she says next to me, shaking his hand as well but looking just as confused as I am. "Right, so! You e-mailed me the concept and what the photos are supposed to express. I love that project, by the way, if I had any money, I'd invest some but hey, look around!" He runs his fingers through his hair, moving the lose strands hanging over his forehead out of his face.

Except for the equipment he needs for the photos, there's nothing in the room. "I live one floor up, that flat's not much bigger" he explains. "I've literally got nothing. This camera is the most expensive thing I own, baby girl" he says absently, pressing a few buttons on the camera, then looking up. "Where did I put my glasses?" He glances around and Melanie picks them up from the ground next to her. "These?" "Thank you!" he exclaims and places the brown frames on his nose. "Let's get started. You both look great, I mean, we don't need to change, I've got some clothes in the back but we don't want anything too over the top, you just want to introduce yourselves, portait photos maybe or something casual but definitely no pose. We'll see how that one from the door turned out later, that may even be it." "I doubt it" I grin. "Am I the professional or not?" he asks but there's nothing challenging in his voice, he's just all sarcasm.

But as it turns out, he really is the professional. After not knowing what to do at all since I usually hate a camera pointed at me, I suddenly feel comfortable because he 100% does not judge, he doesn't give any suggestions for awkward poses and knows exactly what he's doing. Melanie still has homework to do, including mine so she tells her mother to pick her up as soon as her shots are done and I assure her I'll stay behind and pick out the best photos. The fact that a mid-puberty teenager trusts me with that honors me deeply. But there's not even a bad picture to see once Oli puts them up on his laptop. All of them are great and I can't even make up my mind, wanting to buy all of mine and getting Melanie all of hers. And then I see our shot from the door and it's ... artistic. "What did I tell you? I see your face, admit it" Oli says, insisting that I agree with him and I can't help it. "That should totally be our project's cover." He laughs. "Really? I didn't expect you to like it that much." "No, I love it, the contrast because of the darkness in the hallway, our surprised but still fun faces. It's perfect. You're a smart guy and I doubt you'll be too poor to donate for long."

He laughs. "That's very flattering but I wanna hear more about your project either way. I mean, what's behind it?" "No offense but I don't wanna remain chatting on the floor. If you wanna talk a bit, how about we go for a drink?" "Is that a date, baby girl?" he asks. There's nothing flirty in his voice or on his face, he's just casually talking like that which still makes me feel a bit weirded out by him. But I can see why Daley out of all people likes him. "Sounds good. You can wait here and I'll get my jacket from my apartment." I nod. "I'll be here."

We take the bus for a few stops into town, then sit down outside a bar. We both order a mojito, then he leans back and looks at me with curiosity. "So, how did this whole thing come together?" he asks, licking his lips. "I used to be bullied for a while in school, never got any help, didn't end up needing it but it would've been nice. I found out that this girl in my class didn't fit in so I talked to her and we developed this little friendship, talked about the issue more and more and it stopped being about her and grew into it being about everyone and what we can do with what we know, our experience and our possibilites." "I love it. Thank you" he adds as the waiter brings our drinks. "You know, Daley said I'll like you. And I see why. I support this." "And what's that?" He laughs, a weird sound coming from his throat as he does because he exaggerates it. He sounds like a cartoon. "You're a bit crazy" I add. He winks. "Thank you. So basically, I mean I support people being themselves, it's what I always tell people. And you and your student, it's such a great thing. I wish I could be a part of it somehow." "Maybe you can" I reply, thinking out loud. "Once we start meeting and being official, you can be our photographer to take pictures that we can put on the website to show people our progress and what we do." "That's a great idea, I'd love that. Do you want my card so we can make it official?" he asks and reaches into his leather jacket that has a denim collar and denim sleeves. "You claim you're poor but you have a card?" I tease. He hands it to me over the table. "Gotta get outta the gutter somehow, baby girl" he grins.

"Oliver Cot" I read out loud. "No, it's French. Olivier Coté" he corrects me. "Sorry, I can't read in this light" I apologize. "Hey, your name rhymes." He laughs. "It does." "That's funny." "You haven't even had anything to drink yet." "Let's change that" I announce and pick up my glass. He does the same and lets our glasses and eyes meet. "To your organisation, may it help all of those who were different." "Cheers." We both drink, then put our glasses down. "Something tells me you were different too." He smirks. "Is it that obvious? No, I mean, why do you think I love this idea so much? When Daley only mentioned it briefly, I was already in love with it. Which is why it's amazing that I can be a part of it. I really believe in the idea." "That means a lot, thanks."

"So, I take it from your e-mail address that your actual first name is..." Oli slurs on the way back. "No, it isn't" I cut him off. He laughs. His voice is even huskier now that he's drunk. I haven't been drunk in a while either and it's fun. "No?" he questions, raising just one eyebrow, making me laugh. "No, as you can see, I am not your typical white girl" I announce, pointing at myself. "Disappointing, Beverly" he pouts and I cringe. "Because I myself am a very white girl and I truly just thought I found my soul mate. Hashtag, the struggle is real." I laugh at the accurate accent. "That's pretty good" I judge. "I know. Girl?" He looks at me with tired eyes. "Are we going to Starbucks?" 

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