22.0 Aiden's Art Of Shutting Her Out

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Although my head is about to explode, I put on a brave front and spend the day posing in front of the camera and walking down the runway.

I honestly hadn't expected this, for a brand to want me to model their clothes. I have no training, not much experience doing something as not only amazing but also nerve-wracking as this. It's different from being in front of a camera, where you can edit out your anxieties and crop down your insecurities. On the runway, you're living and breathing, with the crowd watching you closely for every battered eyelid and every tremble in your lip.

By the time the shoot ends, my knees are weak and my head is spinning. The thought of dad stays with me during the process of the designer clothes I'd been modeling and step back into my cheap knock-offs. I've improved my fashion sense since I started modeling, as Corelle is curt about how he wants his models to be in their personal lives, but the difference is nonetheless remarkable.

"Riches to rags, huh, Aiden?" one of my colleagues comments, passing me by with a sly smile over his shoulder.

"Ignore that bitch," says another, busy putting on his own shirt. "You want to go to the afterparty? Bet you don't want to miss out on that."

As much as I would like to go back to the suite and sleep to rest my overworked brain and body, I agree to go out with the boys instead. Knowing myself, I'll probably lie awake in bed for hours before giving up on my futile attempts to sleep and end up pacing around the deserted suite until my legs begin to ache.

Maybe a distraction is what I need instead.

The club is amazing, one of the best in the city. Hollywood is a glamorous place, one I'd never imagined being a part of. It's bright and bold, not exactly my style but too mesmerizing to be overlooked. Its dazzling excitement is too captivating for ordinary people like me.

Once inside the adult club, the dozen or so female and male models -- including me -- file towards the drinks bar. Mike, who has taken it upon himself to lead tonight, orders a round of shots for each of us, and we cheer aloud before taking the shot. It's bitter and strong, the liquid pouring down my throat and numbing some of the panic that has made home in my mind today. It helps, and I smile when I order the next drink.

Soon, we're all relaxed and laughing, cracking jokes and making puns that would put any sober person to shame. We don't really care. We're rich and popular, free tonight to do whatever we please. Life is good.

Or so we all pretend.

Through the fake smiles and feigned perfection, I see tears in several beautiful eyes. The thoughts come to me in a rush, when I see the model Jane whose mother is back home fighting cancer, or when my gaze meets Carl's, whose son died in a car crash two months ago. I can almost see the scars on Taylor's arms which he had hidden under a coat of concealer that morning before leaving the bathroom, and the pain on Veronica's face when she continues to dance despite twisting her knee on the runway just a few hours ago.

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