Chapter 2 (Jason)
January 16, 2018
Over the last month, TCS flourished despite the loss of Ryker. However, we needed some new digs. Through an ad in the Union-Tribune, and with the extra profits of not having to pay back Tyler anymore, I found a suitable pre-furnished office space, computers and all, in a skyscraper not too far from UCSD. Rent was a little pricey, but if I could hire at least two more models, it could work.
“Congratulations, boys.” A representative of the building’s owner handed Noel and me keys to our new office.
“Thank you, sir.” I shook his hand and made my way to the elevators.
Noel and I walked down the corporate-white hallway to our new headquarters, an ultra-modern corner office of about 1200 square feet. I unlocked the door to a bright, open, and beige-carpeted space. The ads didn’t lie.
“This is so cool.” Noel went inside first. “We could do so much with it.”
“So true.” Three private offices lined one of the walls, and a row of open cubicles sat in front of the panoramic windows overlooking La Jolla. I’d get one of the private rooms, and Noel would get one as a boyfriend bonus. The third would be our private photo studio. “Hey, want to test the lighting?”
“Not right now, Jace.” Noel seemed fixated on the view from the windows. “Ah, we’re moving up in the world, aren’t we?”
“Yeah, thanks to you.” And Kody, and even had to give Ryker some of that credit. The breathtaking view of La Jolla’s sunsets over the ocean would be nice to take in after a long day of photo shoots. Clean streets, ultra-modern malls, and once the Trolley extension was finished in three or so years, that too.
“Don’t give me all the credit.” Noel paced around the room. “Hey, we should have a gym in here.”
“There’s no room for that.”
Noel hung his head. From his pink aura, I could feel all his muscles desperate for workout air. They were so tense. If I lucked out, he’d ask for a massage later. “Just a thought. So, what are you going to do with all this open space?”
“We’re going to have to hire some more people.” And they’re going to have to work as more than just models. Unlike Noel or Kody, I had a lot more leeway on whom I wanted to hire.
“Who’d you have in mind?”
“More models, silly, but ones that can work in a business environment, too.”
Noel took a seat at one of the cubicles and turned on the computer. “I see where you’re coming from, and I guess if Tribal’s gonna grow, then you can’t do everything anymore, and even I can’t do the work of five.”
“Exactly.” I claimed the next one over and followed suit. “You typing up a want ad?”
Noel groaned. “Yes, Jason.”
Kody called as I began to edit brochures for distribution. He must’ve been done with class. I asked him to meet Noel and me here. Twenty minutes later, I heard a knock on the door and let Kody inside.
“Sweet pad, guys.” Kody said. “What’s it all for?”
Noel took a look around the office. “One’s gonna be a dressing room, another’s for photo shoots, and the third—”
“—is my office.” Guess he had a different plan. I’d go with it; didn’t think of a space for the models to change clothes. Everyone would have to share the room though. Noel and I had seen each other naked many times, but any newbies might be a little scared to show their dongles around to complete strangers.
“Hey Noel? You wanna go with me to Torrey tonight?” We could use a few backdrops to replace those drab walls.
“Wish I could,” Noel quit typing. “But I have to get ready for school tonight. Tomorrow’s first day of classes so I’m going to be busy for a couple of days.”
“That’s okay.” I went back to work editing the brochures.
Once we finished everything, all of us went our separate ways. I ran my errands before returning home. The whole day drained my soul; so much potential in one little office, and I wouldn’t have to store all my stuff here anymore. Mr. Ball would have to wait another day to be watched again. The bed called me like it knew Ryker’s court date was tomorrow, and Tyler was on his way here.
January 17, 2018
Ryker’s scheduled court date was a bust. Kody and I waited for three hours before a clerk posted a note on the courtroom door issuing a continuance for the 24th. If we lucked out, it would be the last time I ever saw the asshole who tried to steal TCS from me. Then he’ll be sent to prison to rot, maybe back to the Central Valley. Even though I didn’t believe in karma, irony was just as good of a toy for the fate of the cosmos as any. All his stuff was archived onto an old external hard drive I bought from the camera store in Torrey Pines, never to be seen or used again. A good photographer never deletes his photos. Still had a few kept on the phone though.
Noel called me in the evening after I got home. “Hey Jace? You free?”
“Yeah, what’s up?” I took a seat in my chair and turned off the TV.
“Sorry I couldn’t make the trial. Anything happen?”
“Just a continuance.” I told him about the note. “Next date’s in a week.”
“I’ll try to make it next time. Also, I found a possible new model. Says his name’s Cameron, Cameron Vallas.”
“Really?” Might’ve not needed those want ads after all. “What’s he like?”
“He’s one of my students, and I’ve already told him that anything he does for us will not affect his grade. He seemed really interested, but I’m very concerned about both his job as a student and mine as a teacher if you hire him.”
Imagine the tabloids if word spread out about that. If Noel wasn’t my boyfriend, they’d assume Cameron was instead—maybe a wingman. “What’d you tell him…no?”
“As long as he doesn’t tell the dean, it shouldn’t be a problem. I gave him your number and he should be calling you in a couple of days.”
“Hope he does—” My cell phone started beeping “—shit, another call…Hello?”
“This is Jason Gelardi, right?”
“Who is this?” I could almost speak of the devil.
“I’m Lance, and I heard Tribal was looking for models?”
How’d he know already if the Want Ads weren’t posted yet? Unless he was one of Kody’s friends. “Uh, we are, but how’d you get my number?”
“It was on your website. Information is easy to get if you know where to—”
“You’re really freaking me out.” I never posted my personal cell phone number on TCS’s website. Noel knew better than that, too, and Kody didn’t have access.
“Relax, Jason. I must insist that I try. I’m a fan, you know, and as a fan, I am starting to get tired of your two current boys.”
“Okay?” I didn’t need that assessment, thank you very much, Creeper.
“You know just as well as I. Ryker was the only one keeping everything stable. He was your face, your mascot, everyone wanted to be him. Even your own worshipped him.”
Noel did not worship Ryker. Kody might have but stopped after his assault. “Listen up and listen good. I don’t know who the hell you are, but Kody and Noel are perfectly capable models. If you want to audition, that’s fine, but you don’t have the right to badmouth my employees for doing their jobs.”
“Touché…when’s the audition?”
“Let’s say…mid-February-ish? I’ll call with directions to our office.”
“Thank you.” Lance hung up.
With that out of the way, I switched back to Noel. “Sorry, man. That was another possible model. Kinda freaky if you asked me, but it wasn’t your guy.”
“How’d he know?”
“Exactly.” With Kody it was easy. Ryker did all the work. This Lance guy was a crap shoot and a half, though. Regardless of his methods, can’t judge a guy by his first call, unless he looked like a swamp witch.
“Anyway Jason. I told Cameron, not Lance, that I’d call him once we agreed on a date. I was thinking next month. After Ryker’s trial.”
“Sounds like a plan. Hey, I’ve gotta get going though. If Cameron calls, then let me know, okay?”
Noel hung up. Worse mess than I wanted. Now I had two potential models to try out. Better to do it on the same day, and at least one of them seemed eager, if not creepy. Who knew about the other one?
The next day, I waited for Noel’s contact to call me, but he never did. Sounded flaky, but Noel insisted his interest. I called him and left a message setting a date for the auditions, February 20, 2018.