"Troye, we're ready for you over here." My shoot director calls me over to the platform. "Just position yourself in the centre and we'll go from there."
I did as asked but my entire body sagged under the weight of exhaustion. After Jack and my encounter, if you could even call it that, I spent the weekend holed up in my room with nothing but an assortment of emotions playing on my mind.
Having emerged only this morning, I spent an hour in makeup alone as my team worked on masking the bags under my eyes and my sleep-deprived appearance.
As grateful as I was for Jack's assistance, I was constantly being torn between my morals and my desires.
I knew it was unfair of me to repeatedly put Jack in such a position but at the same time, I wanted to gain experience in these things so that Gabriel, or any other guy I meet, wouldn't think I'm naive or inexperienced and turn the other way.
A knock on the glass door of the studio has the photographer pausing the shoot. Looking over to the door, I watch as Claire approaches with her tablet in hand.
"Sorry to interrupt," the Director says. "Troye, I need your roommate selection today so we can make hotel arrangements in New York."
"Oh, right. Sorry." I reply, rubbing the back of my neck sheepishly. "I don't have the form with me but it's Jack."
"Of course." Claire's long and manicured nails tap on the screen of her iPad. "I wouldn't expect it to be anyone else."
"I don't know why you would." I say and Claire chuckles, looking at me fondly. "You two are inseparable."
"We're friends," I respond. "That's how it is."
"You know," Claire hugs her tablet to get chest and points a finger in my direction. "You've been at this company for nearly five years."
Claire raises an eyebrow. "You know that next year you're entitled to seek a new contract."
My head snaps up in shock. "You want me to leave the company?"
"No! Of course not." Claire assures. "I'm just saying, next year marks the end of your contract. Without renewal, you're free to seek a position with another company."
I rub my arm as the tension in the room spikes. "So I take it I'm not getting renewed?"
"Troye, in this company you're the equivalent of a Victoria Secret Angel, but you know I can't reveal that information in the absence of the board. We will have a sit-down meeting to discuss your future either here or elsewhere."
"I've been modelling since I was seventeen years old." I say. "It's all I know."
"I know Hun," Claire responds softly. "But there's been a discussion."
Claire smiles. "About giving you a promotion and an extended contract."
"I thought you said you couldn't speak without the board?"
Claire shakes her head. "Nothing has been confirmed nor denied and therefore I am allowed to speak freely. This is just an idea that's come up but honesty, I really hope it comes true."
"What would the promotion be?"
"Head of Personnel." Claire smiles.
"I'm not part of corporate office."
"No," Claire agrees. "But I heard about what you did in the studio the other day with that new kid. What's his name? Isak Letrolli? He was signed to the company because of you."
"He was signed because of his talent."
"All we saw in the photos was a body. When you were done with him, we saw life. You don't have to be so modest Troye, you have a way of getting people to come out of their shells and that is really something."
"So," Claire says. "This is now an idea we've been exploring."
My brain attempts to process what Claire's told me. "Wow."
The Director nods. "Nothing has been confirmed so don't get your hopes up, but I'd say the stakes are looking pretty good. I'd hate to lose my best model."
Her tone is teasing but something inside my body turns into ice, as though part of the world was shutting down while the other sprung to life.
I nod. "Thankyou."
Claire makes her way to the door, pausing to glance back at me with a pointed look. "Monday morning after we return from New York. We'll talk then."
My schedule is packed for the rest of the day. After an hour-long session at the gym with my trainer, I had an appointment with Jesse, my dietician, before finally making it back to my dressing room where tomorrow's itinerary was already awaiting me on my phone.
A knock on the door has me looking up to find Jack standing in the doorway. He's eyeing me with a natural interest. "You ready to go?"
"Sure, just give me one sec." I say, pulling the dark shirt I'd been wearing over my head and replacing it with a grey sweatshirt.
In the mirror, I notice Jack had averted his gaze and I chuckle. "Dude, I have more than one pair of eyes on me when I change half the time. Don't worry about it."
Slowly, Jack turns his attention back to me and says nothing as he waits for me to collect my belongings and follow him out the door.
The journey to the car is silent, starting with a quiet elevator ride. I didn't think much of it though, both Jack and I were often tired at this time of day. I decide to break the serenity once we reach the car.
"How was your day?"
Jack's eyes flicker towards me before returning to the road. "It was alright, yours?"
"Long." I respond, followed by a sigh. Claire came to see me today, she wants to discuss where I'm going next."
"You're leaving the company?" Jack's head turns fully to look at me this time.
I shake my head. "My contract ends this year. I'm free to pursue other companies but there's been talk of a renewal."
"Did Claire say anything about an extension?"
"They're looking to possibly promote me."
"Promote you?" Surprise coats Jack's voice. "To what field?"
"Head of Personnel."
"That means you won't be modelling anymore."
My gaze shifts to the passing scenery outside of the car. "It's only an idea. Nothing is set in stone yet."
"But you love modelling."
I sigh. "I do but, I don't know, maybe it's time for a change? New beginnings, right?"
"Right." Jack affirms. His knuckles are white on the steering wheel. I frown but don't say anything.
Suddenly Jack makes a sharp turn and I look back in confusion. "Home is the other way?"
"I know," Jack says and turns to me with a grin. "But how do you feel about steak tonight?"
Grinning at my best friend, I turned my attention eagerly to the building before us.
Lacey's was a trendy diner located several blocks from our apartment complex. Upscale with its retro arcade games and jukebox tunes, it was too cool to be Dave & Busters and too barbarian to be any sort of fine establishment. Jack and I adored it.
Back in high school, this was always the place the football team always used to come after a win. High on the glory of triumph, the team would high-tail it down to Lacey's for a steak and burger meal.
Having become friends with Jack in his senior year, I would occasionally join him and the team whenever they made the trip down in their beat-up convertibles and cheerleader girlfriends latched on to their arms.
After high school has phased out, Jack and I still continued coming here as the years passed. Given that he was a senior when I was a freshman, it was one of the few times we got to hang out. In many ways, our friendship had formed in this place and it was sacred to both of us.
Jack pulls into the parking lot and we climb out of the car and head inside. The atmosphere is loud and welcoming, much like a rodeo with an urban twist. The only difference was the men who came here wore plaid flannels not just for work.
"Table for two tonight boys?" Candy, the blonde hostess who'd been working here as long as we'd been coming here, asked. She smiled. "I guess sometimes the cat does drag in something nice."
"You know you missed us, Candy." I leant against the front desk as the blonde rolled her eyes at me and smiled.
This place had been the same for years with its timber decor, checkered tiles and neon lights crammed in every nook and cranny of the room. The staff uniforms had phased out of their horrid yellow attires to a more chic black and white, but I laughed at the blonde's name tag that read 'Candace' as the managers refused nicknames.
Candy lead us over to our usual booth in the back corner, not bothering to put down menus as Jack and I had ordered the same meal since we were teenagers. Candy leaves to fetch our drinks.
"So," I lean my arms on the table and turn my attention to Jack. "What's new?"
Jack’s smile is warm and casual. "Nothing really, why?"
"It's been a while since we last came here," I cast a quick glance around the room. "I've missed it."
"I bet I could still kick your ass at billiards." Jack teases.
Candy returns with our drinks. We thank her and she takes her leave as I look back to Jack. "Do you miss coming here?"
"We've been coming here since we were teenagers." Jack says. "It's home."
My finger traces random patterns on the table. "Cam took me here on our first date."
"Really?" Jack's tone is surprised. "I didn't know that."
I nod, a small smile forming on my face. "Yeah, it was pretty amazing actually. He had no idea that we go here so he was all nervous and stuttering but the staff knew and they kept smiling and winking to encourage me and Candy would bring over extra food and-"
I break off when I notice Jack staring at me. "What?"
Jack shrugs. "That's the first time you've smiled at the mention of Cameron."
"Oh." I reply as the words die in my throat.
Two fingers tap the table lightly in front of me as Jack asks, "You okay?"
Swallowing my discomfort, I manage to smile at him. "Yeah, I'm good."
Candy returns with our meals and places them before us. It's quiet while we begin eating but not for long.
"Gabriel wants me to meet him in New York."
Jack chews slowly before swallowing. "Are you going to?"
"I don't know," I reply honestly. "I mean, part of me wants to but,"
I sigh. "I still get that feeling that I'm going to mess everything up."
"Not everything in a relationship will be about sex, Troye."
"I know." I say, nodding. "But it's just that he's-"
"He's someone new."
Jack raises an eyebrow. "It's always going to be someone new at first."
"I know," I sigh miserably. "I just wish it didn't have to be. I like knowing a person before being in a relationship. Learning each other's hobbies, doing things together, creating inside jokes. Like what you and I have."
Jack looks at me directly. "And what do we have?"
I shrug. "We're best friends."
"Friends." Jack says. "Right."
"Best friends." I correct.
"You wanna look at the dessert menu?" Jack asks, suddenly changing the subject as he pulls said menu towards him. "We haven't tried their new cheesecake yet."
My face contorts into a frown. "Did I say something wrong?"
"Nope," Jack grins at me. "I just really need some sugar right now."
"Uh, okay." I reply, frowning to myself as Jack begins to mull over the menu.
We finish eating and make our way over to the arcade section of the diner. Lit up with neon lights against the black backdrop, the arcade was retro and stylish at the same time.
Jack picks up a plastic gun connected to the game machine and grins at me. "You ready to lose?"
I return his competitive attitude and pick up my gun. "Bring it."
We were far too old to be wasting our time on games made for kids, but it was our thing. Jack and I had been versing each other in these games since we first started coming here and would always battle it out on our game of choice.
I laughed as we both continued to rapidly fire fake bullets at incoming spaceships. At home, I was never one to pick up the controller to our game consoles; gaming was Jack's thing. He had every console under the sun and his priceless game collection stood tall and gleaming on a shelf beside our TV.
Jack exhales smugly once the game is finished, turning to me with a smirk. "Somebody call an ambulance. I've just killed my best friend's pride."
"Your ego is way too big for that head of yours." I grumble, putting the plastic gun down and crossing my arms over my chest.
"Aw, don't pout boo," Jack grabs me around the shoulders with one arm and pulls me to him. "It isn’t a good look for you. And you've just about perfected it."
Jack yelps when I start hitting him in the chest, laughing as he moves out of reach. "Don't be a sore loser."
"I'm not a sore loser," I mumble childishly. "You're just a narcissistic winner."
"C'mon," he chuckles, beginning to lead me out of the diner. "How about I buy you ice cream on the way home? That'll cheer you up."
I stop and raise a lazy eyebrow at my smug friend. "You just wanna buy me ice cream because you want ice cream."
Jack grins. "Maybe. Now, do you want it or not? One scoop with caramel topping."
My glare softens to a frown as I begin to walk towards the car. "Make it two scoops and we're even."
Jack laughs. "Deal."