People used to say seventeen was a magical number. It was the age your life was just beginning, so full of opportunity and discovery.
I remember my friends being eager to begin the next chapter of their lives, getting ready to finish school and get out into the real world.
Some would go to university, some would travel, some would have scholarships and others would dive straight into jobs that they had been waiting for all their lives.
We were ready, and we hungered for what awaited us outside of the school gates in the real world. To chase our dreams, achieve our goals, fall in love and make something of ourselves.
I was the same. I had a supportive family, a great boyfriend and was at the beginning of a modelling career I only ever envisioned in my wildest dreams. Then all of that changed.
My name is Troye Evans, and my life is not just beginning.
It's starting again.
I turned the key in the lock to the door of my apartment that I share with my best friend, Jack Chase. Work was finished for the day and though I was exhausted, I was glad that the studio had been busy today. It meant my mind was occupied and I didn't have time to think about other things.
It was pouring rain outside, not that I minded. I loved the rain. It brought a sense of serenity to the world that just couldn't be achieved in other ways.
Stepping over the threshold, I shake my damp hair and take off my boots, hanging up my wet coat. All the work my stylist had done today would be washed away by now.
"Troye? Is that you?" I hear Jack call and a moment later he enters the room. "Hey."
"Hey," I smile at him. "How was work?"
He shrugs. "It was alright. Nothing new, really."
I nod in response. Jack works at the same company I do, only he's a talent scout. Jack's job was to go out and look for new, fresh and young talent; someone who was born to model. In other words, while I spent most of my time in front of the camera, Jack was looking for someone to join me in its frame.
I had been offered my job when I was seventeen years old. Although, my boyfriend Cameron was the one who really got me to go for it in the first place. Ever since I could remember, I had loved photography and the concept of being able to capture something so beautiful.
However, it wasn't the actual photo that entranced me, it was the people in it. I adored the way that simple movements could cause such a different effect on the photo.
How the sun could hit someone just right and make them look like a shadow or the way the beauty of a person could be captured even with a black and white photograph. It enraptured me completely.
When Cam learned of my adoration for photography, he jumped straight onto the idea. Knowing how much I loved to model, when he heard about a company hosting a competition, he immediately made me enter it.
Thea, one of my closest friends who is a photographer, shot photos of me and sent them in. They looked amazing and with a little of her magic touch, the company contacted me and told me how much they loved the photos.
Winning the competition, I went on to start an internship at the company - to my absolute astonishment. By the end I was offered a full time job and I hadn't even finished school yet. It was not an opportunity many people are handed in life but that was just my luck.
And then that luck was ripped from me in every way possible.
Walking into our shared kitchen, I pulled a fast food menu out of the cupboard. "I'm starving. Do you want to order in tonight?"
Jack nodded and sat down at the kitchen bench with his laptop. I made the call before going to sit next to him. Jack was browsing through a list of profiles for potential models. I watched with interest as he made little comments on each profile for review.
"What do you think of this kid?" Jack questioned as he pulled a profile up on the screen and turned it towards me. "He was recommended to me by one of the guys today."
My eyes graze over the screen as Jack flicks through the photos of the young male. They were good, almost too good. This kid was definitely very photogenic.
There was photos of him in sunlight, some black and white and others with minimalist shots of the boy adorned in different attires. Another file contained photos of the boy holding different expressions including smiling, brooding, teasing and a handful with his eyes closed. There were even some slightly erotic ones but nothing extreme.
The boy's portfolio was impressive and I nodded. "He's good," I commented. "Very natural."
"That's what I thought." Jack agreed as he stared at the screen. "He's very young though."
I read over the screen where Jack was pointing. He was right, the boy was only sixteen. He lived in this town too.
"Rafael Garcia." I read out loud. "Born in France, moved to the US when he was five. He's French, that's cool."
"Bored with American boys?" Jack teased and I tensed up. Realising his mistake, Jack fell silent. In the sudden dynamic shift, my eyes wandered over Jack's laptop and I noticed one of the tabs he had open.
"What's that?" I inquire, pointing at the screen. "Is that a dating website?"
Jack is quick to snatch his laptop away from me but I pry it off him. "No-Troye-you don't understand. It's-" He sighs. "Yes, it's a dating website."
"Why do you have this?" I ask. "Since when do you go on dating websites? I thought you hated this stuff."
I read over the screen. It was very 'happy' looking with photos of supposed couples and their glee with meeting each other online.
"It's not for me." Jack whispered and I look up. "Come again?"
Jack looks at me guiltily. "I just wanted to help you."
I look closely at the screen and realise he was in the middle of setting up an account. For me.
"Jack." I whisper in horror as I stare at the information written out. "I can't. Why would you do this?"
Jack's guilty expression worsens as he looks at me. "Troye, it's been three years."
I sigh miserably. "I know."
Jack gives me a serious look, "I know you're not grieving anymore but when are you going to move on? It's okay for you to meet other guys, you know."
I look down at my hands. I hadn't dated anyone in three years. Not since Cameron. I couldn't, it didn't feel right.
"I'm fine." I whisper. "I just don't have the time right now."
"That's a terrible excuse and you know it." Jack replies. "You have a job with flexible hours. You have more time than you know."
I sigh. I know Jack will see straight through me, he always does.
"I guess I'm just not ready to yet," I reply honestly, avoiding Jack's gaze. "It doesn't feel right. It probably won't ever feel right to some degree. I mean, we didn't exactly break up? What kind of story is that?"
Jack places his hand gently over mine. "I can never imagine the pain you went through Troye," he tells me. "But I can help you through it. I guess that's why I was trying to do with this website but I was wrong. You'll tell me when you're ready and I'm sorry I didn't wait to find out."
I shook my head and gave him a small smile. "You were just being my friend, Jack." I tell him. "I know you don't intend to hurt me or force me to do anything. And, well, maybe,"
I let out the breath I didn't know I was holding. "Maybe I should try it?"
Jack shakes his head. "Troye, it was just a stupid idea of mine. You don't have to do it."
Giving him a small shrug, I say "You're not forcing me; you're helping me. Maybe this will work and, uh, I don't know. Finally help me move on?"
Jack nods and opens the laptop again. "Okay, only if you're sure." Jack switches back to the tab where he had been setting up my account.
"Okay," he says after a moment. "So you have to answer some basic questions to get your profile set up. I've already done your name, age, appearance, things like that. Now we just have to do the short answer questions. Ready?"
I nod and let out a sigh. "Ready."
"Alright," Jack says, "Do you like adventuring?"
"Do you prefer being outdoors or indoors?"
I give him an amused look and Jack grins before continuing.
"Do you want kids?"
"Are you into any kinks?"
I look at Jack in surprise and he laughs at my unease. "Sorry, I didn't write the questions." he chuckles innocently.
I sigh and look down. "Um, I don't know? I've never really-"
Jack lets out another laugh. "Oh c'mon, you expect me to believe you've never done anything?"
Looking at him, I don't say a word and he stops laughing.
"Oh my God." Jack states. "You're serious."
I look away and Jack tries hard to hide his surprise to no avail.
"Sorry, I just always assumed that you and Cam...?"
I shook my head slowly and study my hands. "We never did." I say quietly. "I wanted to but Cam wanted me to wait until I was older so I knew I was making the right decision."
Jack sits beside me, gobsmacked. "I didn't realise." he says apologetically. "I just always assumed you two had."
Wanting to forget the moment, I reach past Jack for the laptop, "What's the next question?"
It was very late at night by the time we finished setting up my account on the website. Our barely-touched containers of food sat cold on the counter and I was still in my work attire, wet hairspray starting to make my hair wilt from its hairstyle to the point it was falling in my eyes.
I yawn and stretch my arms out in front of me. Jack notices and closes the laptop with a tired look on his face. "I think we've had enough of that for one night." he says with a drowsy smile. "I'm going to take a shower."
He leaves the room and with nothing else to do, I open Jack's laptop once more and browse through the dating website.
It still didn't feel right, moving on. Part of me suspected that somehow it would always feel a little wrong. It felt like I was cheating on Cam and he couldn't do anything about it. Disgusted with myself, I went to close the browser when something caught my eye.
A little red dot had appeared next to the notifications symbol in the corner of the screen. Intrigued, I clicked on it.
'Gabriel Sanchez viewed your profile.'