Diamond Girl [fiction]
Meg wouldn’t stop calling so I finally stopped trying to fend her off and muffling my impatience, told her to come on in and I’d take a look at her book. Her portfolio. She said she just got back from Milan and that she’d shot all this stuff for Italian Vogue she wanted to show me. Well, not me, necessarily. She wanted to show her stuff to whoever was doing the hiring of freelance photographers at the company. I wasn’t sure how she even got put through to me as I wasn’t officially the person doing that. All I was doing was sitting in for my boss, technically I was ‘acting creative director’ while the real Creative Director, capital letters on her business card, was in New York working with the advertising agency on a long-term strategy to keep the century-old cosmetic company relevant in the current market.
I could have just told her no. I should have. I knew the look of magazines like Italian Vogue, languid-faced metrosexual men pouting like they wanted to sleep with the camera, white-faced burgundy-lipped women, their swan necks craned skywards, mere mortal men were not the point of their beauty pains. Idolatry begins at home. Artsy-fartsy shit. Despite our faux French name, Bel Age was much more basic Miss America.
I stood by the window overlooking the street, the office phone cord stretched to the max, watching all the women rushing to and fro below. The women in their knock-off Manolo Blahnik high heels and Ugg boots and Supergas sneakers, their hair in complicated updo’s and basic blunt cuts, permed and curled and crimped and blown to smithereens. Our target market. Their faces smoothed by our anti-aging, youth-enhancing makeup foundations, lips lined with our pencils, colored in with our lip-plumping hydrating lipsticks, their eyelashes coated, darkened, thickened, extended, feathered, everything but left in their natural state while the men walked by. Not all that much had changed for men since those Brylcreem, a little dab’ll do ya days.
Sighing over the phone, I explained what Bel Age wanted was much more straightforward. A good strong closeup of a beautiful woman of indiscernible age. Indiscernible? Make that at least a decade under forty. No strong noses. No overly lush lips. No beauty marks in odd places. Just a beautiful face plus cosmetics, your basic Miss America stuff.
I told her Bel Age Cosmetics didn’t go for prepubescent teenage girls standing on Tuscan columns, long flaxen locks, and Fuschia chiffon scarves blowing straight out in 90-degree angles.
“I can do that, Erin,” Meg said. “The kind of work you want. It’ll be cool. Totally cool.”
“The thing is, Meg, there simply isn’t any work out here. Not for beauty shots. We use pick-up shots from the advertising agency for our displays and sales materials. We hardly ever take our own beauty shots out here.”
Truly, everything was done in New York. I didn’t say it wasn’t up to me. I didn’t tell her I was just a placeholder while the real Creative Director was out of town. I didn’t tell her John, the marketing director, and my boss’s boss was the one she should be talking to. If anyone was going to make a decision it would be John, not me.
“Please,” she said, “just let me show you what I can do. I know I’ll blow you away.”
I should have told her then but I couldn’t. I’d let her think I was more important than I was. She made me feel more important than I was.
“Okay. Come on in and let me take a look at your book.”
I’d humor her, go through the motions.
But then she bounced into my office—the office I was pretending was mine—looking like an ad for the white Superga's on her size 5 feet. I knew from the phone calls she was going to be young. I’d heard it in her voice. Not just the timbre, like a chirping chickadee, but the barely suppressed ardor. Like she was still making art. What I hadn’t expected was someone who looked more like a model than a photographer, but so small, she was barely bigger than the brown leather backpack slung over her shoulder. Worn to perfection, I could see it had been tossed on the ground at more than a few piazzas. Meg made a point of mentioning she’d picked it up in Paris when she was there for the pret a porter the spring before last.
“Don’t you just love the energy there?” she’d said, sliding a stray lock of dark hair behind her ear.
I’d never been to Paris. “Mmmm,” I half-murmured. I’d seen movies after all.
Right between Meg’s eyes was a diamond-shaped mark pressed into her skin. A pale chicken pox scar, a leftover from childhood. I tried not to stare, wanting, I realized with start, to plumb its iridescent depth with my fingertip. Instead, I doodled diamonds in the margin of my notebook. Wishing it was a Smythson. Knowing she must have one, that she’d probably picked it up in London, just wandered in off Bond Street and bought it because she knew it was THE notebook to have. She just knew.
We sat on the loveseat, me pretending my boss’s big corner office with the extra-large windows and the giant ivy climbing up the wall, was mine while my own office, a miniature copy, was right next door, bellowing distance for my boss who punctuated my days with directives—“Erin! In here, please.” “Erin! The new mascara package copy? Where are you at?” “Erin. Erin. Erin!!” Meg zipped open her portfolio and spread it out across our knees, half on me, half on her. It was one of those massive black presentation cases, the kind of old school ‘book’ most photographers eschewed these days in favor of their iPads, but Meg liked the way the oversized pages allowed her to blow up her work, showing it to its best advantage. Except the size made it unwieldy at best and every time she bounced forward as she made a point—Meg seemed to be in motion all the time and I wondered how she ever stilled herself to shoot—the book threatened to slip off and I was aware of inching my knees away, terrified they might touch hers.
Once upon a time, I’d sat beside a boy I liked, looking through his family photo album. With each turning of the page, he gave over his life, as photograph by photograph, he developed into the fifteen-year-old next to me, the confident boy whose coppered thigh in white tennis shorts was so close the merest breath would close the gap between us. The physical gap anyway. I must have known, sitting there on Jason’s expensive flowered sofa, surrounded by polished rosewood surfaces and fresh flowers, the genuine kilim rug beneath our feet, that there was a larger gap that we could never close. The album was one of those old-fashioned ones, heavy black paper with little black corner pockets holding the photos. One of the snapshots, of Jason at about five or six peeking up from under a red felt cowboy hat had slipped out of its pocket and when we reached out in unison to tuck it back undercover, Jason’s fingertips found mine and traced the half-moon of my thumb. My breath caught in my mouth and with it, the distance between our skins vanished. I turned a half degree and our lips grazed in a first kiss.
Leafing through Meg’s portfolio, page by page, shot by shot, listening while she pointed out the soft pink light of dawn in the background in one photo, telling me how early she’d had to get up and hurry the model up to capture that moment, pointing out the image of the famous French fragrance bottle reflected in the model’s eyes in another, and telling me a story about some entitled bitch she’d never work with again, it all felt a bit like that. The way it had with Jason, every picture meant getting to know her, while revealing how far apart we were. Worlds apart. The photos were too avant-garde style-wise —all those models on a skew whiff—but technically strong. Accomplished.
I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t want to just send her away with a ‘Sorry, they’re just not for us.’ And I realized with a flush of embarrassment, I wanted her to like me. Not only that, I wanted her to think I had some power in the equation. But I didn’t. I had no power whatsoever.
“Let me think about it,” I said. “Can you leave this with me until tomorrow?”
“I guess so. Sure…” She was hesitant, I could see that, the idea of leaving her precious book behind. “Tomorrow, OK?”
I knew it was all such a stupid waste of time, just trying to convince this woman, this girl, that I was a real Creative Director, that I was on her level despite my lack of Smythson journals and battered leather backpacks.
“Sure. OK.” She agreed and we set a plan for her to call in the morning.
I took the elevator up to marketing and showed the book to John as soon as she was gone. Going through the motions even though I knew it was pointless.
“It was just a thought,” I said. “I know we don’t really need—”
“No, no, Erin! This is fabulous. I saw her in the elevator, coming up. You can’t miss this monster, almost bigger than she is. She shot these?” he said, turning the pages. “Very impressive! And you!” He looked up from the book, smiling. “I like the way you’re branching out, picking up the slack while Shawn—Shawn was my boss—is out of town. Why don’t you go ahead and call her in for the fall shades.”
“But the Agency usually—”
“Nah. Let’s do it here.”
He must have seen my jaw drop. “And close your mouth. You can do the theming.”
Coming up with the theme for a shade promotion was a creative part of the cosmetic business that I’d longed to be involved with but up to now had been denied. It meant taking a set of shades—usually a palate of lipstick and matching nail enamel colors, sometimes blush—and giving them meaning. The advertising agency always did the theming while I was left to write the sales materials and the shitty copy on the back of the perfume and mascara and blush packages. But now, some so-called pretty young thing slides in, and voila.
I took the color swatches and the Fashion Foundation forecasts home. The coming fall was going to be another dark season. Fall always was, it was as predictable as pumpkin spice lattes. This year green was the big color story, the various shades of green found in heavy woods.
The forecast predicted that the upswing in the economy and the success of Bridgerton, and Outlander would have women ready to swathe themselves in period opulence. Rich damasks, satin, low-cut bodices, and jeweled chokers. Simple tailored clothing was out, everything had a costumey feel. Think of going to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire and dressing for it. There were twinklings, the forecast said, that Hollywood was even thinking about remaking Forever Amber, with a much more feminist bent.
I sat there with my yellow legal pad and got down a bunch of ideas on paper, but not the idea. I wasn’t in the right headspace, my mind refused to sit still and concentrate. It was past midnight when I knew I had to let it go, the idea would come to me in my sleep, I hoped. Still, something kept nagging at me while I brushed my teeth. Staring back at me wasn’t my own reflection but Meg and I realized I was dressing her in my head. There she was in an embroidered black satin corset, a green velvet riding jacket, and hunks of emeralds at her ears and throat. I coughed and spat out the toothpaste, rinsing twice to get the rubbery taste of Toms of Maine out of my mouth, the thought of the corset shifting against Meg’s skin out of my head.
She was standing by a chestnut mare, a crumbling castle behind her, the sky a blur of green trees, while soft rain fell on lush verdant grass. I could almost smell the sweet Irish air. Soon her lover would come riding up from the cliffs.
The next day, I called Meg and ran the idea by her, even before showing it to John.
“What do you think of Emerald Isles?”
“You know with shade names like, oh I don’t know,” I pretended to brainstorm on the spot, “Sweete Berry Wine, Wilde Irish Rose, Freshest Grass, Maidenwood, Village Green. I don’t know, Heather Woods, Holly Oak.”
“Uh-huh.” And I realized she didn’t care what I called, so long as she got to do her thing. “Well whatever you decide on, I can get us all the jewelry we need from Edward.”
I’d thought Edward was some rich guy connection of Meg’s but, as she explained patiently, Edward was the name of the store. Only one of the most prestigious jewelers in the world and located just down the road on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Oh, that Edward! They’d lend us whatever we needed in exchange for nothing but photo credit.
“So, John,” I said. “You like it? It’s okay.” I got the go-ahead from the marketing director. Just because my own boss was out of town, it didn’t mean I was actually in charge.
“Yeah, yeah. We might want to tweak some of those names though. Wilde Irish Rose, it’s a little— Well, been there, done that, right? But yeah, big picture? I like the Emerald Isles, the overall vision is solid. Nice pick-up with all the period dramas out there. Good work, Erin. Good work.”
Meg and I went by the store to “window shop”. I should have said “No, we don’t need all this expensive jewelry. A $50,000 pair of earrings. A $175,000 emerald and diamond choker. It was so much money, too much money.
“Costume jewelry will be fine,” I whispered as the saleswoman in the stark black dress stood close by, watching intently. Who could tell the difference anyway?
Meg put the necklace to my throat, moving my hair aside, so I could see. I fingered the smooth hardness of the stones where they lay cool and heavy against my skin. One of the emeralds slipped into the hollow of my throat and I found it hard to breathe. I tried to ply the necklace free but Meg kept her hands and the jewels in place.
“What if something happens?” My voice hushed, as if I was already in a confessional booth, professing my sins.
“What could happen?” Meg laughed. “They send a guard.”
“Two weeks from tomorrow, right? Do you have the studio space set up? Wardrobe covered?” John had called me upstairs for a check-in. “Catering? Nothing major, right? Light breakfast. Sandwiches, salads at lunch. Not that they’ll eat anything but blended grass anyway. Make sure you have plenty of smoothie shit.”
I stood, biting my lip, nodding along. Yes, yes, yes, and yes.
“Okay then, just show me the girls first.”
The girls. He meant the models which he was allowing me to pick out of books from the agencies that handled LA women. It was demoralizing looking at page after page of beautiful women until Meg stopped by and showed me how easy it was to pick them apart. All those drop-dead gorgeous women.
“I remember her! Nice eyes but that nose! Now if she spent a little more fixing that nose instead of what she’s stuffing up it. Sorry, not sorry!”
“This one,” she said, tapping a photo with her nail, “has skin so bad it takes two hours just to apply foundation. I’m serious.”
“Ah, Joanna. A Kendall Jenner lookalike. Gorgeous without all the drama.”
“Oh, wow! Chantal. I didn’t think she was still working! Not after what I heard happened last year. The woman can’t hold a pose or her pee. Like shooting a kid. You know how kids can’t stay still, how they move just when everything else is perfect? So the story goes Chantal was doing a shoot, working with some guy. A new guy, and he didn’t know. Didn’t know about her, um, tendency. So they’re shooting and he’s thrilled because she’s killing it, giving him some great shit. But then he’s like right in the thick of it, you know? Everything clicking and she’s like I’ve gotta go, I’ve gotta go. And he tells her just hold it one more sec. “Hold it, hold it— Okay, thanks, that was amazing! You can go now.” And she does. No lie. Right there, sitting on the stool, urine flowing all over the studio floor. I heard she wasn’t working anymore. Not after that.”
“She looks like David’s new girlfriend.” I hated the way her hair hung brown and glossy past her shoulders. Like Meg’s hair.
“No one. Just a guy I went out with for a while.”
A while was forever. Three years. David used to tell me how he loved my hair, that my hair was what first attracted him. He couldn’t help it he’d said, he was a sucker for a pretty blonde. But it wasn’t true. We’d be sitting at a table in some fancy Italian restaurant and I’d be reading the menu, trying to order something like black ink linguine with mussels and clams instead of settling for something safer, like I usually did, something like ravioli, or gnocchi. I wanted to be brave enough to try something new but I was afraid I’d end up sitting with a $25 plate of regrets in front of me. So I’d sit there worrying and I’d wonder what David was having. He was always trying new things. “David, what are you having?” I’d ask, still looking at the menu, rereading the descriptions, and double-checking the prices. When I’d thought he hadn’t heard me, I’d ask again. “David? What are you having?” And I’d look up and catch him coming back to earth from where he’d been grinning just beyond my shoulder. It was always some girl who looked just like Chantal, some girl with dark hair. Like Meg. Sometimes I’d turn in time to see a flash of dark eyes disappear into the bowl of a glass of red wine or the gleam of chestnut hair swinging against a shoulder as a dark-haired girl swiveled away on her stool, turning back to the mirrored bar. Or see a girl moving past our table on the way to the restroom, and I’d catch her quick sideways glance, her sudden smile flashed for David’s benefit and there he’d be, helpless, half-smiling back. He’d look at me. “What?” “Nothing” I’d say. “Nothing.”
“He liked girls like that. That’s all. And the dark hair. He had a thing about dark hair.”
“Funny. And I thought gentlemen preferred blonds.”
“Maybe they just prefer what they can’t have?”
“You know what? The next time you think about the two of them together, you know, doing it? Just picture her like she’s Chantal peeing all over the damn stool. That should make you feel better. Can you imagine his face? Your old boyfriend? Meg’s eyes were glittery and wet. She wiped at the corners with the back of her hand, giggling, her voice full of husky glee.
I settled on six women to show to John and we—well, he—decided on Gabrielle Moore. I’d seen her on an Elle cover and Meg liked her too. Said Gaby had luscious lips even if they were collagen enhanced, her auburn hair was the real deal and she didn’t need colored contacts. Her emerald green eyes were perfect for the promo.
On the day of the shoot, I arrived at the same time as breakfast. The wardrobe was late, the empty rack sat barren against a white-painted brick wall but the jewelry was already there. Planted on a folding chair opposite the exit door, a non-uniformed security guy wearing an average dark blue suit. Nothing jazzy. He had an actual newspaper, the one from the Valley, on his lap and was acting like he wasn’t watching whoever and whatever came in and out that door.
Meg greeted me with a peck on each cheek like she was born in Paris.
“Ciao, sweetie,” Or maybe it was Rome? “Are you ready for this? I’m so excited.” She was cupping my clammy hands in hers.
I eased them free. “Ready when you are.” I hate that embarrassing phony Continental stuff.
While Meg got set up, her assistant Eric, bleached blonde and so tall, he could be a model too, made me a latte and a bialy, so warm it melted the cream cheese. I could easily have eaten another but settled for a banana instead. Being around models will do that for a girl. I watched Meg moving around the space, putting light stands in position. Taking the metal poles expertly in her hands, she swiftly untwisted the rods, lowering them. Using clips she attached a large photo backdrop, a hazy castle surrounded by green woodland.
“Wow! That looks just like I imagined. How’d you do that?”
“It’s just a stock photo,’’ she said. “You just rent them.” And I felt incredibly foolish.
I watched while she continued to set up, working quickly, quietly, instructing Eric, completely competent in her arena. It was absolutely clear she knew exactly what she was doing and I felt comfortable, knowing she’d nail it. The soft buzz of voices came from another room, Fernando the makeup man, and Gabby talking as he prepped her for the first shot.
Meg and Eric were both futzing around with lightboxes and umbrellas, fill cards, and light stands when the wardrobe stylist zoomed in with an armload of clothes.
“Sorry, sorry but fucking Fairfax, you know? I’m Shana. I’d shake but—” she nodded at the clothes in her arms.
“No worry. I’m Erin. I’m with the company.” I picked up an empty hanger that had dropped to the grey-painted cement floor.
“Bloody cold in ‘ere, innit?”
“Freezing!” I agreed.
Shana had the whitest skin I’d ever seen on someone living in LA, it was offset by her lips, done up in bright orange. Not a Bel Age customer, that was clear. Her black men’s glasses matched her hair, dyed black, completely matte, with no shine at all. Safety pins and a pair of scissors dangling from a shoestring around her neck, a bracelet of thorns was tattooed on her left wrist. I’d dreaded seeing the clothes but they were lovely. Elegant and reminiscent of the period feel of the theming. I checked the labels. Neiman Marcus. Chanel. Escada. Designers like Karl Lagerfeld and Galiano were already putting their touches on empire dresses, brocade, and riding jackets. Tiny white tags pinned to the items noted the prices minutely printed in pencil. $745 for a burgundy velvet camisole with a pink damask ribbon lacing it up the front.
I took a sleeveless silk frock from the rack. It was midnight blue with tiny fragments of sea glass sewn into the deep scoop of the bodice. A velvet corset meant to peek out from underneath was paired with it. I held it up to the light. If only I lived a life where I could wear such a thing.
“God. You’d look gorgeous in that.”
I hadn’t heard Meg approaching. “Oh sure, it’s me.” I was wearing a white men’s shirt, a pair of jeans. My uniform.
“Well, it is. You have the body for it.”
I turned back to the rack and hung the outfit up, hiding my blush.
“We’re ready when you are,” she said, leaving me to it.
The morning’s work seemed to go well, Meg shot about a dozen rolls. Gabby was dazzling in a jade green empire dress, the $175,000 diamond and emerald choker brilliant against her peaches and cream skin and deep auburn hair. We broke for lunch, Gabby handing off the necklace to Shana, the clothing stylist, who put the necklace in its storage box under the security guy’s watchful eye.
After lunch—sandwiches and salads, cheesecake for dessert (John was right, I was the only one eating actual food)—Meg announced she wanted to try one with Gaby bare from the neck down. She wouldn’t be naked, she’d be draped in piles of jewelry.
“Why?” I asked. “I need to make sure we nail the theme first. Shana has some more looks I want to try.”
“I know, I know,” she said, bouncing up and down like a kid, “but let me have this one shot, please? For my book? While you figure out what you want to put her in? I promise it’ll be quick but it’s going to make such a difference for me, for my career. You know, with all those little indie labels who go for more radical shit.”
“But you’re not going to sell the shot, right? We’ll own it, that’s the deal.”
“Just for my book, to show. That’s it. I promise.”
I checked the clock. Looked back at her standing on her tippy toes, making prayer hands and puppy dog eyes.
“Alright, alright. Go ahead do your naked lady shot. But fifteen minutes, max. That’s it.”
“Okay, got it.”
While I checked out the clothes rack, deciding what outfit to use next, Meg and Shana were busy trying to get the jewels to stay on Chanteuse’s body.
“Shit!” Shana said, “the topaz keeps slipping off her tits.”
We all looked to see Gabby sprawled on the cold cement floor in nothing but a pair of panties.
“It would probably work better if I wasn’t so cold,” Gabby said, pointing to her nipples. Squinting, I saw they were sticking up like jagged bits of stone. “I feel like I’m in Ireland in winter, right now. Could I maybe get a latte?”
“Eric?” I said.
“And a cigarette. I need a damn cigarette.”
“On that too,” he called out.
“I dunno what to say,” Shana said anyway. “This tape usually works a treat, but I think the stones are too heavy.”
“What about Crazy Glue?” Meg suggested.
“Are you freakin kidding?” Chantal spoke up. “No effin way.”
“What do you think, Erin?” Meg asked. I’d come over to get a closer look.
I furrowed my brown in a show of concern. “I don’t know—”
We all stood over Gaby debating the possibilities.
“I’ll just ‘ave to try the Hollywood tape again.”
At that point, even the security man got up to watch Shana fasten the gems to Chantal’s breasts. Shana was finally able to get them to stay and Meg shot a roll but then decided the earrings just weren’t catching the light even though Eric had laboriously cut out little white cards and attached them to the earring backs.
Shana stalked off to get another pair.
“Where’s my damn cigarette?” Chantal complained. “How long is this going to take anyway?”
“Meg,” I said, turning to look for Eric, “you’re out of time. We need to move on.”
That’s when Shana returned, her Kabuki white face gone hot pink, clashing with the orange of her mouth.
“It’s gone. I knew something like this would happen. I knew it. It’s gone. That bloody diamond and emerald necklace. It just fucking vanished.”
In the moments that followed, I found myself saying the same stupid thing over and over. “Are you sure? Are you sure it’s gone? Did you look everywhere? Maybe you dropped it in your bag, accidentally?” Like this $175,000 necklace was a set of keys you’d left on top of the fridge.
I expected the security man—I think his name was Jim, or maybe it was Jack—to start barking and freaking out, the way I was but he just said, very calmly but firmly, none of us could leave just yet and started his own mini-investigation before calling Edward’s. Just so they wouldn’t panic needlessly if it did turn up in the makeup man’s case for instance. Or in someone’s pocket. Or in the photographer’s brown leather bag. Everything was searched. Nothing.
I looked everywhere too. The makeup room drawers, under the sandbags that anchored the lighting poles, behind the hanging backdrop, in the toilet tank. I even checked the fridge but there was only that fancy water that comes in the cobalt blue bottles and a few dozen blocks of plastic-wrapped Kodak Portra 160. Meg wasn’t the only one still insisting on shooting on film.
Jim (Jack?) was still conducting his investigation. I stood by the door to the dressing room smoking a bummed Marlboro, wondering if he should check everyone’s panties. Just one more cigarette I told myself, and then I’ll call John. I did not want to call John even though he’d know—wouldn’t he?—that it wasn’t my fault. The guard—Jack (Jim?) should have been watching more closely. Meg came over to where I was standing, shoving her hair back, clutching at her crown.
“You think it’s my fault, don’t you? Like I planned the whole thing. Is that what you’re thinking?”
“Don’t be stupid.” I crushed the cigarette out on the floor, staring as though I needed to make sure it was really out. I didn’t want to see her face. “But someone here took it. One of us. I mean, who else could have? I didn’t see anyone else come in? Did you?” I didn’t know any of these people. She’d hired everyone. The makeup guy. The wardrobe stylist. The assistant. Everyone but the model, the security guard from Edward’s. And me. “I have to call John.”
I thought I might be sick.
I turned to walk away. Meg grabbed hold of my arm. I could feel her fingertips burning into my skin. Like a branding iron.
“That’s it, right? I mean no matter what, I blew it. You guys’ll never hire me again.”
Her face went all scrunchy, then she lurched into me and I could feel her small brown head quivering against my shoulder. I held my breath and pried her off gently. Her eyes were shining like wild green seas.
“Meg. That was a one hundred and seventy-five thousand dollar necklace. Can you fathom that? The obscenity of that? But you had to push for it. Had to have it to make your shots work? And I okayed it. Jesus, Meg! Do you have any idea how much trouble I’m going to be in?”
She was staring at me, tears stopped halfway down her face, her diamond scar a livid blotch in the studio light. I wondered then how much of Meg was as artfully posed as the pictures she took.
I reached over and touched that spot right between her eyes, I could feel the shallow dip like those dimples on golf balls. “They’re doing amazing things with lasers these days. Corrective surgery. You ought to check it out.”
I went over to the phone and called John. I was the one who’d blown it. He’d never give me another shot at being in charge.
When I hung up, the security guy asked if I was sure I hadn’t seen anything. He picked up a discarded half-eaten blueberry bagel and took a bite. I remembered then that I had seen something. When we broke for lunch, Eric had gone out and come back in with a bag full of belts and scarves. He couldn’t have been gone more than a minute. I remembered because Shana had made a deal out of it. “I don’t need this shit. Who told you I needed this?” Real pissy and I felt kind of sorry for him. Eric wanted to know if he should put the bag back in her car. “Bloody hell! Just leave it the fuck alone.” I knew it had been Meg who told Eric to bring in the bag.
“Nothing I can think of,” I told him.
Later I would wonder. Maybe Meg and Eric had been in on it together. If he’d buried the necklace in the bag Shana hadn’t asked for and he’d slipped it out unseen and stuffed it up his tailpipe. I’d lie awake at night picturing them playing Baccarat together in Monte Carlo. She’d be a dark-haired Grace Kelly in a white strapless gown, the diamond and emerald necklace glittering around her neck. Eric would be standing behind her, holding her chips.
When Meg called about a month later, it was to see how everything had turned out with the pictures. No one had called her, were the shots okay?
“Where are you? Where are you calling from?” I’d been called into the Beverly Hills Police Station and told them everything I knew. Everything. For what it was worth.
“Where? Soledad, where else? Jeez, Erin. At my folk’s. I always stay here when I’m in town. Didn’t I say?”
I hadn’t imagined her having folks. They lived in Sherman Oaks. She’d grown up in the Valley. I was supposed to act like nothing had changed as though I’d never accused her, if only in my head.
“Lovely. They were lovely,” I told her. “But the agency decided they wanted the fall theme to kick off a whole new campaign. So they scrapped the work. They’re starting from scratch. In New York.”
“You’re not going to use them?” Her voice sounded so far away. “After everything? Not any of them?”
“No. We’re not. I’m sorry. They’re not using my theme either—”
“You hated them.”
“No. I didn’t hate them. I thought they were beautiful. Maybe someday we can use you for something else. When we’re looking for something a little different. Look, it’s not like I didn’t warn you how staid this place is. My God! Do something different? We don’t do different around here. Perish the thought. Trust me, Meg. It’s not you.”
“Fine. That’s fine,” she said, but I could hear it wasn’t fine at all. “Besides, Vogue wants me back. They’ve been calling and calling. I’m leaving for Milan next week. Maybe when I get back, we can have lunch and I’ll show you the new pictures. I'm planning some really outrageous stuff.”
“Uh-huh.” I didn’t want to lead her on. Her new work would be more of the same. Beautiful. A bit off the beaten path, intriguing at first glance, even dangerous. Not quite what we wanted, not quite our style. We preferred the tried and true. She’d been right. We’d never hire her again. “Listen, Meg,” I added just before hanging up. “I’m sorry for what I said about your scar. I didn’t mean it.” It’s one of your most attractive features, I wanted to tell her. “I’m sorry, I really am. It was a shitty thing to say.”
I don’t know if she heard me. I stayed on the line for a minute waiting for her to tell me it was cool but there was just silence. She hadn’t even asked about the robbery. If they’d caught the thief. If I’d gotten in trouble. I hadn’t. The insurance covered the loss and it didn’t seem to matter much to anyone. I hung up the office phone and turned back to my computer. My boss was back from New York and wanted my
“For an exhilarating touch of romance, dab on wrists, behind the ears, right between the eyes.”
I could still see Meg clearly, like a vision on my screen, superimposed upon my work. Her small dark head, those bright green eyes, that tiny pale diamond-shaped scar shimmering between them. She was laughing, her shoulders shaking. I pressed the backspace key, deleting the letters one by one, purging the picture I’d created until the screen sat blank, Meg’s image safely erased.