It was strange, the feeling that came over Andie then. Any fear she’d had about being sent home was disappearing, but she still felt a crushing disappointment that Elijah was gone. He hadn’t said a word to her the night before, and when she went to find him in the studio, he wasn’t there. She’d woken the computer from its slumber to replay Elijah’s song she’d recorded earlier that day. They’d never gotten the chance to listen to it. The file was no longer there. Andie thought maybe Elijah had come back in when he left the group and deleted it. She was thinking of the previous afternoon with him when Lucy picked up where Lawrence left off.
“I’m going to need all paperwork signed by 12 PM,” she said, glancing at her watch. “That’s in the next four hours. If you don’t have your contract with you, we have additional copies printed.”
There was a poignant silence as each person in the group looked at one another, none of them sure they wanted to be the one to ask the question. Finally, Pete broke the silence.
“I have to know, what’s with the chips?” he asked.
Lucy looked nonplussed. “The microchips are something BetterCorp hopes to include in all future contracts. This is the trial run. Though,” she added quickly, “they’ve gone through many rounds of tests. All preliminary studies show that they are safe, other than a few minor physical symptoms which were outlined in the contract.”
“What are they for?” Andie asked. Her voice sounded far more assured than she felt.
“The chips are meant to help you manage spikes in cortisol and control any impulses to participate in addictive or dangerous activities,” Lawrence said.
“Dangerous activities?” Marcella said, raising a brow. “You don’t want us becoming reckless with all of the money you’re throwing at us.”
Lawrence chuckled and didn’t deny the accusation.
“We’ve seen what this industry does to young people,” he said. “We want to avoid that, if possible.”
“Does it help with weight?” Carmen asked, popping some chewing gum between her teeth. Andie rolled her eyes. Was that all this girl cared about?
“I guess… it could,” Lucy said, looking to Lawrence to offer more clarification.
“Not explicitly. Unless your brain considers overeating a dangerous impulse. Then it might.”
“Good,” Carmen said, clearly satisfied with the answer.
“In other business, we have a photographer here this morning to take headshots of everyone, stylists are set up in one of the back rooms to dress you and prep you for the photos, and we’ve had breakfast catered in the kitchen,” Lucy said. “Once you’re done with photos you can find me and sign all of the paperwork. This morning is the first day of work for you all. Any other questions?”
No one had any.
The rest of the morning passed in a blur of photography, breakfast, the hustle of stylists dressing and undressing Andie, and makeup artists fussing over every pore. They analyzed everything about her, making her notice things about her appearance she’d never thought about before.
“Maybe we should put her in an A-line skirt, her hips are speaking to me and not in a good way,” the photographer said to one of the stylists. He then turned to Andie.
“Your right side is the better side, dear, so turn that way.”
A makeup artist rushed forward to dab some more powder on her forehead and chin commenting, “You get pretty oily, don’t you? I have a skin regimen you need to try.” She frowned a little before applying more powder to Andie’s temples. “Also, have you tried the turmeric cleanse? It’s magic for these pimples on your cheeks.”
“It’s just a little hot in here,” Andie said, wishing she could stop her pores from sweating.
“Someone move this light! It’s washing her out,” the photographer shouted. This sent the makeup artist away in search of bronzer.
The rest of the afternoon hadn’t gone much better. When she was measured by one of the stylists, she was able to see herself in a nearby full-length mirror. She’d always admired her body– long legs, slim hips and a tapered waist, big brown eyes and a small nose. She’d always felt beautiful. But that didn’t stop everyone from having something to say.
The measured her height: 5’9. “A bit too short for the runway.”
Her weight: 135. “Just avoid carbs, the weight will come right off.”
Her bust: 34 B. “Thank god for Victoria’s Secret push up bras, am I right?” They all laughed.
Her waist, her hips, her neck. They asked for her dress size, and when she told them a 4, they asked if she could maybe get that down to a 2.
“But you just said I’m too short for the runway,” Andie said.
The stylist who was marking down all of her measurements looked at her with reproach. “You are. But I’m assuming that means you want to be an actress, right?” He offered her a smile, but it wasn’t reassuring. “Most actresses still need to keep the weight off. The camera adds ten pounds.”
Her head was swimming with all of the activity. She hadn’t expected things to start so quickly. Before she knew what was happening, the long day of photos and styling was done and Andie was holding a pen over the signature sheet at the back of one of the contract stacks. Lucy motioned for her to sign on multiple lines. The pen hovered over one of the lines for her signature for only a moment before she scribbled her name.
She hated the way her signature looked, like a child pretending to be grown up. She made a mental note to practice a new one. She signed the other lines and handed the pen back to Lucy who gave her a warm smile and a pat on the arm. She shook Lucy and Lawrence’s hands then went over to Marcella who’d already signed her own contract.
“I’m so excited!” Marcella said, hugging Andie tightly.
“Me too,” Andie said, a warmth washing through her. She felt like she was standing on the edge of a cliff, new wings on her back but no experience telling her how to use them. She wanted to find the courage to jump and let them carry her. She wanted to celebrate with loud music and fun like they’d had at the club two nights before, even if it did leave her feeling sick the next day. She wanted to start her new life now, not wait for tomorrow.
But mostly, she wanted to be alone. Andie left Marcella in the living room, thinking that a long walk and maybe a phone call to April would be the perfect remedies to get Elijah off her mind. When she stepped into the front courtyard, Andie could hear voices coming from the driveway. Instinctively, she went to step back inside, not wanting to eavesdrop on a private conversation. But something one of the voices said caught her attention.
“I heard Lucy say they asked Elijah to leave,” Carmen was saying.
“Wouldn’t surprise me,” said a deep male voice– Vince? Andie thought–, “he got drunk last night and called Lawrence at like 2 AM asking about the contracts.”
“Seriously?” Carmen scoffed. “He wasn’t really that special anyway,” she said. “That whole tattooed, tortured rock star thing is over-played. I honestly think they should have cut more people… Like Iowa.”
Andie felt her neck heating under her collar. Instead of stepping back inside and pretending she’d heard nothing, she marched out of the courtyard, into their view, and passed the two of them standing in the driveway without turning to speak to them.
“Oh… hey, Andie,” Vince called after her.
“Where are you off too?” Carmen called, her voice saccharine.
Andie didn’t turn, only waved while still walking away. She wanted to wave with just one finger, but thought better of it.
Once she was at the foot of the driveway and through the open gates, she dialed April’s number, trying to hold back tears. Her sister, the angel that she was, answered the phone in her usual high-spirited way.
“Andieeeeeee!” April yelled into the phone. Then, suddenly hushed, “Oh, sorry… I’ll be quiet so mom doesn’t know you called me again. She’s super mad at you for no good reason, as usual.”
There was a long silence before Andie burst into tears.
“Oh no, what’s wrong!? Mom isn’t that mad! She’ll get over it, just… hold on,” April said, and Andie could hear rustling on the other end of the line. Fearing that April was about to run and get their mother on the phone, Andie almost hit the ‘End Call’ button. But then April’s voice came back on the line.
“I hid in the closet so she doesn’t hear me talking to you,” April said.
Andie let out a sputtering laugh, wiping away tears. She’d always had to be the strong, older sister for April growing up, and a part of her felt embarrassed for letting her emotions get the better of her.
“I just miss you so much, little sis,” she said. She cleared her throat as a few more tears escaped. She swiped at them, sniffling.
“You’re not coming home, are you?” April asked, sounding mortified.
“N-no. I-I’m staying in LA,” Andie said. “It’s just lonely. And I feel like people aren’t who they say they are.”
“Those bitches,” April said.
Andie barked a laugh, surprised at her little sister cursing. “April, you’re twelve,” she said in a scolding tone. April started to protest, but Andie cut her off, “–which is a perfectly good age to cuss as long as mom and dad never find out I told you that.”
They laughed, and Andie started to feel more like herself. She asked April about everything happening at home: school (it sucked), boys (they sucked worse), friends (the coolest), teachers (the lamest) and how it felt to have the house to herself (awesome because she got to wear all the clothes Andie had left behind.) Twenty minutes later, there was a pause in conversation.
“Andie?” April asked timidly. “Are you happy?”
“Yeah, absolutely,” Andie replied. The words almost sticking in her throat. “I just missed you is all.”
“Good,” April said.
But it wasn’t good. Andie bit her bottom lip. She’d never lied to April before.