I was looking at my schedule for the week. I had already done three photoshoots so far. Since school hadn't started yet, Lisa was going to book every job possible. I was the It girl at the agency, and it should've felt great. Modeling was a world where people loved me, but only on the outside. "What's on the inside is what counts"—that's what Mama used to say. When I was at work, no one cared about what was on the inside, and I felt empty inside.
I lay my head on my pillow. Edna used the softest sheets on earth to make my bed. Half the time, I didn’t want to get out of it, especially on Sunday mornings. My cell phone was vibrating.
What are you doing? Sierra texted.
I’m on your block. Coming up, she texted.
A few minutes later, Sierra was at my bedroom door.
“Do you ever wonder what people say about you?” I asked.
“Nice way to greet me. Hello,” she retorted.
"Hi." I hugged her.
“I don’t know. I think people would say you have the best genes ever!” she said.
“People would say you are smart,” I said.
Sierra winced a little.
“Really smart, and pretty. I would want people to say I was smart,” I added.
“I would say you were blithe,” she countered.
“You think I’m cheerful?” I had the image of a cheerleader in my head.
“More like carefree. I mean, you’re a supermodel, and your bedroom is the size of my parents’ bedroom. Plus your boyfriend is super hot.”
“Thanks.” I smiled.
I knew Sierra meant well. I didn't dare to confess that all that glitters isn't blithe.
We were quiet for a moment. She marveled at my room like she did each time she came over. She loved this heart I drew on the wall when I was eight. It was now chest high.
“This is like my heart,” she said.
The names of my family were written on the inside. I had since outlined the outside of the heart with Swarovski crystals, my latest obsession.
I laughed. “You’re way too sweet sometimes,” I said.
“Would you make a new one for us?” she asked.
I went to my desk and pulled out a pen with a feather tip. I drew a heart on the wall next to the old drawing, and inside I wrote, “Milan, Sierra, and Frenchy 4Ever!”
She grinned.“You are beyond awesome.”
“What would I have without you guys?” I asked. “You’re like my sisters.”
Sierra hugged me. I decided to get a little more serious.
“Wouldn’t you like to be described as ‘ardent’?” I asked.
She scoffed. “That’s an SAT word.” She typed the word into her cell’s notepad, her fingers flying as she tapped away. “I’m taking the October test.”
“A photographer said it to me last week,” I said.
She looked up at me. “What does it mean?” she asked.
“Passionate and intense.”
Sierra didn’t understand. I wanted to feel like I was on fire, like a rocket on blastoff. I wanted to really love something, to express the other parts of me no one ever saw.
A look of envy crossed over her face. “I want that as part of my vernacular.” Sierra used air quotes around the word “vernacular.”
“This is not about the SATs,” I said.
I barely had time to blink before the topic changed to guys.
“Did you and Merek…you know?” Sierra asked.
What made her ask that?
“Why? You think it’s too soon?” I asked.
“No. I mean, I’m still…you know.” She sighed, defeated. “There are no worthy candidates,” she said.
I rolled my eyes. How long would it be before that got old? It was just sex, not the disarming of an atom bomb. Was it such a delicate subject? A guy needed to be a rocket scientist to pass Sierra's qualifications. Though I must admit, she wasn't half wrong—she wasn't missing much.
“Frenchy told me that Cara told her that she saw you guys walk into the W downtown. Don’t tell that I told you, though,” Sierra said, her eyes wide.
“I wouldn’t,” I promised.
I felt so invaded like someone had seen me getting dressed—or worse. Maybe we were being videotaped.
“I should tell Cara I know I’m being stalked,” I said, acting like I wasn’t bothered.
In reality, I was very angry, but part of me was a little frightened. I hated that I was shaken. I had liked to think of myself as somewhat brave, and the brave part of me would wait before I confronted Cara. All I knew was that she was constantly around because she was involved with my brother. But why did she want to know what Merek and I did? Maybe she was like a school paparazzi. She seemed to know a little something about everyone—just enough to make them like her, or pretend to like her.
“I don’t know what’s up with Frenchy, but she’s mad at you because you didn’t tell us,” Sierra said.
“I was going to.”
I got up and walked into the bathroom. I hadn’t told anyone yet. It was just two days ago. I washed my face, not knowing how I felt about the whole thing. I just wanted it to be my little secret, but that was probably because I liked to keep some special things to myself. Keeping the secret of my deafness from almost the entire world just wasn’t enough.
When I first started modeling, I hadn’t told anyone at school about my new “job.” I had all types of friends then. I was just a junior with no stake in the A-list at school. Now, I was at the top of the A-list. After word got out that I had just signed for one of the nation’s largest modeling companies, I was suddenly popular. Did it mean I was more interesting than the five hundred other students at school? Did it mean they would be whispering about me and Merek? I never truly paid attention to what the other students gossiped about; I wondered if they talked about the A-listers. If my high school had its own version of People magazine, we would be on the front cover.
Before I could fully emerge from the bathroom, Sierra was standing by the door, staring at me.
“Did it hurt?” Sierra asked.
"I can't even...uhh!" I said.
Sierra was one of those people who said whatever she was thinking. We had all thought that before when someone told us they'd done it for the first time. But I was always too shy to actually ask.
I walked over to my dresser and picked up a hair tie. I pulled my hair into a ponytail. I was stalling, of course. Part of me was pissed she would even consider asking that question—after all, it was my business? Why did she care what I did with my body and with the boy I was seeing? Besides, I wasn't ready to talk about it like that. But she was standing over me for an answer. After I had done it, I knew I could never love him like I loved Noel. Part of me had already known that even before we had sex. When Merek and I were doing it, it was like my entire relationship with Noel flashed before my eyes. I'm pretty sure it's not normal to think about someone else when you're having sex with a guy. Should I tell her that what she thought it was, it wasn't?
"Is that the vibe I'm giving? We're best friends who else would you tell? I would totes tell everything!"
I turned around and donned my best fake smile, the one she could never see-through. "It was perfect." I sighed for dramatic effect. "He was sweet. And it did hurt right at first. Facts."
I pursed my lips shut, hoping she could see I didn’t want to discuss it anymore, hoping that answer would be good enough.
"Hmm," she said, twirling a strand of hair around her finger.
"Let's do a movie." "What's playing?" I said.
Oh, god. I hated going to the movies. Going to the movies translated into intense lip-reading for two hours.
"Something good should be on Prime," she said.
And like that, Sierra was staying for the night. Sometimes I thought she liked my house better than her own. Whenever we were over at her house, she was always angry at her mom. But she would never tell me why. At least, it didn’t feel like I was getting the whole story—something about her mother not treating her dad right. In my house, it had always been the other way around, so that threw me for a loop. I tried not to think about it. But the idea slipped into my mind anyway. I would trade places with her any day. If I had Mama back, I would never be mad at her.
The next day was Monday, the last Monday of our summer break.
“Let’s take Fifth,” I told Daddy’s driver, Mr. Taylor. I liked to drive by the Park.
“Where to, Ms. Milan?” he asked.
“Bergdorf,” I said.
“Should we call for an appointment?” Sierra asked.
“They always squeeze me in,” I said.
“I love being VIP…Can you believe school is this week?” she asked. “Where did the summer go?”
Wherever it went, it had taken my heart with it.
We were considered the avant-garde of fashion at school, so we had to keep up appearances. For the next three hours, I got a hair gloss and blow. Sierra changed her hair color, cut off four inches, and had it flat-ironed pin-straight. Her natural hair color was brown, so she had it dyed slightly lighter. Her hair color matched her eye color.
Later, we walked across the street to Tiffany’s. I’d been going to Tiffany’s on Fifth since I was a little girl. Mama used to take me there. I knew it was weird that I called my mom “Mama,” like I did when I was a little girl, but it made me feel closer to her. It was hard to explain. I never told anyone, but there were so many moments in the day that I wished that I could see her face.
Sierra was speed talking, and I couldn’t make out more than one word of what she was saying. Sometimes, if I missed one word, the whole sentence didn’t make any sense. It was something that was getting better with age—I could usually figure out what was going on in a conversation even if I missed half the sentence—but sometimes, like during Sierra’s speed-talking episodes, it went over my head.
“Oh, can you repeat that?” I asked.
Sierra sighed. "I was saying we should get matching necklaces. Since we're best friends, only you and I will have them," she said.
“What about Frenchy?” I asked.
I didn’t think Frenchy and I were as close as Sierra and me, but I didn’t want to be mean. We all had to get necklaces.
“I’m not putting Frenchy’s necklace on my card,” she said.
“I’ll put them all on mine,” I said.
“You’re so good to us,” Sierra hugged me.
“This is us,” I pointed to a charm necklace with butterflies, rocking horses, stars, and hearts. This had me written all over it.
“Impeccable. You work with the hottest designers, so it’s only natural their impeccable taste would permeate your skin,” Sierra said.
“I’m not a science project. Next thing I know, you’ll be using words like ‘osmosis,’” I said.
Sierra laughed. Didn't she think I would have good taste even if I wasn't a model?
The saleswoman came over to us dressed in a light-gray suit with super-long hair reaching her waist. “How can I help you, ladies?”
“We’d like three of these necklaces,” I said.
“Were you on the cover of—”
“Yes.” I smiled.
I hated it when people asked me that. I wasn't just the girl on the cover. It felt good to be called beautiful, but nobody saw past that.
“I have a message.” Sierra listened to her answering machine.
I had to have all my voice messages converted to text. I’d never tell her though. I was becoming an expert at secrets. Not such a great skill, in my book, but I had no choice. I didn’t want to find out what people would say or think of me if they found out what a fraud I was. She’s got the look, but she’s broken, and she’s a liar, they’d surely say, laughing and pointing. I’d be another fallen star.
“You know how I told you I left a message at the library? The library at your boy’s school?” she said.
“Well, she finally left me a message.”
She grinned. “Let me play it for you.”
I put my hands up. “No! Just tell me,” I said, realizing I was being overdramatic.
She rolled her eyes. “Chill. I have to listen to it again.” Sierra replayed the message.
“What did she say?” I asked.
She started walking to the door with her phone to her ear. I grabbed her and turned her around so I could see her face. Her eyebrow arched.
"She said your boy will be working with her for the semester and to give her a call. He starts next week. He's there Wednesday through Sunday if you were to stop by. She's there Monday through Friday. She left a phone number."
Mr. Taylor was waiting out front. “How was shopping, Ms. Milan?” He opened the door.
“Well,” I said.
“Are we taking Ms. Sierra home?” he asked.
“No, let’s go to your place,” Sierra said.
“Home,” I said.
Her company was welcomed. Dimitri and I would be home alone with Edna for the week. Daddy was in L.A. on business. He wouldn’t have dreamed of taking us. When I got lonely, I fantasized about secretly flying away. Once I thought of hopping on a flight to Paris, staying at the Park Hyatt Paris, and shopping until I dropped, only to return home unmissed, unnoted, and with bags of goodies Daddy would assume I’d picked up on Madison Avenue like a good girl. I still loved my dad, though. I only had one.
“Text me her number,” I said.
“The librarian’s?” Sierra asked.
“Yes. What’s her name?”
Sierra shot me a look. “What would Merek think?”
I just looked at Sierra for a moment in shock. Why was she worried about Merek?
“Don’t tell a soul about this. You already swore. If you do, I will have to hunt you down. Don’t tell Frenchy either. No one!” I said.
She laughed. “Don’t be so serious. I wasn’t going to tell. I’m not voting for the opposition. Guys do all types of things we don’t know about. Namely, Frenchy,” she said.
I almost choked on my Evian.
“I don’t know why she doesn’t want a man of her own. She just wants to do everybody else’s man,” Sierra continued.
“That’s kind of mean,” I said, hurt.
I wasn’t sure who else’s man Sierra thought Frenchy was doing, but I hoped it wasn’t true.
Sierra shrugged. “I’m just keeping it real.”
I wondered if she would let my secrets spill when she kept it real about me.
“So, you’re thinking about going to find the first boy you ever loved. I believe I’m directly quoting what you said this summer. Me, I’ve never been in love, unless you count the time in seventh grade when I had the sweetest first kiss with the hottest boy in eighth grade. I thought I was in love with him for the rest of the school year. He, on the other hand, was in love with four other girls that year. I was not even one of them! Whatever! You going to find loverboy or what?” Sierra asked.
I didn’t know. I had a feeling I had to keep this under wraps a little bit. I disdained feeling like my life was an open book all the time. But if I couldn’t be honest with my friends, who could I be honest with? Sierra was the closest thing I would ever have to a sister. But look at how she talked about Frenchy.
“No!” I said more forcefully.
“My father says that sometimes no means yes,” Sierra said. “He’s a lawyer. Nothing is above negotiation.”