Phantasmal Beauty

 

Phantasmal

By: Kayla Meyers

 

            “Yes, mom, I promise I’ll call as soon as we land,” Destiny said, wrinkling her forehead as she strained to hear what her mother was saying over the dodgy reception of her cell phone. She struggled to get her shoes off and put them on the conveyer belt along with her jewelry and carry-on bag, careful not to bump into anyone else in line going through security at the Chicago International Airport.

 

            Behind her a bald, grouchy-looking man in an expensive suit cleared his throat loudly as he gave her a dirty look.

 

            She gave him a quick apologetic smile, then put the phone back to her ear. “Okay, mom, I have to go now. No, it’ll be okay, just trust me. I’ll talk to you soon, okay? Love you, bye,” she hung up and stepped through the metal detector.

 

            After getting through security and customs, Destiny threw her bag over her shoulder and made her way down to gate A112 where she would board the flight that would take her to New York and then on to France. On the way she stopped at the Starbucks to get a white chocolate mocha and a bagel. At the terminal she found a seat facing the window and sat down to watch as the maintenance crew did a last minute inspection of the plane before the checked baggage was loaded. Nibbling on her bagel, she took out a book her mother had given her on the history of Paris and began to read.

 

            The airport was exponentially filling up with people as the morning wore on and the lazy sun poked its head above the horizon, throwing marmalade streaks across the hazy violet sky. Destiny randomly glanced up from her book to people-watch and cogitate on her fellow passenger’s stories; young newlyweds about to venture off to some tropical destination for a leisurely honeymoon, and the elderly couple on their way to Reno where they would proceed to gamble away their retirement. A businessman rushed by hurriedly, nearly tripping over her things as he talked on his blue-tooth earpiece. With a grunt of frustration he kicked her bag out of the way and kept going, promising the person on the line that he would be home for his son’s fifth birthday no matter what it took. And then there was her, eighteen-year-old high-school senior Destiny Faith Landers, who should have been home filling out cap and gown orders and sending graduation invitations to relatives whom she’d never met. Instead, she was moving herself halfway around the world to a country wherein she had never been all because someone had promised to fulfill a childhood dream.

 

            It happened a month ago on an unexceptional Saturday during a typical shopping trip at the mall, not exactly the place or time you expect an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to present itself. She was standing in the Teen Clothing section of Macy’s when an inconspicuous man in casual, slightly rumpled garb sidled up beside her.

 

            “Excuse me, young miss,” he said in a thick French accent. “May I have a moment of your time?”

 

            “Huh?” She grunted as she looked up in surprise. “Me?”

 

            “Yes,” he replied in a low voice, coming a little closer.

 

            In school the first thing you’re taught is to never talk to strangers, and this guy definitely looked like a long-time card-holding member of the Creepy Old Men club. Natural instinct told her to scream and run as quickly as she could, however her mother was standing nearby looking at some lipstick by the make-up counter, so if he tried anything she could easily call for help. Slowly, she turned around to face him.

 

            “Um…what?” She asked while taking one step away from him and hoped the message was clear.

 

            He nodded deferentially and kept his distance. “My name is Gianni Tupello,” he introduced himself cordially, reaching into his gray jacket and producing a business card.

 

            Destiny hesitated, and then slowly accepted it. She read the black, bold letters in bewilderment:

 

            Bellissimo Bellas International Model Agency

            Gianni Tupello – Agent

 

            Before she could ask questions, he continued. “You see, I am here because we are in desperate need of fresh, young faces to represent our agency in the fashion industry, and my associates have entrusted me with the laborious task of coming to America in search of undiscovered talent and bringing the most promising girls I find back to Paris with me.”

 

            “Oh, well, I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but you’ve got the wrong person. I’ve never modeled before in my life, unless you count strutting up and down the hallway in my winter formal dress in front of my mother and sisters…” She paused, her eyes widening. “Wait, did you say Paris, as in, France?”

 

            He laughed heartily, his thin face stretching into a wide grin. “I certainly did, mademoiselle,” he confirmed. “And despite your inexperience, you are by far the most stunning young lady I’ve happened across during my time here. With a little grooming and the right people to guide you– all of which I would see that you be provided with the very best, should you choose to accept – I think you have an enormous amount of potential –“

 

            “Des, honey, who are you talking to?” Her mother came over, stepping beside Destiny like a mother lioness protecting her cub from a predator. “May I help you, sir?” She asked, not friendly.

 

            “Beg your pardon, Madame,” He tipped his fedora and bowed. “I was just discussing a career opportunity with your daughter. As I was saying--”

 

            Without letting him finish Destiny’s mother began pulling her away. “She’s not interested, I’m sorry. Goodbye, mister.”

 

            Destiny tried to wriggle from her mother’s tight grasp. She twisted around and watched his slight form being swallowed in the crowd of people.

 

            “Good day, then, mademoiselle,” he called after her before she lost sight of him completely.

 

            “Honestly, Desi, you really need to be more careful about who you speak to. You don’t know that man, what if he tried something with you? Please, tell me you didn’t give him any personal information.”

 

            “No, mom, don’t worry. I didn’t tell him anything. Sorry, you’re right,” she mumbled, following her mother outside to the parking lot.

 

            Suddenly, she remembered the card he’d given her. She was still holding it. Keeping it out of her mother’s sight, she turned it over in her hand and inspected the back. Printed in scrawled handwriting was an address, date and time.

 

            The card instructed that she be at 87260 E Adams St. at 2:30 PM on Wednesday, May 26th. Persuading her best friend Laura to skip her Honors Human Psychology class during the last week of school to give her a ride wasn’t easy, however she reminded her about the vow Laura made to repay Destiny the night she rescued her from a party where she’d gotten deliriously drunk and crashed in the bathroom, sick and unable to stand on her own. She then covered for her in front of her mother the next morning when she awoke with a hang-over. Laura caved pretty quickly. They snuck out during study hall and headed for Chicago.

 

            “Remind me again why I’m driving you to this random place in the middle of downtown Chicago when I should be in class finishing up my final project?” Laura asked as they drove along toward the city.

 

            “Last week I met a man at the mall,” she explained a little sheepishly. Despite telling herself that she had to follow her gut-instinct that it was for real, there was still enough room in her mind for doubt. “He’s a scout for a modeling agency in Paris, and he’s been in the states looking for new talent.”

 

            “Wait a minute, back up,” Laura interrupted as they went down the hill from their school and halted at the stop sign before heading south on the highway. “This dude is from Paris and he came to Chicago, Illinois looking for models?”

 

            “Why not?” Destiny asked.

 

            “No offense, Tiny, but we don’t exactly have a ton of Giselle Bundchens walking around Chicago Place Mall,” Laura pointed out. “I mean, if he wanted to find gorgeous women, there are eight hundred million different places I can think of, like California or New York.”

 

            “Gee, thanks a lot,” Destiny grumbled, staring out the window as they maneuvered through downtown, passing by Millennium Park and the Art Institute of Chicago.

 

            “You know I didn’t mean it like that. If I didn’t believe you, would I even be doing this?” Laura asked, glancing sideways at her friend.

 

            “No, I guess you wouldn’t. I do really appreciate this, you know.”

 

            “I know you do,” Laura said, then grinned impishly. “And you’re going to show me how much you appreciate it when you go as Ben’s date for the prom along with Caleb and me.” 

 

            “Say what?” She turned around to face Laura, horrified. Ben was Laura’s boyfriend’s younger brother, a sophomore at the girls’ high school. “Oh, no, I will do no such thing. You couldn’t bribe me to go with him if you offered me a million dollars.”

 

            “Well, if you’ve changed your mind…” Laura shrugged, pretending to turn the car around.

 

            “Stop it, Laur!” Destiny yelled, grabbing onto the wheel and holding it steady. “Don’t even think about it. Fine, I’ll go with Ben, just don’t expect me to hang around with him at the dance all night. Andy is having an after party and everyone is going, I refuse to be the only girl to miss it because my date got sick after his idiotic friends dared him to drink all the punch.”

 

            “How generous of you,” Laura said, then sat back with a contented smirk.

 

            The rest of the drive was silent. This part of town was mostly abandoned factories and long-since-closed-down paper mills, rapidly decaying neglected buildings and dirty streets. Chicago’s homeless wandered the streets, looking for rich people to mug and somewhere to sleep. Besides the wandering bums and some pigeons, there wasn’t a living soul to be seen. It seemed unfeasible that just a few blocks away the city’s elite were seeing plays and symphonies for $80 a pop at Civic Opera House.

 

            “Gosh, this looks like a fabulous neighborhood, Tiny,” Laura remarked sarcastically. “While I would love to stick around for tea, I forgot my pepper spray and I don’t think I like the idea of dying before I’m voted prom queen,”

 

            “Knock it off,” Destiny told her, watching the addresses on each building while continually referring back to the numbers written down. “Here it is on the left, just park here by the curb.”

 

            Laura did and shut the car off. She stared at the gray, three-storey building in front of them incredulously. “Are you sure this is the right place? It doesn’t look like anyone’s been here since the Eisenhower administration was in office.”

 

            “It’s the right place,” Destiny confirmed as she unbuckled her seatbelt and got out.

 

             “You’re just going to go traipsing around in there all by yourself? What if this guy is some kind of ex-con serial killer who’s just escaped from the mental institution and is out for young female blood?”

 

            “You really need to lay off the Stephen King novels, Laura, they’re starting to destroy the last brain cells you have left,” Destiny said. “I’m just going inside to look, if I don’t see anyone I’ll come right back.” She dug in her purse and produced a rubber fish on a keychain that her little sister had won for her at her elementary school’s annual fair. There was a small light inside the fish’s mouth that illuminated when you pushed its sides. “Look, if I run into trouble I’ll shine this out the window to signal for help.”

           

            “You got it, Batman,” Laura agreed, sitting back.

 

            “I’ll be right back,” Destiny promised as she turned and started to walk away.

 

            “Beware of ghosts…and cockroaches!” Laura called after her.

 

            Destiny shot her laughing friend a disgruntled glare before stepping over the threshold and inside. The overly-spacious room, which Destiny assumed had once served as a waiting area, was completely empty save for a couple pieces of furniture in the corner that were so age-worn and mottled that it was hard to distinguish their original color. A desk sat collecting dust against the far wall, a broken service bell and disconnected telephone on top. Clumps of dirt littered the hardwood floor. It smelled dank and stale. Cool air flushed through an open vent in the ceiling, making a quiet hissing noise. There was no one.

 

            She sighed deeply in disappointment, throwing away the card in a waste basket next to the door before starting to leave. All the way here she had told herself she wouldn’t be upset if this happened, yet now she felt on the brink of tears. Her mother’s voice echoed in her ears, I told you to listen to me, Desi…. She paused suddenly and cocked her ear toward the stairwell going up to the second floor. Footsteps clicked across the ceiling above her followed by voices. Beware of ghosts! Laura reminded her. Turning back, she walked across the room and began up the stairs. At the top a set of heavy doors stood closed with a sign taped up, QUIET PLEASE. Destiny hesitated for a moment, and then went inside.

 

            The doors opened to another large room, but this one had ballet barres along the walls and was lined with mirrors. On one side there was a studio photography set-up with umbrellas and Halogen light fixtures on stands. Just behind the cameras were three people sitting, quietly deliberating and conferring while giving orders to the photographer. One was the man she met in the mall a week before. About ten or twelve girls formed a line on the other end of the room, going up one-by-one to have their picture taken and then step over to have a short interview with the judges. All of them were all tall and thin (some downright skeletal), and each were beautiful in a different way. Some had thick portfolios with headshots and professional pictures, while others looked as if they, like Destiny, had no idea what they had gotten themselves into. The girl that was presently talking with Mr. Tupello and his two companions looked as if she could have been a former Miss Universe contestant with long raven locks all the way down her back, almond-shaped cobalt eyes and legs up to her waist. Meanwhile the girl Destiny had nearly run over when she walked in had spiky red hair and heavy, dark makeup. She glared at her and motioned for her to shut up.

 

            Mr. Tupello looked over as the door lock closed down with a hollow click. He smiled broadly and waved ‘hello’ at Destiny.

 

            The other girls looked back at her sourly. She smiled back at him in embarrassment and then sheepishly waved back at Mr. Tupello. After speaking with the girl who’d been up before Destiny he got up and came over to Destiny.

 

            “I’m so glad you could make it, Ms…” he trailed off, raising his thick eyebrows inquisitively. Her mother had pulled her away before she could introduce herself.

 

            “Destiny Landers,” she said with a smile.

 

            “Ms. Landry, I’m very pleased to see you. Is your mother with you?” He asked, glancing over her shoulder.

 

            “Um, no, I got a ride from someone…”

 

            “Ah, I see, very good. Well, good luck,” he said, then went back and took his place behind the cameraman, leaning over to whisper something to his comrade while another girl posed in front of the white backdrop.

 

            Destiny was the last girl to go up. She walked in front of the backdrop and stood there, slightly awkwardly, in front of the bright lights and cameras.

 

            “What’s your name?” The woman scout asked slightly rudely. She wore a gray pants suit with her dark hair was pulled back in a tight bun, looking amusingly like the stereotypical go-getter business woman in the movies.

 

            “She is Ms. Destiny Landers,” Mr. Tupello interjected before she could speak.

 

            The woman and second man, who Destiny would later know as Phillip Centrilli, scribbled it down on their clipboards.

 

            The photographer set everything up while Mr. Tupello gave Destiny instructions – look to your left, put your right hand on your hip, cock your leg to the side, don’t smile, now smile. She did as she was told, ignoring the sharp pain in her eyes from the blaring lights and how she was trembling with nervousness. After Mr. Tupello informed them he’d seen enough, Destiny stepped in front of them so they could ask her some questions. It was mostly basic things; how old was she, her date of birth, contact information, if she’d had any prior experience. Once they had all the information they needed Mr. Tupello stood up and shook her hand.

 

            “Thank you for coming. We’ll be in touch,” he told her.

 

            “Okay, thank you,” she said, smiling her most charming grin at all three of them. The woman, named Judith Walter, gave her a look that said she wasn’t impressed by her act.

 

            She took her time leaving, inconspicuously eaves-dropping on their whispered conversation.

 

            “Too awkward in front of a camera,” Mr. Centrilli said in dismay as he marked something of on his rap-sheet. “She’s not even close to being ready, and we don’t have six months to start training her.”

 

            “And she may be tall, but she’s not small-boned, either,” Judith added, shaking her head. Destiny knew she wasn’t going to like Ms. Walter. “If she’s even going to consider going into high fashion she’d need to lose at least ten pounds to start.”

 

            “But, something about her is extraordinary, don’t you think? We’ve been forwards and back across this country, and I have yet to see the spark in any girl’s eye that I find in her. She’s going to be something very special, and we’re going to deeply regret it if we’re not the ones who discovered her.”

 

            Destiny grinned to herself, finally leaving and going downstairs. Laura had probably already called the police to say her best friend had been eaten by the undead ghouls haunting E. Adams St. She was halfway outside when she heard Mr. Tupello calling after her. As she turned she saw him come huffing and puffing down the stairs.

 

            He trudged over to her, wiping his face with a handkerchief from his jacket pocket. “Ms. Landry… I just wanted to…” he let out a long, heavy breath and swallowed thickly. “To welcome you to Paris.”

 

            “Oh my god, are you serious?!” She shrieked excitedly, her eyes widening in surprise.

 

            “If your mother agrees and everything works in our favor, by the end of next week you’ll be flying in first class on your way to fame and fortune.”

 

            She covered her mouth and screamed then flung her arms around Mr. Tupello’s thin frame. “Thank you so much, Mr. Tupello! And don’t worry, I’ll work it out with my mom, I promise. Thank you!”

 

            Laura who had only seen her friend come out and then disappear seconds before hearing Destiny’s yelling, jumped out and ran inside. “Tiny, what’s going on?” She asked, frightened. Then she saw Mr. Tupello and reached for her purse.

 

            “No, no,” Destiny said quickly. “It’s okay, this is Mr. Tupello. I told you about him earlier. He’s taking me to Paris, Laura, I made it!”

 

            Laura gasped, immediately forgetting her previous fright. She leaped at Destiny and squeezed her so tightly that she almost couldn’t breath. Mr. Tupello smiled as he watched the girls and then after they had settled down escorted them back to their car. Once more Mr. Tupello promised to be in touch with Destiny’s mother very soon, then stood back and waved after them as they drove away. She couldn’t stop grinning all the way home.

 

---

 

            It took a little time for her mother to warm up to the idea of her daughter flying to a foreign country with a man she barely knew, but once she had a chance to speak with Mr. Tupello and he explained that her daughter would be well taken care of and watched over, she reluctantly gave in. So today, May 31st 2008, she packed all her things into two small bags, said goodbye to her tearful mother and younger sisters then drove herself to Chicago Midway Airport. Her mother called at least five times on the way, and Destiny had done everything she could to reassure her that everything would be fine. Inside, however, she was all butterflies. She had the book her mother had given her, however besides what little info it gave her she had no idea what to expect living in Paris, nonetheless to model there. Were the people there going to be warm and receptive, or would she be perceived as just another American looking to soak up the glamour of being internationally famous? Could she even handle the demands of the fashion industry, especially as someone fresh out of high school?

 

            She glanced up at the clock – another thirty-eight minutes before her flight boarded. Dog-earing the page she was reading she got up and wandered over to the little gift-shop. After plucking up an issue of Vogue and Cosmo, she went over to a vending machine and debated the all-important decision; Doritos or Pringles. She stood there for a long time with one hand on her hip, the other tapping her chin thoughtfully. Finally she settled on Salsa Verde Doritos and headed back. When she got to her spot she found someone in her chair, hunched over her book and rummaging through her carry-on bag.

 

            Running over and snatching her things from the young man’s hands, she glared angrily at him. “Excuse me, what in the hell do you think you’re doing?”

 

            “Oh, I’m sorry,” he said in an Italian accent. Wisps of his dark hair fell into his chocolate brown eyes as he stood. “I saw your things and I –“

 

            “Took it as an open invitation to go through my bag,” she interrupted with a contemptuous scoff, moving her stuff one seat over and plopping down with her back to him.

 

            He scooted over to her and looked over her shoulder. “I’m very sorry, miss. My name is Jacques Catonelle.”

 

            She ignored him.

           

            He surveyed the magazines in her lap. “You like beauty,” he commented. “Are you a model?”

 

            “What’s it to you?” She snapped, whipping her head around to look at him.

 

            Jacques backed up a little. “Oh, nothing, I’m sorry,” he stammered, looking down at his hands in shame.

 

            “Good,” she said and went back to reading.

 

            “I was just going to say that I can see why,” he said quietly after the silence. “Being a beautiful woman yourself, it makes sense that you admire pretty things.”

 

            She looked up at him again, but she was no longer angry. Despite being irritated by him, she couldn’t stop the blush that crept into her cheeks. “Thanks,” she replied. She twisted around in her chair and extended her hand to Luca. “I’m –“

 

            “Destiny Faith Landry,” he finished, accepting her gesture with a gentle handshake.

 

            “You found my ID?!” she gaped at him in horror.

 

            “Your bag was lying there, I thought it was misplaced so I was going to find who it belonged to so I could take it over there,” he nodded to the main desk.

 

            Destiny slanted her eyes at him in suspicion.

 

            “Honest!” He promised, making a cross on his chest.

 

            “So, what else did you find out about me?”

 

            “You wear Maybelline Pink Diamonds lip-gloss, MAC eye shadow and Heavenly Victoria’s Secret hand lotion,” he recited with a slight air of self-satisfaction.

 

            She frowned a little. “I didn’t bring any hand lotion with me, with the new airline regulations you’re not allowed to bring any liquids onboard the plane.”

 

            “I know,” he said, grinning at her with a twinkle in his dark eyes. “You are wearing it. My mother wears it also – you smell like her.”

 

            Destiny’s mouth fell open in astonishment, hot blood rushing to her face. “What? You – Why, you insufferable, unbelievable –“

 

            Just then a female voice came faintly over the intercom: “Flight 801 will now board first class passengers only.”

 

            She jumped to her feet and grabbed her things as quickly as she could. In her rush she dropped her book.

 

            Jacques leaned down and picked it up, holding it out to her. “Maybe we will meet again, Destiny Landers.

 

            Ugh!” She groaned in disgust as she grabbed it and stormed off.

 

            In line with the other first class passengers Destiny stood there and chewed her nails as she always did when she was anxious or upset. She was still fuming.

 

            “Are you okay?” An elderly man standing behind her asked kindly.

 

            She jumped a little, startled by the sudden intrusion into her thoughts. “Oh, yes,” she replied. “Yes, I’m fine. I just haven’t flown since I was young, and I guess I’m a little nervous.”

 

            “Flying can be a little scary if you’re not used to it – Anything that’s new to you is daunting,” he agreed, nodding understandingly. “When I was your age I was terrified of planes, my family never traveled because we didn’t have the money, but then after high school I decided to go to school in Phoenix, Arizona. Of course, to get there from Augusta in South Carolina I had to fly. At first I almost backed out and went to a school near my hometown, but then I started thinking about what a great education I’d be missing out on plus the experience of being on my own. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t still afraid, but I wanted to go so badly that I decided to face my fear. You see, you have to teach yourself to focus on the destination and not how you’re getting there. I’m sure there’s something great waiting for you wherever you’re headed.”

 

            “Yes, there is,” Destiny said with a smile. “Thank you.”

 

            He smiled and patted her arm. The line moved and she handed the lady her ticket, then boarded the plane.

 

Comments:
 
StarPoet   StarPoet wrote
on 5/19/2008 1:02:41 AM
I liked this a lot. It seems like the intrigue is beginning.... Keep up the good work.

kayla97068
Novel / Novella
Drama
writing kayla97068
There is a balance of life; for every positive there will be a negative, and with every negative soon will come a positive. If you hold on long enough through all the bad, you'll be able to find something wonderful and cherish it all that much more.
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Synopsis
Destiny is a young girl about to embark on a new life. She is given a golden opportunity when a man promises to make all her dreams come true -- all she needs to do is take a giant leap of faith. What is waiting for her on the other side?
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