Nothing quite like staring into the eyes of the guy you're replacing - especially when you modeled for all his collections the past decade. He knows just as well as I do that I'm under qualified for this position. I don't think I could use a sewing machine if you put a gun to my head and threatened to pull the trigger. I bet he's imagining doing that to me right now. Shit, and now I'm imagining it too.
He smiles - though it's more of a wince than anything. "It is fine, Sailor," Jizav responds. Ever so polite, all that media training's done him some good. "Out with the old," a wave of his hand as he watches his career go down the toilet. "It is what it is. You will be wonderful."
He's lying. I can taste it in the air, smell it on his as he pulls me in for a hug. Bet he'll tack up photos of the shoot we did last spring in his studio and practice throwing knives into my eyes. I don't blame him. I'd be mad too.
I think they're all mad. Either crazy or furious, one of the two, everyone who had any say in the matter about me getting chosen. Four finally got a new victor - a boy at that, half his limbs on the floor but his heart was still beating - and they panicked. Jizav’s been there forever, scrapping together little pieces for Leon to shrug off for Glamour and nobody stays in the spotlight for long in this industry. He had almost 20 years in the biz under his belt and the 67th catapulted him further than any victory could - but he was getting old. That's what they told me. Well, no, they said... tired.
Yeah so District Four couture was like, the height of fashion when I was born or something. Mom was all about staying on-trend, even with her newborn child. Didn't quite think about what would happen once ocean-themed names stopped being current as I aged, but Mom's best qualities aren't exactly inside her head.
But for the first six months of my life I was all the ladies at the new mum's club could talk about, how my name was Just Fucking Fantastic and A Stroke Of Genius on Mom's part, she loved it. Drank it all up. Liked the idea of being a Mom more than actually being a Mom, liked dressing me up as if I were a doll. Put me in front of the camera 38 minutes after I was born, squealing about my eyes and how blue they were. Unlucky for her, blue eyes turn grey. Lucky for me, all the kids at school thought they were neat.
Unlucky for me, so did casting directors.
I made a fat load of cash by the time I started school. Mom spent most of it, claimed it was manager tax or whatever. I'd get a lawyer if I was petty. Maybe I'd call up Dad, see if he could do me a favour for once in his goddamn life. I don't blame him for eventually leaving Mom. I'd have left that early too if I could. But I was 9 years old and a child model on a set for 12 hours a day and I never saw him anyway - just Mom. Always Mom. Spending my money before I'd earned it, nothing else better to do than shop until she drops between castings and photoshoots and carting me around on the train between the residential district and the city centre.
At thirteen I decided to set up my own account and have the cheques deposited there. Mom still took half but at least I had something that was mine, just for me. The girls at school always looked at me with pining, jealous eyes when she pulled me out of class half way through to work. I used to look at them still stuck in their seats with the same expression.
I could've quit when I turned eighteen. But I had barely half an education, grade school math at best, and to be honest I was good at it by then. Modelling. I had the track record behind me and the familiar name in photographer's ears and all that spinach and meat Mom made me eat managed to pay off. I got disciplined on my own terms. Being fit was part of my routine. I almost enjoyed dancing around set, moving to my own beat, finally free to take matters into my own hands. I had earned the respect from all to shoot my way. And I understood what looked good on me and what didn't - from every angle. People said I had one of those faces that just worked, no matter what angle they shot me from. I get it. I see it. So I kept going - Sailor, model. Sailor, superstar. Sailor, trend-setter.
I mean not really. They asked me to pick my favourite outfits from a rack and I chose what looked good on me, then they slapped my name on the label and called it a day and the money hit my account three months later. They invite me to parties, lenses eat me up. I eat - but just enough. Not too little. Not too much.
A few collections behind me and an it-girl status later, I suppose they'd been watching me for a few years. Looking for designers and seamstresses and kids straight out of school, stabbing each-other in the back with sewing needles and fabric scissors just to get in front of the committee. But all those pricked fingers couldn't make what I had. Status. Money. A childhood in fashion. Even, some would argue, taste. I don't know, I just dress in what I like - what they give me. It looks good, I feel good, it's just easy. There's no magic, no talent - at least, that's what I thought.
But they invited me to the board rooms, sat me down, and asked me if I wanted to be a stylist - starting with Beck Hailsham, fresh out of the arena.
"But I don't know how to sew?" I'd choked over a glass of water. Half a question, half a confession.
"You don't need to know how to sew," one of them had laughed. "You just need to know how to dress."
And they hate me for it, all the kids with their graduate diplomas and their boxes of threads and rolls of fabric and envious eyes clutched around scissors. They follow me, the whispers. "What the fuck?" and "Why the fuck?" and "How the fuck?" and "Who the fuck?" - I want to tell them I'm just as clueless as them. But I'm not allowed to do that.
"Besides, it's perfect, is it not?" another, swiveling on her chair and chewing on a pencil.
"Sailor. District Four. You were quite literally born for this job."
The first thing I think of is how Mom will most definitely be taking the credit for the rest of her life.
Mom's clutching the latest magazine with my face on the cover. She actually held a party celebrating it. A fucking party. You would have thought I'd won the damn games myself the extent she went to. Hired out a whole park with god knows what money from god knows who's account. Balloons and themed pastries and cupcakes with my fucking face on them. About 500 people, maybe seventy of them I'd seen before. I lasted two hours before I bailed, citing a fake press tour the next morning.
You know despite everything I still love her. She's reminded me every day since they announced my new role that she practically made my career for me, and to an extent I suppose she's right. She's a narcissist, and she lives through me, and it's fucking infuriating. But I love her. She's my Mom.
That's partly why I've been avoiding this conversation.
"I need you to move out."
She chuckles at that, sipping her tea. "Oh fuck off, Sailor."
"Mom, I'm serious."
I mastered the serious look when I was four years old. After fifteen seconds and a glance at it, she puts her cup down very slowly and starts screaming. I endure it, watching her stomp around my kitchen, throwing a newspaper down and then her hat and then her gloves and then very nearly a crystal decanter, to which I have to step in and get her to calm the fuck down.
"Calm the fuck down, Mom!"
"I can't believe you're cutting me off after everything I've don-"
"I'm not fucking cutting you off, for fucks sake!"
And this is the other reason why I've been avoiding this conversation.
It takes two weeks and five days but she eventually leaves. Dad sends flowers and I'm more surprised that he knows my address than the gesture itself. Uncanny timing, my first day alone and there they are on my doorstep. He's put his own address on the card next to a "Congratulations, love Dad" - I scoff. He's bold, I'll give him that.
Truth be told I can't leave my house without being swarmed. I can handle the cameras or the little girls who want to say hello, I've gotten used to that. It's come with my career. I'm good at it. But all the questions about fabrics and concepts and Beck and fuck, it's all just a reminder that I'm being tested. That I have to be this shiny new innovator even though I have no idea what the fuck I'm doing. Jizav might've been outdated but at least he knew how to make clothes. I'm just supposed to look at the kid and all his prosthetics and a rack of clothes and pick something that works - easy. Yet it's the hardest job in the world.
Even harder still is dealing with the anxiety. Sleep is a concept so I take those tablets from over the counter and my irises explode right before they call action on an interview. It's the first time in my life I've ever felt nervous but I get through it, bouncing my foot on the carpet of my apartment and flinging my arms around to distract from the fact I'm dying inside. I can talk jeans and accessories, name this designer and that, make myself look good and know what colours clash. It's barely enough to get by and I haven't even had a proper conversation with the poor kid yet. Each time I speak I'm sure I've damned myself, exposed myself as a fraud, wait for the lights to go out and the tap on the shoulder - but the television loves it. The magazine printer loves it. Even my friends and the people stopping me on the street to congratulate me love it.
There's a knife at my throat. Thorns from a white rose. Fabric scissors. All the same, all waiting for me to fuck up enough to flick their wrist and let me bleed out on the carpet.
And I wonder why. Question what I did. If I was just so damn good they wanted to see how far I could go before I break, or if I was a file picked at random, or if I turned up to set as a child and threw a tantrum once, damning me for life. If Mom did something. If Dad did something.
Or maybe, just maybe, they want me to succeed.
When the camera crew clears out and I undress, shower, pull myself into pyjamas and sigh, I am left with nothing but the flowers from my father sitting in the middle of my coffee table, the quiet of my empty apartment, and my thoughts.
Maybe I shouldn't've kicked Mom out. Even her screaming and ranting and raving about how I've betrayed her is better than the sound of how lonely I am.
Fuck, that sounds depressing. I need to get a grip.
Mom still hasn't spoken to me but my cheques are still clearing in her account. That speaks volumes.
I keep having dreams where I'm young again and on a set, in some gaudy outfit they're trying to pass off as tribute-parade-chic except it's for children, and I can't move. There's music playing and the bulb is flashing but I'm frozen and all the adults are frowning at me and Mom is screaming in my ear. All I can do is cry and scream back and they pack up the cameras but before they have a chance to tell me I'm not a model anymore the scene melts away and I wake up.
I know what they're telling me when I open my eyes.
I have other dreams where I'm sitting at a bar and all my friends - a very loose term these days - are staring at me over their drinks and not saying a word. I keep asking them what they're looking at but they don't respond, they just look at me with those unimpressed glares and sip their straws for hours and hours whilst I writhe about in bed and wake up in a cold sweat.
The shower is freezing. Ice cold until I feel like I'm passing out, feel my jaw chattering and my body beginning to shut down. Closer, closer, closer. Then I flick my wrist and twist the tap and I'm warm again.
I breathe out and wish like hell I could cure my paranoia with something as simple as alcohol or morphling. Not even men quiet the space buzzing in my brain. Believe me, I've tried all three. But I guess life isn't as easy as it was when I was a little girl or when I was freshly eighteen and out on the town. Not anymore.
But hey, I got my acceptance bonus today. Guilt money. Don't fuck it up money. I'm sure Mom will love her new lounge set or whatever the fuck that'll pay for. Rent, I hope. Groceries, I doubt.
She feels abandoned. Betrayed. I get that. In a way the feeling is mutual. She'd never see it my way, though. Never has. Not even now. I wonder what my life would be like had she not had her claws in it from day one. If I'd been allowed to be a normal girl without cameras and sparkles, with homework and grades and birthday parties. I dared ask this when I was fifteen and particularly stroppy and nearly got my ear chewed off for the trouble.
I've never needed many people in my life. Just Mom. Until I didn't need her any more. Until I outgrew her. Silly little Sailor Shaw who needed space, who thought she could do it on her own, who really thought her other model friends would stick around once she made it big. Now I'm twenty-five with next to no friends and the whole world desperate to hear me say their name and the only person on earth who I might want to have an honest conversation with isn't speaking to me. Go figure.
I press my head against the shower tiles and breathe deeply, drinking in steam and soap. Some opinion coloumns have started to doubt me. Six weeks in and I'm already starting to crack, interviewing anonymous sources I'm damn sure claim to know me for clout when they're not selling bullshit for a quick buck behind my back. They should just put the scissors in my hands at this point. Or the knife. The thorned rose. See what I do. See if I take the easy route out.
Maybe I should've gone to fashion school. At least then I'd be able to deal with pressure. Half of me wants desperately to pick up the phone and say they've made a mistake, offer Jizav his old job back, go back to my vapid existence as just a model. Go back to my easy life away from expectations and loneliness and Beck Hailsham.
Oh shit, Beck.
All alone out there, poor kid, without a friendly smile two seconds before he walks out onto a stage or my mother showing in me when he smudges his eyeliner and I get pissy. Without a lame joke followed by another sad dig about my lack of father to teach me Dad jokes. Without familiarity. All alone, on that stage, just trying his damn best to impress in front of the camera.