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Emma Rhodes is a senior at Davis high school. With her ever-growing popularity, it is no wonder why Emma wants to keep dating her sexy boyfriend of three years, Hunter Bates. When the school year begins, Emma finds herself becoming a model for a photography class assignment. Arlo Finch, a lead photographer for the yearbook committee, is paired up with Emma Rhodes. As the two work together to get their assignment done, worlds collide and Emma and Arlo will soon decide if being together is worth the risk before the world decides it for them. One night Arlo discovers that Hunter hits Emma. When things get out of hand at a Haunted House, Emma makes a decision that could change her life forever while discovering a hidden mystery in the process.
Chapter 1 No Matter What
"Emma, why do you always look so fat," Hunter asks while handing me another bikini to try on?
I head back into the changing room. The bathing suit I am wearing is the only one I like. It's light blue with palm leaves blanketed throughout its pattern.
My hands touch the silky palm leaf fabric and stretch the elastic band near my waistline. Surely, Hunter can't mean this looks bad on me? Can he? I must have heard him wrong. He used to tell me how pretty I was on all of our dates.
Pretty is a word that Hunter used to describe all the females in his life. All the ones he thinks are hot anyways. Two years ago, I was 'pretty' to him. Now I am this plump someone. I can't help that my thyroid has gone in another direction.
Hunter is the least to give a shit about my thyroid and its toll on my emotions, weight, depression, and the like. To Hunter, I'm now the 'fat girl' he tells me what to wear and how to dress. It's not his most positive character trait, I can assure you.
I watch Hunter impatiently through the crack of the changing room. He texts on his phone loudly and taps his foot like a bull preparing for the next stampede. His patience with me is wearing thin these days.
He's only an asshole after he smokes a pack of cigarettes. Today, he's smoked half a box, and I hate him for it.
My best friend, Rosa Higgins, will always remind me how lucky I am that Hunter puts up with me and my 'girly shit problems.' Hypothyroidism isn't a girly shit problem. It's a gland issue. It's an issue that might require surgery in a few years and lots of therapy.
I can't afford therapy or surgery right now. Not with my 90k followers watching my every move. My followers know who I am. The popular girl dating Hunter. The girl with a model career in high school. Hunter calls me fat, and my agent says I don't eat enough.
Freddie, my agent, nicknamed Red by his lady friends, is understanding of my thyroid issues. Hunter thinks it's a made-up issue. A scar on my neck could ruin my life and my model career.
The magazine that sponsors me as their poster child is called Model Perfect. They get my image, and I get their merchandise. They sponsor my college fund and own me. I'm only in it for the college money.
What I really want to study is photography. I want to be behind the lens, take the pictures, and figure out the lighting. But instead, I'm the one posing and looking ridiculous on social media. Of course, I don't look ridiculous to everyone, only myself. It's a harsh reality that I don't like who I am in those pictures. It feels forced somehow, but with the pressure from my parents, social media, agent, and boyfriend, my only choice is to be perfect and nothing else.
Perfect is exhausting. I want a vacation away from Hunter, Freddie, and Model Perfect. Although I'm grateful for this opportunity, I want a break from posting updates about which make-up to wear. My life needs a curtain for a day that I can pull back from and cry behind.
I collect myself in the changing room. The next bathing suit I try out is navy blue with yellow stars. I know Hunter will like this. He loves planets and all things Star Trek and Star Wars. He's a nerd about them.
"Now, we're talking. That bathing suit looks dope. Finally, something that doesn't hurt my eyes while looking at it."
His snarky comment is still a blow to my ego. A moment ago, I was fat in a palm leaf pattern, and now because I am a 'galaxy girl,' I am suddenly hot again. This is the last time I will ever go shopping with Hunter for a bathing suit.
"Glad you like it. I am sure Freddie will approve too. So what are we doing this weekend anyway," I ask, hoping it won't be another party at someone I don't know's house?
"Well, there's this party on Lincoln-Way East. It's going to be awesome. Are you down?"
"No, Hunter, I am not down to watch you play beer pong again. Can't you take me on a date for once? Or am I just a piece of ass for you to look at?"
I go back into the changing room and slam the door. Figures the dumbass can't even take a hint that girls like dates once in a while. It's not asking too much, in my opinion.
"Emma, can we talk about this? Then, maybe, we can go on a date to the beach all day Saturday and go to the party that night?"
This is Hunter trying to compromise. It's normal for him to try to please me. He's not a complete asshole, but he has changed since I've gotten to know him over the past few years. Or maybe he's always been this way.
I put my sundress and sunglasses over my head and come out of the changing room.
"Fine. A beach date sounds good. I will bring sushi to the beach and your favorite drink, Mountain Dew."
I don't know why he likes Mountain Dew. It tastes like battery acid to me.
"Be sure to wear your new suit as well. It might make all the other beachgoers jealous."
Hunter pulls me in for a kiss and tastes a little like cigarettes and ashes. It's like kissing a dragon some days. I go into his shorts and remove the cigarettes.
"I don't want you smoking until the party, deal," I ask while sticking the cigarettes into my purse?
"Whatever you say, Emma."
I stand on my tiptoes, and my live stream video begins to play.
"Hello, everyone. It's me, Emma, streaming live from the Model Perfect headquarters. I'm with Hunter today, and he has some amazing news to tell you."
"News? What news. Oh, right! This Sunday, my band, Aftershock, will be hosting auditions for a new lead guitarist. Auditions start at two and end at six. So be there or be square. Also, my girl Emma will be there signing autographs. Bring your own food. We hope to see you all there! And see you later."
The camera is still rolling as Hunter kisses me. Hearts and smiley faces like and comment on our live stream. It's exhausting to keep up appearances. But in a world of perfect, that's how it is. Every step matters and every strand of hair needs to know its place. I stop the live stream, and the dream life comes to an end.
I wish I were the girl I pretend to be. If I were truly perfect, then the rest of my life would be a cakewalk.
"They really love you, don't they? I love that we are who everyone else wants to be," Hunter whispers to me as he takes my hand.
A loud clap echoes throughout the Model Perfect changing room. The dim lights are turned on, and Freddie comes walking toward me.
"That was brilliant as always, Emma. It's good to see you, Hunter. I need to talk to Emma in private."
"Yeah, sure, I was just on my way out." Hunter lets go of my hand, and I can tell by Freddie's eyebrow twitch that bad news is coming.
"The doctor called today. They found a tumor in your thyroid."
"What does that mean, Freddie?"
"It means a possible surgery is in your future. It means your life is going in a different direction. To be a model at Model Perfect, you need to be well...perfect. You can't keep ignoring your health issues. You can keep the tumor in your thyroid, and they can monitor it. But after a while, it will need to come out, which means surgery. A surgery means scars, and scars aren't exactly in your modeling contract, sweetie. It's my job to let you know as your agent. But something will have to give. If it is cancer, you might need to consider an alternative career. I'll support whatever you decide, of course. It doesn't need to be decided right now. I've notified your parents as well. But don't worry, we can just keep a close eye on it in the meantime."
I touch my neck and know he's right. A lump has been growing in my throat, and for someone who is eighteen, the last thing I want is for my modeling career to end when it's just begun.
"Thanks for letting me know. I will think about it. I need to start getting ready for my senior year."
I hug Freddie. He's been like an older brother to me and has been kinder than Hunter. But, on the other hand, Freddie despises Hunter and has made a point of telling me so on occasion.
"Well, let me know what you decide to do." I grab my purse and smile at Freddie. I don't know what to do, all I know is it's senior year in a week, and everyone expects me to be perfect no matter what a doctor says.
Chapter 2 That Model Girl
Saturday has arrived, and my beach date along with it. It's not exactly glamorous. Hunter isn't known for being mister romantic. Although I wish he would take me out to a fancy dinner once in a while, is that too much to ask?
I put on the bathing suit Hunter likes. I am not a fan of my olive skin clashing with these navy blue planet colors. But if Model Perfect makes it and they want me to look a certain way, then here goes nothing.
Rosa Higgins, my best friend, knocks on my bedroom window.
"Oh my gosh, girl, that suit is lit. I am so jealous of you. You always look...perfect."
Poor Rosa has no idea that being the most popular girl in school sucks. I wish I were invisible then no one except anything from me. But, being the hot topic of gossip comes with a price. My life is not private. Even my journal has its own website on a blog page that Freddie's invented for me.
"Rosa, please stop reminding me of how perfect I am.
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