Zayne’s eyes snapped open. His head felt foggy and his body was so weary that it took him a few moments before he was able to pull himself out of bed. The sky outside was still pitch-black. It had to be three or four o’clock in the morning. What could have woken him from his sleep so abruptly?
Then Zayne heard it – a loud but muffled voice calling out from the living room. “Seriously, dad?! You too?!” It cried.
He glanced over at the bed behind him and finally noticed that it was empty. Hope, he realized, his groggy mind clearing a bit. Zayne rose to his feet and slowly made his way toward the living room. Hope’s voice grew clearer with every step he took.
“Look, can we please talk about this later?” Hope sighed heavily. “Or better yet, not at all? I’m an adult and this is my job. Can’t you understand that?” She paused, rolling her eyes at whatever she heard on the other end of the line. “Yeah, okay. Bye.”
“Hope?” Zayne muttered as he finally reached the couch where she sat.
“Oh God, I’m sorry.” She sighed, placing her phone at her side. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“It’s okay.” He replied, smiling slightly despite his confusion. “What are you doing up so late? And… Why are you yelling at your parents?” Carly and Ralph had returned home from their visit barely two weeks ago, and everything seemed fine when they left… What had they done to piss her off so soon?
His girlfriend shook her head. “It’s so dumb. So, I got an email with the proofs from my big Vogue shoot at like midnight. They’re so amazing, Zayne.” For a moment, she smiled. “I didn’t wanna wake you up, so I was gonna wait and show you in the morning. But I did send them to my sister…”
“Okay…” Zayne wasn’t quite sure where this was heading.
“And Sadie loved them… But maybe too much.” Hope continued. “A little bit after I went to bed, my phone went off…” She paused for a moment, sighing. “It was Sadie. She got way too excited about the pictures, and ended up doing the stupidest possible thing she could have done.”
“She sent them to my mom.”
Zayne furrowed his brow. Clearly Hope was upset that Carly saw the pictures… But why? “I don’t get it. Shouldn’t that be a good thing?”
“You’ll understand when you see them.” She assured him. “Anyway, I guess mom totally lost it and ended up showing dad, and that got him flipping out too… It’s ridiculous. They’re totally overreacting!” Hope shook her head slowly. “So I decided to call them and try to do some damage control… As you can probably tell, it didn’t go over so well.”
Zayne couldn’t shake the feeling of dread that had started creeping up on him as Hope told her story. “I guess I still don’t really get it.” He said slowly. “I mean, what the hell could be in these pictures that got your parents so worked up?”
“I’ll show you.” Hope smiled, reaching for her phone and handing it to him. “And you’ll see how ridiculous they were being.”
Zayne raised an eyebrow curiously as he began scrolling through the pictures.
“You know my mom… Of course she’d freak. But I never thought dad would.” Hope laughed softly to herself. “They’re beautiful though, aren’t they?”
It felt as though all the breath had been sucked from Zayne’s lungs. “Jesus, you’re practically naked.”
“Um… not really. But so what?”
He finally lifted his eyes from the screen of the phone, his gaze resting upon Hope’s face. “Why the hell would you ever take a job like this?!”
Zayne felt his cheeks grow hot as his anger slowly bubbled up to the surface. “Like you’re in a…” For a moment, he almost seemed to be struggling to find the right word. “A porn magazine or something!”
In an instant, Hope was on her feet. “What the hell did you just say?!”
“You heard me.” Zayne fought to keep his voice steady as he rose from his seat as well. “I can’t believe you’d do something like this!”
“This has got to be some kind of sick joke or something… You sound just like mom and dad!” She narrowed her eyes at him as she spoke.
“Yeah, well maybe for once you should actually listen to them!”
Hope looked almost disgusted as she spoke. “What’s wrong with you?! You know how much this job meant to me! How can you be such a dick about it?!”
Zayne tried in vain to calm himself before replying. “Maybe I’m just a little surprised, okay? I mean, how can you take a job like this without telling me first?!”
“Why should I have to tell you anything?!” Hope snapped back at him.
“Because I’m your boyfriend! Or maybe you forgot that while you were busy parading naked in front of some photographer… In a shoot that the whole friggin’ world gets to see! I thought you were above trashy shit like this, Hope.”
Her jaw literally dropped open at his words. For a moment, she seemed to be struggling to find her voice. “Okay, first off, I’m not naked, okay?!” She managed to choke out at last. “Jesus Christ, grow up, Zayne! This is my job. This is my body. And you know what? So what if I was naked? Why the hell should I have to ask your permission?! You don’t own me!”
“You’re right, I don’t.” Zayne agreed. “I never said I did! But this is like my birthday all over again… Maybe even worse! It’s like you were hiding it from me or something.”
“What the hell would I have to hide?!”
“I dunno! I just…” He shook his head slowly. “Can you seriously look me in the eye and tell me it’d be perfectly fine if I whipped out my dick in front of some female photographer without telling you first? Maybe plastered pictures of it all over billboards and magazine covers for women to drool over?”
Hope shrugged, the scowl never leaving her face. “It’s your body. Be my guest.” She paused for a moment. “Know what? Why don’t we do it? Rent out some billboard space for a nice big dick pic, huh? You should be able to afford it with all that money that you aren’t using for your restaurant!”
“What the hell?! What does that have to do with anything?!”
“Everything.” Hope practically hissed at him. “You throw a damn fit any time someone tries to point out that you aren’t doing shit to work on this ‘restaurant’… You haven’t for months! You keep snapping at me to mind my own business and let you worry about your career… And then what do you do? You turn around and pull shit like this!” She cried, throwing her hands up in exasperation.
“You’re jealous, Zayne. You can’t handle watching me succeed. And you know what? That’s your problem, not mine!” Hope pointed at him accusingly as she spoke. “You can’t keep going on like this! You need to let someone help you, for Christ’s sake! This is eating away at you. It’s changing you! Can’t you see that?!”
Zayne said nothing for a few moments as the weight of her words poured down on him. Somewhere in the back of his mind, it was like a small voice was calling out to him – Stop! Calm down! Listen to her!
But there was another much louder voice that drowned it out.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” He shot at her venomously. “Don’t pretend you have any idea what this is like for me!” Zayne narrowed his eyes as he continued. “Not everyone has it as easy as you do! Some people actually have to work to get what they want, okay?! Some of us have real jobs! We can’t all get paid to just stand in front of a fucking camera all day and call it ‘work’!”
It felt like someone had pulled the rug out from beneath Zayne’s feet. The thick fog of jealousy and anger that had clouded his mind seemed to vanish in an instant. Holy shit. What the fuck did I just say?!
“Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. I didn’t mean that. Shit. I didn’t mean it. I’m sorry… God, I wasn’t thinking… I just –”
“Fuck you.” Hope’s voice was barely above a whisper. “Fuck you. I’m so sick of you making me feel like shit all the time for doing what I love. And I can’t stand watching you act like a victim when you won’t get off your ass and actually do something about it!” The venom in her voice stung more and more with every word she spoke.
“Maybe modeling isn’t a ‘real job’ to you… But at least I have a job.” She shook her head slowly. Her anger seemed to have been replaced by… something else. “I can’t take these jealous tantrums anymore. I can’t stand hearing you talk to me like this.” Hope paused for a moment. Her voice was shaking as she continued. “I love you, Zayne. More than anything. But I am so fucking tired. And honestly, I don’t know if I can do this anymore.”
Zayne felt a sudden heaviness in his chest. “W-what are you saying?” He whispered.
“Exactly what you think I am.”
“Please. Hope, I didn’t –”
“Look, I just…” She bit her lip for a moment. “I just need a break, Zayne.” Hope said at last. “And so do you.”
“But I –”
“I don’t wanna talk about this anymore, okay? Not tonight.”
“I…” For a moment, Zayne considered trying to argue again. But what would be the point? Hope was absolutely right, wasn’t she? “Okay. I’ll… I’ll just… Go, I guess.”
It was like the room was spinning. How could he have said any of that? How could he be such a jerk? How could any of this be real? Maybe he was imagining it… Maybe it was a nightmare.
He fumbled through the dimly lit apartment, grabbing his car keys and slipping on his shoes in a daze. Zayne hesitated as he reached the front door, praying that Hope would say something – anything – to stop him.
But she didn’t.