The door alert bell sounded thirty minutes later, and in walked one of the most handsome men I’ve seen. Medium height and build, thick sandy brown hair, crinkly laugh lines around gray blue eyes, and a ‘It’s so wonderful to see you’ smile that made me gasp with pleasure.
“Hi,” I said stupidly.
“Hi, yourself,” he said and chuckled – a warm sound like molasses bubbling on the back burner of a stove.
He walked to my desk and held out his hand. “I’m Dennis North. Your father said I should come over and see your work. It might be just what I need for a project I’m working on.”
“Oh, I hope so!” I gushed. Darn, couldn’t I say something cool and professional? “I meant to say, I’d be happy to show you my portfolio. It’s photos of children you’re interested in, right?”
“Yes. Ben said you have a special way of capturing kids with the essence of innocence about them. That’s a must for the book I’m writing.”
I indicated one of the over stuffed chairs and brought out a thick folder. I sat in the other chair and rested it on my knees. He was gazing at the print of Julianna in the garden.
Slanting my eyes towards him, I took in his profile and liked what I saw. There was his smooth forehead and straight nose; a firm chin with a hint of a clef; nice cheekbones; lovely long lashes; sensitive lips.
He turned and grinned at me. “Sizing me up for dissection?”
“No,” I said and blushed. “I was just seeing a headshot of you in profile. Black and white, I think, with indirect light to bring out the plains of your face. It’d be nice for an author photo on the book’s dust jacket.” Nice cover, Evangeline!
“Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.” He grinned, and then looked back at Julianna. “You father was right. I can feel the exuberance of joyful childhood in that photo. Not many photographers can reveal as much depth of emotion in a two dimensional format. Let’s see what else you have.”
I gave him the file and watched silently as he went through it. He took time with each photo, searching for something important to him and necessary for his book. He pulled out several and laid them on the table next to Mom’s album. Most were candid shots; some were close ups of faces or hands; some were shot in natural settings, others in front of a plain backdrop; all in black and white.
When he was done, he leaned back and sighed. “Evangeline, I think I need you for this book. You know how to capture children the way I want them seen. I need my readers to feel the emotions I write about. They will, with photos like these. Can we make a deal?”
“If the price is right,” I blurted out.
Oh man, where did that come from? I sound like a TV game show junkie. I tried to back track. “I mean, it sounds great, even wonderful, and heaven knows I need the work.”
Shoot! I was really making a mess of this. I squeezed my eyes shut and blundered on. “What I mean is, don’t we need to talk about it first? How… how can you be so sure that I’m what you need…. for your project, I mean?”
Evangeline, you blundering idiot, now you’ve blown it for sure! A sweet deal is offered to you on a silver platter, and you come on to the man. What must he think of you?
A slow smile crept onto his face and he leaned close. A spicy scent of the West Indies teased my nostrils. I breathed it in and its fragrance left an imprint upon my mind.
“You’re what I need, Evangeline. You’re just what I need.” A pause, and then, “Now can we shake on it?”
“I’ll have to talk with my assistant. He’s the whiz in the darkroom. In fact, you should meet him too. His name is Christian Sheppard.”
On cue, my employee and almost partner walked to the front of the studio. His eyebrows rose slightly at the sight of the two of us sitting so close together on Mom’s chairs. Abruptly I leaned away.
“Christian, come here and meet Dennis North. He likes my photos and thinks we’d be right for his book.”
Christian walked across the blue carpet and shook hands with the writer. He glanced at the pile of photos on the table, and then picked them up. “Okay,” he said after shuffling through them. “I see what you’re looking for in mood and interpretation. Let’s brainstorm this idea of yours.”
Thank God for Christian, I thought. He’s a life saver, bringing sanity into this embarrassing situation I stumbled into. What would I do without him? If this deal goes through, and we make some real money, I’ll offer him the full partnership in “E.T.C. Photography” that he deserves. Then he can quit that dumb night job as a Domino’s Pizza delivery boy. Delivery person, I mean.
Christian grabbed two tablets from my desk, tossed one to me and asked, “What eleven letter English word does everyone pronounce incorrectly?” He plunked himself down in a beanbag chair at looked at the journalist.
Dennis frowned. “What-?”
“It’s a joke, Dennis,” I whispered, “humor him.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I give up,” he said.
“Incorrectly,” said Christian and I wanted to fall through the floor in the silence that followed.
Then Dennis began to chuckle and grin. Then he laughed out loud. It was a wonderful sound and I relaxed for the first time since he arrived. Christian looked at me and winked. I pulled once on my left ear.
After that, we listened to Dennis North outline his project, interrupting only with an occasional clarifying question.
I watched Dennis’s face and saw it light up as he explained his idea for a book about “special kids”. He wanted to tell the story of America’s forgotten children, not in a sensational, tabloid way, but with care and empathy. Vehemently he proclaimed that he wasn’t a voyeur, or one of those Paparazzi idiots, who invaded the privacy of poor, helpless, pitiful, and yes, even grotesque human beings for financial gain. In fact, he said he would donate a small percentage of the proceeds from the book to organizations that helped these children. He already had a deal with a publisher.
A word jarred my rapt attention. Grotesque? I had imagined us visiting local health care centers, like The City of Hope and Children’s Hospital, or possibly even going into private homes. I pictured kids in leg braces with crutches or in wheel chairs, with shaved heads and hollow eyes. Pitiful and heart wrenching, yes, but grotesque? Was I being naïve? I glanced at Christian and our eyes met.
“Who exactly are these children?” I asked. “Where would we be going to photograph them?”
“Some of them are truly forgotten children, Evangeline! In fact that’s what I want to title my book. They are children who, for one reason or another, have been locked away, out of public view for years and years, in private or state funded institutions. No one but the attendants sees them or visits them or cares about them”.
He leaned closer, putting a warm hand on my knee. I could see pain in his eyes and hear it in his voice. “These institutions are paid to take care of the children’s physical needs – and I’m sure some are better than others at that – but does anyone care for their emotional needs? Do these kids feel lonely and abandoned and unloved? They deserve our attention! They deserve to be remembered, Evangeline!”
He leaned back. “And that’s what I want my book to do, to open the eyes of complacent citizens of this great country and compel them to respond. No, not only their eyes, I want to open their hearts!”
His impassioned speech left me wide-eyed and shaking. I found myself nodding. I could easily be caught up into his crusade. I looked at Christian. He was frowning slightly.
“I want to do it,” I blurted out. “I want to do the photos for your book.”
His smile was wide and grateful. He looked to Christian, his eyebrows lifted.
“Sure, whatever Van says.” He shrugged and pulled himself out of the beanbag. He tossed his tablet onto my desk. “You two can hammer out all the details. You know, like, when do we start, how many photos will be needed, when will they need to be at the printers? Stuff like that. I’m going to go back now and develop your film from Easter.”
“Thanks, Christian,” I said.
“Good meeting you, Christian,” Dennis called and stood up. “I hope I can become a part of the great creative team you and Evangeline have going here. It’ll be a privilege.” Christian raised an arm in acknowledgement and disappeared into the dark room.
I got up too and went to my desk. I pulled out the appointment book. “Okay, what’s the deadline? When do you have to have all the photos? I’ll mark it down, and we’ll work back from there.”
He pulled a small leather appointment book from his jacket pocket and sat on the corner of my desk. For the next few minutes we compared dates and discussed the where’s and when’s and how’s of the project. And then he told me the ‘how much’. My eyes widened and I’m sure my jaw dropped at the mention of the projected sales figure.
“Of course, a lot of that goes to the publisher and to the marketing agency I’ll hire. And I plan to give a percentage to one or two children’s service organizations that are also backing the project. But quite a bit will be left for us, if we work it right.” He smiled.
“Wow,” I said. With even half the money he spoke about, I could pay off my loan to Dad. Christian could really join me as a full time partner. We could advertise in magazines and photo journals. We could branch out to other types of photography. We could…
“So, you’re with me, Evangeline?” He laid a hand over mine on the appointment book and gazed into my eyes, searching.
“Yes,” I whispered.
“Okay, let me just run out to my car. I had a friend type up a contract of sorts. Just a formality, but we’d better get everything into writing.”
I watched him through the window. He went to a new-ish gray Honda Accord and popped the trunk. He rifled through a brief case and pulled out several papers. He glanced at his watch, then closed up everything and came back into the store.
I tried to read through the contract seriously, but some of it was glibberish to me. Legalese! I should have had Celeste here to review it. She was the lawyer in the family. But, that would waste time, and it was just a formality anyway as Dennis had said. I smiled and picked up a pen. “Where do I sign?”
After we each signed both copies, Dennis asked, “Do we need Christian’s signature too?”
“No. I’m the owner of “E.T.C. Photography” for now. I hope to make him partner one day. Perhaps after this book is finished I’ll be able to.”
“That’s it, then. I’ll start lining up the locations for shooting, and making the interview appointments. As soon as I have a firm schedule, I’ll call you.” He smiled and took both my hands. “Maybe I’ll call you sooner,” he said softly.
After he left, I plopped down into my chair and sat immobile. It was amazing how a person’s fortunes could change in a single morning! Well, not fortunes, but at least prospects. Suddenly I jumped up and twirled around.
“Christian,” I called as I went to find my prospective partner. “Let’s celebrate!”