Picture Imperfect by Jelsa Mepsey
Published by: Swoon Romance
Publication date: September 22nd 2015
Genres: Romance, Young Adult
Sixteen-year-old Max Prescott knows all too well the joys of cheating girlfriends and traitorous friends. He’s not eager to have his heart trampled again, but money and a fresh start can mean the difference between happiness and a dark path with his name on it.
So when Melly Hewson, a perky and enigmatic classmate, asks him to be her model for a year-long photography project, Max agrees. Melly Hewson is everything Max isn’t. She’s outgoing, witty and always knows the right words to say. And despite his best efforts, Max finds himself drawn to her.
Still, he isn’t stupid. He knows a girl like Melly will only use him and then never speak to him again. Besides, he’s been to that rodeo. As long as he keeps his feelings off the market, he won’t make the same mistakes as last time.
Yet underneath Melly’s sweet smiles lies a secret she’d rather kept hidden. And as the year goes on and the photos pile up, Max and Melly will find themselves developing through the negatives, a story that when told could push them to opposite ends of their world. But the only thing worst than the truth is, the facade that surrounds them.
I prop myself up on my elbows and peer into the toilet bowl. Bloodshot brown eyes glare back at me between chunks of floating vomit, light glinting off the metal toilet seat. Bile runs down my chin, stuck in my stubble. When I reach for the toilet paper roll, I find it empty. I wipe my face on my crusty sleeve. Flies guard the toilet, flanked by a million tiny ants. So much for using the park bathroom to puke and take a piss. I don’t need anything on my dick or up my ass.
Last night’s chunky dinner rises up my sore throat. The chunks stick, choking me. I cough and cough, but only greasy spit dribbles out. I grip the empty toilet paper holder for support, accidentally yanking it out of the wall. When I uncurl my fingers, it drops into the toilet, splashing water onto my shirt. I stagger into the sink and twist the rusty faucet. Nothing comes out. Of course. A place to shit would be a shitty place.
The pressure in my bladder increases. Flies buzz around the toilet. Screw them. I unzip, only for them to fly closer. Little fuckers! I zip back up and shove the door open, stumbling into some bushes. I unzip again and piss on them. Once I finish, I zip my pants up, my teeth chattering. Goosebumps pop up on my skin, and I rub my arms.
Click! A flash blinds me, and I shield my eyes. Someone’s walking closer to me. After heavy blinking, I’m able to see the culprit’s wide gray eyes. Brown-haired ponytail swishing and lips twitching in amusement, she pockets her bright orange digital camera. I don’t know her. Why is she taking a picture of me?
“What was that?” I step out from behind the bush.
The girl blinks twice. “I was getting blackmail.”
Blackmail? She doesn’t even know me! “Delete that. Now!” My stomach riots, my vision still blinded from the flash. Who takes pictures of random strangers? Who takes pictures of random strangers peeing?
The girl ignores me and hops in place, her smile so wide it should fall off her face. “This is perfect!”
“I told you to delete it!” I reach out and try to snatch the camera from her, but she lowers her arm at the last second. My arm drops as she finally looks up.
“Calm down, Max.” She smiles and pockets her camera in her coat. “What’s up?”
Did she just say my name? “Do I know you?”
She frowns. “Yeah. We’re in the same chemistry class.”
Chemistry. Cassy’s in my chemistry class. I’d nudge her with my knee under the table while the teacher droned on. But I can’t do that anymore. She belongs to him now. Asshole girlfriend stealer.
The girl’s stare is still on me.
“I’m Melly.” She holds her hand out. I don’t shake it. She lowers her hand, continuing to stare. This is really awkward. A quick glance is normal. Staring is just creepy.
I narrow my eyes. “Do you need something from me?”
“Actually, yes.” She grins, revealing braces. What’s a high school sophomore doing still wearing those? Braces are so middle school. “I need you to be my photo model for the next three hundred and sixty-five days. Well, three hundred and sixty-four now, since I’ve already taken a picture of you today.”
I stare back at her. When the smile doesn’t fall from her face, I laugh, breaking the silence. “Model? For you? For an entire year?”
“I’m serious!” She looks at the ground. “Your hair is really awesome, since you change it so much. That’s why I’d like to photograph you.”
My hair definitely isn’t “awesome” today. It’s still oily because I didn’t take a shower this morning and the wind’s blowing it everywhere. Sometimes, girls pet my hair after I changed it even though it pissed Cassy off.
Is that why Cassy broke up with me? Or is it just because Jaxon is so much better for her?
She looks up. I shake my head. “No.”
“Aw, come on.” She frowns. “It’s not like you have to do a lot of work.”
“Maybe, maybe not. But we’re not friends.” I shrug. “I don’t see why I should do this for you.”
Melly rolls her eyes. “This is why I didn’t ask for permission before taking your picture. I expected this from you.”
“Then why’d you take it anyway?” And how does she know so much about me?
The smile never leaves her face. “Here’s the deal. I’ll pay you. That photo is for a scholarship. I have to photograph something that’ll change over the course of a year.”
I scoff. “And you thought of me?”
“Well, no.” She scratches her head. “I mean, I was wandering around the park trying to come up with some ideas, and then I saw you.” She exhales. “So … yeah! Come on, Max! Please? I’ll pay you! Even if I don’t win, it’ll be a fun project.”
“Fun?” I groan. “Maybe for you.”
She steps a little closer. “Don’t you want to know how much I’ll pay you?”
A little money never hurt. “Hmm. How much?”
“A dollar a day.”
I snort. “Two.”
She grins. “Sure. So, you’ll do it?”
Way to jump to conclusions. “I never agreed to anything.”
“True.” She raises an eyebrow. “Still. Seven hundred and thirty dollars. Not bad, if you ask me.”
“I guess not.” She must be hoping for a lot of money if she’s willing to pay me so much. “What do you get if you win the scholarship?”
She scoffs. “Like you care. Focus on what you’re going to get. Seriously. It’s not bad.”
“I guess it’s not.” Just one more thing. “What about the picture?”
“Oh, right.” She adjusts the camera around her neck. “I won’t show it to anyone but the scholarship people.”
“And if I say no?”
“Then I guess your lovely ex-girlfriend Cassy Carlson would love to see it.”
How does she know about me and Cassy already? “You can’t be serious.”
“I am.” She folds her arms across her chest. “So? Will you do it?”
If she puts it that way, I really don’t have a choice. Besides, money is nice. “This isn’t gonna take a lot of time, is it?”
She shakes her head. “It shouldn’t. So, it’s a deal, right?”
I hesitate; the frogs in my stomach seem to have died for now. My throat, however, continues torturing me. I cough. “Seven hundred thirty dollars?”
She shrugs. “If you want. I think it’s worth it. I’d do it if I were you.”
“Mm-hmm.” Should I? It’s not like I have anything better to do. But do I really want some chick taking pictures of me every day? I should tell her to get lost and suck a dick. That might knock the smile off her face. But if I take her up on it, I’ll have some money for a drum set.
“Max?” She waves a hand in front of my face. “Yes or no?”
This is gonna be a long year. “Fine. I’ll do it. But only because you’re paying me.” And Cassy doesn’t need to see a picture of me hung-over and pissing in bushes.
Her forehead creases. “Are you sure? Don’t commit if you’re not going to cooperate.”
“I said yes, okay?” Great. I’m already regretting this. “Just stop bothering me.”
Melly grins as if she’s just been declared homecoming queen. “Awesome! Thanks, Max!”
“Yeah, whatever.” I stand. The frogs resurrect their leaping contest, and I steady myself on a nearby bench. Cassy and I used to come here and make out a lot: a private world in a public place. “Have fun with your project. Use me as little as possible.”
“Of course.” She twirls some hair around her finger. “So, when are we meeting tomorrow?”
She can’t be serious. “Huh?”
“Well, I need a picture for every day of the year. That means I need you tomorrow too.”
What have I gotten myself into? “Can we just come here tomorrow?”
She nods. “Sounds good to me. I’ll see you here at ten. Don’t forget to come.”
Hmph. “And if I do?”
“Your loss.” She shoves her hands into her pockets. “I’m not paying you until this time next year.”
“Fine.” This has been enough perkiness for a day. She smiles enough for both of us. “Well, I’m gonna go now. Guess I’ll see you here tomorrow.”
She smirks. “You better.” She steps even closer, smile widening. “Try to be a little nicer though, okay? Also, I’d appreciate it if you were sober tomorrow. Just saying.” She tilts her head and narrows her eyes. “Looks like you had fun last night. Nice shirt.”
“Fun?” I chuckle without humor. “Sure, if that’s what you want to think.”
She frowns. “What happened last night?”
What did happen? “Shit.”
“Oh.” She raises an eyebrow. “What kind?”
“Nothing.” Who cares that my girlfriend dumped me less than a day before our anniversary? Who cares that I caught her making out with my supposed best friend only five minutes later? No one. No one’s ever cared. And no one ever will.
“Fine. Don’t tell me. See you tomorrow.”
With that, she walks away. Finally. I shake my head and check my phone. It’s about noon. Time to go home. I don’t want to be there either. But it beats being photographed by random strangers, even if I’m getting paid.
I still need a drink. There’s a fountain across the street. Even from here, it looks rusty. I’m about halfway across when a horn blares and brakes screech. I dive forward, glancing behind me to see a car’s bumper. One of the front wheels is inches from my shoe, another almost planting into a tree. I crawl across the street, peering at the window. A middle-aged driver flips me off. The horn’s blare is like a dozen hammers slamming into my skull. I laugh, almost wishing he’d hit me. Almost. He shakes his head and drives off. My stomach churns again. For a moment, I think vomit will burst out of my throat, but I force it back. I pant as I glance around me, then brace my hands on the ground and stand slowly.
Blood roars in my ears as my heart pounds. That was close. Okay. It’s official. My New Year’s resolution is to not let that happen a second time. For now, I’m getting my ass home.
Jelsa Mepsey writes young adult contemporary romance fiction, drawing inspiration from daily life. With her work, she is dedicated to spurring people to think about what they have taken for granted and to shed light on the issues people avoid talking about. As an Asian-American in her 20s, she is excited to explore more of the human experience as she herself journeys through life. Writing, rock climbing 5.12 routes, and playing various instruments have resulted in the formation of many calluses on her hands over the years. When not engaging in her previously mentioned hobbies, Jelsa can be found at her local library with a stack of at least ten books, naming her various pens, or staring at her dog Waffles for inspiration.