After School Job
Chapters : 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | Epilogue
We all think of ourselves as normal. Well, maybe people like Donald Trump and
Madonna think they're special. But take
away their money and what's left?
Anyway I always thought I was normal. And I thought my family was normal too. I'm not particularly popular at school, but I
have some pretty good friends. I'm not a
jock, but that's by choice, instead of body type. I like working out, and I like having muscles
I'm proud of. But I guess I'm a little
lazy too, in terms of not wanting to spend all that extra time in training for
football or wrestling or whatever.
I think I look pretty normal. Girls look at me, and I can usually get a
date if I want one. Can't afford
one, actually. You can't take girls out
if you have no money. But it's not like
I'm a hunk or anything, and girls fight over me, or will pay for dates just to
be seen with me. Don't laugh. A couple of the popular guys at school are in
exactly that situation. Sometimes girls
can be really stupid.
And that's important - about girls sometimes
being stupid - because my sister, Addison, did something stupid that I got
sucked into, and my perfectly normal world suddenly got all fucked up.
Well ... I guess it wasn't sudden. But it seemed like it, later on. It's still confusing to me how things ended
up like they are.
Maybe I should just start at the beginning,
and maybe putting it all down on paper will entertain you and help me figure
out how everything happened.
Actually, I'm pretty sure it will entertain you. It entertained the crap out of me while it was happening. I'll admit that. And that's part of the
problem. I shouldn't have been
entertained. I shouldn't have even done anything. But I did, and now I have to live with
But I was supposed to start at the
beginning, so here goes.
For our purposes, the beginning was on a
September evening, after supper, while we were doing homework. Our parents are funny about homework. I think
it has something to do with how they were brought up or something. The rule is that we have to do our homework
after supper, and we have to do it at the dining room table. If the computer is required, they got us a
laptop, but it still has to be used at the dining room table. If both of us need a computer, Dad
loans one of us his. No TV, no video
games, no nothing, until homework is finished.
Addie - that's what we call Addison for short - was working on biology,
which she asked for some help with.
That's allowed. We can help each
other, but not do each other's work. It
was about the difference between DNA, which is deoxyribonucleic acid, and RNA,
which is ribonucleic acid. I explained
macromolecules, and proteins and carbohydrates and nucleic acids, and how DNA
was double stranded, while RNA was usually only single-stranded, and her eyes
kind of glazed over. Dad walked through
the dining room about then and she stopped listening to me and spoke to him.
"Daddy? Can I get an after school job?"
"What kind of job?" he asked.
That surprised me a little bit. Usually Dad is the one who free wheels and
goes along with everything. One of his
favorite sayings is "Be an existentialist! Explore life!" He usually says that when one of us has to do
something new and is worried about it.
Like he said it when I was all worried about going to high school the
first day. And then he said it again the
first time I went on a date and was all nervous. It was usually my mom who interrogated us
and wanted to talk about everything. Her
favorite phrase was "Let's examine the options." Maybe Dad adopted her attitude because she
was off on an archaeological expedition in Peru and would be gone another six
"It's modeling clothes," said
He looked surprised. I could
understand that, because I was surprised too.
Modeling? She was pretty, but she wasn't, like gorgeous or anything.
Like me, she had some friends ... okay a bunch of friends ... but
I'd never thought of her as a model.
I knew guys lusted after her. She
was a cheerleader, after all, and all guys lusted after cheerleaders. It was like one of the rules of nature,
completely normal. But modeling?
"What kind of clothes?" asked Dad.
She looked at him like he was mentally
deficient. That was normal too.
"Clothes, Daddy. You know ... tops? Pants? Outfits? Clothes?" she tugged at the blouse she
"What's the name of the agency?" he asked. That word, agency, came out of
his mouth funny, like he had just remembered it. Maybe he was trying to restore his station as
a non-deficient adult.
She dug into her book bag and pulled out a
sheet of paper. She handed it to
"Zharkov Photography Associates
L.L.C.," he read out loud. "Never heard of them."
"Cindy Jenkins told me about him. She works for him. It's only two or three hours a night, and
only a couple of nights a week. And he
pays twenty dollars an hour, Daddy.
Please? I need to earn some
money." Addie was a pro at the
puppy dog eyes thing, and she employed them now.
"Why do you need to earn money?"
he asked. "If you need something,
let's talk about it."
"I can't ask for money to buy you a
Christmas present, Daddy!" she complained.
"I'm not a little girl any more.
And what if I just want to blow a little bit on some luxury? Come on, Daddy. Cindy says it's perfectly safe and Vlad is a
nice guy. He employs lots of
Maybe she saw the frown on his face. For whatever reason she rushed to add,
"Boys too, Daddy. It's not just
girls who model for him. Cindy's
boyfriend works for him too, and some other guys."
The way she said that last part was classic
Addie for "I think" but she didn't actually say it. I knew her.
She couldn't lie to me. But she
still pulled it off with the parents now and then.
And Dad had only been half listening, as he
read the paper.
"This is a release for a minor to be
employed by the company and take pictures which would then be 'sold for public
consumption in various advertising and entertainment venues'," he
said. "What does that mean? Advertising I get, but public entertainment venues?"
"Cindy says he does some video work for
a company that makes video games. I
think she called it live action capture, or something like that. She says they turn what she does into the
movements a character does in some video game or something. She has to wear all these sensors and wires
"I don't know," he said. I reached for the form and he let me have
it. I looked it over. It was written in that legal speech that
would scare the crap out of anybody ... you know ... with words like
"Indemnify" and "shall be held free from all blame" and
stuff like that. I would say it looked
normal, except I had never seen anything like this, so I had no idea, really,
whether it was normal or not.
"Cindy said you get to keep some of the
clothes," said Addie. "I wouldn't have to ask for your credit card
and go shopping as often."
She knew how to dangle the carrot in front
of the plodding mule, I'll give her that.
"Maybe I should call your mother and
discuss this with her," he said.
"And he'll hire somebody else and I'll
have to flip hamburgers for eight bucks an hour, and work fifteen hours a week
and smell like grease and get kicked off the cheer squad," she
whined. She was a good whiner, though I
had learned how to be impervious to it.
Dad? Not so much.
"You can do it under one
condition. Your brother has to be with
you," he said. "As your
chaperone." He folded his arms to
show her how serious he was.
She frowned at him, and I saw the thunder
clouds building on her face. No girl in
high school wants to be chaperoned by her big brother. Even I could imagine the snickers if it got
out that she was under my supervision.
"They're not going to pay us
both," she complained, unconsciously obviating her argument that this
agency hired males too. "Besides,
he won't do it. He's a dickhead."
"He'll do it if I tell him to do it," he said, with authority.
He looked over at me as if we had discussed
this and I had already agreed that it was a good idea. But I didn't think it was a good
idea. Not because I didn't think she
should be a model. Somehow I had already
gotten used to the idea that she could pull that part off. I just didn't want to be saddled with the
whole mess. Even if it was only a couple
of hours, that was a couple of hours I could spend doing something fun, instead
of babysitting my sister. The problem
was that I didn't have an after school job myself, and I wasn't involved in any
extracurricular activities. In other
words, from my father's perspective, I had nothing better to do with my time
than escort my sister to her new job.
And I knew my father. He might be a mild mannered CPA these days,
but when he met our mother, he rescued her from a bunch of Taliban who had
taken the archaeological team she was working for as hostages. He was Special Forces and she was doing post
graduate work, documenting antiquities that the Taliban were destroying. Anyway, she was appreciative of being
rescued, and one thing led to another and I was conceived. So, having gotten a hostage pregnant, he got
out of the Army and went to college.
One of my father's old buddies, a guy on the
same team that rescued my mother, came to visit us a couple years back. He was still in the Army and he looked like
he could kill you just by looking at you.
He and Dad sat in the living room and slaughtered a bottle of Johnny
Walker Black Label, which my father had had sitting on a shelf ever since I
could remember. Mom was sitting in
there with them until the guy looked at her and said, "You know, Buck, I
never could understand why you cashed in your chips, but seeing Stephanie,
here, I get it now. I really get it,
And my father, who I had never heard say a
mean thing in my entire life, looked at his Army buddy and said, "I know
what you're thinking, Chuck ... but is she worth dying for? Because if you make a move on my woman,
Chuck, I'm going to have to kill you."
And they all laughed. Except he sounded funny somehow, and there
was this look on Chuck's face that said, "And I know you could do
it," and my mother suddenly got up and said it was bedtime, even though there
was half an hour left before bedtime.
And pretty soon we heard the front door open and close and we never saw
Chuck again. And my dad opened the good Scotch for him!
So once in a while, when our father said
something in that special tone of voice he had used with Chuck that night, we
didn't ask questions. We just did
whatever he told us to do.
"Sure," I said. "No
"Daddeeeeeee," whined Addie.
"Let me hear you ask if I want fries
with that," said Dad. "See if
you can make me want fries."
She would have stormed off, except we
weren't finished with homework. That
gave me an idea.
"What about homework?" I asked.
He didn't bat an eye. "On days when she works, homework gets
done as soon as you get home from school.
Then supper, and then she can go to work. Two hours on those nights, and
no more." He reached for the paper
in my hand and looked at it again. "And Mr. Zharkov has to agree to all
Now she didn't want to storm off. The negotiations had begun.
In the end, this is the deal she got. Since this Zharkov guy ran a business, and might have set
hours because the business demanded it, he agreed to let us do homework before
or after she worked, or both, if necessary.
She also got dispensation for supper, which was usually a sit down meal
where everybody who was in the house had to be there. On work days we could "eat out of the
refrigerator", as Dad called it. He
made us both promise not to tell Mom about that. She was the one who was big on family
meals. He said that by the time she got
back, it would either have worked out, or "other arrangements would be
made," which I knew meant he'd make her stop working, but which she
thought meant he'd let us get fast food on the way home.
And I thought all this was stupid, because
she didn't even have the job yet, and had no idea what hours this guy might
require her to be there.
So it was possible there might not even be a job
for her, the first time we went to the house.
Zharkov Photograph Associates L.L.C. was
located in the basement of a really nice house in the fancy part of town. It was in Pine Bough Estates, which was where
the rich folks lived. The houses were
set on two or three acre plots, and there were lots of swimming pools, and nice
cars and all that.
Addie was driving. Dad had fixed us up an old VW Bug. We had to actually help him rebuild the
engine, so we'd know now much work went into it, and how it worked and how to
fix it if it broke and all that. It was
part of his explore life philosophy, I guess.
Anyway, there was a regular driveway that led to a two car garage at the
front of the house, but the driveway also went off to the side, around and behind the house. Addie had been
told to go that way, and when we got to the back yard, there was a parking
apron big enough for three cars. There
was one parked there, and I recognized it as Jerry Thompson's. He was Cindy Jenkins' boyfriend.
There were garage doors in the back too, on
the lower level of the walkout basement.
They were both closed, but right beside it was a people door, so we went
to that. There was a sign on the door
that said, "Come in if you've been invited. Stay out if you haven't." I looked at Addie, who looked at the release
Dad had signed. While he was signing it
he said, "You take care of your sister and protect her from anything
bad. That's your job, and I expect you
to take it seriously."
I was about to ask if we had been invited,
when she reached for the door knob, turned it, and walked in like she owned the
place. I couldn't do anything other than
follow her inside.
We found ourselves in what looked like a
family room, except there were racks of clothes all over the place. They were the kind with wheels that you
sometimes see in a movie set in New York City, where people are moving racks of
clothing down a sidewalk, or across the street.
That seemed normal. At least
until I realized some of the clothing looked odd. Like I saw what was undeniably a pirate's outfit,
hanging on a hanger, with the pirate hat balanced on top of a shelf built into
the top of the rack. I also saw a long
white robe, with angel wings above it.
I realized it looked kind of like the
costume room at the high school I went to.
I was in all the musicals, because that was the best way to be near all
the hot, popular girls, who got all the lead roles in the productions.
There were a couple of windows in the wall
that had the door in it we had come through.
The far end of the room had a fireplace in it, and the wall to our left
had a door in it that obviously went into the garages. A staircase went up into the rest of the
house right next to that wall. On the
long remaining wall there was only one door.
The rest of that wall was taken up by shelving units that were stacked
with boxes. It looked like they held
I was wondering what to do next, still
unsure that we had actually been invited in, when the door flanked by shelves
opened and none other than Kerry Watson, a guy in my Trig class, came through
it. His upper torso was bare. He didn't see us, going to a rack of clothes,
where he started moving hangers around.
He finally pulled what could only be called a peasant jerkin from a
hanger and shrugged into it. He was
heading back to the door when he saw us.
He looked startled.
"Hey," he said, looking uncomfortable.
"Is Mr. Zharkov here?" asked
"Yeah," said Kerry. He looked at the door. "I'll tell him you're here."
"Can we just come with you?" asked my sister.
He shook his head. "Not right now," he said. "He's kind of busy. Stay here. I'll tell him you're here. Okay?
Don't come in until he says you can."
I thought that was kind of odd. Kerry wasn't one of my friends, but we knew
each other, and he was acting kind of squirrelly. For that reason alone, when he went back
through that door, I started to follow him.
Addie reached and grabbed my arm.
"He said to wait," she said.
"Something's not right about
this," I said.
"I don't know. He's just acting funny."
"They're obviously modeling in
there," said Addie. "Don't
screw this up for me, Bobby."
"I'm not screwing anything up," I
said. "I just want to see what's
going on in there."
"I told you, they're modeling."
"Who models an old timey outfit like
that?" I asked. "He looked
like he belonged in a play about the middle ages."
"That doesn't matter," said my
sister. "We wait until Mr. Zharkov
comes out here. If he hires us, then we
can go in there."
The argument was broken up when the door
opened again and a guy who looked like Grizzly Adams came out. He was big, with really wide shoulders. He had on a shirt that looked like it was
made of satin or something. It was open
to the middle of his chest and he had a bunch of gold chains lying on top of
more hair than any guy should have on his chest. He grinned at us with the biggest, whitest
teeth I'd ever seen in my life.
"Children!" he brayed, coming
toward us. "Welcome to my humble
Addie's hand was still on my arm, and I
could tell instantly that she was just as unhappy about him addressing us as
children as I was.
"A flower of femininity!" he
yelled, looking Addie up and down in a way that made me ball my fists. Then his eyes shifted to me. "And a stout young man. Less handsome than craggy. You look like a surfer boy, yes?" Instead of offering his hand, he stopped,
standing on feet spread shoulder's width apart and set his huge hands - also
hairy - on his waist. Suddenly he looked
like an overgrown, very hairy Peter Pan, getting ready to crow. Except he looked nothing like Peter Pan. But you know what I mean.
"I am Zharkov!" he
bellowed. He rolled the R. "And who might you be?"
Addie let go of my arm and shoved the paper
"I'm Addison Stapleton, and this is my brother, Bobby," she
said. "I'd like to
be a model. Are you hiring?"
I expected him to snatch the paper out of
her hand, crushing it in his paw, but he plucked it, instead, almost daintily
from her fingers. He glanced at it, and
then turned his eyes back to us. Again, they went to Addie. His eyes fell to her chest and stayed there a
long time. I got that. Most guys wanted to stare at her chest. Even I had to admit she had a really decent
pair. But she was my sister, and I
started getting hot under the collar again because this guy wasn't sneaking
peeks at her boobs, like everybody else did.
He just stared at them.
Addison. You are maybe the girl
Cindy Jenkins told me about?" He
looked at me. "She said
nothing about a brother."
"He's just here to ..." She
stopped. I could imagine what she was
thinking. That's because I
could imagine what she'd been about to say, that I was just there to babysit
her while she put on clothes she couldn't afford and let somebody take pictures of
her. But, of course, she didn't want to
admit I was her chaperone. That was why
"I'm here to take care of her," I said,
somewhat heavily. I tried to sound
intimidated. In fact, he laughed. "You think you can take care of her?" He looked her up and down again. "I have much experience in this business, and
I can spot a hellcat when I see one. I
think you might fail in the attempt." He
grinned. I know both Addie and I looked
at him stupidly, because what he said made no sense. Addie had a temper, and she could scream and
yell with the best of them, but I could take her over my knee and spank her if
I wanted to. In fact, I did that fairly
regularly, just to piss her off. But it
also showed her who was in charge. She'd only gone
whining to dad once about that. He'd looked up
from the paper and said, "I suspect you needed it." He had looked past her to me, where I was
trying to peek around the corner to find out if I'd gone too
far. "Be nice to your sister, Bob," he'd ordered
me. She'd tried
that line on me after that, saying "Be nice!" whenever I needed to remind her what the
pecking order was. Eventually she just
gave up and moved to the "I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" gambit, trying to make me stop before I
left my handprint on her butt. I never
actually hit her hard, though. It wasn't about
"Never mind," he said.
"It is too soon to explore that. Perhaps there are things Cindy has failed to
notify me of. A brother and sister. Interesting.
You know Kerry Watson and his sister Natalie?"
We both nodded.
"They work for me," he said.
"Cindy, of course, knows this. Perhaps this is why she suggested your name." Suddenly he was all business again. "So.
What kind of modeling do you wish to do?"
Addie looked confused. "Clothes?"
"Outer wear? Casual? Formal wear? Swim wear? Winter wear?
Hunting, fishing, and outdoor outfits? Underwear? Are you interested in
commercials, or only in clothing sales?
Do you want to pose alone, or in a group? When one begins in this business, it is not
wise to attempt too many different kinds of work. Each requires a particular look, or attitude,
and while you might be very well suited for one, others might not work for the
camera. I must admonish you both, if I
can't use the photographs I take of you, I cannot pay you for
"Oh," said Addie, a little breathlessly. "I had no idea it was so complicated."
"Let us do this," said Kharkov. "Today is Tuesday, yes? I have a full schedule tonight and
tomorrow. Come back Thursday and we will
do some test shots. Then, perhaps, we can
see what the two of you are good for."
The way he said "good for" made the
hackles stand up on the back of my neck.
I didn't like this guy too much.
"Okay!" said Addie, blurting it out excitedly.
"Maybe," I said, guardedly.
"We'll be here!" said Addie, more in control of
you. I really need this job."
He grinned again, showing those amazing,
white teeth surrounded by all that bristly black hair.
"I look forward to it.
I love shooting hellcats. They
are always so vibrant and exciting." He
abruptly turned, heading back to the door he had come from, and behind which at
least Kerry Watson, dressed like a peasant, was waiting for him. I wondered if Natalie, his sister was in
there too. This Zarkhov character had said they both worked for him. I knew Cindy Jenkins, of course. She was a
sophomore, and was Jerry's girlfriend. Since his car was there, maybe Cindy was too. I didn't have to wonder why Cindy might have mentioned my
sister to this Kharkov character. They were both cheerleaders.
Knowing Addison was excited, I made her give
me the keys. In the mood she was in, she'd treat
traffic signs like they were all elective, rather than compulsory. I, of course, could both drive and talk at
the same time safely.
"I don't like that guy," I said.
"You're a boy," she said, dismissively. "Everybody knows boys have brain damage."
"Brain damage has nothing to do with it," I said. "Did you see
the way he looked at you?"
"Of course I did," she said.
Addie had gotten used to men looking at her within months of becoming a
cheerleader. Cheerleaders thought they
were in complete control. They teased
the crap out of all the men in the stands, and then went to stand in little
groups of girls their own age, talking about clothes or Facebook or musicians
or whatever the fuck girls talk about.
While they did that they apparently believed the men stopped undressing
them with their eyes. I knew better, of course. "He looks at
women all the time, Bobby. It's his job.
He has to figure out how to use their assets to sell the product. He has to look at women like that."
"I'm a guy, Addie," I said.
"I know what guys are thinking about when they look at a
girl like that. Want me to tell you?"
"You're brain damaged," she
sniffed. "And gross. I don't need to
know what my brother is thinking when he gawks at my friends."
Then, in that infuriating way girls have,
she changed the subject.
"You know, a bunch of my friends think you're
hot. I don't get
it. Did you know Charlene Sisson
actually asked me what you looked like naked?"
Charlene was another cheerleader. She was also a senior and hot as a
firecracker. And I didn't have a
date for homecoming yet.
"Really!" I said.
"Like I'd want to look at you naked, just so I could
tell her," she snorted. "Ewwwww."
"I'll take a picture," I said, smiling. "And you can give it to her."
"Ewwwww!" she squealed again.
We didn't talk about Mr. Zharkov again the rest of
the way home.
When we got home Addie preempted me by
gushing to Dad about how professional everything looked and how Mr. Zharkov
was even interested in taking some test shots of me. I still had these kind of creepy feelings
about it all, but I couldn't put my finger on anything. I was pretty sure if I raised doubts, our
father would put the kibosh on the whole thing.
But I also knew that my sister would be mad at me for maybe ever if
I did that.
So I kept my mouth shut.
And that led to ... well ... it led to a lot
of things. But I can't tell you
about them right up front. If I do you'll think I'm the bad
guy. And I'm not. At least I wasn't. And most of the people who actually know what
happened insist I'm not. And I had
my own doubts.
But just let me tell the rest of the story,
and then you can make up your own mind.
But please, wait until you know everything before you jump to any
The next day, at school, my sister was thick
as thieves with Cindy Jenkins and Natalie Watson. And on the way home, she was
"What's up with you?" I asked.
"Nothing," she said.
"Don't lie to me. I can read you like a book."
"A third grade book," she said.
"That's the highest grade level you can read."
"Attacking me won't work," I said.
We rode on in silence for another
block. Finally I said, "Maybe you'll tell Dad
She shot me a look, and then finally
spoke. "They won't tell me
what it's like to work for Mr. Zharkov," she said.
"Why not?" I asked.
"They said they signed something that says they can't talk
about it to anybody who hasn't also signed it."
"A non-disclosure agreement," I said.
"Yeah. That was
it," she said.
"But they like working for him?"
"They love working for him," said
Addie. "They said I
"What did they say about me?" I asked.
"That's the funny thing," she
said. "They said
you'd love it too, but they wouldn't tell me
"They said I'd love working as a model," I said.
"Yes. But they
wouldn't tell me why.
Because of the non-discrimination clause or whatever."
"Non-disclosure agreement," I reminded
"I don't get it," she said. "Cindy was
the one who said I should work for him.
But now she won't tell me anything about it."
"A non-disclosure agreement protects the company from you
giving away secrets," I said.
"What kind of secrets?"
"I don't know.
Who his customers are, maybe. Or
how much he pays you. Stuff like that."
"He pays twenty dollars an hour," she
said. "Cindy told
"Maybe the pictures he takes are of clothes that aren't on the
market yet," I said. "So whoever hires him doesn't want any
of the designs leaking out before they are on the market. There are knockoffs all over the place. You know that."
"Sure," she said. "That's all I can
afford to buy."
"So you know there's a huge market for secrets like I'm talking
"Yeah," she said.
"I guess so."
"We'll find out Thursday," I suggested.
She looked over at me. "Thank you," she said.
"For not telling Dad you don't like Mr.
"You know Dad wants me to keep an eye on you," I said.
"I don't need a babysitter!" she snapped.
"I know that," I said.
"But he worries about you. All fathers worry about their daughters going
out into the big, wide, dangerous world."
Her shoulders slumped. "I know."
"And I don't want anything bad to happen to you either," I
She reached and put a hand on my leg.
"Thanks," she said.
"For such a huge dork, you can be really sweet sometimes."
"Be still my beating heart," I said,
just gave me a compliment!"
"You are such an asshole sometimes," she said,
taking her hand back.
But she didn't sound
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