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Bills and Photoshoots

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Ted sat at his desk, paperwork piled in front of him. There was no denying that his business was rapidly declining. The start of it had come into sight months ago, when a large chunk of his employees began quitting from shitty working conditions and pay.

He sighed, tapping his pen on the desk in time with his galloping thoughts. The building he was leasing wasn’t in the best condition, the carpet coming up at the edges in most rooms and various strange stains on the walls, but unless some magical money fairy came waltzing in through his office door, he couldn't do anything about it. Same with the pay situation - he simply couldn't afford it. Models were quitting left, right and centre, and those who remained were demanding higher pay. It wasn't sustainable. He needed to get some new faces, and fast.

He stood up and stretched, hearing his knees click as he did so. He'd been sitting at that desk for too long. He grabbed his coat and headed downstairs, planning to go for a walk.
In the lobby, he was interrupted by his receptionist. Bless her heart, Charlotte tried her best, but lately she'd been spending more time on the phone arguing with her husband than doing her job. She had no idea of the beginning of the downfall and he wasn't about to tell her. Her anxious mind would blow things up to unmanageable proportions.

“Oh! Ted! There you are!” she exclaimed, sounding more excited than one should be when faced with one's boss. “I haven't seen you all morning! Did you get here quite early?”

Ted debated whether to tell her that he'd spent the night in his office chair, stressing over pay slips, as he seemed to be doing perpetually these days. In the end, he put on a smile and lied.

“Yeah, I couldn't sleep. Got here at 6.”

“Oh, you poor thing! Hang on a sec, I’ll make you some coffee-”

“It’s alright Char, I was heading out anyway. I’ll grab one while I’m out. You want anything?”

“I’m okay, I’ve got the coffee machine here,” she said, gesturing to the clunky capsule machine behind her that had cost far more than it was worth. “I like it better than Beanie’s coffee, anyway.” That was a lie, Charlotte just hated asking favours. “Alright. I’ll be back soon, then.”

He stepped out into the cold morning air and regretted it immediately, but preferring not to look stupid in front of his best (and the way things were going, soon to be only) employee, he shoved his hands deep into his pockets and continued down the path.

His pockets weren’t actually that much better than the bare air, seeing how the wind cut through his jacket as if it were less than paper, but still, it was something. His eyes were beginning to water and his nose felt numb, and so he quickened his pace as he saw the sign for Beanie’s on the path ahead.

The bell tinkled as he swung the door open and he noticed a couple dirty looks thrown his way by the people seated closest to the door, no doubt for letting cold air in. He brushed it off and made his way to the counter, spotting Emma behind the till. She swung him a mock salute as she turned back around to finish the coffee order she was making, before handing it to a man standing nearby, who said his thanks, heading to a vacant table in the corner of the shop.

Seemingly against his will, Ted felt his eyes being drawn towards the man, but a snort from Emma brought him back.

“See something you fancy?”

“I-” Ted turned to face Emma. “No. I was just observing.”

“Observing, my ass. His name is Henry, if you’re curious.”

“I’m not.”

“Oh well, keep lying to yourself, I guess. The usual?”

Ted nodded and paid, stepping to the side to wait for his order. He patted his pocket for his phone, only to find he hadn’t brought it with him. With no other choice to entertain himself, he resigned himself to looking around the room.

Beanie’s wasn’t the most clean or aesthetic coffee shop ever, but it still managed to hold certain charms. The tables and chairs were all wooden, rather than the plastic shit that newer shops tended to have, as well as having (probably too many) plants around the room. All in all, it was cozy yet open, making it a good place to study. Ted frequently saw high school and college kids in here, tucked away in a corner with more caffeine than they should be having, frantically studying for some test or another.

He felt his gaze drifting back to study the man in the corner and gave in, letting his eyes note the bright eyes, long legs and the greying roots of his brown hair. He hadn’t noticed Ted looking at him, thank goodness, otherwise that would be an awkward conversation. Hey, I tried not to stare but I think you’re pretty good-looking, I run a modelling agency so y’know, I’m always on the lookout...

A movement in the corner of Ted’s eye brought him back from his imagined scenario and he noticed the man - Henry, Emma said- looking directly at him and doing an awkward wave of the type that people only resorted to when they weren’t sure what else to do. He quickly looked away. Fortunately, Emma was done with his coffee and he took it from her, sending her a polite nod before making sure to keep his eyes on the ground as he headed out.

Once out, he felt a sense of loss. He couldn’t tell quite why, but he felt the need to offer that man a job. Maybe it was just desperation, maybe it was the work of some sort of measure of fate in the universe. He shook his head. Probably he had a perfectly fine job anyway, one that nobody in their right mind would give up for the shittiest modelling job in the world.

Ted wrapped his hands around his coffee cup and headed towards the park down the road, hoping to clear his head with the same cold air he was trying to get away from earlier. He was nearly at a bench when he heard footsteps behind him and spun around.

Lo and behold, there stood Henry himself, cheeks gloriously flushed and a scarf wrapped around his neck.

“Hey,” the harbinger of Ted’s dreams-but-also-his-nightmares said. “Emma told me to chase after you, said you had something for me or something along those lines? I don’t know. Sometimes Emma just makes me talk to people for the sake of it.”

“Oh,” Ted said in reply, being incredibly witty to this gorgeous man he had just kinda-but-not-really met. “Yeah, I…”

“I’m sorry if I’m being a pain. I’m Henry Hidgens, by the way.”

Ted shook his hand. “I’m Ted. Nice to meet you. Sorry for…y’know, staring at you in the coffee shop.”

“Oh! That’s fine. You looked a little zoned out. I guess that’s why you were at a coffee shop at 8am, huh?”

“Yeah,” Ted said vaguely, holding his cup in one hand and fishing in his coat pocket with the other. “Emma was kinda right. Here.” He handed his business card over to Henry, who took it with a confused expression.

“Sorry. Gotta go,” Ted said, lying through his teeth. “But give me a ring if you’re interested?”

“Yeah, okay. Will do.”

And just like that, Ted concluded most awkward conversation he’d had in years by just walking away, leaving Henry frowning at the card, perplexed.

Chapter Text

“Just because he gave me his card doesn’t mean he wants me as a model! Fuck, he probably needs a new assistant or something.”

“Maybe.”

“I’m not model material. Maybe he just wanted to make me go away. Maybe he didn’t want to talk to me at all.”

“Maybe.”

“Emma, you’re not being helpful here!”

Emma looked up from her laptop, hands poised over the keys and one eyebrow raised. “In the last half an hour that you spent rambling about this ‘hot new guy’ you met who handed you his business card and walked away like some sort of fucking NPC, I messaged said ‘hot new guy’, who, may I remind you, happens to be one of my friends, and asked if, perchance, he was looking for new models.”

“Stop talking like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like you’re a detective in the early 1900s.”

Emma raised her eyebrow again and stared levelly at Henry, who was leaning against the doorway of their shared living room.

“What?” he asked.

“Well? Don’t you want to know?”

“Kinda,” he muttered.

“Ted says: ‘Yes, I am. If you’re asking for Henry then tell him to just ring me, I’m not gonna bite.’”

Henry sighed, then drew the card from his pocket, fiddling with it, folding and unfolding the edges.

“You’ve gotta get a job anyway to support yourself through study, you know that,” Emma reminded him.

“Yeah, I know, I just… it’s really not my thing.”

“Well then, ring him and tell him that. Really, Hen, it’s not so hard.”

Henry snorted, tucked the card into his hand and headed back to his room, grabbing his phone from the top of the bookshelf as he passed. He sat on the edge of his bed, tapping his foot nervously. He punched in the number from the card carefully, checking and rechecking each digit. He took a couple deep breaths before pressing the call button and sat in the otherwise silence of the room, listening to the quiet ring of his phone. Finally, he heard Ted’s voice on the other side.

“Hello?”

“Hey, it’s Henry, y’know from the other day in the park?”

“Oh! Henry! Nice to hear from you! Did you make a decision?”

“Yeah, uh, I… Sorry, I just don’t think it’s my thing. I’m not the modelling type. Legs too long and all that.” He laughed and internally winced at how nervous he sounded.

“Dude, if you’re saying that because it makes you uncomfortable then that’s alright, but if it’s just because you’re doubting yourself, come give it a try. I’m free tomorrow, so I could show you round the office, give you a rundown of what we do…?”

Henry’s heartbeat switched from a slow thud to a patter. He really thinks that I’m worth the effort? Maybe he - no. This is my potential future boss. I'm not going to fuck this up.

“I…”

“You can say no,” Ted said. “It’s alright, I understand.”

Henry tossed the idea back and forth for a few seconds, before breaking the mutual silence.

“No, if it’s alright with you, I’d like to come give it a go. I’ve got to get a job sometime since I’m studying part-time anyway, so I might as well exhaust all my options.”

“Hell yeah! Oop, sorry.” Henry heard Ted’s laugh through his phone, tinny and flat, and wondered what it would be like to hear him laugh in person. Oh God, why is that important to me?

Struggling to keep a neutral friendly tone, he said; “Nah, it’s all good. So, tomorrow?”

“Yeah! How does meeting at Beanie’s suit you? 9am?”

“9 sounds good. I’ll see you then.”

“See you!”

Henry pressed the end call button before another word could escape his mouth and flopped backwards onto his bed, letting his phone fall onto his chest.

Ah, fuck.

Chapter Text

Ted rushed around his office, sweeping piles of paper off his desk into the trash can, dusting various disgustingly dusty surfaces and as a last resort, spraying a shit-ton of air freshener around the room, hoping to get rid of the blatantly obvious musty smell that proved that the windows hadn’t been opened in a long while. When that was done, the Ted Hurricane moved downstairs, moving pot plants in front of the most obvious shitty paint cover-ups, nagging Charlotte to tidy up her desk, considering even polishing the stair handrail before coming back to his senses.... A little.

“He’s coming!” he reminded Charlotte for the seventh time, launching a scrunched up paper towel over the front desk and into the trash.

“I know, Ted. I’m doing what I can. And shouldn’t you be going?”

Ted flicked his wrist over to look at his watch. “Shit, yes. I’ll be back soon.”

As Ted all but ran out of the building, Charlotte called out; “Have a good time!”

 

Five minutes later, although it seemed like an eternity, Ted found himself once again at the door of Beanie’s. It wasn’t as cold today, so he shouldn’t have been in such a rush to get in, but he had to stop himself from almost throwing the door open in his haste. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Emma taking her apron off and heading for him, no doubt beginning her break, but he was too busy scanning the room for a certain pair of long legs.

“He’s not here yet.”

Emma was suddenly very close, which told Ted he’d spent far too much time scanning the corners of the room. Still, he decided to play dumb.

“Who’s not here?”

Emma sighed and took her phone out of her pocket. “He says: ‘If Ted shows up early, tell him I’m gonna be a little late. The traffic’s nuts.’ Give me your phone, I’m giving you his number so you both can stop using me as the messenger.”

Ted spluttered. “What? I don’t, we don’t-”

Just then, the door behind him opened, triggering the bell and sending a jingle through the mostly empty coffee shop. He twisted his head enough to catch a glimpse, then turned back to Emma. It wasn’t him.

“I told you,” she said without looking up from Ted’s phone, “He’s going to be late.”

“I know.”

“Then stop acting like you’re a puppy and he’s your owner.”

“Emma, I don’t-”

The bell jingled again and this time he heard him before he even had to turn around.

“Hey, sorry I’m late.”

Emma gave Ted’s phone back and held out her hand wordlessly to Henry.

“What?” he asked, looking a little confused, to say the least.

“Your phone.”

“Why?”

“I gave Ted your number, and now I’m giving you Ted’s. I would’ve thought that you’d have done that already, but it seems like I’m having to be the mom friend again and that I have to organise your lives for you.”

Henry muttered something under his breath but still handed it over. Wanting to avoid awkward small talk, Ted said: “I’ll go order. Henry, you want anything?”, feeling slightly disappointed when Henry shook his head.

He quickly ordered his regular then waited to the left of the counter for it to be made as usual, keeping his head down and seeming to focus on his phone, but actually watching Henry and Emma out of the corner of his eye. Henry appeared to be a little agitated, perhaps just nerves - he seemed to be a nervous man. Emma was the complete opposite - cool, calm and collected, speaking to Henry levelly. She seemed to have a huge affect on him - by the time Ted’s coffee was done and he was walking back over to them, his shoulders were significantly more relaxed than they had been before, and there was almost a smile on his face.

He nodded a quick goodbye to Emma, who was heading back to the counter to get herself something for lunch, then turned to Henry. “Shall we?” he said, gesturing to the door. Henry nodded and opened the door for him, carefully letting it swing shut behind them.

The first minute on the walk back to the office was silent, the tension in the air reminding Ted of the few times in school where the teacher would ask him to work with a likewise lonely kid for a project and apart from the necessary, they never spoke to each other. By the time Ted judged the second minute had gone by, the silence was beginning to get to him and he spoke up.

“I’m guessing you’ve never done modelling work before?”

Henry snorted. “Yeah, no. I’ve never even thought of it, honestly. I thought it was a prank when you handed the card to me, still kinda do.”

“Oh, no, no. I’ve been looking for some fresh faces for a while,” he replied, thinking: That’s an understatement. “You’re everything I was looking for, and Emma knew that. I didn’t want to disturb you in Beanie’s, you looked like you’d rather not be interrupted.” AKA I’m a coward and hate talking to pretty guys in case I trip up.

“Oh,” Henry replied. “Well, I guess that makes sense. But if you don’t mind me asking, how am I everything you were looking for? I’m just your average Joe.”

Oh shit, here we go, Ted thought. "I’m down on taller guy models at the moment, which I never thought would happen, but there you are. I’m also sick of the ridiculously buff type, aren’t you? You go out to get new clothes and every section, especially the underwear, is filled with pictures of buff dudes who can barely fit in their clothing.”

Henry laughed. “I’m definitely not buff, so I guess you’re in luck.”

Ted laughed too, then suddenly became aware of how dry his throat was. He hurriedly took a sip of his coffee, trying not to catch a glimpse of the gorgeous man beside him as he continued. “I think it’s time we change the standards on that sort of thing, with women too, obviously. You’re a good start. And besides from not being ridiculously buff, you’ve got a good frame on you. Don’t look as if the wind would blow you over, but like I said, not buff, either. You’re a regular guy, but in a good way, y’know? The sort of guy that I guess you could define as Most Likely to Fit Into a Woman’s Type, or Guy’s Type, I guess, depends on preference.” He took another sip of coffee so he’d shut up, hoping that he already hadn’t said too much. He snuck a glance at Henry and found the back of his neck to be flushed a little as he hung his head lower than normal, but said nothing.

“Would it sound pathetic if I said that’s one of the nicest things anyone's ever said to me?” He heard Henry say quietly, before he rushed to follow up with: “I mean, obviously, you’re saying that from a professional standpoint but… I’ll take it as a compliment.”

“I mean, that’s good. I don’t think you have enough confidence in yourself, if you don’t mind me saying, and you need a little of that in this sort of job, if you should choose to take it up.” He slowed down and stopped in front of the reception door. “Anyway, this is it!”

The outside of his business had always looked like shit, if he was being honest, but now that he stood there with Henry by his side, it seemed even worse. It was four storeys, wedged so tightly in between two other far more glamorously designed buildings that the walls touched. The windows were a little grimy - shit, I should’ve cleaned them! - and the text that used to spell out L&P Modelling was so faded that only the contrast between the opacity of the letters and the translucence of the window made it readable. The paint on the wooden edges of the glass door was peeling, revealing the borderline-nasty wood underneath.

All in all, it was not a building to be proud of, but Ted knew now with certainty that he’d try to remedy that.

He gestured to the door and followed Henry through.

Chapter Text

A buzzer went off when Henry stepped on the doormat and he heard a voice call out “Hold on! I’ll be there in a sec!” before a woman in a large, obviously much-loved patched sweater run around the corner, spray bottle in hand. “Oh!” she said. “You must be Henry!”

She thrust the hand holding the bottle out to shake hands, then realised her mistake and swapped the bottle over to her other hand. Henry graciously took her hand and engaged in small talk (“Ted’s been telling me about you, I’m really excited to see some new faces around here, say, how old are you? You look like you’re just out of college, my nephew’s at college, you might know him…”) for what felt like forever but was really only a minute. Luckily, Ted interrupted with: “Okay, thanks Char, but I’m really on a time crunch, gotta go!” and headed up the stairs, leaving Henry to mutter a hurried goodbye before rushing to catch up with him.

When they were out of earshot, Ted said: “That’s Charlotte, my receptionist slash secretary. If you do choose to work here, then she’ll be constantly offering you coffee, so just keep that in mind.”

Henry chuckled. “I mean, I wouldn’t mind.”

“Be careful what you wish for,” Ted said as he climbed the last step. “This is the floor we use the most.” He headed straight for a set of double doors right opposite the stairs and gently swung one open, the hinges creaking slightly as he did so. “This is our main studio. Empty at the moment, so once I’ve finished showing you around we could come back here and teach you some basics.”

Henry took a quick glance around the room, noting a wall of mirrors at one end and jumbled piles of camera and lighting equipment at the other. There was a desk built into the wall near the mirrors, another mirror on the wall above it, various make-up implements scattered on the surface of the desk.

“Moving on,” Ted said, pulling back from the doorway and shutting the door carefully behind Henry, who was trying to ignore how close together they’d just been and wondering whether it had been intentional on Ted’s part.

On the third floor, Ted gestured vaguely to either side of the stairway. “Storage rooms. Nothing exciting. This, however,” he said, quickly crossing the space in front of them to a blank door, “is where I spend most of my waking hours, and if I’m being honest, some of my sleeping ones.” He opened the door, revealing a moderately cluttered office space, the desk facing the door, a large bookcase on the wall behind it - essentially, your typical office from any American movie. Although it was clear there had been a conscious effort to clean the space, paper still covered the majority of every surface, the trash can was full to the brim and several books were sitting seemingly wherever, their regular spots on the bookshelf glaring emptily like missing teeth.

Ted shut the door again. “And then there’s the styling room next door. Not very well placed, but this building is annoyingly symmetrical and there was nowhere else to put it. Floor four is mainly just storage nowadays, so I won’t bother to bore you.”

Henry, who happened to be one of those types who loved to see around any building, no matter how boring, shrugged and followed Ted back downstairs.

 

“Right. Let’s get you on the ‘catwalk’,” Ted said, making air quotes with his fingers as he walked into the studio, “and see what you can do.”

Henry snorted. “Nothing, most likely.”

“That’s alright!” Ted said enthusiastically. “That’s what I’m here for!”

Ted switched the lights on and the ‘stage’ lit up. With the lights on, it looked almost like a real functioning catwalk instead of a dusty block of wood, the white backdrop behind reflecting a little of the light around the room, creating an almost-halo over the whole set. He stood back a bit and gestured for Henry to step forward, which he did, cautiously.
“Alright. Let’s start at the start, hey?”

“Let’s start at the very beginning,” Henry sang quietly, out of habit, as Ted helped him out of his coat and motioned to a spot for him to stand on. “A very good place to start.”

Ted laughed and Henry looked up sharply, realising where he was. “Sorry. When things remind me of songs I just… sing them.”

“No, no, it’s fine. You’ve got a good voice. I’d pay to hear you.”

Henry blushed a little and smiled. “Originally I was going to do singing once I left high school, but I realised it wouldn’t work a couple months before graduation.”

“I don’t see why not.”

Henry shrugged, feeling the blush creeping down from his cheeks to cover his neck as well. “Anyway, I’m here now. You were saying?”

“The beginning. Right. What we want is confidence.”

Henry snorted again. “Well, I don’t have any of that.”

Ted smiled patiently. “We’ll build it up, bit by bit. Don’t worry, this’ll be like second nature soon enough.” Henry noticed that Ted said it will be, not might be. He expected him to take the job, then. To be honest, he did expect himself to take it, but he wasn’t expecting Ted to expect him to, if that made sense.

“Let’s start with posture. Have you ever seen a confident man with his shoulders hunched around his neck? No. Relax, imagine you’re being measured at the doctor’s or something. Stand up as straight as you can- okay no, not that straight.” Ted moved from his observatory spot and came to stand beside Henry, placing his hands on his shoulders and back. “That’s unnaturally straight. Let’s try again.” He tried to keep his breathing under control and failed, but fortunately, Ted didn’t seem to notice.

Henry straightened his spine and felt Ted’s hands guide him into a more natural standing position. “That’s it,” he heard Ted said from close behind him. “Now try keep it.”

 

Time passed quickly, and before he knew it, Henry was seeing the rays of the sunset creep through the window on the other side of the studio. Ted wasn’t anywhere close to finished though, so he said nothing and continued with the increasingly strange practices Ted was instructing him through. A few minutes later, he saw Ted flick his wrist over to look at the time and do a double-take.

“Has it really been that long? Sheesh, you should be going home. I should be going home.”

Henry chuckled. “You seemed in the swing of things and I didn’t knock you off track.”

“Nah, nah, that’s alright,” Ted said, picking his coat back up from the ground where he’d slung it after he’d overheated from standing so close to the lights, tossing Henry’s to him. “We can pick up where we left off on- When are you free?”

“Uh, Friday, probably.”

“What’s today?”

“Wednesday.”

“Right. Yeah, I’m free then,” Ted said switching off the lights. Henry blinked at the sudden transition, afterimages blocking his vision.

“Cool,” he said.

Ted nodded awkwardly. “Cool. I’ll, uh, show you out.”

They headed down the stairs, finding the lights still on and Charlotte sat at her desk.

“I didn’t think you were still here,” Ted said. “You can go, y’know.”

“Oh, I know,” Charlotte said, standing up and gathering her pile of coffee cups she’d collected over the course of the day to wash. “I was just waiting for you to finish. It would be a little sad to come down here in the dark.”

Ted chuckled. “Alright. Don’t worry about those cups, we can clean them tomorrow.”

“Are you sure? It wouldn’t take long.”

“Nah, it’s keeping you away from your husband and cats. Worry about it tomorrow.”

“Alright, I’ll just give them a quick rinse then, sort them out tomorrow.”

Ted turned to Henry and fondly rolled his eyes. “She’s lovely,” he whispered, “But she worries too much.”

Henry smiled. “I can see that.”

Finally, Charlotte had her bag on her shoulder and coat in her arms and was ready to go. She gave Ted a quick, one-armed hug, then wished him a good evening and left, the door shutting softly after her.

Ted made a ‘stay-there’ motion at Henry, then went out the back of the receptionist’s desk, to lock something up, Henry assumed. Sure enough, he came out again moments later, keys in his hand.

“Let’s go,” Ted said, heading towards the door.

Once the door was firmly locked behind them, Henry turned to Ted.

“Well, thanks for the… tutoring, I guess. It was a lot of fun.”

“Not a problem,” Ted said, smiling. “I’ll see you Friday?”

“Will do,” Henry said, awkwardly walking away, backwards. He swung a sort of two-fingered salute at Ted, which Ted returned. Of course Ted makes it look natural, he thought to himself as he turned back around, heading to his car parked in the Beanie’s carpark.

It was only halfway back to the apartment he shared with Emma that he realised that he’d never even confirmed he wanted the job.