Los Angeles, April 2016
“C’mon in,” Gus Rubin gestured.
Cassie and Sara Madewell, perfect twins, threaded their way around the impressive clutter that was Rubin’s office. Somehow, past the towers of document boxes and mismatched filing cabinets, the girls found the two chairs before their agent’s desk.
Rubin paused, taking a precious moment to admire the beauty of his two favorite clients. At nineteen years old, both twins were absolutely breathtaking. Cassie and Sara each had soft cheekbones, perfect skin, and luscious red lips, capped with immaculately painted lipstick. Curly, platinum blonde hair lazily tumbled down their head and necks. But what made the girls truly exceptional beauties were their cute little noses and big, brown, doe-like eyes.
Even in their unassuming tees and designer jeans, it was obvious to all that Cassie and Sara had gorgeous, curvy bodies. Cassie was the yoga fanatic, while Sara preferred biking and swimming. Although they exercised separately, both women were shaped with flat stomachs, graceful shoulders, and long, toned legs. Their genes had blessed them with ample breasts and well-shaped hips. Men always stared when they passed.
“Ahem,” Rubin coughed, forcing himself to business. Cassie and Sara watched him, expectantly.
“So,” the heavyset agent said in lieu of greetings, “you two need to make yourselves available on April sixteenth. All day.”
Cassie’s lips pursed as she yanked out her phone and began scrolling.
At the same time, Sara frowned. “Listen, Gus,” she said. “That shoot with… who’s the pool company guy again? You’ve got to get us out of it.”
Rubin scowled, running a hand over his protruding gut. “Why?” he demanded.
“That guy sucks,” Sara said scornfully. “He always puts me in the butt-floss bikinis and then I have to bend over for him, like, all the time. He’s taking pictures of my ass just so he can whack off later. I hate him.”
The agent spread his hands. “Sara, honey, you know the contract. You owe him two more shoots. And he picks the outfits and poses.”
“He’s a perv,” Sara accused.
Yeah? Rubin thought wearily, reaching for an aspirin. Welcome to the industry, kid.
Cassie and Sara, still technically teenagers, had only been modeling since December. The girls were still so new to The Business, and it seemed that Rubin had to patiently reset their expectations every few weeks or so. Sara, in particular, saw modeling as glamorous and resented the hard work. She had no idea how brutal her chosen profession could be on the innocent.
Has it only been since December? Rubin wondered. He’d stumbled on the twins by pure accident. They were working as ring girls in an amateur boxing match. Rubin hadn’t thought much of the boxers, but he couldn’t take his eyes off those voluptuous twin bodies. He’d signed them both that very night.
“Hey,” Cassie said sharply, studying her phone. “April sixteenth? Gus, we told you; we’re unavailable that whole week. Family stuff. Pass.”
“Girls,” the agent moaned in exasperation. “You don’t understand. You don’t recognize that date?”
Cassie and Sara stared back blankly.
“Oh my God,” rumbled Rubin. “Girls, April sixteenth is this year’s LAMTE. The LA Modelling Talent Expo? You have heard of it… right?!?”
Both twins straightened in their chairs. LAMTE? Oh yes, they’d heard of LAMTE. Once a year, the fashion and entertainment worlds convened at the LA Convention Center to hobnob and shop for fresh modeling talent. The top agencies would hunt for the most beautiful faces. Scouts working for the biggest designers would be there, hoping to nab the most exclusive young things for their shows. Vogue, Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, GQ, and their brethren would be there too, recruiting in force.
Oh, LAMTE was where a woman went in an unknown and emerged as the hottest, rawest new star. Doutzen Kroes, Adriana Lima, Behati Prinsloo, Lily Aldridge, Candice Swanepoel, Josephine Skriver, Natalia Vodianova, Nina Agdal, Martha Hunt… they’d all conquered at LAMTE, and look where they were now! Yes, even Cassie and Sara knew of LAMTE. For professional models, it was the epicenter of the future.
“You got us into LAMTE?” squeaked Sara, her previous griping now completely forgotten.
Rubin leaned back in his creaky chair, enjoying the suspense. Cassie and Sara stared at him, their eyes wide and shining.
Rubin couldn’t hold in his smile. “Yeah,” he laughed aloud. “Yeah, I did.”
“Whaaaaaaaaaaaa?” Cassie exclaimed, almost dropping her phone.
Sara let out a squeal which must have been heard three blocks away. She sprang from her chair, hurrying to give her agent a hug.
“Okay, okay,” grinned Rubin. “Okay! Listen, I still gotta talk to you girls about—“
“LAMTE!” Sara gushed, stars in her eyes.
Her sister was absently patting her blonde hair. “Oh my God..! I’ll have to book the salon by the fifteenth, no later.”
“Cass,” beamed Sara, “can you see me—“
“Girls,” the agent said firmly. “This news, it ain’t all wine and roses.”
His tone was sobering. Her smile frozen, Sara sat back down. The twins were now hanging on his every word.
“Here’s how it works,” tutored Rubin. “I got you girls two general passes. That gets you in the door at LAMTE and means you can audition for any show or production with an open call. You can also meet with talent scouts, but do not sign anything. Just collect business cards and pass out your headshots for now.”
“Got it, boss,” Cassie nodded.
“Another thing,” said Rubin. “I actually got three passes. I want you to take Angie Flannigan with you.”
Cassie nodded again. She knew Angie. Bubbly and fun-loving chick. Angie was one of Rubin’s better clients.
“LAMTE! Oh my God,” gasped Sara, possibly hyperventilating. “Do you think—“
“Girls,” intoned Rubin, leaning forward. His brow wrinkled. “You’re not getting me.”
“LAMTE,” he warned, “is the big leagues. I’m talking worldwide. The models who land contracts there, those girls see their faces sent all around the world. Make it at LAMTE, and you’re golden for the rest of your career.
“But you guys should know what you’re up against. The other models there, they come from Paris, Milan, New York, Argentina. They’ve been doing global campaigns since they were twelve years old. They not only have agents, they have managers, personal stylists, look consultants, make-up pros, the works. The competition will be fierce.”
Cassie and Sara’s smiles began to melt.
“Now,” continued Rubin. “I still have a number of jobs lined up for you guys. You know the clients we’ve been getting so far: Heinz Ketchup. Lake Eire Tourism Bureau. Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Good gigs, but little one-off contracts. Small potatoes.”
“But at LAMTE,” Cassie said, “we’d be competing for the global stage.”
The agent nodded. “In this business,” he said heavily, “you gotta make it big early on. Or else…” He spread his hands. “…you get eclipsed in a few years by a younger, prettier, and cheaper face.”
He tilted his head forward. “You girls hear what I’m sayin’?”
The Los Angeles Convention Center was surrounded by the fashion media world. An army of photographers, cameramen, paparazzi, reporters, and professional gossip-seekers thronged the entrances, determined to spot the crowned heads of the fashion world. Every year at LAMTE, this ritual became more out-of-control.
Rubin had advised an early start to avoid the media frenzy. But because Sara couldn’t do anything without being late, the twins and Angie Flannigan arrived right at the height of the madness. The three girls clutched their passes and headshots, wondering if they would have to dash into the convention center at top speed.
“Jesus,” Cassie mumbled, in awe of the pandemonium.
But aside from men ogling the three young women, Cassie, Sara, and Angie were able to slip past the cordons and reach Gate Security. Twenty minutes later, they were on the general floor of the expo.
Cassie felt a rush of triumph. Spread before them, the glory that was LAMTE was in full swing. There were giant booths for IMG, Next Model Management, Muse, The Society, Wilhelmina, Elite, and Ford Models. Great crowds of hopeful young women were laying siege to these titans of the industry. There were also tables for Fendi, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Balenciaga, Givenchy, Versace, Prada, and many more. In the back of the room, a raised stage with a runway was displaying a steady train of models, flaunting next season’s fashions. And for once, no-one was paying any attention to them.
All around her, Cassie heard the chatter of barely-contained excitement. Beautiful young women bustled about, pointing and speaking in every language imaginable. Over it all, the throb of club music could be heard, although at LAMTE, the volume was mercifully turned down. The cacophony was impressive.
“Wow,” was all that Sara could manage.
“Holy shit, you guys!” exclaimed Angie, bouncing on her toes. “We’re actually here!”
Cassie paused to grin at Gus Rubin’s other client. Tall, curvy, with curly red hair and actual freckles dotting her cheeks, Angie could pass as a sexy Little Orphan Annie. Rubin had once remarked that Angie mowed up bookings that called for that teenager-next-door look. Cassie didn’t know Angie that well, but she liked the redhead for her spunk and her smile.
“I know, right?” Cassie agreed. She fingered the stack of headshots in her hands. “Okay guys… where do we begin?”
The girls couldn’t get near IMG or The Society. Shortly after queuing up for Wilhelmina, an executive for that agency announced that they weren’t taking any more bookings for the year. And Elite flatly said they were looking for “European looks,” which somehow automatically ruled out Angie and the twins.
When the girls did secure interviews, the experiences were brief and withering. At the Next Model booth, thin-nosed woman glanced at Cassie’s credits in under a second. “Only thirty-five thousand Instagram followers?” she said contemptuously in a thick Polish accent. “Not what we are looking for. Next, please!”
Elite and Ford were equally dismissive. (“Heinz Ketchup?” Cassie heard Ford’s casting agent sneer to his colleague the moment Cassie was dismissed. “Why would I book a girl who posed with Heinz Ketchup? What are we, a hot dog stand?”) The rejections were soul-crushing.
By three o’clock, Cassie was feeling defeated. No agency had given her more than a precursory glance. Not one of them had looked at her portfolio. Most of her glossy headshots were not accepted.
Sara and Angie were faring little better. At noon, the three young women agreed to split up, if only to visit more agencies in the short time they had. When the three young women met up at the cocktail bar later, Cassie was almost relieved to see that the other two had had no more success than she had.
The bar was an open space, with long, upholstered benches stretching in a great semicircle and standing tables dotting the floor inside. Models congregated here, checking their phones and practicing the art of looking disinterested.
Cassie, Sara, and Angie claimed a small table and stood facing the busy expo. Cassie wanted hard liquor and ordered a gin and tonic from the wandering garçon. Her feet hurt.
The blonde twin grimaced, sensing a headache forming. There was perhaps another three hours before LAMTE started closing up shop. Three hours to land a contract, or else return to Gus Rubin empty-handed. She could already hear the agent’s voice: “Well, you know, Cassie… in another three years, you might not be so bankable. There’s always younger girls coming up.”
“Oh my God,” Angie wailed, not really talking to anyone in particular. “The people here, they won’t even look at me!”
Cassie scowled, pulling out her phone. She had terrible reception here… which she hoped wasn’t a metaphor.
“I mean,” Angie went on, “what do I have to do? Strip off my clothes and let them see my butt? I have a fifteen-oh BMI!” She grunted in disgust.
“Hey,” Sara said suddenly. “What are they doing over there?” She pointed across the expo floor.
Cassie was too weary to look. Without a word, she turned and limped to the nearby bench, gingerly sitting down next to a frighteningly skinny model with straight black hair and porcelain-colored skin. The model was absorbed in her phone.
“Hey, is that another show being set up?” Sara asked, surprise evident in her voice.
Cassie looked up. Sara and Angie stood with their backs to her, so it was easy to follow their stares across the expo floor. On the other side of the cavernous room, she could see workmen putting the final touches on a small stage. Black banners with the word “ENTRANCED” were hung high for all to see.
“Entranced?” Angie said, obviously bewildered. “What’s Entranced? Is that… a fragrance or something?”
“I’ll be right back,” Sara replied, and vanished into the crowd.
Angie cocked her head to one side, studying the faraway platform. There was a buzz growing in the hall, as more and more heads turned toward this stage.
“Hey, excuse me,” said Angie, turning to a willowy Asian model at the next table. “Have you heard of this ‘Entranced?’ Are they… are they a new industry mag?”
The Asian girl stared back coldly. “They’re the freeze-model house,” she replied, her tone icy. “You seriously haven’t heard of their Beverly Hills boutique?”
The porcelain-skinned model next to Cassie snorted in contempt. “Do you see this one?” she sneered under her breath to Cassie. A quick jerk of her head made it clear she was talking about Angie.
“What’s a… freeze model?” Angie asked.
The Asian contemptuously rolled her eyes and returned to her phone.
“Ugh,” scoffed the porcelain model, her Nordic accent strong. “This is why they shouldn’t let… how do you say… country simpletons into LAMTE.” She tossed her hair. “Every year, this expo, it gets more common,” she complained, flicking through her social media feeds.
Cassie glanced at her hostile companion. “You auditioned for Entranced?” she couldn’t help but asking.
Immediately the other model’s green eyes flicked up to glare at Cassie. “Audition for Entranced?” she echoed, appalled. “Are you ignorant? In three years, they will be the next Victoria’s Secret. Only high-end. I would forego three months’ salary to audition for them.”
“Right,” Cassie said quickly, but it was too late. The damage had been done.
The porcelain model lowered her phone, casting a probing and withering eye over Cassie. “You are a local girl?” she said, her voice curdling with displeasure. “Why are you here?” She sniffed, returning to her phone. “It is as I said, this expo had become far too common. Next year, they will allow beauty pageant winners in, no?”
Cassie was about to retort when Sara rushed up. “Hurry!” her twin cried, breathing heavily. “We’ve got to be at that Entranced booth in, like, a minute!”
“A minute?” repeated Cassie.
“You wanna audition for them, or what?” Sara demanded. “Move your ass, girl.”
The porcelain model’s jaw hung open. “You… you are auditioning for Entranced?” she exclaimed in pure disbelief.
“Must be a country simpleton thing,” Cassie said with fake regret, and then dashed after her sister.
The twins darted across the expo floor in record time, dodging and weaving through the crowd. They arrived at the Entranced booth huffing mightily.
“Okay,” Sara gasped, “listen… I’m not exactly sure what they want… but it sounds like their thing… is models standing totally still… in their underwear.”
As she spoke, Sara was undoing her belt and shimming out of her jeans. A fat convention employee working behind her stopped dead in his tracks, openly staring at her rear.
“Whoa,” Cassie said, alarmed. “We… we gotta stand in our…? I don’t get it.”
“I don’t get it either,” Sara admitted, pulling off her tee. She was in a white push-up. “But the one company I’ve heard people talk about… like, eighty times at this Expo… is Entranced.” She looked at her sister with a fierce stare. “You wanna get to the big leagues, or not?”
Cassie looked up on the stage. Standing there were four models. Two were auditionees, wearing common underwear; the other two were wearing full-body makeup and displaying the slinkiest lingerie Cassie had ever seen. She guessed the second two were Entranced girls, already under contract.
All four models were perfectly still. Well, not exactly. The first two were holding a rigid pose, but Cassie could see their eyes flick about, their arms tremble, their stomach flex as they breathed. But the two Entranced girls… they were absolutely petrified. Not even their eyes blinked. Cassie momentarily doubted they were living human beings.
“Yes, yes, thank you!” a woman’s dismissive voice rang out through a loudspeaker. Her Italian accent make her words almost sing.
The two auditionees’ shoulders drooped as the girls sensed defeat. “But—“ one of them appealed.
“Thank you,” intoned the Italian woman. “Sara and Cassie Madewell?”
“Jesus Christ, c’mon!” Sara hissed at her dumbstruck sister.
Cassie felt all eyes in the Expo fall on her. Her heart skipped.
But then she kicked off her shoes, yanked off her jeans, and whipped off her tee. In seconds, she was in bra and panties, leaping up the stage stairs after Sara.
“Very good,” the woman’s voice said, impatient. “Now… pose!”
Cassie threw a glance at the two Entranced models, standing not five feet away. Those girls still hadn’t budged a millimeter.
Freeze models, huh? Cassie thought. Oooooooookay, here goes…
The blonde straightened her back, drawing on ballet classes from long ago. She placed one foot before the other and draped her arms in first position. She picked a hanging speaker on the ceiling far above her, and locked her eyes upon it.
And then… Cassie willed her body to remain perfectly still.
Murmurs from the crowd drifted upward. “Not bad,” she heard a woman grudgingly compliment.
“She’s wearing last year’s JC Penny panties,” another woman snickered.
“But she has the ass to pull it off,” noted her companion. “That’s what Benedetta’s looking for.”
“Oh maaaan,” a young man sighed happily. “Those are the nicest titties, am I right?”
Cassie wished she’d set her jaw. Her eyes were starting to water, and her cramped feet were beginning to tingle. How long would she have to hold this pose? Was the point of this to see how long she could hold out?
She couldn’t see Sara. Cassie prayed her twin was managing better than she was.
Beyond the conversations of the expo-goers, Cassie could detect a conversation in Italian. The words were hushed, but betrayed urgency. Two women were arguing fiercely.
The speaker hovering in the center of Cassie’s vision blurred. Her arms were growing tired. The blonde let out a slow breath, hoping her stomach was remaining as flat as possible. What if-
“Very well, thank you. Ciao, darlings,” the loudspeaker announced, sounding disinterested.
Cassie heard Sara exhale, obviously coming out of her pose. She lowered her own arms.
As the twins climbed down the stairs, there was a smattering of applause from the onlookers. Cassie, suddenly aware of how naked she was, blushed openly.
“Wow,” she murmured to Sara as the twins were yanking on their clothes. “That was…”
“Mega-weird, right?” Sara agreed.
“Yeah.” Cassie poked her head through her tee, then tussled her hair. “Geez, how did you get the audition?”
Sara slipped into her jeans. “See that guy with the clipboard? I told him my sister and I were identical twins with perfect Double-D’s. And then I showed him.”
“Showed him… what?” Cassie asked warily.
“Oh…” said Sara, a little too innocently, “…you know.”
Cassie blushed again.
As she straightened her tee, Cassie’s eyes wandered back up to the stage. The Entranced girls were still up there, still locked in the same position. They hadn’t budged in the slightest.