3rd Place – December 2020 (Tie)

Face the Fears, Lose the Tears

by Rox Burkey and Charles Breakfield

Lara was frantic after 20 minutes of searching. The dense coastal foliage was packed with flowering plants, towering trees, and streams headed toward the ocean. Lara located the sobbing Jo on a ledge overlooking the rushing stream in the canyon below. Sounds from the transient waters muffled Lara’s approach. Jo was in a tight fetal position, obviously hiding from the unseen aerial predator. Lara gently pulled Jo into her arms to calm her.
When the crying slowed, Lara said, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t think how you might react to the new drone, Clarence. In addition to traditional static tripods, this aerial camera is ideal for capturing fascinating poses from models like you.
“Jo, take a breath, calm down, and listen. Clarence isn’t like the refugee camp’s drone guards that you escaped. These are the newest tools of the trade. Please don’t let that horrific time in your life dictate your reactions anymore. Carlos and I adopted you so you wouldn’t have to face that again. We’ll protect you. I promise.”
Jo’s face was ashen. She shuddered, regaining her composure. Her small voice asked, “What do I tell them? Miguel didn’t know that the aerial camera would trigger those horrible memories of unsleeping drones always circling the refugee camp.
“All the models and crew watched me run screaming and panicked. Aunt Lara, what do I do?”
Lara paused in thought. “I’m not in favor of lying to them. However, I refuse to tell them anything about your old identity. The secret police can no longer accuse you of being Jovanna because you are really JoAnn Wagner. Besides, if this Destiny Fashions campaign is successful, then JoW will become a top model.
“Jovanna doesn’t exist anymore. Your safety depends on keeping it that way.”
Troubled, Jo absentmindedly rubbed the scar on her hand while contemplating the needed explanation.
 Lara smiled suddenly, then suggested, “You recall that your new identity came with a troubled past in which your parents also died.”
Jo’s eyes quickly filled with tears, but she nodded.
“Okay, this is how the cover story goes. After the earthquake, we took you back for closure on your family in Puerto Rico. The building rubble was so dense and putrid that Search and Rescue used big drones specially programmed for the task. These were specially equipped with darts on spools of wire designed to target places in the wreckage. Once they located a likely pile, they darted and hooked it, and then pulled it back so rescuers could probe further.
“You were there trying to help move debris when a drone darted your hand by mistake. It was made even more miserable by then seeing the remains of your parents. You still have nightmares of that time. Seeing the drone brought the pain back in a rush today, so you ran.”
Calming her sobs, Jo slowly collected herself and asked, “Can you help me sell this, Aunt Lara? They can’t know the reason I am terrified of the drones. I don’t want anyone to know I dug the cyber tracking chip out of my hand with my dead father’s knife. If the secret gets out, we’ll all be at risk. I don’t want that to happen.”
“Jo, I could, but it would be better if you did it in your own words. I will confirm if needed. After all, we have taught you to act and be a model. This can’t be any different.
“If you explain humbly and sincerely, no one will bring it up again. Ask for the entire crew’s forgiveness. Then ask that no one share the story outside of Destiny Fashions.”
Lara studied her protégé model. The full raven-colored mane overflowed her shoulders and framed her balanced facial features. It was shorter than when she first came to live with them but looked thicker with a slight natural wave. Lara smiled as she noted Jo’s bright brown skin tone that emphasized her shiny dark eyes. Her stunning looks and shy manners made her the perfect teen representative for the company.
With resolve in place, Jo stood and brushed off, realizing the outfit needed help. “I’m ready to apologize, Aunt Lara. I want this photoshoot work, so I’m going back to work. I won’t let you down again. No more screaming in terror and running. I promise.
“You and Uncle Carlos are now the parents I lost. I’ll never forget how much I owe you both. I’m a fighter for the things I believe in. I believe in you and this chance with Destiny Fashions. I’m willing to do my best.”
Lara smiled and said, “For the record, I’m proud you’re facing this issue.” Looking at Jo, Lara added, “We need a new outfit for the next round of photos, however.” Lara placed a reassuring hand on Jo’s waist as they walked back to the shoot.
The emotions were visible at the meeting Jo requested. The entire crew, models, and even Carlos were a little misty-eyed at the young woman’s revelation. After the telling, Jo then begged to meet Clarence, the aerial drone, to learn to control her fear. Miguel teared up and reluctantly gave in so Jo could make the transition. Hiding her fears, Jo made it through the steps with an inspection like a child with a toy. She smiled at Miguel as she returned Clarence.
Lara, always the consummate businesswoman, clearly saw the morning was ruined for any more photos. Returning to work would be pointless without a reset. She motioned for everyone to gather around. “I hope everyone can reset after today’s emotional roller-coaster ride. Rather than me ordering everyone back to work, I’m thinking of ordering a modest amount of high-calorie comfort food. We’ll binge until later this afternoon. Any objections?” Not hearing a peep, she added, “Good, I thought not.”
The crew and models all returned to the photoshoot sets that afternoon. Miguel encouraged Jo with each of her shots, but fear kept her rigid with a fake smile. Lara and Carlos tried placating, then cheering in turn. Rita, her mentor, growing frustrated, finally signaled a pause and hustled the near-to-tears Jo to the empty rest area.
“Jo, you need to lighten up. Enjoy this, or the camera won’t love you.”
Jo hung her head in despair. “I’m so afraid of failing. I behaved foolishly this morning, and now…what do I do?”
“Don’t you dare cry, Jo! It’ll ruin your makeup. Hand me your phone.”
Jo reluctantly turned it over. Rita thumbed through the pictures and then stopped. Turning the phone and showing a photo of a handsome young man, she asked, “Is this the guy you want to be proud of you?”
Jo nodded even as she blinked back tears and grinned at JJ’s smile.
Rita chuckled. “There, that’s the look we want. You need to think about this guy while they’re shooting. Put him into your mind and be that wonderful playful teen I see at the house. I’ll palm this phone with the photo close in case you falter. Now, let’s have fun so you can tell him later! Smile and failure can’t get to you.”
Jo stood with a grin and strode back to her spot. With JJ in her mind, her moves were fluid and confident with the fresh face of a young Brazilian woman on the verge of success. The difference was startling, and the cameraman took shot after shot. Simple directions from Lara occurred. Rita and Jo did a couple of photos together that pleased Lara. She looked at the viewer and smiled.
“Miguel, I do believe I was right. These two are perfect together. And Rita fixed our earlier problem? Wow! Let’s get them changed to try a couple of the other backgrounds.”
Miguel nodded and grinned in approval.
As the sun started to sink, the girls returned to the hotel for a small meal and relaxation on the exterior porch. Like a sweet hug, the scents of fresh flowers gently surrounded each table. Music wafted in from the boats on the dock. Jo was congratulated by all as a few of the photos were shared.
It was clear Lara had found a vibrant face for Destiny Fashions. Jo could finally leave Jovanna’s horrific memories locked away where they would cause no more tears.

Writers’ workshop and writing group