The Art of Starting Over
“Shit, Simba!” The orange cat was looking at her innocently from the kitchen counter and purring against her belly, as Avery inspected the cream top she’d just put on. Great. Her sleeve was covered in coffee stains and her favorite mug lay shattered on the floor. Her cat gave her puppy-dog eyes, which was pretty ironic, considering.
“Don’t look at me like that. Look at what you did!” She grabbed the nearest napkin and started to dab the silk fabric. Well…that definitely made it worse. The stains spread in faint circles all around her arm, in an animal-style print, and her blouse was now wet.
“You, mister, are definitely going on the naughty list this year.” Avery waved her finger in front of Simba, who proceeded to sniff, then lick the tip, clearly missing her warning. Avery rolled her eyes. Nothing could distract him from a good scratch under the chin or the prospect of food.
Already late, she opened her closet in the hope of finding another top that said she had her shit together. She could not show up to her first meeting with a new client with coffee stains all over her, but above all, she couldn’t show up late.
She stripped down in a second and slipped on a burgundy cashmere sweater and a pair of dark jeans. Autumn was in full swing in Toronto, the air was cooler, and the leaves were painting a burning picture all over the city, ranging from warm yellows to fiery reds.
Gathering her photography portfolio, Avery hurried and tied her long brown hair in a (involuntary) messy bun while slipping on her boots. She was doing a maternity shoot with Claudia, a new client, and this meeting was supposed to set the tone for the rest of their time together.
“But you won’t make a good impression, if you don’t show up in time,” she mumbled to herself.
This contract was an opportunity for her to show how talented she was to a different kind of clientele, a wealthier set. It came with a huge paycheck, significantly more than the ones she was used to, which barely paid the bills. She needed to be focused, sharp and professional, as she always strived to be. One look in the mirror, and Avery confirmed she was ready to head out. She grabbed her keys and flew out of her apartment.
Kensington Avenue was a small street in her neighborhood, always very quiet in the mornings. Avery loved this side of Toronto, home to the famous Kensington Market, which made her salivate every time she passed alongside it, the smells of food from all over the world mingling together. The neighborhood was full of vintage shops and vibrant and colorful Victorian row-houses that looked like a kaleidoscope coming to life on the streets. It was loud, it was bright, it was alive.
She lived in a sky-blue house that her best friend Brooke had inherited from her parents, who’d gracefully agreed to let Avery stay there. After her awful breakup with Alex last year, not to mention the dreadful announcement her parents had delivered to her and her brother four months later, while she was still trying to make sense of her new reality, Avery had desperately needed a place to stay. Brooke offered her the small one-bedroom, as her parents were now living outside of the city. It wasn’t perfect; the house had been empty and not in great shape, but it had been exactly what she’d needed at the time. Plus, she had thought that there was something kind of poetic about living in a house in need of a little bit of love. She could have used some too.
When Avery arrived in front of her new client’s house, the knot in her stomach tightened. She couldn’t count the number of times she’d driven to this part of the city, but even now, she felt like an intruder.
Bridle Path, one of the most ostentatious suburbs in Toronto, was nestled between the Don River Valley and lush, endless parks. It was also the place of all her childhood memories. Everything Kensington was, Bridle Path was the polar opposite. Big mansions, pools, tennis courts––anything opulent and over the top, it was here. Avery had never felt like she’d belonged in this place, home to a never-ending series of cocktail parties and fundraisers her parents used to throw when she and her brother Miles were younger. There were always people in their house, always something going on, because after all, you couldn’t refuse an invitation from the great Dan Clark.
Her dad, you could say, had ‘made it.’ He was a world-renowned neurosurgeon for the Toronto General Hospital, famous for assembling brilliant research teams to work on Alzheimer’s disease, while her mom, Rebecca, had stayed at home with her and her brother.
Dan had never been a family man, although Avery suspected that wasn’t the picture he’d painted back when he and Rebecca had planned on starting a family.
Avery wasn’t the kind of person to complain, but the fact was, the absence of her dad during her childhood hurt her. He was there when it mattered, at least, most of the time. Birthdays, Christmas, big milestones. But he’d missed out on her and her brother growing up, and wasn’t that the most important part of all? He’d missed the time Miles fell off his bike on his first ride and scraped his knees and hands so bad Grandma had to take him to the ER. He’d missed out on the time Avery got home from school so upset after her first boyfriend dumped her in front of her friends, she didn’t come out of her room for three days.
Sure, Avery remembered that she’d never felt lonely at Christmas, and when she looked at birthday pictures, she could always find both her parents surrounding her, smiling like they were proud to be there. But when she thought about it, all it did was remind her that the rest of the time, her dad wasn’t there, and her mom, although physically present, was miles aways from her kids in the ways that mattered.
Avery knew her mom got tired of Dan’s late nights and last-minute detours to the lab on weekends. On some days, she could see it on her mother's face – the exhaustion, sadness, anger, resentment – but after several years, it just became her daily life. One day, the switch flipped, and she was no longer able to take care of her kids anymore, because she just couldn’t get out of her own bed. Avery’s grandma Susan would come then and take care of them, when her mom couldn’t, being there in the way nobody else had been. On other days, Rebecca would treat them to ice cream, or take them to see a movie, or just cook with them, and Avery held onto those memories as if they were the most precious thing she had.
And now, here she was, back in front of the memories of her childhood, looking at a million-dollar house as she took a deep breath and closed her eyes. You can do it. You need to do it. She just needed to ring the bell, do her work, and get the hell out of here.
“Good morning miss.” A small woman opened the door thirty seconds after Avery rang, a warm and welcoming smile on her face. “Can I help you with anything?”
“Hi, um, yes. I’m the photographer, I have an appointment with Claudia Monroe this morning?”
“Of course! Follow me.” Avery walked inside behind her, where massive stairs descended on each side of the grand hall. Everything was white and black, neat, and clean––nothing in here screamed ‘home’ or ‘warmth.’ Maria, the woman told her when Avery asked for her name, led Avery to the master bedroom, where her new client was buried under a huge pile of clothes.
“Madam, Miss Clark is here.”
“Is it already nine, Maria ?!” A strand of hair emerged from behind the clothes, revealing a woman who looked like she’d already run two marathon this morning. “I apologize, I was sure I still had time before our meeting.” She got up and a huge belly pointed right at Avery. “Nice to meet you. Please call me Claudia,” she said as she held out her hand. Avery shook it, bemused by the situation and half-relieved she was not dealing with another stuck-up rich person.
Claudia was beautiful. Tall, lean, and elegant from her raven-black hair to her fingertips. Her clothes fell in clean, straight lines, with the exception of her round belly tightly secured beneath her dress. She had to be at least eight months pregnant, closer to nine if Avery had to guess. Her whole look was very rigid and stern, and would intimidate most people, but not Avery. She knew it was just a façade as soon as she saw Claudia’s face light up when she smiled back at her.
“Nice to meet you too, Claudia, and please don’t worry,” Avery said, waving her hand. “I understand the struggle.” She looked at the dresses laid out on the floor. Not an inch of hardwood was visible, and despite her own bedroom being approximately a quarter of the size of Claudia’s, she had the same amount of clothes. She could relate.
“Let’s move to my office,” Claudia said as she walked out of the messy bedroom.
Avery nodded and followed her into the adjacent room. The contrast was shocking. The room was cozy and warm, full of throw pillows and blankets in calming pink, gold and white tones. In the middle of the room stood a white marble desk that probably cost more than her car. Claudia waved for Avery to sit down as she rounded the desk to sit in a glamorous rose-gold chair.
“So, let’s get down to business,” Claudia said, plopping her elbows on the desk. “My due date is coming up soon, as I’m sure you can see.” She hugged her belly gently. “Lisa told me great things about your work and everybody I know is booked solid for the next month, so I thought why not go with someone new?” A small smile curved her lips. Lisa was the boutique owner Avery worked with when she needed gowns and other accessories for her photoshoots.
“I’m so happy that Lisa gave you my number,” Avery said, returning her smile. Claudia seemed nice, level-headed and not too bossy. “Why don’t you tell me what you have in mind, and I’ll guide you through my process.”
They spent the next hour hammering out every detail of the photoshoot. Date, color palette, places, dress, mood, and style. They decided to set the date in two weeks, enough time for Avery to get the materials she needed, come up with a mood board and book a venue for the day. Claudia wanted to be photographed in a pumpkin field, as well as in her backyard for the more intimate shots. Nature was the central theme, and they agreed on a bohemian style for the dress that would go beautifully with the fall vibes. After finalizing the last few details, including pricing, Claudia walked Avery back to the door.
“I almost forgot to ask you!” She rolled her eyes. “This baby brain, I swear. Would you be available to do a second shoot on my due date? I’m planning on having my baby at home and I would love to have someone immortalize the moment. I mean, depending on whether I like your work, of course, and if you’re comfortable with that.”
This was an incredible opportunity. The maternity photoshoot was already paying way more than Avery usually charged her clients, and now, Claudia wanted to hire her for the birth? She would actually be able to save some money to invest in her business.
“I would love that, Claudia,” she said. “I’ll keep you updated on next steps.”
Waving goodbye, Avery hopped in her car, a big smile on her face. This could finally be what she’d been hoping for since starting her company straight out of college. Photography was her passion. She loved being able to connect with people, understand their desires, and let the emotions flow through the lens of her camera. She had the ability to see through people better than they could themselves, capture their essence and translate it into the photo, like time forever frozen in the moment.
This job was not just a job, it was who she was. Building her company from scratch had been a challenge, but one she’d willingly taken on. And even though it didn’t pay the bills yet, even though every day was a struggle, she just knew she would get there someday––giving up was not in her DNA. If you asked Brooke, she would probably say that Avery was by far the most stubborn person she’d ever met, and she would be damn right.