A struggling college student…
And a run-in with a wolf that brings several things into focus.
Broke, exhausted, and homeless, Cameron Drake’s only hope is to make it to tomorrow. At twenty-two, he’s a full-time college sophomore working third shift at a warehouse and only scraping by because he doesn’t pay rent. Living in his car isn’t the easiest, but he makes it work.
Cameron lives and breathes photography, and all he wants to do is graduate and wield a camera for a living. When Ezra Green, a world-renowned photographer, offers Cameron a paid internship, Cameron can’t believe his luck. Ezra is kind, and a fantastic mentor, and it’s altogether too easy for Cameron to develop a crush on the handsome older man. Even though Ezra seems to care for him in turn, Cameron shoves his feelings down in favor of working harder. For once in his life, he gets to have something good. He doesn’t want to mess it up.
Naturally, his good luck is interrupted by a freak wolf attack.
Injured and without anywhere else to go, Cameron would rather die than burden Ezra. Will Ezra be able to convince Cameron that he isn’t a burden at all?
Cameron stumbled into his nine am class, eyes bleary, clutching his thermos of coffee and desperately hoping the caffeine would help clear his head. He usually tried not to work his third-shift job at the warehouse on Sunday or Tuesday nights because Mondays and Wednesdays were his early morning days, but he hadn’t been able to pass up the shift.
He almost regretted it now, as he made his way towards a seat. Focus Photography 2045 was only offered from nine to noon, and it was a highly intensive class that basically everyone in his program fought to get into. It was an elective class, but it was a good one… and small. And only offered once a semester. If you didn’t get into the fall class and wanted a shot, you had to wait until winter. He’d been incredibly lucky to score a seat and had arranged practically his whole schedule around it. He wanted to make the most out of the class. Which meant being fucking conscious.
But with winter getting closer and closer and his old tires getting more and more bald, he’d really needed to earn a little extra cash to get them all replaced. The last thing he needed was to spin out and end up in a ditch and then need to pay for that. It wasn’t snowing yet, but there was a bite in the air even though it was just the beginning of November, and forecasts were dreary. It was supposed to be a bad winter.
There were a lot of reasons Cameron wasn’t looking forward to a bad winter, but he’d worry about staying warm once temperatures really started to drop. As it was, he didn’t have the capacity to think about it. A plus side to it would be that he’d be able to keep more food with him, since his car would be turning into a moving refrigerator. The downside, well… he wasn’t interested in freezing too.
His last winter had been blessedly mild. Temperatures hadn’t dipped down much below 20 degrees, which honestly might have saved his life. So thinking of a truly frigid winter full of snow and ice and freezing temperatures…
Whatever. Tires first. Maybe by the time it started to get well and truly bad out, he’d be in a better position.
He took another sip of coffee, grateful for the fact that the warehouse had a never-ending pot available for employees. Smart, considering it was a twenty-four hour operation. Cameron hadn’t been big into caffeine before, but needs must. And it was nice to have a hot drink to look forward to. He didn’t exactly get those during his downtime. So he’d gotten the idea to start bringing in a thermos. He just filled it before he got off shift, dumped in a bunch of sugar, and went out into the world.
Now he took another sip and pulled his notebook out of his bag. He was probably the only college student in existence who didn’t own a computer, but that’s what the campus library was for. When he wasn’t on campus he was just as capable of writing papers longhand, and then typing them up and doing the final edits when he was back in the library. He’d also gotten really good at typing on his phone. For actual editing, he used the labs. He made it work. Every so often he thought about saving up to buy a cheap, refurbished laptop, if only to be able to type stuff up outside of the library, but then there’d be some new surprise expense and that thought would die.
It wasn’t a big deal. He practically lived on campus anyway when he wasn’t at his job. Cameron had been trained into not needing a lot of sleep since he’d started living in group homes when he was eleven.
You learned a lot, fast, in those circumstances.
He took his phone out of his pocket while he waited for class to start, trying to wake up a little more by reopening the news articles he’d spent the last week reading. They were having a guest speaker today, one that his teacher was super excited about. Once she’d spilled the beans about who was going to be speaking, Cameron could admit to being just as excited.
Ezra Green, their guest speaker, was a fucking world-renowned photographer. He specialized primarily in food, and was responsible for like, pretty much every major food commercial that appeared in a magazine or on a billboard. And while he wasn’t exactly a celebrity to the world at large, in photography circles he was a big-deal name. Cameron had freaking studied his lighting and positioning techniques in other classes. The fact that he was going to be getting a chance to hear this guy speak in person was amazing.
He was a little surprised that Green had deigned to come give a guest lecture at some random local college in Detroit—not even UofM or State, the big name Michigan colleges—but Cameron certainly wasn’t complaining. Then again, googling had revealed that Green had grown up in Michigan, so maybe it was giving back to the community or something. Apparently he lived in and had a personal studio in Franklin, and when he wasn’t literally traveling the globe for projects, the projects came to him.
Cameron rested his head in one hand and scrolled through pictures on his phone. Green had done a photo essay on his home studio several years ago and the place was just gorgeous. Essentially made of windows so it was filled with natural lighting, dozens of backdrops, an array of lighting equipment, shelves of carefully stored lenses…
He jolted upright once his teacher, Lisa Nash, walked into the room, clapping her hands to get the class’s attention. There was a general shuffle as the room quieted down, pulling out laptops and tablets as she started to speak.
“Alright guys, listen up. You all know we’ve got a special guest today, and I won’t prolong the wait. Just remember that Mr. Green is here on his own time. Give him your attention and respect, and be mindful of everyone in the room while he talks and during his Q&A. You get an hour and a half of his time. Don’t waste it. You’ll get a break once he’s done, and the rest of the class will be more hands-on work. You sign out after the second half of class. No ducking out once Mr. Green leaves. Got that?”
She waited for the various nods and chorus of “yes”s from the twenty-five person class before crossing the room to the door on the other side, which opened up to the back area of the floor that housed the labs, the equipment storage, and the faculty offices. “Mr. Green? We’re ready.”
Ezra Green walked into the room, and Cameron had to swallow. He already knew what Green looked like from the judicious googling he’d done and had thought him handsome then, but it was something else to see him in person, so close up. It was kind of stupid how the guy was such an amazing photographer but that the pictures of him hadn’t done him any justice. Pictures hadn’t captured how devastating his smile was, or the proper color of his dark brown skin, or what his proportions actually were, all tall and broad-shouldered, with a body that looked like it belonged to Captain America as opposed to a guy that spent most of his time behind a camera. Cameron’s eye kept zeroing on details, like the way Green’s soft-looking black sweater hugged his frame, or the little smatterings of salt in the pepper of his curly, close-cropped hair.
He shook his head hard. He was too tired and it was making him stupid. Staring? Really? Yes, he’s hot. Focus. Come on.
Green directed his smile at the room at large. Cameron grabbed for his notebook. “Thank you for having me. It’s nice to see all of you here.” His voice was pleasantly smooth and deep. “I’m not sure how much your teacher has said about me, so forgive me if this is a repeat of information you already know, but my name is Ezra Green, and I’m a photographer based out of Michigan.” The smile turned into more of a grin, playful and encouraging. “Just like all of you.”
Cameron let Green’s speech wash over him as he explained a little about his background and schooling. This was stuff he already knew, yeah, but it wasn’t a hardship to listen to Green talk. It was kind of relaxing, in a way, to not have to think too hard and just watch and listen to the man speak.
Then Green switched to the topic of his work and photography in general, and pulled out a clicker. “So let’s look a little into the more technical aspects of focus and overall composition, shall we?” Two pictures were suddenly displayed on the smartboard, side-by-side.
Cameron squinted at them. At first, it looked as though they were both the same picture; a bird’s eye view of a fully decked out Thanksgiving table. Eight place settings, with people’s hands and arms in the shot holding silverware or helping themselves to food. The positioning of almost everything was the same, the lighting was the same… but the picture on the left was clearly better than the one on the right, somehow.
“The picture on the left is the one that ran,” Green said, verifying what Cameron had been thinking. “The picture on the right was the runner-up that was ultimately rejected. Both pictures are of the same set, but in the end, the left was the superior choice. Can anyone tell me why?”
It was like a game of spot the difference. Everyone in the room looked from one picture to the other, quiet murmurings springing up as people talked among themselves.
A few people tentatively raised their hands, and Green pointed to Nancy.
“Is the lighting warmer on the left?”
Green shook his head. “Not quite. The lighting in both pictures are exactly the same.”
Both of the other people who had raised their hands lowered them again.
Cameron tapped his fingers restlessly on his notebook as he stared at the picture on the left. Something was different, and it obviously wasn’t the lighting. That was pretty clear. There was just… there was something about the hand model with the purple sleeves…
It clicked, and Cameron eagerly raised his hand. Green pointed to him. “Yes?”
“The model in purple has her wrist bent in the left picture,” Cameron said in a rush. “In the right, her wrist is straight.”
Green’s smile widened. “Yes, exactly. As… your name, please?”
“Cameron,” Green said warmly. “Great.” To the class at large, he said, “As Cameron pointed out, this one model’s positioning is slightly different from one picture to the other, and it changed the entire composition of the piece. It’s not something a lot of people spot, since most people take in the picture as a whole, instead of being able to pick apart individual elements.”
Even though Cameron knew Green wasn’t talking to him specifically, he still felt himself preen a little at what amounted to some pretty specific praise. It’s not something a lot of people spot.
That was kind of cool.
Green went on to display several more pictures, each with minute differences in the placement of the focal points. Some he pointed out himself, but others he asked the class to try to discover themselves, using each photo as another way to illustrate his overall lecture about the importance of focus in each component of a larger whole, and how it could utterly change the subject of a piece.
Now that Cameron had an idea of what to look for, it was a lot easier to spot the details in the rest of the photographs. A lettuce leaf was placed just a touch more off-center. A model’s hoodie was slightly less zipped up, showing more of the shirt underneath. There were fewer beads of condensation on a mug of beer.
He valiantly held off on raising his hand immediately once he figured the latest picture out, trying to give his other classmates a chance, but anytime someone else tried to pick out the differences, they got it wrong. It was frustrating to keep hearing incorrect answers, especially as it became more and more obvious of what they were supposed to look for. Eventually, when Green went, “Anyone else?” tone only open and encouraging, Cameron lifted his hand.
“Ah, Cameron,” Green said. He didn’t sound annoyed that Cameron kept raising his hand, at least. He actually sounded kind of pleased. “Going for five in a row, huh?”
Cameron bit his lip, not sure what to do with—with what sounded like teasing. “Yeah, uh…” he faltered, but pushed through when Green raised an expectant eyebrow. “The cluster of grapes next to the knife. It’s an entirely different bunch of grapes.”
“Excellent.” Green aimed that smile at him at him again. “How can you tell?”
Cameron waved a feeble hand at the smartboard, which was displaying a wine and cheese board, complete with exactly sixteen grapes placed in strategic areas around the board. There were four grapes grouped together next to the cheese knife, very artfully positioned in a way that they looked not-too symmetrical and not-too haphazard. In both photographs the grapes were in the exact same spot, but… “The right grapes… they’re slightly different sizes, and the left grapes are more uniform. Like… the one on the bottom kind of… bulges out more? Over the bottom one on the left.”
“Very good,” Green praised before turning back to the screen and pointing out further details.
It was fascinating stuff, and interest helped Cameron stay in the moment, but he still found himself fighting yawns and hating himself for it. The very last thing he wanted to do was have Green glance over at him and find him yawning.
And Green was glancing at him a fair bit, considering how often Cameron was answering questions. When he put up his final example and Cameron found the difference—in a photo of a man drinking a coke, his fingers curled around the can, his index finger was just a smidgen higher—Cameron looked up and found himself locking eyes with Green, who gave him an amused look, tilting his head slightly to the side.
Cameron took a breath, flushing at what seemed to be clear, personal attention, and nodded. Yeah, he was pretty sure he knew the answer.
Green’s eyes sparkled before he went on to ask the class as a whole if anyone wanted to make an attempt at this last picture, and Cameron practically had to sit on his hands to not burst out with the answer. It wasn’t just that finding the differences was fun; he liked that he was impressing Green. Or amusing him, at the very least.
He just liked hearing that he’d done a good job, in figuring something out. Green was an expert, and though he was obviously a… a really nice guy, he didn’t seem like the type to hand out empty praise. Cameron was earning each smile. And that was nice.
Eventually Bradon, a classmate that Cameron had worked with on a couple projects so far, got it right—and got the honor of Mr. Green telling him he’d figured it out. If Cameron was disappointed, he tried not to let it show. Besides, it was good that someone else had gotten a turn. His performance today regardless, Cameron wasn’t a huge fan of standing out. He asked questions like crazy, yeah, because he wanted to learn and damned if he wasn’t going to get every penny’s worth of tuition out of his classes, but volunteering answers like he’d just done for the past hour was not his typical style. He resolved to stay quiet for the rest of the lecture.
Of course, the Q&A session was a different story.
Cameron had a list of questions, carefully chosen and worded over the past week as he tried to think of things that would make the most of having Green available to personally answer them. He’d put them in order of “must ask” to “okay if he wasn’t able to get around to it” and barely had to glance at his notebook at this point, because he kind of knew them by heart.
But when Green opened the floor to questions, every single hand in the room went up, and Cameron’s heart sank. They only had half an hour, and with twenty-four other people wanting attention, the chance of Cameron getting called on to even ask one question, much less more than one, was pretty slim.
He raised his hand anyway, hoping, and Green actually made eye contact with him again. Cameron tried to get across how desperately he wanted to be called on, but Green’s gaze just slid away and he called on someone else.
Cameron swallowed and lowered his hand, trying not to feel hurt. It was stupid to feel hurt. Green had no obligation to call on him just because Cameron had gotten a few problems right. Just because they’d… exchanged a couple of looks or whatever it wasn’t like it meant anything. Certainly not to someone as important as Green was.
But he still couldn’t help thinking of it as an obvious snub.
He didn’t bother raising his hand again. Didn’t much feel like looking up, either. Instead he kept his attention focused on his notebook as he listened to Green answer other students’ questions. A lot of the questions were good ones, and Cameron dutifully scribbled down tips covering everything from getting into the industry to lighting technique choices. The half hour seemed to fly by, and then Lisa was thanking Green and letting the class go on break.
Cameron fiddled with his mechanical pencil as a couple of his classmates approached their guest speaker, clearly thanking him personally for his time. He wanted to do the same, if only because the lecture had been really fun and informative up until the Q&A, but he also wasn’t sure he’d be welcome now, considering.
Fuck it, he decided, determinedly standing up. The worst he could get was a polite, disingenuous smile, right?
He was late in getting up though, and Green was already almost to the door to the back area as Cameron ran over. He ended up following him through, the door to the area’s hallway closing behind them.
“Hello again,” Green said, turning fully toward him. His voice was warm and personable, like he was welcoming Cameron to speak.
He was also way taller, standing right there in front of him.
Focus. “Um.” Cameron said rubbing his hands on his thighs. “I-I just wanted to say thank you. For you speaking to us. It was a really cool lecture.”
“The pleasure was all mine. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I was sorry to see your hand go down during the Q&A though. It seemed like you had some good questions ready.”
“Oh, I…” Cameron broke eye contact, fidgeting with his fingers. “Um, I… I wasn’t sure if you wanted me to talk anymore.”
“Oh,” Green said softly. Cameron jerked his head back up at the tone. “Cameron, no, of course not. I just felt I shouldn’t call on you first.” His smile turned rueful. “I didn’t want to look as though I was playing favorites.”
The relief should not have been as all-encompassing as it was, to know that Green wasn’t upset with him. “Oh,” Cameron said. “I, yeah, that makes sense. Sorry.” He bit his lip. Great. He’d missed out on asking questions for no reason. Stupid.
“Are you sure?” Green asked.
Cameron went back to staring at the floor. “I just, um. You know. Wish I hadn’t missed my shot at asking you some stuff.”
“Tell you what,” Green said. “I’m free the rest of today. I’d be happy to meet with you when you’re done with class.”
Cameron’s eyes widened. “What? Really? Are you sure?”
“I can tell how much you care about the subject,” Green replied matter-of-factly. “I’m happy to help.”
Cameron’s mind whirled through his schedule. This class was done at noon, he had another class from two to four, then he had work at ten. He usually tried to get some sleep between his last class and going to work when he didn’t have pressing homework to do, and after six seemed really late anyway, to impose on Green’s time. He’d been hoping to work some more on his astronomy homework during his two hour break, maybe try to catch a nap, but he’d happily trade that time for a chance to get some one-on-one with a world famous photographer. “I’m done with this class at noon and have a break until two. Would anytime in there work?”
“Sure,” came the easy reply. “I could meet you at noon, when your class is done.”
“Great,” Cameron said enthusiastically. “Great, that’s… that would be really great.”
“But if that’s the case, I’d like to take you to lunch.”
Cameron blinked, startled and unsure if he’d heard correctly. “What?”
Green titled his head. “You’ve got class from nine to noon, and then another class at two. If you don’t eat then, when will you eat?”
“Oh, uh…” Cameron had long fallen into a pattern of not really eating meals. He had a variety of non-perishables he kept in his car and backpack to eat in order to keep him going, broken up by the sandwiches he was able to make with the family-sized jar of peanut butter he purchased and replenished as needed. And it was apple season again luckily; apples were cheap, on top of being easy to grab, plus they kept. Once a week he allowed himself to buy a mini bottle of juice of his choice to keep from getting scurvy. He made it work.
The silence stretched too long and he didn’t know what to do about it. “I—”
“Lunch,” Green said firmly. “My treat. Just tell me where you’d like me to meet you.”
Cameron wracked his brain to come up with the name of a decent sit-down eatery. “I… I don’t really know much about the places to eat around here,” he said at last, wanting to sink into the floor. Mostly he was in class, the labs, the library, or his car. He avoided the restaurants on principle. But for fuck’s sakes, this was his second year at this school; he should have been able to think of something.
“Okay,” Green said after another moment’s pause. “How do you feel about sushi?”
“That would be great, sure.” Cameron had never had sushi in his life. “I’m good with anything, pretty much.”
“Then why don’t we meet at Ronin Sushi? It’s just on Washington. Say 12:15, to give you time to get there after class?”
“Yeah,” Cameron said, relieved. “Yeah, that would be great. Thank you.”
Green nodded, looking distracted. Which of course, fuck, Cameron had been wasting his time for eons now. “Sounds good.” And then he smiled, like he was genuinely looking forward to it. “I’ll see you then.”
“Okay,” Cameron said dumbly in the face of that smile. “Thank you, Mr. Green. I… really. Thank you.”
Green shook his head. “Please, call me Ezra.”