Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still. ~Dorothea Lange

Chapter 1

It was a Thursday morning like all Thursday mornings that had come before. Edward shrugged on his brown plaid wool jacket. He checked his reflection in the mirror, which hung in the entryway to his modest condo. As he looked at himself, he noted that his eyebrows seemed large and bushy, while his hair was reminiscent of something from the tall, drug- addled character from Scooby Doo. He thought of himself as utterly plain and unappealing. His shaggy brown hair was nothing special, and his skin seemed pale and peaked. Edward shrugged his shoulders with one last glance at his reflection, thankful his job was located behind the lens and not in front of it.

Edward walked to the elaborate cage located in his dining room in place of a dining table. He bid farewell to his only friends: Henri and Dorthea, his pet rats named for his favorite photographers (Henri Cartier-Bresson and Dorthea Lange).

As he drove to work in his beat up '81 model VW Rabbit, Edward thought about how his life had come to pass. At 25, he felt utterly unaccomplished for he was a photographer at Glamour Shots. His mother and father had wanted him to become a surgeon, but Edward just wanted to take pictures, and surgeons didn't take pictures.

No one had told Edward how difficult it was going to be to make an actual living, being the artist behind the camera. So he was forced into corporate malign and took a job at the mall, photographing teenagers for their graduation photos and brides for their weddings.

Day after day, Edward took snapshots of girls and women (and the occasional man), coaxing out their beautiful smiles. But he knew their smiles were never for him. They were for someone else. Their portraits would be for friends and loved ones; smiles to be given away.

Edward longed for someone to give him a smile.

o_O

Across town, Bella stood at the front of her class, pointing to magnetic letters on the blackboard. It was just another day in the life of a kindergarten teacher. Each day she would get up at dawn, start her four-cup coffee maker, take a shower, and peddle her '82 Schwinn in Fair Lady pink the short distance to Oak Ridge Montessori School. There, she mindlessly taught small children, who were challenged in keeping bodily fluids to themselves, to read and write. It was the same routine she'd followed for two years straight.

This had not been Bella's original career choice. She had dreamt of becoming a writer, traveling the world, seeking new and exciting places while scouring the globe for ideas that would lead to her next masterpiece. Bella wanted to be enslaved in romance and swept off her feet, where passion would reign, and two lovers would stay up all night, lost in each other's blissful embrace. But that hadn't been in the cards for Bella. Instead, she daydreamed about the endless, faraway possibilities that she thought would never be.

At the end of her impossibly long day, Bella listlessly hopped on her bike and peddled back to her small, one-bedroom apartment, all without noticing the gum in her hair. When Bella walked inside and threw her bags on the table, she greeted her 22-pound, black and white Maine Coon cat. Calie nuzzled Bella's hand and purred in contentment while she received scratches behind the ears. Bella stopped, much to Calie's displeasure, garnering a hiss and a bite on the leg from her beloved companion.

As Bella stood up and threw a fake mouse for the cantankerous cat to chase, she glanced at the mirror through the bathroom door and shrieked in terror. She'd finally noticed the gum and felt tears well up in her dark eyes. Typically, Bella wouldn't be bothered by such things, but this was the icing on the cake to an incredibly long and frustrating week. She'd had enough.

What the hell will I do now? Bella thought. I'm a real "plain Jane" mess.

Bella hadn't been concerned with her appearance until recently. Because she'd had limited experience with the opposite sex and a sheltered upbringing, she was never one to put herself on display. "The simpler the better" was Bella's motto.

But lately, Bella had been feeling lonely, and she fruitlessly sought the companionship of men. Unfortunately, most of the men she met were losers by definition. Bella went on many first dates but rarely a second.

As she stared at her reflection, her most recent and embarrassing dates came flooding back to her. There was the man who lived with his mother and had a collection of Disney villain t-shirts; the unemployed actor who spent all his free time in Civil War re-enactments; the "Guido" who talked and acted like he was from the Jersey shore, when he was really born and raised in New Mexico; and the guy who wore themed cowboy boots with each of his outfits, most of which were polyester track suits.

The list seemed never-ending. Bella wondered what she'd done to piss off her friends and cause them to set her up with such losers but resigned herself into simply believing she was a loser, too.

Despite her apathy for her own reflection, Bella was a lovely woman. But she felt as though no one would ever want her. As she stood in front of her bathroom mirror, crying and hopelessly trying to remove the gum from her hair, Bella stopped and stared. What she perceived of herself was really rather shocking to an outsider. She claimed she saw lifeless brown eyes, now puffy and red from sobbing, and her cheeks and neck were red and blotchy. Bella also hated her long hair, for there was nothing she could do to tame her untidy locks.

The outside world however, saw Bella as a classic Venus with thick flowing hair, sparkling brown eyes, round rosy cheeks, and luscious plump lips.

Feeling defeated, Bella walked to her small living room and plopped down on her aging couch. She sighed and called her best friend for gum removal advice.

"Alice Whitlock, personal shopper and Avon beauty consultant. How may I be of assistance?"

"Hey, Ali-" but Bella was cut off by her over-eager friend.

"Oh, hey! I was just thinking about you. Payless is having a BOGO sale. We should defs hit that."

Bella didn't understand Alice half the time as she often spoke in text-speak, but she didn't have the time or patience to let Alice derail her. "I need some help!" Bella blurted into the phone before it was too late to rein the exchange back in.

"I was going to ask how your day was, but I'm guessing not so good, given the tone you just shouted at me. What happened? Did that Eric kid spill Kool-aid all over your white Keds again, 'cause I'll kick his little…"

Bella hoped Alice would take a breath soon so she could join in on the conversation. "No, Ali. Eric didn't ruin another pair of shoes." Bella huffed and repositioned herself so she was now lying on the couch, her feet hanging over the armrest.

"Oh, no! Don't tell me he wrote in permanent marker on your Vera Bradley bag! You got that on clearance!" Alice squeaked and then held her breath.

"No, not that either. No clothing or accessories were harmed in the line of duty today. Ali… I got gum in my hair. I need to know how to get it out."

"Oh, Bella, that's awful. I'm so sorry." Alice could hear Bella sniffle through the phone and knew she was crying. Alice felt terrible for Bella and wanted to do something that would turn her mood around.

"Okay, Bella. Don't even think about using peanut butter. I have a better idea."

Bella groaned internally because she knew Alice's better idea would include getting out of the house and spending more money than necessary.

Alice, being the devoted friend she was, jumped in her car and started driving to the apartment before Bella had time to argue. She divulged her plans for Bella to get the "full treatment" tonight at her favorite salon.

"Oh, no, you don't, Alice. The last time I got the 'full treatment,' I ended up with a wicked rash on my hoo-ha from the wax, not to mention neon green nail polish. I don't think that's a good idea. It's more like torture than a treat."

"I will be there soon, so you better be ready, or I'm dragging you out of the house wearing only your unmentionables."

Bella flinched at Alice's words because she knew the threat was true. During their senior year of college, Alice tried to help Bella get over a terrible date and pulled her out of her dorm room, wearing only her bra and panties.

Alice arrived mere moments later, and the pair drove across town to Rock Paper Scissors, a hair salon that had been quite trendy in its day. Bella met with Alice's stylist, Michael. He swore Bella would be "simply fabu" when he was finished.

After two and a half painfully long hours, Bella was waxed, buffed, polished, and gum free. She'd never felt so exhausted in her entire life. She was relieved to no longer smell like Hubba-Bubba, but she was tired and really just wanted to climb in bed and forget the day.

"Thank you, Alice. I think I really needed that." Bella blushed as they walked out of the salon and got back into Alice's yellow Pontiac Fiero.

"Don't worry about anything," Alice squealed. "I have a very good feeling about things. I know something amazing will happen."

Bella wanted to ask what things Alice was speaking of, but she was too afraid to ask. Instead, she let the comment pass without question. As Alice drove toward Bella's apartment, she smiled happily while Bella's brow furrowed at the thought of how much her life was going to be turned upside down by whatever plan her friend had concocted.

The pair arrived twenty minutes later with their favorite take-out in hand from Chipotle. They sat down on the couch to eat, and Alice couldn't help but comment on the deliciousness of her dinner.

"Chipotle is so good, Bella. I bet it's the best authentic Mexican food out there. They don't know what they are missing in Mexico! Don't you think?" Alice mused.

After wolfing down half of her humongous burrito, complete with guacamole, sour cream, and extra beans, Alice began revealing her grand scheme to Bella, most of it, anyway.

"Okay, so here's the deal. Since you have amazing new hair and a matching mani-pedi, I thought you could go and get your picture taken." Bella's face showed her distaste for the idea.

"Now, before you get all whiney on me, I know you hate pictures of yourself, but I promise this will work."

Pictures of Bella never turned out well. It was as though a Bella Gremlin jumped in front of the camera lens at the last second. Bella couldn't recall one single photo of herself where she looked good…or even normal, for that matter.

"Alice, you keep saying 'this will work,' but you realize I have no idea what you're talking about, right?" Bella whined.

"Alright. After you get your picture taken, you're going to post it on an Internet dating site, Plenty of Fish dot com."

Bella's nose scrunched up in disgust at the mention of posting her picture on the internet and soliciting unknown men for dates. She had enough trouble agreeing to have photos taken in the first place, but to actually have strangers see them was unsettling.

Having a father in law enforcement, Bella heard all the tales of internet predators and the lengths they went through to get to unsuspecting girls and young women. It was for this reason that Bella wouldn't even open a Twitter account much less submit a profile for online dating!

"Don't make that face at me, young lady." Alice wagged her tiny, glitter painted finger in Bella's face. "You're twenty four years old. Don't you think it's about time you finally found someone and settled down?"

"I'm okay on my own. Besides, even if I did meet someone, who's to say that he won't turn out to be a total creepoid like the last guy?"

"The one with the purple Escort?" Alice clarified and then shivered as Bella confirmed he was one in the same.

"Because, Bella, I know this time will work. You have to have faith in me. Please?" Alice begged, pouted her lips, and batted her long lashes, currently caked in Avon's Scanda-Lash Hook Up mascara. If nothing else, Alice was a walking billboard for the products she peddled.

After a few more minutes of arguing, Bella finally acquiesced. Sometimes, Alice was more trouble than she was worth.

"Yay! This will be so fun, Bella. You won't regret it. I've already made the appointment for the photo shoot and everything."

Bella wondered when Alice could have possibly had time to book a photographer. But then she remembered Alice having to "step away" for a moment as they waited in the unbearably long line at Chipotle. Everyone else must love their burritos as much as I do, Bella thought.