The Story of Damen

September 13 is a very special day for me: It’s the day Damen came into my life.

When I first was recruiting young adults for my book covers, the role I agonized the most over was Malakai. In the books, Malakai is one quarter black and has green eyes. The combination in and of itself is rather unique. I was very adamant that I wanted my model to be at least bi-racial as I have seen a lot of while models being made to look a race they are not, and I didn’t want that. I wanted integrity.

The person I was working with at the time, the one who was in charge of finding my models, knew of only two bi-racial kids, Damen and his brother. The first picture we found was his brother. He did look the part but he looked so young (the picture was a few years old) that it wouldn’t have worked. Then she told me Damen was interested and sent me a selfie.

I went “No, I’m looking for a wide receiver, not a running back or lineman.” We asked for more photos of his brother but he didn’t really want to do it. Since Damen had said he wanted in, I did what I do best and turned to the internet to see if I couldn’t find more photos. I did, on his high school webpage, and I was… fascinated. Totally. The way he frowned… He just looked so much like my idea of Malakai. I wondered what made Damen frown like that. For all I knew, it was the sun in his eyes but I’m telling you, he just nailed the look.

I agreed to meet him. Up to the meeting, I have to admit, I still had my reservations. After all, he still looked more like a lineman than a wide receiver.

So I drove 25 miles away from my place with my best friend Dawn. We were sitting at a booth in Panera when I saw him walk in. I was shocked, in a good way. His selfie just didn’t do him justice. To tell you the honest truth, it was downright awful next to the real him. He was shorter than Malakai originally was, but a story which is yet to be published could easily be adapted.

So I bought him lunch and we talked. He asked about Malakai, he asked about my writing, and I just couldn’t eat. I was in awe.

When he left, I turned to Dawn and asked her: “Is he in or out?”

“I don’t know,” she answered.

See, as a typical eighteen-year-old guy who meets strangers for the first time, Damen was impossible to read (I can hear him right now telling me he’s nothing like the other eighteen year old out there but I assure you, in this instance, he was!). So, prepared to be disappointed, like Dawn told me to be, I got home and texted him a short thank you note. His answer: “If you need any help with the website, let me know. That’s my thing.”

I did the happy dance. Not only was I getting a super model, I was getting a webmaster.

Well, a year has passed since then. And what a year.

You never know when you’ll meet someone who will have such a major impact on your life. On September 13, 2015, I was at Panera to meet a model. I met a friend, someone that even today, I appreciate more than words can express.

Damen has been with me a year now and I certainly hope he’ll remain with me for a long time to come.

Thank you Damen for everything you do for me.