“Can I light that for you?” a gentleman asked over the classical romantic music being played, holding up his lighter as an offering. Kate smirked and subtly nodded at him. She watched as his thumb clicked the lighter in a matter of seconds, creating a flame in the midst of the bar. Its glowing orange shade reflected off of the tower of champagne glasses and crystal chandeliers hanging above the crowds.
“Look at that,” Kate remarked in wonder with an unlit cigarette in her mouth. The light breeze danced with the flame, swaying it left and right, and sometimes, one would overpower the other; the flame would dim or it would grow stronger.
Kate leaned above the gentleman’s lighter, interjecting the tall flame with her unlit cigarette. The flame became spastic and then calmed down, as she placed the cigarette between her fingers, wiping at the stain left by her red lipstick. “Fire always interested me.” she said softly, looking directly in the gentleman’s eyes.
He chuckled, before taking a seat. “Can I get you a drink-”
Before she could reply, a male voice was heard from behind her. “Ah, yes. The rapid oxidation in combustion that releases heat and light. It’s very charming.” He walked between the two, placing his hands on both of their shoulders. “Maybe not the best first date material, though. Now, go on,” he directed at the gentleman, shooing him away like a fly.
“Anthony, how lovely it is to see you.” Kate muttered, angrily taking another smoke. “It wasn’t a date.”
“Oh, right. How could I forget? This is your thing: you hunt down wealthy men for their money,” he said, catching the attention of the bartender. “A scotch on the rocks, please.”
Her hand began to twitch and an overwhelming rush of heat reached her powdered face. “You don’t know anything about me,”
“I bet these are fake.” he said, grabbing a hold of her wrist and looking at the many rings on her hand. “You can’t possibly afford these.”
“Stop!” she yelled through her teeth, trying not to attract attention. She pulled her arm away and wiped her hands on the velvet fabric of her gown.
“I’m assuming they’re your sister’s. The dress included.”
“Why don’t you say it louder for everyone to hear?”
Anthony quietly thanked the bartender, before turning back to Kate, never breaking eye contact. “Kate Donovan wears her sister’s clothing becau-”
Kate’s hand immediately covered his mouth, one of her nails digging into his lip. “You will never tell anyone that. Especially the reason.” Her voice felt stuck in the back of her throat. “Why are you here?” she whispered, removing her hand and cupping his face instead.
“Because,” he started, moving her hands away. “I have this idea for my next photography project. I want to showcase a gallery about urban life.” Her eyebrow lifted and her countenance relaxed, motivating Anthony to continue. “I wanted to get your permission to take pictures of your… home, if that’s what you would call it.”
This time, it was Kate’s turn to laugh. “You want to take pictures of my miserable life?” She took another puff, blowing out the smoke towards Anthony’s face. “For what possible reason?”
“For my art gallery.”
“To mock me.”
“It’s about urban life. You’re part of it, aren’t you? So, I just want your permission to take a few photos,” he reassured her.
“I’m going to have to pass.” And with that, she grabbed her coat and purse off of the bar counter and made her way towards the exit. She squeezed through many crowds of the elite, who were sipping champagne and discussing the latest current events. She barely made it through without tears spilling.
Once the cold air of the night hit her face and the door to the bar closed, she threw the remnants of her cigarette on the concrete and crushed it to nothing but ashes. The bottom of her shoe dug into the matter, as she tried to keep up her balance from her heels that were a size too big; she took them from a lost-and-found.
The wind was constantly blowing in her face, knocking her down, and forcing her to confront with her reality. No matter how much she manipulated her exterior, it would never make up for the interior- a darker place that stored the hardships she endured in a photo album.
“Kate!” Anthony suddenly called from the entrance, his voice echoing down the street. When she didn’t respond, he began running after her. Out of breath, he turned her around to face him, and for a moment, the wind died down. “Kate, you have to stop playing these games-”
“Okay,” she interrupted shortly.
He did a double take. “Wait, really? That’s it?”
Kate avoided eye contact. “Who am I even kidding, Anthony? What am I doing with my life?” She was about to take out a new cigarette, but Anthony was a step ahead. “Thanks,” she mumbled, lighting his gift. She then pursed her quivering lips on the cigarette, inhaling as much as she could. Both of them stood there in silence for a few moments, watching corporate men in crisp suits walk out, with dazzling arm candy dressed in the latest styles fresh off the runway. “I could never be that,” Kate revealed, chuckling as puffs of smoke escaped from her mouth. “So, I might as well accept the truth with some professional pictures.”
Anthony was genuinely stunned, and Kate could see his eyes lighten up and his entire posture soften. “Of course, Kate. Thank you.” He then put his arm on the small of her back, as they walked to her “home”- the basement of her sister’s house. There was only an old couch, a pile of dirty clothes and cardboard boxes filled with receipts and past credit cards. The ceiling was cracked with lines running across, and a bucket was situated in the left corner to catch leaking water.
Her heels went flying, when she and Anthony made it to the bottom of the staircase, her bare feet meeting the uncleaned carpet.
“Not a single thing has changed,” Anthony noted, his eyes gazing over the entire room.
“Is this why you broke up with me?” she suddenly asked, gesturing to her facade. He gave a hesitant chuckle, as Kate plopped down on the couch, causing a squeak when her body collided with the worn-out springs. She smoothed out her gown before saying, “Get my good side at least, will you?”
Anthony took out his camera from his bag, went down on one knee, and proceeded to take pictures. The flash went off in a matter of seconds, and Kate’s eyes were brightened by its yellow and white light. There was a new glow to her, as if the wind had finally begun to die down and the flame inside of her was beginning to grow stronger.