When the conductor announced the train would be standing a few minutes, Jake felt a wave of relief, though the car was filled with exasperated groans from the other passengers. In that moment, Jake envied them. They obviously cared about getting wherever they were going on time. For a few seconds he contemplated what would happen if the train was stalled long enough. Maybe he would miss Brielle's DJ set entirely. He really didn't want to see her after what she'd said to him the other night. Jake didn't want to remember the exact words. But he still felt the pain they had caused. God, Jake prayed, please let me miss her set. He took in a big breath, trying to steady his insides, then rested his forehead in his hand.
A couple weeks back, Jake had been hired as the main photographer for DJ Mano's birthday party at JBar, one of the hottest clubs in Chicago's River North. A party there for the star DJ would attract upscale hipsters and hip-hop heads alike. It would be wild once the crowd was big enough, and with no cover charge, people would be pouring in all night. This had been excellent news when Jake's boss had first told him; Jake had instantly known the party would be fucking fantastic. No doubt about that. Of course the crowd would be hot, their egos as inflated as the prices of their outfits, but it would be the stories that would keep people talking for weeks, maybe even months afterward. Crazy shit was bound to happen. And Jake had planned to capture every story he could with his camera.
The train lurched forward, and Jake's stomach dropped a little. Shit, they were moving again. Barely no time had passed at all. He would see her now, it was for sure. Jake had found out just the week before that Bri would be performing at DJ Mano's party. It was a huge break for her, something she definitely deserved, but Jake couldn't make himself feel happy for her. Not after the bullshit of the past month and a half. Jake squeezed his eyes shut and tried to drown out his thoughts with the roar of the train. Well, fuck it --he would just have to deal with the situation when he got there-- but he wasn't about to let this girl ruin his night. Nothing would prevent him from having a great fucking time and getting amazing shots. Not even her.
Once Jake got to the bar, he flashed his ID and slightly raised his camera in the other hand. The doorman let him in ahead of the growing line.
"Martin wants to see you for a second," the doorman told him. Jake nodded reflectively and kept walking, no longer sure what Martin looked like. At the sign-in table, Jake saw a couple familiar faces: two men in their late twenties, early thirties, both wearing skinny jeans and v-necks. Jake caught their gazes and smiled. One of them had to be Martin. He was the host of the party.
"Hey, Jake, how's it going?"
Jake shook both of their hands with all the friendliness he could muster. He'd been to one of their parties before, and he remembered how good his shots had been that night.
"It's pretty good," Jake lied, his eyes still smiling.
"This is my buddy, Alex," the guy on the left said, gesturing to his friend. He and Jake exchanged pleasant greetings. It made Jake feel cagey as hell.
Alex then asked for Jake's wrist, securing a neon green bracelet to it that signified VIP status.
"It's gonna get ridiculous tonight," Martin said excitedly.
"Take a drink ticket," Alex offered, producing a neon pink strip of paper from his back pocket. He smiled like he was doing Jake a big favor. "It's on me."
Jake took the slip, thanked them, and moved away from the table towards the doorway into the rest of the bar. Briefly he caught a glimpse of himself in a long mirror as he left the foyer. He looked good. He was in head-to-toe black and red –from the red bandana around his neck to his all-black high top sneakers. The Nikon, though, was his most eye-catching accessory. He would certainly stand out. When people saw him, they'd eye him with a mixture of pleasure and expectancy –would he take their picture? Would he choose them out of everyone else to isolate and honor? At a party a few months ago, and at a couple more before that, some girls even took their shirts off for him –just led him down the hall towards the bathrooms or to a near-empty lounge area and spun around and slipped their tops right off and then posed with one arm coyly hiding their chests. Some were drunk, some were on pills, some were sober. It was no longer that shocking to him; that was the kind of shit you saw when you worked for LastNightsParty, when your shots would end up on one of the most popular nightlife websites around just a day or so after you took them. Everyone wanted their fifteen minutes.
Jake wasn't used to being invisible, but tonight, nevertheless, he wanted to try. Glancing across the room, Jake's eyes landed on the DJ booth. There was one guy in there already, spinning to a sparse crowd. The music was loud, though, and the beat infectious. Still, things probably wouldn't pick up for another hour or so. A girl wearing a purple dress suddenly brushed by, and Jake felt a prickle of fear. But that wasn't Brielle. He gave a slow glance around the room. She was nowhere in sight, yet Jake still couldn't relax. Girls were everywhere, and the room was dim. It would take some effort to tell them apart, to know which one was which. Jake's hand clenched slightly, and he felt the ticket he'd been holding wrinkle slightly under the pressure. All right. It was time for a drink.
At the bar, Jake ordered a rum and coke and still had a few more drinks left on his ticket. He found a blank space of wall and leaned against it, watching people go by. At first the rum was strong, but eventually he couldn't taste it anymore. That made him feel a little better. At least he knew he would be somewhat drunk. He wondered what his next drink could be. A beer? Cranberry and vodka? No, he wouldn't drink that. That was Brielle's favorite drink. Last summer, when they started working many of the same parties, Jake would sneak her a couple cranberry and vodkas during her set –never enough to get her drunk, just buzzed. She would do the same for him whenever possible. They were partners in crime.
Brielle had been by his side even before Jake had started working with LastNightsParty, when both of them were still unknown, kids fresh out of high school with dreams of making names for themselves and getting paid to do what they loved. She had helped him get publicity for his shots, and he'd make connections just so she could play at parties around the city. Whenever they'd go out, it was an adventure, an exploration of the world and of themselves. They discovered streets they'd never driven or walked before, neighborhoods with the best food, the best nightlife, the best architecture. The more they were together, the closer they grew. Jake remembered how Bri would drive them around the city in her beat-up car for hours after a show, the stereo always playing something –sometimes it was indie rock, sometimes techno, sometimes rap, sometimes all three- not caring where they were. She would just hold his hand and say, "Let's see where this street takes us." They'd find an all-night breakfast place and eat there, then drive on. She would take him to strange and beautiful places in the city, made stranger by the night, and stop the car to let Jake snap a few photos. One night after a particularly late party that they had both worked, but stayed longer to enjoy, Bri had driven them to the lake front, and they'd sat on the pier, watching the sunrise together. With her, Jake had felt freer than he had ever felt, more alive, and more in love than he thought possible.
Jake's concentration broke as a pair of girls nearly collided with him. He sidestepped them and realized they were the tail-end of a sudden stream of people that had just poured in. At least, it had seemed sudden. Within a few minutes, Jake noticed that these people became something like new blood to a weak organ. The room grew louder, more energetic. More people started dancing. Jake downed the last of his drink and remained against the wall. He simply watched the crowd, got used to individual faces, made mental notes of which ones he wanted to approach later: the girl in the gray and yellow tank top because she was loud. The pair of girls in torn fishnets and black sunglasses because they looked like they'd just stepped out of Nylon magazine. The group of guys and girls closest to the DJ because they all looked different and were dancing like crazy. Jake felt the beat of the music pulsing inside his chest. He wanted to dance, but he felt weighed down. His camera hung around his neck, unused. It was both his shield and his weapon. It was about time to use it.
Brielle still was nowhere in sight. Maybe she wouldn't show up. Jake set his empty glass down at the bar and wondered if he should leave. He might get in trouble, but he'd never done it before. He could say he'd gotten sick. Staying the whole time, or even half the time, seemed like an impossibility tonight. Jake scanned the crowd again. He didn't know whether to love or hate these people. He steadied himself against the bar, lifted his camera to his eye, turned the flash off, and took a shot. The shutter opened wide to swallow as much light as it could before closing again several seconds later. Looking at the camera's screen, Jake saw, as he expected, that the long exposure had created an image of many images and many seconds all bleeding into each other. Jake admired the foggy sea of raised arms, the interplay of light and shadow that tinted flesh the colors of electric twilight. Most of the faces in the crowd were completely blurred, anonymous sweeps of color. The beauty pained him. When he used flash, the world became frozen, with trails of light the only indication of movement anywhere. But without flash, the world moved on its own, with its own life. The camera waited openly, passively, and was filled with it.
Jake began to navigate among the dancing crowd until he was completely entrenched in the mass. Everything looked familiar: most of the girls accessorized with a drink in one hand and a cell phone in the other. The guys danced and shouted. Their arms were wrapped around slender waists, holding onto hips, or waving freely in the air. Some of them were morons. Some of them made Jake jealous.
Eyes began to discover him in rapid succession. Jake was bombarded by eager flocks of people. He was accommodating, smiling at everyone, offering compliments, and taking as many pictures as possible.
"Hey, man! Take my picture!
Are you from LastNightsParty?
Get me and my girls in a shot!
Are you gonna blog this shit?"
A small group quickly moved into position. Jake raised his arm above his head and aimed the lens downward. Hands and faces froze in different shapes as the group looked into the lens. The camera flashed, momentarily blinding its subjects into euphoria. Jake showed them the picture he'd just taken. They all were entirely pleased, and they thanked him. Jake pressed on, leaving them to blink the colors out of their eyes. He took several more shots as he made his way to the other side of the room, finding the people he had made mental notes about earlier on. Sometimes Jake wouldn't stop people and let them know he was shooting them, he'd just take the shot, capturing the joy on their faces, the few expressions of annoyance or anger, or the exact moment of a joke's punch line.
As more and more people crowded the bar, Jake became wary. What time was it? He checked his cell phone and realized an hour had gone by. The first DJ was finished, but Brielle still wasn't in sight. Jake moved into a small side-lounge next to the bar. If Bri showed up, she hopefully wouldn't go into this room at least until after her set. Each wall was covered with people, all of them talking and drinking. The music wasn't as loud in here, but it still made conversation somewhat difficult. Jake moved among small groups in the center of the room, seeking out a pair of girls on a red couch across the way. They were engaged in conversation, both with drinks in their hands. One of them looked up at him. Jake instantly recognized her face.
"Hey. I know you," she said.
"Yeah, hey," Jake replied, giving a friendly smile and nod, then checked his camera settings. He had seen the one girl before at another party a month or so back. Her friend was new to him.
"Do you remember me?" the girl asked. She smirked, tilting her head. Jake did remember her because the last time he'd seen her, she was smoking a joint in the men's bathroom with some guy.
"I do," Jake said, smiling. "How could I forget?"
He gave the girl another glance. Tonight she was well put-together, her golden-brown hair shiny and framing her face, her outfit a mixture of glamour and grunge. She looked great.
"Come on, take our picture," the friend said, beckoning with her free hand.
Jake peered through the viewfinder and watched the girl he recognized adjust the drink in her hand, then lean closer to her friend. She raised her eyebrows beckoningly. Jake knew the look wasn't just for him. His camera flashed and snapped. The girls shifted their weight slightly, and the camera flashed and snapped again. Jake reviewed the shots, found them both to his liking, and then offered a viewing to the girls. They both beamed up at him.
"Rad," the friend said. "Thanks a lot."
"I'll see you around," said the first girl. She looked up at Jake with obvious intent.
As he moved through the crowd again, Jake wondered when Brielle would be coming on. He couldn't remember the line-up for tonight no matter how he tried, but he knew she'd have to be on soon. Jake felt uneasy. He pushed past some people who weren't moving fast enough and made it out of the lounge and into another seating area, basically a nook on the far side of the bar. It was lit with dim, warm lights and set up with a few booths encircling the tables. Jake scanned the people in the room. Most of them seemed to be couples. He sighed.
Where had it gone wrong? Jake's head hurt as he forced himself to recall the memory. Instead, he was taken back two years, to his first kiss with Brielle. They were nineteen then, making out in a car on a hot summer night. Jake hadn't kissed anyone before her since junior high, which almost couldn't be counted as actual kissing. It was just the awkward placing of the lips on another's. But with Brielle, Jake had felt something. She was wild, but she was always there for him. She would write songs about him, send in his photos to magazines when she could, then stay out all night partying. Sometimes she didn't get home until the next day, but she would always call him, even at eight in the morning, to let him know she was safe. When Jake was not with her, he was always worried, always afraid that she was with another guy, no matter how many times she told him otherwise. She liked to be free, liked to make people think twice, liked to be liked. Bri wasn't untouchable, just sometimes unholdable. She'd been a girlfriend before, knew what it was like. She'd said once that she didn't want to be tied down. Jake, he had been new to the boyfriend thing. But he loved Brielle for her devotion to him despite her constant desire to be free. She always made him feel loved and wanted. He knew she had to have loved him a lot for her to stay with him for so long. Jake sighed, running his hand through his hair. What was it, then, that had destroyed what they'd had? He couldn't help but think it was his fault.
A sudden sound rose up from the crowd, a low moan that slunk into the nook where Jake stood. Then he heard cheering. Was the DJ changing? The techno-like beat that had been playing began to melt away into a familiar hip-hop beat. Jake felt his blood rushing. Brielle had taken the stage. She always started with this song. What the hell did he do now? Jake looked around the room, his adrenaline pumping, and saw a few people leave to go onto the dance floor. They were going to see her. When Jake turned back to face one of the booths, he saw a couple lean into each other and start kissing. Jake felt the weight of the camera in his hands. The girl quickly slid onto the guy's lap, straddling him. Their faces were close, obscured with shadow. Their hands slid along each other's bodies with a recognizable hunger.
The night before, Jake hadn't been expecting Brielle to call, but she had, and she'd wanted to come to his place. She'd had a party the previous night to celebrate her upcoming show, so she didn't need to go out again. Brielle hadn't been to his place for two weeks, which was the last time she'd come over since the break up. Jake quickly assented, adding that he was eager to show her the new arrangement in his living room. He'd bought a great new couch for cheap and had strung up some red lights around the ceiling. Honestly, it was the first time he'd had a halfway decent place to live. Before the raise he'd gotten, Jake was using a piece of shit couch from Grandma that smelled like cat pee. Now the apartment was more his own, something to show off. A testimony to his hard work.
Jake refused to lie to himself, though; he knew he'd let Bri come over because he wanted her. He'd wanted to make love to her, but he'd settle for it under the pretense of a fuck. But with the way she'd sounded so lively on the phone, Jake knew there was a good possibility of her being on the same wavelength. Maybe she wanted it, too.
Jake moved closer to the couple and was unnoticed. He raised his camera. The guy opened his eyes, saw Jake, and stopped kissing the girl. She was confused for a second, but then followed the guy's gaze and saw Jake standing there, poised with his glowing machine. Jake opened one hand like an offering. His expression made him look harmless. May I? The girl smiled and shrugged, looked at the guy for his opinion, and received a playful kiss as his answer. Jake moved closer to them, laughing. His voice was almost drowned out by the music.
"Make sure my mom don't see these," said the girl.
Jake smirked. "Don't do anything you wouldn't want her to see."
"Too late for that."
The girl continued kissing the guy beneath her, and Jake suddenly was invisible, an electric being, a force that manipulated the machine. Nothing touched him. The couple began to perform as Jake's camera flashed, getting more intense with their kissing and touching, moving more and more dramatically, not sure who they were trying to turn on anymore. Jake had never felt so powerful. He'd never felt so alone.
It had been last night in his room, the lights dim, music playing lullingly in the background. He'd stroked her long hair as it lay against the sheets. He'd lifted her black shirt up and kissed the tender skin above her ribcage. They'd pulled their clothes off and touched each other. He'd moved between her legs, grunting with each breath, unable to be quiet, undesiring of it. She'd held him and kissed his mouth and shoulders. They'd breathed, Baby, baby. I love you.
But before that. He couldn't forget what had happened before that. His body revolted at the memory, but his mind went on.
They'd been in the living room, sitting on his new couch, drinking some Riesling. Jake had wanted to do more than just holding hands like they had been, but he knew it was a bad idea. They still needed to separate. It had only been a month since the break up, and they were still hooking up on-and-off. She had leaned over to him, touched his arm. He'd held her wrist, pulled her in slowly, kissed her lips. She'd held herself there, letting it happen, wanting it. But when she pulled back, her eyes were hard. She shifted her seating position so that she faced him straight on.
"Baby, it's not good that we do this, you know."
Jake felt his chest tighten. "I know, but…I want to. Don't you want to?"
"Yeah," she said, then looked down. "Of course. But, just so you know, I'm kind of juggling two guys right now."
They were still holding hands. Jake let go of hers. He'd asked if he was he one of the two guys she was "juggling", or if he was the third.
"Oh no," she'd responded. "You're one of two. It's nothing major."
He remembered she'd mentioned the situation before: there was some guy he didn't know, thank god, that shared a mutual attraction with her. They'd been hanging out since the split. This was no surprise, yet her words still lodged themselves into his body like shrapnel. And he didn't believe her. He didn't think there could be only two guys after her. Who else was she with now that they were apart? How many other guys? Girls?
Jake wanted her to leave, but he'd stopped himself from throwing her out. He loved her. And if he had to settle for having her for only a few hours, he would.
Jake bolted away from the couple before they could notice he'd gone. He maneuvered through the crowd as fast as he could, trying to find a place where he could breathe, trying to find something that would make him forget, but the music only got louder, and the crowd was almost impenetrable. Suddenly Jake realized he was heading towards the doorway that led into the alley. When he reached the door, he slammed down the handle and pushed it open.
The night air absorbed him as he burst out of the club. He felt the heat of his body dissipate into the coolness around him. It smelled like rain. Jake loped past the bouncer at the door, past a group of smokers who trailed him with their gazes, and over to a brick apartment building. He traveled down the side of it, along a narrow concrete path, his footsteps beginning to slow. Everything was shadowy here. Jake leaned his forehead against the brick, closed his eyes, and felt a pressure in his throat. One hand held his camera against his stomach; the other steadied him against the wall. He waited, but his body wouldn't throw anything up. He swore under his breath, then stayed unmoving. He needed to stop for a few minutes. Everything just needed to stop.
Then Jake heard a shuffling, something like tentative footsteps. His eyes snapped open.
"Hey, are you sick?"
Jake stepped away from the wall and looked up in one movement. A girl began to materialize from the darker shadows further down along the apartment wall. Jake squinted and tried to see her face. It was that girl from before. She was alone.
Jake cleared his throat, then turned and leaned his back against the wall. "Kind of."
"Too much to drink?" She took a few steps closer.
Jake smirked to himself. "Not enough."
The girl laughed breathily, quietly. "That sucks."
Jake looked at the girl again. "Where's your friend?"
The girl raised her hand to her mouth to smoke something. The wind was blowing the wrong way, so Jake couldn't tell if it was a cigarette or not.
"She, uh, dipped out." The girl's mouth tightened, and she looked toward the ground.
"She ditch you?"
Jake was almost surprised at himself. He didn't know why he wanted to hold a conversation with this girl. He didn't know why it mattered. More than anything, he just wanted to leave.
"Something like that."
Jake looked down the alley to the back door of the club. People were going back in, and he was once again hit with the sound of Bri's own song, something she'd composed and then mixed with a Notorious B.I.G. rap.
Jake didn't look at the girl. His gaze was stuck to the door. "Cigarettes suck."
The girl laughed, something Jake hadn't really expected. "No, I mean some weed."
Jake turned to look at her. She approached him like one would a flighty animal. Her face was even lovelier up close. The features were a curious mix of sharp and round. She wore a loose, white tank top with a black bra underneath. Her dark skirt clung to her hips and thighs. Her legs were long, covered in lace tights and ending in black Doc Marten boots. She dug into her bra and pulled out a fresh joint, then held it out like an offering.
"You got a light?" Jake asked.
Together they smoked in the shadows until the entire joint was down to a nub. Then they smoked that until Jake burned his fingers and dropped it.
"That was nice of you," he said after a stretch of silence.
"No problem," she said, and smiled in return. "You're pretty cool, for a photographer."
Jake chuckled. "Thanks," he said with a smirk, studying her face. He felt a calming warmness flood him. Maybe it was just the weed.
Suddenly Jake heard the club door open again. The music spilled out into the night, down through his ears, and into his chest. Jake recognized the song and held his breath. Bri was playing the first song she had written for him, though the bass beat sounded more pronounced than usual. It was one of the catchiest dance songs she'd ever made, but she rarely played it. Why the fuck was she playing it tonight?
Jake swallowed, his throat dry. "I gotta go back in there."
The girl stepped closer, her movements strong and decisive. She grabbed Jake by the waist and pulled herself close to him. "No, stay here."
"No," Jake laughed, "I can't. I gotta go in there. I have to take pictures of the DJ."
The girl swayed into Jake, and they both swayed. The world was warm and electric and moving in all directions. Jake looked at the girl, watched her eyebrows curve inward like blades converging. Her mouth parted. She leaned into him and kissed him.
"I gotta go," Jake said, and pulled away from her.
"Well, find me inside!" the girl called after him.
He jogged down the alley and up to the doorway, where the bouncer let him in without contest. Inside, the crowd was teeming, elated. Jake had to get to her, had to know why she was playing this song. He swam his way to the front right side of the DJ both. His insides leapt. There she was, a glowing being of colors and sound. The light was caught in her dark curls like stars nestled in the sky. She stood with her head bowed over the computer and sound board, moving with the beat. People loved it. Everyone was dancing.
Jake couldn't stop the music from cutting him. It was so beautiful, such a great song, but it was no longer his.
Jake began to shoot. He let his camera do what it wanted. Some shots he took of the crowd, others of Brielle. He saw things the way they should have been seen, just natural and flowing. If the faces were blurred, that was good. If there was flash, he embraced the crisp photos that resulted. If there was no flash, he felt just as pleased by swirling lights and heavy swaths of color. Jake put down his camera and watched the crowd for a long moment. They were beautiful, their movements created by Brielle's music. They could not be hurt by the song like he was. This was their song now.
Brielle suddenly looked up and into Jake's face. She was surprised for a second, her eyes widening as she recognized him. Then she smiled warmly and waved, shouting a greeting. Jake felt himself moving towards her. She was so happy, so inviting. It was like nothing was wrong anymore. Bri took her hands off the equipment and met Jake just off the ledge of the booth where she wrapped him in a strong hug.
"This is fucking incredible!" she said, her face beaming. "I can't believe this is happening!"
Jake felt his chest swell. God, she was beautiful. She deserved this. "I'm so happy for you, Bri," he said, and touched her face.
"Thanks," she said. "I'll talk to you after the show."
She leaned forward and kissed him. It felt strange at first, then familiar as Jake reacquainted himself with the shape of her lips. Then Bri broke away, ending the moment abruptly, and turned back to the booth.
Jake felt someone push past him, moving him backwards, and he was sucked into the crowd. He didn't take any more pictures; he just danced and swayed and was a single molecule, part of a whole. Bri was playing for everyone, but he knew so many of her songs and mixes that it felt like she was talking to him directly. For a while, he pondered getting her a cranberry and vodka, but forced himself not to. He hated hearing the songs, hated hearing her voice through them, but he felt himself clinging to each note, holding them in his body, hoping that the kiss she gave him meant she wasn't over him. That she would come back.
When the next DJ came on, Jake realized he'd been dancing quite a while. He'd gone so far from the booth that he'd lost all sight of Brielle. She could've gone anywhere. As Jake moved through the crowd, he searched wildly for Bri's face. It was nowhere. Jake decided to head outside again through the back door.
As Jake left the club, he felt drops on his head and realized it was raining. The thick, dark scent of it flooded him. Quickly he stuffed his camera underneath his shirt and zipped up his jacket. He peered down the alley, knowing he was searching for her, but not wanting to stop himself. Jake saw no one on either side, so he went back through the club and out the front door, hoping maybe she would be out there. Jake peered down the sidewalk and saw a small group of people huddling nearby under an awning. Jake moved toward them briskly. Maybe they had seen her. Then he heard Brielle's laugh.
When they saw each other, all noises stopped. She was frozen there, her dark hair partly stuck to her face with sweat and rain, her skin glistening. Her arms were wrapped around the shoulders of a tall boy without a face, whose own arms snaked around Bri's waist. Their pelvises were pressed together. Jake stopped walking. Disgust filled him. He felt his blood evaporate from his veins.
Brielle stepped away from the tall boy. Jake watched Brielle's face contorting as if she had just witnessed a public hanging. He fought back the urge to push her.
"Jake," she said, and calmed her expression. "Hey."
Jake stepped closer, ignoring everyone else except her. "I just wanted to say…"
But he stopped himself. He looked into her face and saw a familiar expression, something that, when he recognized it, punched him in the gut: Brielle felt trapped.
It had been six months prior when Jake had jokingly bought her the toy ring from the vending machine outside the Burger King they'd gone to. It was just some stupid plastic thing with a tiny little fake-jewel star on top of it. No big deal. Supposed to be a joke. He slipped it into his pocket without her noticing, then told her he had a surprise for her once they'd reached his house. Brielle closed her eyes. Jake held the ring out before him. On his command, she'd opened her eyes. Her face fell.
"What's this?" she said, trying to laugh.
"I bought it outside the restaurant. From that vending machine thing," Jake said. He studied her face and felt his insides tighten with worry. He tried again, this time with humor. "Will you be my Burger Queen?"
Then she'd made the same face, the same one he was seeing now. "Jake," she sighed, "come on. I…"
"Bri, it's just a joke. I mean, you should be laughing now."
She couldn't even fake-marry him. She couldn't even play pretend. He didn't know why she couldn't joke about it. Jake slipped the ring back into his pocket. Bri began to apologize, but Jake stopped her.
"Forget it," he'd said.
Jake's face contorted with pain. "Good show tonight." His voice had a sharp edge.
"I'm sorry," Brielle murmured, and turned her palms toward him in a helpless gesture.
"No," Jake said, taking a few steps backward. "I really should have known. You've been hiding this whole time."
Brielle's face scrunched in disbelief. Jake laughed.
"You're such a fucking bad liar."
Jake turned and strode back into the club. It didn't take him long before he found the girl again. She was dancing with a guy Jake had seen a few times before during the night. Jake tapped the girl's shoulder, extended his hand, and she took it in hers with a big smile.
"I was hoping you'd show up," she said.
It was probably thirty five minutes later when Jake and the girl arrived at his apartment. Jake pretended he was higher than he was. They were almost soaked from the storm. Jake took his camera off his neck and placed it on the bedside table. The rain had barely gotten to it through his jacket. The rest of his clothes, though, he removed urgently, and with the girl's help. Soon they were both naked, flinging their underwear to the floor. The girl reached for him, and Jake pulled her down onto the bed.
After they'd had sex, Jake sprawled out on his back and stared at the ceiling in silence for a long time. His body was tired, emptied. The girl next to him slept soundly. Jake was pretty sure this type of thing was supposed to make him feel like a king, but he felt like a whore in a jester's suit. He'd used this girl to get what he'd wanted -a fuck- but that wasn't really what he'd wanted. He was dirty. He was a dirty liar. Even if the girl knew it, she didn't care because she couldn't really see him. She couldn't really see what Jake was made of, what was inside him. If she'd known what he really was, she wouldn't have gone home with him.
Jake didn't look at the girl, didn't even move, as she woke up and stretched. She sighed, and Jake felt her eyes on him for a minute. Slowly she leaned over his chest and reached for something. Then Jake felt his camera strap brush across his skin. He jumped.
"What are you doing?" he asked, sitting up.
"Taking a picture of you," the girl said.
Jake felt his body tense. "No, you're not." In his hands, the camera worked for him. But he didn't want to think about what would happen with it in hers. He didn't want her to see like he saw.
The girl giggled and turned the camera on. "Yes, I am. I mean, you take everybody else's picture."
Jake stretched out his hand, reaching for the lens. "Just give it back to me."
The girl moved the camera just out of his grasp, then stood up. She was still naked, but her eyes glinted dangerously. "Come get it from me."
Obviously this was a game to her. Jake wanted to scream. He leapt to his feet on the bed and grabbed for his camera. "You don't know what you're doing with that," he growled.
The girl raised the viewfinder to her face. Her finger touched the shutter release. Jake lunged, groping for whatever part of the camera he could touch first.
Jake saw the girl fumble with the machine, and for the briefest moment, he knew he had a chance to stop the camera's fall. But he didn't. He watched it plummet towards the floor. A snapping noise reverberated in the room. There was a small cry. Then there were no more sounds.
"I killed it. I killed it."
The girl grabbed her clothes and ran into the hall. In moments, she had dressed and fled into the early dawn.
Jake sat unmoving on the edge of his bed, staring naked at the cracked body of the camera. The pictures he could recover, but that wasn't important. Jake smiled to himself. He had lost everything, but he didn't want it back.