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The smell of gas burns in the air, flames pushing against the dark sky. One match and everything burns.
“Get out of the car.”
Her heart drops. This isn’t how tonight was supposed to go, none of this was right. Her beating heart pounded against her fragile chest, a pulsing metronome to the soundtrack of her fear.
“Did you not hear me? Get out of the fucking car, now.” The smell of alcohol burned in the air, as the tone of his voice burned into her soul. Did he not realize how much his words stung, did he not realize how much she cared for him, did he not ca— no. She’s not allowed to think like that. He cared, he loved her. He knew better than she did, he had to have a reason for treating her like this. She swallowed her words down, clenched her jaw, and opened the car door.
Her tattered slip dress pushed against her shaking legs, the cold stinging her bruised thighs. Marks where his hands had forced entry onto her, no they hadn’t forced, forced is something bad people do, he wasn’t bad, he cared for her. The thud of the driver’s seat door slamming against the frame of the car startled her, but his heavy footsteps held a comforting familiarity. She sighed, this would all be over soon, and she would head back to her home, to his arms that would hug her instead of squeeze her too tightly. That’s what she kept telling herself. Funny enough, the words came through in her head as his voice, not her own. Words he’d told her, not her own. She bit her tongue, hard, pressing the foreign words into her own, until they fused into a mismatched hybrid she could almost call hers.
“Babe, go get the gaslight for me, wouldja? I can’t see shit out here.” He was already calmer. They were a team, a match made in heaven. The storm was receding, she knew she’d be forgiven. She walked along, scanning the darkened station. She saw one across the lot, near a warm window. Making her way towards it, she was stopped by a familiar voice.
“Sweetheart, you don’t want to go past the door. People would see what a mess you are right now, trust me, that’s not a good idea.” A quick look at herself proved his words to be true, yellowed bruises and dirty dress screaming messy, tired, and other words she didn’t want to be called tonight. Not again, and not by strangers. She made her way around the brick building, ducking under windows. Cold metal gaslight in hand, she made her way back to him. A raging wildfire in the darkness would surely warm her up. She stood beside him, reaching her hand towards him, needing his light, his warmth, his hand in hers. She needed him.
“May I?” She asked, cautious to not be rude again.
He said nothing. She tentatively reached towards him, her hands shivering in the cold air. He grabbed her, tightly, almost as if proving his own strength. Sliding their intertwined hands behind her back, he pressed himself against her, nose to nose, dark eyes with a gleam inside meeting her own.
She knew the routine. The same dance, choreographed down to the finest detail. She would step back, he would raise his eyebrows, to which she would step back a little more. From there, she would turn on her heels, facing away from him. Stepping forwards, he would clench her other arm, pinching the skin on her forearm. This is where the usual routine breaks, as she had to set down the gaslight, to which she receives a judging stare. She quickly leaned backwards, eager to rejoin the calculated dance. She bent until her head was facing upwards, looking only into him. From there, it went to a quick kiss, a harder pinch, step forwards, him in the lead. He dragged her arms to the left, forcing her to twist into herself until she faced him again, arms knotted, stuck tight. Normally, it gets rough here, but tonight, they’re outside, and so, it does not progress. Instead, he dropped her arms, reaching over to the abandoned gaslight. She stood still, confused. This is all breaking from the ordinary.
“What?” She barely whispered the word, a quiver in her throat.
“Break it. Break the gaslight, on the ground.”
The ticking of her heart crescendoed loudly in her ears, drumming in her head, drowning out any response she could have given. She gulped, hard, and bent down, feeling a shock in her palm as she grabbed the handle. She raised herself upwards, and looked in his eyes. He subtly nodded, but that’s all the signal she could need. She flung her arm downwards, opening her fist and letting the gaslight tumble towards the pavement. Broken glass litters the ground.
“Pick up a shard.”
She can’t do this, she can’t do this, she can’t do this, she can’t do this, she doesn’t want to do this.
“Babe, isn’t this a bit excessive?” She was met with a harsh laugh.
“You deserve this. You know you do.”
“You want to talk back to me now? Really?” Fire raged behind his eyes as he spoke. “How well do you think that’s going to go for you?”
He was right. He was always right. She picked it up.
“You wanted to challenge me. You wanted to test me, to lead me on and then back out. You aren’t backing out now. Give me the shard.” She nods. What else could she do?
“Tell me what you did wrong.”
“I—I didn’t do anything.”
“Wrong answer. That’s strike one. Try again”
“I—I challenged you. I said I was ready, but I wasn’t. Is that so bad?” Her voice rose towards the end, panicked stuttering turned to anger.
“Strike two. One more and you’re out, babe.” The word didn’t sit right in his mouth, it felt wrong, aggressive.
“I—I wanted to be close to you, but I wasn’t ready for it. So I stopped. I ran away, and I shouldn’t have, and you told me not to, and I didn’t listen.” Her head hung low as she spoke.
“Good. I’m going to let you off easy this time. You’re lucky. Don’t test your luck again.”
“Thank you.” He stood, blankly staring at her before he responded.
“Let’s go. Come on, you want to go, don’t you?” She nodded, suddenly eager again. He reached his hand behind him, and she grasped it, in a familiar embrace again. His hands were warm, a soft fire dying down. Her matchstick heart grabbed on to what embers it could, as they entered the cold car, and as they drove off, leaving the shattered glass behind.
They were a match, a perfect pair. He took fire to a watched her burn behind glass skin, a few wisps of smoke sneaking between the cracks. A shot in the dark, a cry for help.
You can’t see smoke signals in a wildfire.