One Last Cigarette

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Ian wished he hadn’t given up smoking.  He wiped his sweaty palms against his jeans.  This was his first exhibition.  Nine pieces of his soul hung on the walls of the small room.  This was it.  This was his chance, his dream come to life.  He’d only sold a handful of paintings prior to this.  If things went well tonight, he might never have to ask, “Do you want fries with that?”  He might be able to appease the phone calls from bill collectors, at least for a little while.  Everything felt like it was riding on the next few hours, like the gods of art and beauty were hovering above him with their cosmic dice.  So far, all he’d seen were snake eyes.

 “You need to relax,” the proprietor told him.

 Ian jumped, brought back from his anxiousness.  He turned around.  The woman stood in the doorway of the room, holding a glass of wine.  This was her art gallery.  She took a sip of the burgundy liquid and closed her eyes as she savored her drink.  She was seductive in a casual way, almost as if she wasn’t aware of the affect she had on those around her.  Almost.

“I’m just really grateful.  You don’t know what this means to me,” Ian said.

The woman opened her eyes.  For a fraction of an instant, he thought she’d looked annoyed, as though he’d disturbed a private moment she’d been having, but she quickly replaced the look with a smile.

 “Don’t thank me yet.  I’m taking advantage of you.  You’re the one with the talent.  I just own the building.” 

Her voice had been warm and teasing, but Ian felt a prickling sensation on the back of his neck.  He ignored the feeling.  It was just nerves, he told himself.  It wasn’t everyday he had a beautiful woman holding his fate in her hands.  He didn’t care if she took a percentage of the sales.  He wanted to be discovered.  She deserved her commission.  He’d do anything to have his dreams realized, anything at all.  He felt the hair on his arms stand on end as she watched him.  She took another sip of wine.

Be careful what you wish for.

Had she said the words aloud?  No.  He was still smiling at her.  His smile made her feel guilty.  She knew better than to allow her emotions to get involved.  It wasn’t her concern, not anymore.  She’d done everything she could to prepare him, but his mind was naturally weak.  She’d have to keep an eye on him, as if she didn’t have enough to do.

 The lights were dimmed.  Music thrummed through the building.  Patrons arrived.  Ian mingled.  He’d been so nervous earlier, but once the guests began to crowd around his canvases, he’d felt a calm come over himself, a sense of déjà vu.  It was as though he’d been born to do this.  He didn’t know how or why, but he didn’t feel at all inferior when a woman approached him carrying a purse that probably cost more than he’d earned in a year.  She asked him about his work, what inspired him, and he answered as though on autopilot.  He couldn’t take his eyes off of her face.  Her mouth didn’t seem to be moving fast enough to convey everything she’d told him.  She’d asked him to follow her up to the roof.  He forgotten all about his cravings for a cigarette, but when she’d asked him to join her, he couldn’t say no.  Sure he’d quit, but it was only one more.  He could quit again in the morning.

The woman took him by the hand, led him down a hallway, and up a flight of stairs.  He watched her rear end as he trailed behind her.  It seemed to have a jaunty life of it’s own.  His jeans felt uncomfortably tight.  He was relieved to feel the fresh air on his face as they passed through the gray metal door and onto the rooftop.  He hadn’t noticed how warm he’d become.

 He waited for her to pull a pack of cigarettes from her purse or at least to speak.  He wondered if he should say something to her.  She put her finger to her lips, shushing him.  He nodded.  They didn’t need words.  He felt as though they’d get in the way of the connection they seemed to have.  She touched his face gently with her hand.  He let go of the breath he’d been holding with a sigh.  Everything was going to be perfect.  This was his night.  He felt himself shudder as she leaned into him, her breath on his neck.  He knew he must hold still.  If he made even the slightest sound, everything would be ruined.  She fumbled with the buttons on his shirt.

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