17. fireworks

28 5 45

January, 2014

It was supposed to be magical.

They were going to watch the Times Square Ball drop, in exquisite company, drinking the finest champagne. Ingrid loved the dress he'd picked out for her. An elaborate silk and chiffon affair, sexy and sparkly, with glimmering jewellery to match. Shoes, crystalline like Cinderella's glass slippers, and a fabulous Audrey Hepburn-inspired updo.

Ingrid had felt like a princess when she'd left the house. A sheltered damsel, finally out of her ivory tower, about to have the best night of her life at the most extravagant of balls. A night to remember.

And sure enough, she'd never forget it.

Ingrid stormed out of the venue soon after the clock had struck midnight. She had no pumpkin carriage waiting for her, though. Had to contend with a yellow cab. Thankfully, she'd had the sense to stuff some dollar bills in her clutch purse. Just about enough to get her to Jack's apartment in the city.

Blazing fireworks lit up the sky above her. Ingrid clambered out of the taxi, eyeliner tears streaking her cheeks black. The gown she'd loved so much felt stuffy now. Her shoes constricted her feet, but she feared that if she took them off, she might cut herself on bottle shards on the pavement.

Luckily enough, there was a doorman still working even on the night between the years and he let her into the lobby. She had no key, so he dug out his spare and accompanied her to the apartment.

"Everything alright, ma'am?" the man asked and she thought he looked genuinely concerned.

Ingrid considered it.

The evening had started out well enough. Jack's upper-class friends were beginning to accept her – or at least pretended to accept her – into their circle, which made for a lively exchange of anecdotes around the table. The food had been fantastic and the cocktails absolutely delicious.

Ingrid had danced and laughed and danced some more. One of the men Jack held in very high regard had seemed to take a liking to her and that flattered her. She'd entertained his attempt at flirtatious banter until his hand on her lower back tried to slide even lower.

She'd distanced herself from him but, like some lewd leech, he wouldn't leave her alone. He crowded her into a corner at some point, snuck his hand up her skirt.

In the heat of the moment, Ingrid had slapped him.

The old, bellied bastard had had the nerve to take offence. Complained to her husband. Jack pulled her aside to have a word and she nearly slapped him, too.

"What do you mean, why did I hit him? The motherfucker tried to cop a feel somewhere he shouldn't have!"

"Keep your voice down!" Jack hissed angrily at her. "That motherfucker is the reason you look like a million bucks tonight – and wearing it, too."

Ingrid blinked, incredulous. "This couldn't have cost a million dollars."

"No, just about ten to twenty large," he retorted with a dark chuckle.

She clenched her jaw. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means," his voice turned into a patronising treacle, "you gotta start earning your keep, baby girl." His hand first cupped her cheek, then gripped her jaw. "Now get back out there, apologize to Malcolm, and let him have his five or ten minutes. He'll be done before midnight."

Rage surged through her veins, setting off bitter, boiling tears. "No," she spat through gritted teeth. "Fuck no!"

"No?" His eyebrows rose with the question. "No?"

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