Chapter One - Secret Life Equals Happy Life
“Wow, Elena... Just wow...”
“What is it now?”
“Look!” Kat shouted at me as she raised her phone in my face. The small screen showed a familiar website that showed pictures that ranged from nature to buildings.
“What about it?” I asked as I went back to work, not caring.
“Elena, reviews of your pictures have been skyrocketing. If you wanted you could call it quits here, which I don’t understand why you don’t since you’re paid enough money as is,” she said as she put down her phone and went back to sweeping the tiled floors.
I clenched the cleaned rose in my hand as I looked up from finish trimming its stems off and shaving down the thorns. The delicacy of the rose was breathtaking as its blood-red petals took the beauty away from it all. If the virescent thorns were left on, then the rose would have been left protected and secured. But by itself, naked and clean, it was vulnerable, like us.
“Like I’ve said before Kat, being a Night Photographer means taking pictures at night. Also, meaning it isn’t strictly speaking legal...” I laughed towards the end as I placed the rose in the vase with other colorful varieties that filled it.
In the large, yet secluded city of Verdic, Florida, staying out past nine is illegal. We were placed under Martial Law more than fifteen years ago. Staying out late, like partying or leaving your house in general, is illegal and can send us to the slammer, but deciding how long you stay depends on what you were doing.
But what made me worry about the law was that it constricted others from checking family members, to know if they are safe from the ongoing war between Russian Mafia and the Irish Mob. That is, until eight o’clock on the dot in the morning.
“But Eleanor, you’re still paid enough money to settle yourself and your grandmother in an apartment from being a Night Photographer alone. You’re lucky I haven’t fired you, yet,” Kat said as she smiled with a small laugh.
When it came towards jokes with Katherine Sanchez, she was a victim to any of them. She was horrible at telling jokes that it could make you cry. She would continually laugh before she even told the joke or she was just horrible at saying it, period. But that’s what made Kat, Kat.
“Yet?” I cried as I looked at her incredulously, “Says the one that decided to even choose to be my friend! Which I still don’t understand why you did; I’m nothing great. But ignoring that subject, I need this job because I’m not going to live off my photos alone. The police, nor anyone else figured out my identity, so this is more like a haven for me from others.”
Today was just like any other day with Kat: we talked the same topics and joke whenever we could. But we also cherished the moments of being “best friends” (practically sisters) with each other; we cherished each other’s presence like it was our last. After all, whenever there’s a war, you never know when it might be the last; no one does.
Of all the people that weren’t family, Kat is the only one who knows of my late-night photography. Of all the other acquaintances of mine (which is very few), not one knows about a whisper of it. On my website where I post my pictures, people have been pressing for a leak, but I knew better. Only a fool would reveal themselves before the warring conflict with the two enemies known throughout Florida. Even if the war subsides, I’m still a bit conflicted on letting myself known.
But my late-night photography is a huge risk itself. For years, I’ve been waiting for the police to track down my computer or phone and arrest me for going out after curfew, but they haven’t. Kat and I have suspected that they didn’t care considering that I started photography three years ago, but every day and every night I still wait for them to knock on my door.
The website I use is more than just a place to look and donate. I gain most of my money by working with a company that uses my photography and create them into posters and paintings. I post the pictures, the company uses them for designs, like merchandise, people buy them, Kat receives the money, and then she gives the money to me. Donations by the public are more like a plus for me, but the more the merrier.
However, even though I’m doing fine now, it doesn’t mean later something will happen. The company could terminate my contract and people could stop donating out of becoming displeased, so that’s why I divulge in a different job: a flower shop. Kat is the owner of the small shop and I’m her only employee. She entrusts me with most of the work, but she always helps me out no matter how little or large the task is. But, we’re lucky that only both of us is enough to be able to run the shop.
As the sun started to set, business began running slower. I admired the view we had as the sun looked as if it was descending beyond the horizon in brilliant colors of oranges, pinks, and purples. As the sun descended, the sky started to turn a pitch black that most kids feared, but that fear would dissipate when the stars and the moon shined brightly like a flashlight in the dark. At that time, Kat and I locked up the shop and we wished each other to be safe before we parted ways. On the weekends, we leave at five and on the weekends, Kat and I decided to leave earlier since that’s when the enemies are most active.
Kat and I lived on the border of the city. Kat settled the shop that was close to my apartments, which is why I applied for the job when I saw that “HELP WANTED” sign. Kat didn’t even know me when I applied, but she chose me for the job out of the others that applied. She was the type of person that I used to be bullied by back in school, but she was completely different towards me than she was towards others. Towards me, she was everything a person wanted in a sister. But towards others, she was like the devil himself. I was cautious of her at first, but when we became more acquainted towards each other, I let her into my life.
In the taxi cab, I automatically recognized the large buildings that came into view which made up the apartments I lived in. Since my only family member, my grandmother, wasn’t very agile, we lived on the first floor. Both of us would have preferred living on the second floor of the four-story building.
The beige and brown paint still looked fresh from all the years of the wind and rain roaring against the buildings. The apartments were sectioned into seven buildings and my grandmother and I chose to move into the second building since it was closer to the only exit and the first building was filled. The brick laid in three layers around the bottom of the buildings before they ascended into sectioned wooden planks that were in a fresh looking beige. The decorative frames around the doors were painted a deep brown that almost looked black and the metal, that decorated as the door handles and knockers, were painted a black steel. The parking lot is almost always full, so that would have been a pain for me if I had a car.
When I entered through my apartment door, the lights were off. That also meant my grandmother was asleep. She usually is by the time I come back from work.
My grandmother, Maggie Maedric, knew of my nightly photo hobby. However, no matter how much success I was at the occupation, she disapproved of my actions. All she wants is for me to stay safe since I was all she had left, but even God knows that what she wanted wasn’t going to stop me.
I changed out of my collared shirt that was a blood red, like that rose I trimmed earlier today, and my black jeans. It was our uniform that I picked out since it seemed unprofessional to just come into work with casual clothing. Kat suggested the Garden & Tools design on the shirt.
As I changed into a plain t-shirt and sweat pants, I noticed that it was going to be chilly out, so I brought my jacket with me. It was almost always chilly at night.
In the mirror, I pulled my hair back into a ponytail to keep my hair out of my face for what I was about to do. As much as I didn’t like having my hair up when going out and take pictures, I didn’t want any of my hair blowing past my face and the camera lens when the wind picks up. Usually, there’d be one or two people I’d see trying to find me, but I made sure I stayed out of view. I knew that wasn’t going to stop anytime soon.
Before I left, I made sure I had everything that I needed. My pistol sat comfortably out of sight in its holster, my keys were settled in my jacket pocket, and my camera, that my mother bought before she died, hung heavily around my neck. After double checking, I left the small protection of my home.
Whenever the sun is perfectly settled where I need it to be, I go to the park for the beautiful nature that could be captured in many ways and styles. However, since the sun was already gone from prying eyes, the town was my best shot. Usually, I went to the park on the weekends, since I’m released early and the sunset gives more definition to the nature that’s nurtured by its rays. As the pictures were popular for its natural beauty, the city was best for its livelihood that outshined the stars during the night. I wasn’t just the only one who stays out after curfew.
The distance between my apartments and the heart of the city was a great distance. Thankfully I had my phone with me to hail me a cab and extra cash for the payment. I hid my camera in my jacket I had on that also concealed my gun from the public view before I slid into the cab that waited for me.
“Where to, miss?” the voice of the smoking cab driver asked.
“Downtown,” I responded. He grunted at the lack of an address before he shifted the gear into drive and drove off.
In a total of ten minutes of silence, except the radio, we arrived in the heart of the city. It should have taken longer, but since the driver was going past the speed limit like they usually do in Verdic, we made it in lesser time. But, thankfully he took me to the part of town where much people weren’t around. I preferred to work without any crowds circling around me.
I paid the cab driver the twenty dollars fine before I happily jumped out of the smoke-infested cab. With the slam of the door, he sped off where he would be paid more and I was left to the outside world.
I looked around my surrounding area to see where I could start, but not even ten seconds later did I find a perfect spot. Behind me was a closed bakery that stood great compared to the small bank that was a few buildings down. However, attached on the side of the bakery was a fire escape. Since the bakery was closed and no one was around, I decided that’s where I’ll start my rounds of shots.
I secured my camera firmly around my neck before I hoisted myself on the rusted metal, that had a faded red paint, that led to the stairs. I climbed past the rust and bird excretion to get to the roof of the building, and I was greeted with a sublime view of the city.
From a great distance, I could see the city’s lights shine so brightly compared to the dark and disfigured part of the city I was in. I could see the small number of cars race through the city in a series of twists and turns as they tried to reach their destinations, and I could see the one building that shined brightest of all the others. I could tell it was new since I’ve never seen it before, but it had lights shining so bright, it could blind anyone within seconds just by looking at it for too long. The variety of colors that it brought a smile to my face as it contrasted against the white body of the large building. There were many cars parked there and if I can see correctly, there’s a long line to enter as well.
Making sure that I was away from prying eyes, I kept my distance from the ledge of the building and crouched to take my ready position. I focused the camera where the lights were what was in focus and snapped the beauty that was before. I observed the photo that I took and I smiled at the breathtaking view. Verdic truly was beautiful if you look at it through the perfect lens.
This was why I loved taking photos. Doing this wasn’t for the fame or for the money, but to capture the true form of beauty which is surrounded by darkness. When Martial Law was set up, everyone was crying of the small depression each one of us had gone through. Families were killed, money and business were lost, and women were sometimes taken for the pleasure of the enemies.
That was then, this is now. Now, people can exit their homes past curfew without fearing that they’ll be kidnapped or killed. And I happened to be one of those fearless beings. Of course, I had some fear towards the two options, but I wasn’t as terrified as I was before. But I could bring joy to people just by simply clicking a button that captures what most would see fly by quicker than a fly escaping danger. It couldn’t be any simpler.
Three hours later I managed to capture five new photos of the landscape of the lively city and three photos of the moon and stars. Most people paid more attention to the photos of warm colors of yellow and orange sunsets I take, but quite a few people take comfort in all my works. Kat enjoyed looking at them; so, did my grandmother, even though she still scolds me after taking an observation.
By the time I returned, I was dead tired and all I could think was “sleep.” I was too tired to care about my grumbling stomach or even notice the vibration of my phone in my pocket. When my head hit my pillow, I was out like a light.
I woke up late the next morning, so I quickly posted the pictures before I took the quickest shower I’ve ever taken. I threw my uniform on and threw myself out the door with a quick “goodbye” to my grandmother who was staring at me as if I grew two heads.
I had my purse pressed against myself as I ran towards the shop. I was running too fast that I barely could escape colliding with others, but there were times when I did. I accidentally bumped into a young gentleman that was around my age, but he glared at me as if he wanted me dead. If looks could kill, I’d be dead where I stood.
Right as I approached the shop, I stopped behind Kat who was still unlocking the see-through door. I’ve never seen her eyes so wide.
“What time is it?” I asked her in-between my pants and puffed out breaths.
“It’s only ten,” she said, “Did you run all the way here?”
I nodded at her guess and said, “I forgot to set my alarm last night. I was out.”
She turned back towards the door and unlocked it where we started to quickly get up the shop. I went back to trimming the overgrown stems that grew overnight and Kat went to checking whether some needed more care.
“I texted you last night,” Kat said while she stood observed the daisy that was in front of her, “Did you read it?”
“No, I’m sorry. I fell asleep right when I got home,” I tried explaining to her.
“Well,” she dragged out with an excited smile plastered on her lips, “you should read it now.”
I rolled my eyes at her excited manner and checked my messages. I quickly looked at Kat’s board and didn’t like the words that were sent to me.
“How does this involve me?” I questioned Kat as I looked up from my phone.
She was practically smiling from ear-to-ear.
“Well, that club is the club I’ve been talking about all of last week!” Kat exclaimed loudly, “Remember my friend, Alice? Well, she managed to get me reserved on the list tomorrow and an extra guest can come along with me...”
Out of the many friends and acquaintances Kat had, Alice was one that helps her out with getting into newly opened clubs that people are always hyped up for. I never could understand as to why Kat loved going to them. All the clubs that she has failed to bring me to were noisy and full of people. But maybe that’s more because I’m an introvert and she’s an extrovert.
“Oh, no. You’re not bringing me,” I declined as I shook my head, “Bring Rachel or Brian. There’s no way I’m going.”
“Eleanor, come on! Rachel is too clingy and just recently I found out that she’s lesbian and I don’t role that way. And Brian always leaves with some chick. I’m surprised he doesn’t have an STD,” she begged as she clasped her hands together.
“I’m sorry Kat, but no,” I said as I crossed my arms, “I’m not going.”
“I’m sorry, Eleanor, but I have to bring out the big guns.”
“What do you -” I stopped talking when she began to scrunch up her perfect eyebrows, widened her milk chocolate eyes, and puckered out her bottom lip that most men loved sucking... Kat and her stupid explicit details on her sex life...
That... She knew this usually (more like “all the time”) works on me.
“No,” I stubbornly said with a fight. There was no way I was going down without a fight, but she wouldn’t give up.
Then she resorted to her final solution: she let out a little whimper for effect.
“Fine,” I groaned.