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A New Smile

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The first snows of December started falling on Gotham. A sweet smell of spices, cinnamon and pine was floating in the cold air, the streets were beautifully decorated with colorful lights and Christmas ornaments of all sorts. Wooden cabins selling hot chocolates, knitted hats, socks and scarves, handmade jewelries, and hot mulled wine opened for the season. You liked that time of the year, everyone seemed so happy that you could almost share their joy.

You went out to get a cup of hot spiced tea, before heading back home to finish your final painting. You couldn’t believe that the exhibit was already next week, you were equally excited and anxious about it since you learnt that very important people would be present at the opening of the exhibit, including the businessman Bruce Wayne and the respectable district attorney Harvey Dent. You were especially hoping to meet the latter, as you have been following his successes for a long time now.

On your way home, you stopped in front of a clothes shop. For years now, you’ve been wearing essentially the same clothes, and so you thought it would be the occasion to get yourself a brand new dress. You entered the shop and started wandering around, until you spotted several different dresses to try on. After a few minutes spent in the fitting room, you fell in love with a gorgeous calf length pine green skater dress with bishop sleeves and a turtle neck. A simple yet very elegant dress that you felt comfortable in. You happily came back home, put on some music and worked on your last painting.

*

You liked the noise of your low heels on the pavement, that night. Despite the cold temperature, a fire was burning inside of you. Tonight, your work was part of an exhibit about the perception of Gotham by different artists. You took a look at your watch and accelerated the pace; you didn’t want to be late ! After a sleepless night, you fell asleep during the afternoon and woke up a few hours later. You just had enough time to brush your hair and put on a dark red lipstick to match the deep pine green color of your dress.

It was a fancy vernissage. The Gotham art gallery was a magnificent 4-storey building, highly praised by the critics. The exhibit was on the first and second floor. The paintings and sculptures all had their own strategic spot carefully chosen, and every piece of art had a small frame describing the view of the artist. Some of them were decorated with a discreet blue sticker, indicating that the piece was sold. You could see the name of the buyer written on the sticker. 

On the third floor was a permanent exhibit about the story of Gotham, and the reception room. People were welcomed with all kind of delicate appetizers and drinks served in ridiculously thin and tall glasses, and multiple tables and seats were offered at the back of the room to discuss without disturbing the other visitors. 

Finally, on the last floor, there was a calmer room with a bay window opening onto a terrace, usually not open to the public but exceptionally made available for the vernissage. 

Your heart was pounding as you discovered the exhibit and recognized many familiar faces that you have only seen in magazines or on television. After a while, you decided to get a drink on the third floor. You noticed an important crowd at the back of the room; the reason was simple, the successful businessman Bruce Wayne arrived and many people wanted his attention. Your heart skipped a beat, and for a moment you couldn’t move, but decided it was your time to shine and thought you would introduce yourself. As you got closer to him, he looked back at you and smiled.

“Good evening, Mrs.” he gently said, shaking your hand. Everything about him was elegant; his voice was soft and welcoming, his gesture was slow and precise, even his suit was perfectly fitting him. Wayne was mostly known for his fruitful company, but other than that you didn’t know much about him.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr Wayne. My name is (…), you can see part of my work on the second floor.”

“The pleasure is all mine, (…). Oh, I remember your paintings, it’s a very interesting take on Gotham.” You exchanged a few words but he then received a call, excused himself and left the room. 

*

Later this evening, you felt a little overwhelmed. You were not exactly used to such big events, and you decided to isolate yourself on the last floor. The room was smaller than the others; there were a few comfortable seats, a coffee table covered in magazines of art, enough space to wander around, and a huge beautiful bay window opening onto a terrace. You looked at the city through the window, covered in snow, decorated with lights; everything seemed so small from that height. You smiled, closed your eyes and rested your forehead against the cold window; you appreciated this moment of calm.

You then heard some noise coming from the elevator at the other side of the room. You turned your head and frowned, wondering what was happening. You heard the bell of the elevator stopping at your floor, and several armed men wearing clown masks ran out of it. In the middle of them, there was a familiar face; it was the man in a purple coat hiding in the alley. As soon as you saw him, your blood ran cold and you completely froze. One of the masked men noticed you, and shouted at the others. They approached you, terrorized, until you heard their leader interrupting them.

“Come on, guys ! Don’t you see she’s all alone?” He screamed at them. He walked towards you, raised an eyebrow, looked at you from head to toe, and licked his lips. When he was close enough to you, he clicked his tongue, frowned and pointed a finger at you. His expression was a mix of curiosity and amusement.

“You… I know you, right? How do I know you?” He said in a very calm voice. Despite your obvious fear, you jumped on the opportunity to refresh his memory.

“I’m (…). Remember me? It was in November, you were hiding and–”

“Oh yeah ! Yeah !” He interrupted you, and laughed hysterically. “Of course I remember you” He ran his hand in his hair, licked his lips and paused for a minute. He was thinking of something, but you couldn’t guess what exactly. One of the men approached him.

“The others are in position, Joker.” He turned his head, waved at him visibly exasperated, and looked back at you, smiling.

“ You know… you helped me back then, right?”

“You said that you owed me one, Joker.” He chuckled at your answer. You shouldn’t be so full of yourself, you thought. Not with armed people all around you.

“You know what? You’re right. And who am I, if I don’t even have principles, mh? I’d be a clown, and a pretty stupid one, yeah?” He chuckled, smiled at you for a while, then continued. “I tell you what, this building is surrounded with my men. Just a courtesy visit… Well, even if I’d let you go now, you couldn’t go very far without finding one of… them.” He waved at the masked men. “So, how about I tell you exactly what to do to leave the place safely instead?” He licked his lips and raised his eyebrows, waiting for your answer. You nodded, and he gave you a chilling smile.

With one of his gloved hands, he grabbed the back of your neck. You whimpered in surprise, as he pulled your head closer to him, until his mouth was right next to your ear. You could feel his breath caressing your skin, and the sound of his tongue licking his lips. You thought he had a delicate smell, a mixture of orange and a lightly musky perfume. Your body was pressing against his, you could feel its warmth. You didn’t move an inch, your heart was pounding so hard you were afraid of it exploding.

Joker then whispered into your ear how to leave the building safely. His slow voice resonated in you, you could guess he was smiling by the tone he used. He would sometimes lick his lips, it felt like a warm heartbeat to your ear. There was something surprisingly tender in his voice, you didn’t feel afraid as much as you thought you would. Once he was done, he released his grip and looked at you with shiny eyes, holding your face in one hand. He raised his eyebrows and smiled at you. 

“You got that right, beautiful?” He asked. You nodded, unable to utter a single sound. He completely released you, walked away and then stopped, turned his back, and ran a hand in his hair. He pointed a finger in your direction.

“You know what’s funny?” he said in an amused voice before laughing some more. He clicked his tongue, and opened his arms. “Next time, it’ll be your turn!”

*

The cold night felt good on your burning face. After carefully following the Joker’s instructions, you safely escaped the building; he didn’t lie to you. You had a very hard time processing tonight’s events. You could still feel his grip behind your neck, and the warmth of his breath. You moved your hair behind your ear and noticed some red makeup on your fingers; he was so close to you that his skin probably touched yours. You looked at your hands and wondered what would have happened if he didn’t remember you, and if you would ever see him again.

 As you walked away, you turned your head and looked at the gallery one last time. You heard a gunshot, a window exploding, and soon after a woman falling from the third floor. You covered your mouth in horror, until you saw a dark shape jumping out of the window. You never saw him before, and only heard of him on television or in the newspapers. The Batman.

You had a hard time breathing. In the distance, you heard the sirens of police cars as you walked home, flustered and overwhelmed.