“Okay, make a wish!”
Hope leaned forward, her face softly illuminated by the candles’ orange glow. She had no idea what to wish for…. Every year, she drew a blank when the time came to blow out the candles. Wishing wasn’t something you were meant to do under pressure anyway, was it? She’d certainly never thought so.
Her mind had gone completely blank, so in the end, she wished for the same thing she always did — Happiness.
She lifted a forkful of cake to her lips. It was so dry and flavorless. Even the frosting tasted like cardboard… Or worse. Hope suppressed a wince as she swallowed. If there was one thing she missed on her past three birthdays, it was the special cake Zayne always made for her every year, with strawberry filling and buttercream frosting… The thought of it made her feel strangely sad.
Am I seriously getting emotional over cake? She shook her head at her own foolishness. But part of her wondered whether it was truly the cake she was missing.
“So, what’d you wish for?” Carmen’s voice called her back to the present.
The party had been her idea, despite Hope’s protests.“It’ll be a fun night with friends… why not?” She’d argued. Hope was reluctant to call Carmen a ‘friend’, let alone any of the other models who now filled the balcony of her apartment. It wasn’t exactly the ideal way to spend her 30th birthday… But it also beat spending it alone, didn’t it?
“Yeah!” One of the other models agreed. “What was your wish?”
Hope forced a smile. “If I tell you, it won’t come true, right?”
“Oh, you’re no fun!” Another of the party guests laughed. Hope wasn’t even sure of her name, but they’d done a shoot together once. “Fine… We’ll guess then.” She smirked.
“I bet I know what her wish was.” Carmen replied playfully. “To finally book a job other than a department store ad.”
“Right? Or actually do a cover shoot again!”
“Ha! Yeah, or go back to being San Martín’s favorite little pet…”
Hope narrowed her eyes at the other models. Seriously?!
“Wow. Cute.” Her voice dripped with sarcasm. “What the hell is your problem?!” She asked the room at large.
“Oh, come on… We’re just messing around, babe.” Sean smiled. “Lighten up!”
Hope felt her face grow hot. He’d been so quick to ask her out after she’d broken up with David a few weeks ago, but she’d only gone on a handful of dates with Sean. They weren’t even official yet… Who the hell did he think he was he was calling her ‘babe’ and lecturing her about ‘lightening up’?!
Before she could say anything, the other party guests had begun chiming in.
“It is pretty scary to be turning thirty though, isn’t it?” One of them asked, her tone more serious than before. “Especially with things already going downhill…”
Carmen nodded. “My agent’s always telling me every model has an expiration date… So I definitely know what I’d be wishing for in your shoes.”
“Honestly, when I turn thirty, I’ll probably like, die or something.” One of the youngest partygoers cried. “I mean like, it basically means your career is over, right?”
Hope rose to her feet. She’d had enough. “That’s it.” Her voice was practically a hiss. “The party’s over.”
“You heard me.”
Sean shook his head. “Jeez, can’t you take a joke?”
“Please, just go.” Hope narrowed her eyes at the others. “You too, Sean.”
Hope dropped down on to the bench and held her face in her hands for a few moments, grateful to be alone at last. Worst birthday ever… What the hell was I thinking?! She’d known from the get-go that the party would turn out to be a mistake…. So why had she agreed to it?
There used to be a time where she’d have fun at get-togethers like this. When she was away from home and missing Zayne and needed to take her mind off things. Or after their breakup, when she needed a distraction for the very same reason.
But things had been feeling different lately. Those other models were so young and perky and bitchy. Was that what she’d been like when she was their age?
No, Hope decided. She wasn’t. But maybe she’d had a little more patience. It used to be so much easier to put up with their shit…
Still, there was something that felt different this time around… Something that went beyond their normal catty behavior. And Hope was fairly certain she knew what it was.
As much as their words had hurt her, they were right, weren’t they? There was a terrible truth behind their cruel jokes. She’d just been too stubborn to let the truth sink in, until now.
How many female models had she ever known to keep going past thirty? Almost none. The oldest fellow model Hope had ever met was thirty-three when she retired… And that was considered old by industry standards.
Jesus… Am I really ‘old’ now?!
She’d already started feeling the shift during the past year or so. No one had booked her for a cover shoot in months, and she had been going a week or more between shoots lately.
What happened to the way things used to be? When designers and photographers were practically fighting over her. When her photos were on billboards and magazine covers around the world…
Hope had gone from being one of the most sought-after models in San Myshuno to fading away into the background, tossed aside in favor of those newer and younger than her. It was just like what had happened when she hit her first major bump of her modeling career, back when she and Zayne had first gotten together. But unlike back then, she knew there would be no bouncing back from it this time.
She still remembered how excited she’d felt for Zayne when he’d celebrated his thirtieth birthday last summer. It was already over half a year ago now… Where had the time gone? Everything had changed so much since then, it seemed. He really seemed so happy now — even happier than he had been last year, when he decided to move on from Greg and start over. And now, his new restaurant was already set to open in less than two months.
Being thirty seemed to be treating Zayne pretty amazingly so far. It was a huge milestone for most people… But for models, it was a dreaded one. And Hope hated that.
Your thirtieth birthday was supposed to be exciting, wasn’t it? A turning point in your life. The start of a new chapter. That’s what it had been for Zayne. And that’s what it would be for her too. She could feel it.
But what kind of story would this new chapter tell? A comedy? A tragedy?
Hope rose to her feet and walked to the edge of the balcony, her eyes drinking in the thousands of twinkling lights that glittered in the city below.
Despite everything, it didn’t feel right to just give up and retire. Not yet, at least. Hope loved modeling too much to say goodbye to it right now. But it suddenly hit her that something needed to change. She needed to let things slow down naturally, let her career run its course, and start thinking about the future.
And something told her that future didn’t lie in San Myshuno.
I don’t really belong here anymore… Do I? Hope couldn’t shake the strange feeling of déjà vu that washed over her at the thought. This was not the first time in her life that she’d found herself faced with this same conclusion… And it was a conclusion that led her to the exact same question as last time.
If she wasn’t meant to be here in San Myshuno, then where did she belong?
It was strange just how easily the answer came to her.