TW: vague allusions to killing and death, murder, explicit details about metaphoric blood.
I cradle the glimmering golden trophy in my arms, an equally dazzling smile plastered on my face. Camera lights from all directions flash in my eyes, the spotlights to my victory.
“Emily! Emily!” One reporter hollers. “What are your thoughts on being awarded the Youth Acting Award?”
“Tell us what you feel about being the youngest nominee!”
“Miss Coffey, what are your secrets to being such a great actress?”
With practiced poise and confidence, I gaze into the camera lenses. “There are no secrets. It’s all hard work and dedication.” I add in an extra smile. “Thank you to everyone for coming.”
“Emily! Emily! Miss Coffey!” Reporters yell as I make my way down the podium. I need to leave. Before they say anything about her.
“Emily! What do you feel about the recent death of Liliana Agnello, your fellow actress?”
The question slashes a wound in the skin of my persona.
And just like that, I feel the blood spurting out of my soul, staining the spotless carpet. The blood pools around my feet, and I’m sinking in this sea of red liquid. Tendrils wrap themselves around my ankles, dragging me further and further down into the chasm of hopelessness.
I gasp, almost tripping.
Liliana. Liliana. Liliana. Her sweet laughter rings in my ears as my vision wobbles.
“Breathe Emily, breathe,” I mutter.
Clawing against the carpet, I pull myself away from the wrath of the tendrils. They hiss, desperate to feast on my broken heart. Soaked with blood, I stumble back into my dressing room. The reporters are spectators to my every move, armed with their cameras to capture everything I do and say. I can’t let them see any part of me falter.
I shut the door to the dressing room. Finally, safe. Here, the voices outside are only faint whispers. I clutch my chest, the wound in my soul still dripping blood.
Sliding onto the floor, I squeeze the trophy in my arms. The trophy is clear and definite proof of my sweet victory. Its smooth surface soothes the pain in my chest, like aloe vera on a sunburn. Even under the dim lights of the dressing room, the trophy still commands the admiration it was destined to receive. It exudes confidence like it’s a birthright.
The trophy itself is so stunning I feel like it belongs somewhere else. Maybe in a museum or sealed behind a glass case. Definitely, not here, in a dark room. Smiling, I trace the golden intricate roses encrusted along the brim of the trophy.
Liliana. Roses. They were her favorite. There would always be a vase of them in her room. Dammit.
She didn’t deserve what happened to her. If it were anyone, she's the one who deserved a fulfilled and happy life.
I can still remember that day two weeks ago, a vivid memory forever carved in my mind. When I had woken up that morning, the fog had settled outside my window, a white barrier to the external world. It was strange, fog didn't normally come to my place in the city. Turning on the TV, I flipped through the channels. And there it was. Liliana’s face on the news headlines.
They used her high school graduation picture. When we had gotten our pictures back, both of us had laughed at hers. She told me her smile looked too forced. I agreed. She looked much better in real life. Her actual smile was like fireworks. It takes you by surprise but once you see it, it makes you feel things at an intensity you’ve never felt before.
“Talented Young Actress Found Dead Last Night.”
I crumbled onto the floor. Why her? Of all people, why Liliana? Of the 7.7 billion people alive and breathing, why her? How could you leave me like this, Liliana? As I pounded on the tile floors, I felt the raw agony ripping through my body. Without her, the world already seemed dimmer. Less vivid. I slammed my fist against the floor over and over, like it would bring her back to life again.
When I stopped, my fist was battered and bruised just like my heart.
They haven’t convicted anyone yet. Police found her dead in a dark alleyway, lying in a pool of blood. There were signs of severe head trauma but she died a quick and painless death. At least, that’s what they told me. I doubt it though. How could death be painless?
Burying my head on my knees, I heave a final sob. How could I be here, celebrating when she’s dead? When she’s the one who deserves this award? Her acting talents outshone everyone's, even mine.
“Miss Coffey, are you alright?” My manager knocks on the door. Shoot. She must’ve heard my crying.
“Yes!” I manage as I rub my tears away. As I open the door, I nearly bump right into her.
“Sorry-” I begin, and then I stop. My manager looks so bewildered I’m tempted to laugh. I imagine what I must look like. Streaming mascara, knotted hair, and puffy eyes, a sharp contrast to what I looked like at the press conference.
Yet that baffled look painted on her face is so familiar…
Wait. Was it from that night? What had happened? Some details are hazy in my mind.
“What are you doing here Emily?” Liliana’s face had twisted into a bewildered expression.
“Oh. Uh.” I had stuttered, unsure what to say. How was I supposed to explain why I had followed her here?
“It’s fine, I need someone here to keep me company anyway.” Liliana smiled as the surprised look melted off her face.
A lone street light flickered its dim light over our heads, the only thing that kept the darkness from swallowing us. The eerily cool weather should’ve sent chills down my spine but I didn’t feel any. Instead, my insides felt warm and cozy like fairy lights. Maybe because I was standing next to her.
Liliana’s hazel hair tumbled from her shoulders in flawless curls, like they had been freshly done by a stylist. She was the type of girl who normally flowed with confidence, from the way she carried herself to the way she smiled. Her presence felt like a constant reminder she would always be there for me, even in this unpredictable world.
More pieces fall in place as the memory becomes clearer in my mind.
“What are you doing here?” I had asked as I nudged her.
She laughed before saying, “I don’t know, I think I just need a break. The pressure’s getting to me.”
I nodded. Especially with the school’s Youth Acting Award coming up, all eyes were on Liliana to receive it. No doubt she would, she’s the best in our prestigious performing arts school. Getting the award would make Liliana the center of media attention and would guarantee her countless opportunities in the future.
I intertwined my fingers with hers. “It’s okay Lili, you don’t have to worry anymore.”
Squeezing my hand, she smiled. But when I looked into her eyes, they looked dull without their usual sparkle. Shifting closer to her, I pressed my forehead against hers. Her skin felt warm, comforting in the chilly weather.
“Are you going to be okay?” I whispered. She nodded but something in me said otherwise. I closed my eyes as I leaned in. Kissing her felt like a fresh bouquet of lilies. Sweet, vibrant, and alive. It felt real, nothing like our fake personas on stage. Like every time before, the world stopped and it was just the two of us. Two 19-year-olds enjoying the sweetness of teenage love, without a care in the world.
When our lips fell apart, I draped an arm on her shoulder and her forehead rested on my neck. Now’s the moment. If I don’t stop her now, she’s going to win the award. Tears stung my eyes. If she wins, it would change everything. She wouldn’t care about me anymore in her newfound stardom. I’d be left behind while fame stole her from me. I can’t let that happen.
My fingers curled around the blade tucked in my pocket as I lifted it above her head. I’m so sorry, Liliana.
The fog clears from my head as the last puzzle piece snaps in place.
“Miss Coffey!” My advisor cries as I fall to my knees. No, no. Impossible. This can’t be true.