A/N: Hello there! It's Noelle with her latest short story, a submission for River's Tramp Tragedy Contest. :) This story is actually my favourite out of the other short stories, for some reason. And if the wonderful River Stevens happens to be reading this, I hope you feel better soon, lovely! xoxo
PS: It doesn't have a good/happy ending!!! It's a tragedy contest, for one thing, and my short stories never do! :P
I had always felt insufficient. Inadequate, incapable, incompetent. There were a hundred and one ‘in’s and ‘un’s that I could feel, a thousand and one reasons for me to feel this way.
I was famous. You couldn’t live in America and not know my name.
My face had appeared on every single billboard in New York and LA for at least one time. I received so many fan-mails a day; my agent had to hire fifteen staff members to reply them for me. I was born a star – my parents had been famous actors and it was only a matter of time before I followed in their footsteps.
And I was only eighteen.
In short, some people had told me that I was the luckiest girl in the world. The richest. Maybe the most beautiful, even.
The one who had everything.
And maybe, maybe they were right. Well, majority wins, anyway. And as I thought about this, my mouth set itself in a thin line.
They are right, you are wrong, Stacy said, firmly. Now smile.
And I did. The camera flashed in my face. Once, twice, thrice.
For the four-thousand-and-fifty-fourth time (perhaps), I felt blinded by the flash. That momentary flicker of white light that completely bedazzled me – left me stunned and seeing nothing else.
As a child, I had always been mesmerised by it. There was something about that light, how it made me feel. Like bees to honey, I liked looking at it. I liked to challenge myself, to see if I could stare straight into the camera without blinking. If I did, I started over again. After years and years of challenging myself, I had perfected it.
But there was something else about the camera flash altogether. Through the brightness of it all, I had always tried to look for the small device that actually gave out the light. It was like trying to see light at the end of the tunnel, but in this case it was the other way round.
Either way, nothing could compare to watching a camera flash in my face. Nothing was quite equivalent to the impact that left on me.
But I didn’t blink. I smiled harder. Smiled so hard it almost hurt. My cheek muscles felt like they were being ripped apart, but still I smiled.
What was smiling compared to all the physical sufferings other people had to go through in their work? They had to lift heavy loads up construction sites, risk being torn apart limb from limb while training lions, risk falling twenty-feet to their death whilst walking on a tightrope.
All you have to do is smile. What’s so damned difficult about that? Stacy asked.
So, smiling, I stared at the camera unblinkingly. It flashed in my face, again and again. The photographer was clicking furiously, taking shot after shot, yelling encouraging words like, “Good, Arianna, good! Fantastic, marvelous! You’re perfect!”
And I could hear Stacy’s smile through her voice. Smile for the camera, Ariana.
And all the while, inside, I felt anything but.
The photo shoot done, I didn’t have a reason to stay in the studio much longer. I had to meet Carter. I slapped on a pair of fake-glasses, and pulled my beanie over my hair. And then I hurried through the streets to go to the nearest McDonalds – our arranged meeting-place.
Stacy came with me. I thought Stacy looked extremely pretty tonight, with her white-blond hair and her red winter coat.
Carter was already there when I entered the noisy eatery. The place smelt of grease, and oil, and fat.
“Arianna!” Carter waved me over to the corner booth, so nobody could see us. He looked gorgeous in that simple white shirt of his, paired with his navy blue jeans.
How could simplicity look so perfect? I was anything but. It was meant to be this way. Humans are, after all, complex creatures. No one could expect us to be as simple as, say, an amoeba – a single-celled organism like that had barely any life in it.
Carter was simple. His shirts were of different colours, but hadn’t any prints on them. His hair was seldom ever styled, but looked so good all the same. There could only be one answer when girls asked him, “Do I look fat in this dress?” The answer to that question was always the truth.
Carter was my best friend, and he said I was way too complex for him. I could feel happy and sad at the same time, confident and insecure too. I liked being told what to do, but at the same time, I hated being controlled. I was perfect, but in so many ways, I felt anything but.
That, to Carter, was way too confusing. How could I feel two opposite ways at the same time? How could I want two things at the same time, with an equal amount of fervour and desire? How could I…well, how could I not feel perfect when everyone had said that I was?
But still, he was my best friend, and I couldn’t have asked for anyone better.
I smiled at him, and went over to give him a hug. I felt him flinch, felt his back muscles go rigid beneath my touch.
Carter’s arms came around me, but they barely skimmed my waist. His touch was careful, cautious…like I was a fragile china doll, and he was afraid I’d break into pieces under his embrace.
Annoyed, I pulled away, but my smile was still permanently etched onto my face. It had been that way ever since I first smiled for the camera.
Stacy squeezed my hand.
I’ll be in the booth right behind you. So I can always watch over you.
She slipped away quietly, unseen.
I slid into the booth, and Carter settled down on the bench opposite me.
“I got your favourite.” He said, his blue eyes twinkling under the dim lighting. “Double cheeseburger without pickles, right?”
Automatically, my stomach gave a lurch. Double cheeseburger without pickles was my favourite. It used to be. Until, well, until I grew up.
“Thanks,” I murmured, but my hands stayed beneath the table.
“Come on,” Carter smiled encouragingly, and opened the wrapper of his burger. Instantly, the smell of his McSpicy wafted through the air. My stomach gave another lurch.
Still, my hands didn’t move.
Beneath the table. Stacy chanted.
She could hear everything, and she knew she had to step in.
Beneath the table. Stay beneath the table.
Carter sighed, tiredly. “Arianna, don’t do this. Please.”
His voice, that warm, sexy, deep voice of his tugged at my heart. I felt so guilty, for not doing what he wanted. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t.
I stared at the table. Wrong move. The sight of the fries dripping with grease completely sickened me, and I could feel my stomach juices acting up again. I flinched, and glanced out of the window, staring at the passers-by walking across the street, past the window.
His voice was pleading. He was begging me to listen to him. Or to look at him. Either one might suffice.
So I did. My gaze met his, and instantly, I regretted. Because, out of their own accord, my hands started moving. They picked up the burger, and started unwrapping. Bit by bit. They brought the burger up to my lips. Slowly.
These hands. Not me. Not me. I didn’t do it.
Carter’s expression changed from a weary, frustrated one, to that of encouragement. Encouragement. Always encouragement. Was I such a lost cause, that everyone around me had to smile supportively, like I was some sort of mental retard, or a toddler?
Still, the hands kept bringing the burger closer. Closer.
These hands. Not me. These hands don’t belong to me.
And the burger was now so close, I could almost taste it.
Don’t you dare eat it. Don’t you dare take one bite.
Stacy’s voice surged through my entire system like a fire siren. All the red flags up. All the danger signals on high.
My hands – now hands that belonged to me finally – flung the burger aside quickly. The bile rose in my throat, and I swallowed hard to keep it from coming up. I could taste it, taste the bile, and in a minute I would be retching.
Don’t retch. Stacy said, in a low voice, so Carter wouldn’t hear her. Inhale, exhale.
Immediately, I took deep breaths of air, and I could feel myself gaining back some colour.
Carter was staring at me, a different emotion altogether in his eyes. But I didn’t care. I had won. I had almost caved under his gaze, I had almost taken a bite out of that…that poison! But I had won. And that was all that mattered.
I met his gaze triumphantly, and said, “No. I’m not eating that, Carter.”
Way to go, Ariana. Stacy said, from the other booth, and I smiled. She was proud of me. I knew she would be.
Carter’s glare deepened. I could feel the anger vibrating off his chest, and it surprised me. Carter was simple. Carter was never angry. Even if he was, he was never this angry.
“Fuck it, Arianna,” He hissed, springing up from his seat angrily. “I can’t fucking do it.”
My eyes widened. “What’s wrong?”
“Damn it,” He said, furiously. “I can’t stand watching you, watching you just fucking kill yourself like that. You haven’t eaten a bite since the doctors’ diagnosed you. Don’t you want to get well? I can’t believe you’re just throwing your life away like that!”
I turned my gaze away from his scorching one. “I just ate,” I said, to the window.
“No, you didn’t. Stop fucking lying, Arianna. I can see right through you. You need to eat to get well, and if you don’t eat you don’t fucking get well, okay? Why’s that so bloody difficult for you to understand?”
His voice was now loud, and it drew the attention of the people sitting around us. Everyone started to look at me and I could feel my face heat up.
Suddenly, it was all too much for me to handle. Carter, my Carter, was talking to me like I was some four-year old kid with some sort of learning disability. He was humiliating me in front of all these people. And it wasn’t me who didn’t understand.
It was him. Him, and the rest of the world.
“Piss off, Carter.” I said, my teeth clenched.
“You know what?” Carter says, grabbing his black jacket. “I will. I’m done here, Ariana. God knows how fucking long I’ve been trying to get you to eat, and you never do. What’s the point of me being there and claiming to be your best friend, when all you do is throw your fucking life away? And I can’t do a fucking single thing to help because you won’t fucking let me!”
He stormed away, but then he turned back.
“And for the record, Ariana, Ted already got together with Roxanne. She won, you lost. So stop trying to be so perfect, and start eating like a normal human being for a change.” He said, and left me. Left me sitting there. Left me in a place full of people I didn’t know.
Tears immediately sprung to my eyes, tears I had been trying so long to keep. Carter, my Carter, the only one now who truly even bothered about me…he was gone. Gone from my life, and perhaps for forever.
I blindly stood up and began to walk out of the eatery.
Through that stream of tears running down my cheeks, I could hardly see anything. Everything was all blurred up, like a camera out of focus. Like my life, the way it was all fucked up on the inside.
My mother had told me these words when I was young and starting on my profession: “Take one for the girls in this world who will never be able to live their dreams the way you are able to.”
And now as her words came to mind, Stacy started to speak again.
Take one? One’s not enough. Take ten.
Her voice seemed faraway this time, and I looked around me. Where was Stacy? She was always with me. I couldn’t do without her.
“Take ten what?” I asked, loudly, so that Stacy – wherever she was – could hear me.
I’m over here, Ariana! Stacy called.
I glanced up. Stacy was standing on the opposite pavement, waving and smiling cheerfully.
Let’s do this, Ariana. She said, Take ten steps. Just ten steps across this road. Come over to the other side of the road. Come to me.
I took a step forward, but then hesitated. The cars whizzed by me, so quickly they almost blurred my vision. I would be killed if I ever took a step out on such a busy road like this.
You’ll be alright, Ariana. I’m always right, am I not?
I thought about it, and nodded. Stacy was right, she always was.
That one time, I was sobbing over Ted, who had dated me for years but kept cheating on me with Roxanne. Stacy had comforted me – she was the only one who did – and she told me to pick up a penknife. Then she took my hand, and guided the sharp edge of the knife through the veins on my left wrist.
“What are you doing?” I had asked her, the tears rolling down my cheeks. I hadn’t wanted to cry, but the knife sliced through my flesh so deeply that the pain was unbearable. “That hurts. Stop it, Stacy.”
Shhhh. Relax. She had answered, calmly. It’ll hurt, like getting a tattoo, but just for a while. You’ll be okay. I’m just leaving my mark on you, that’s all.
She was right. When I had woken up in a hospital bed a couple of hours later, I had peeled off the ugly bandage that was wrapped around my wrist. The cuts were dried up.
Stacy had appeared right by my side, then, and she was smiling. She pulled up her sleeve, and showed me her wrist. The lines were similar, except that hers were merely scars, and mine was still fresh wounds
See? She had said, We match.
And as I thought about this, I lifted my gaze and met Stacy’s, from across the road. “You’re right,” I said.
So what are you waiting for? She asked, Come on! Trust me, you’ll be alright. Nothing bad will happen to you, I promise.
Stacy always kept her promises.
Wipe your tears, Ariana. And keep your chin up. And come over to my side of the road.
I took a deep breath. This was it. This was going to be hard, but I could do it. Stacy had promised I could do it. I lifted one feet, and took a huge step forward. The heel of my boot hit the gravel on the road, and I counted.
One, for all the girls in the world who wanted to be just like me, but would never be able to. Honestly, I would’ve swapped lives with any of them anyday.
Two, for every girl who had never been able to felt normal for once, because she had been living a life of glamour since young.
You’re doing good, Ariana, Stacy called.
I kept my eyes on her, as I took another step.
Three, for every girl out there who was overworked, whose feelings were neglected, who felt as invisible as I was, even though she was probably more popular than she ever imagined she was.
Four, for every girl who was jilted over and over and over again, because her boyfriend was cheating on her with someone else. For every girl who couldn’t find true love no matter how hard they tried, and could only settle for second-best.
Five, for every girl who hadn’t a friend in the world, because her best friend had given up on her. For every girl who felt as abandoned and as lonely as I was, for every girl who someone they loved deemed them as hopeless and futile to care about anymore.
Great, Ariana! Stacy called. Keep going.
Six, for all the girls who had beautiful and amazing parents like I had, and could never measure up to them. For the girls whose parents were rich and successful and brilliant, the girls who could never be as good as their parents were. For the girls whose parents were never ever satisfied with them, no matter what they did.
Seven, for every girl whose sister had passed away. Whose sister had once been more beautiful than they ever were and ever would be. Whose sister had felt like she wasn’t good enough or perfect enough, and that was why she had slit her wrists and killed herself. Whose sister had been long gone and forgotten by everyone else in the world, except by the other sibling who had been left behind. Whose sister was called Stacy.
A truck passed in front of me. When I looked again, Stacy wasn’t there. Where was Stacy? Alarmed, I took another huge step. The quicker I crossed the road, the quicker I’d find Stacy.
Eight, for every girl who felt inadequate, who felt like there were so many other girls prettier and more amazing than she ever was. Who felt like she needed to lose fifty pounds to be skinny enough so she’d actually feel beautiful for once in a lifetime.
Nine, for every girl who ever felt unloved at some time or other.
Suddenly, Stacy appeared behind me. I could feel her hand on my shoulder, and I automatically relaxed. With Stacy around, nothing bad could possibly happen.
Stacy leaned forward. I could feel her breath on my ear.
This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you, Ariana, Stacy whispered.
And she pushed me. Pushed me so hard I stumbled to the ground. When I looked up, Stacy was gone, and a bus was approaching me so quickly, its front two headlights shining brightly – the lights even more mesmerising than the camera flash every was and ever would be.
I didn’t shut my eyes. I continued staring, because I couldn’t take my eyes off of the lights. No fear. Don’t fear, I told myself. Stacy said everything would be alright.
And ten, I heard Stacy whisper. She knelt down beside me, and slid her arm across my shoulder.
Ten, for every girl in the world who ever tried to commit suicide, and couldn’t.
But eventually did.