• “How would you like to be a lead in a movie?”

    My manager, Josephine Blair, sits across from me in her drab office in New York City. She gives me an intense stare, and I meet her gaze evenly. With a small chuckle, I close my eyes and sweep my short black hair out of my face, giving off my usual overpowering aura of pride, arrogance, even.

    “That, of course, depends on how badly they want me. The best teen actress in America doesn’t come cheap, you know.”

    I have been an actress since I was twelve. My childhood had not been devoted to games and friends as others’ had. No, instead, I spent every waking moment studying for my future; I had always known I was meant for a great career from which everyone knew my name. I endured acting courses, dance classes, and singing and violin studies, because I was sure that I was going to be better than anyone else, especially those worthless kids in my class. Did they really think I would let them have power over me? Ha! I had no parents to help, so everything was paid for by working for the local grocer. I grew up in a small town, after all, and adults there usually take pity on children and do anything they can to help. Even so, they only did it because they thought it would be a good idea to “humor me” by letting me do something I wanted to for the time being; they believed it was just a phase in my undeveloped lifestyle. By the time I was fourteen, however, I had pushed my way into the top ten best actresses in the country. I have acted in dramas, made-for-television films, animated movies and series, and even released several drama CDs. Now, I am sixteen, and this is my first lead in a movie. With this, I will finally get the recognition I deserve, not just for my dedication, but for my skills, and above all, my beauty.

    “Lily, you should know better than anyone that they want you. Your level of talent is exactly what this film needs, and I am willing to bet that they would pay any amount to have you as the star,” Josephine insists, leaning over her desk with her hands folded neatly. In her hazel eyes, focused so intently on me that I feel I’m being sucked in by their darkness, I can see the cold, calculating look on my own face, and I glance down at her knuckles, which have become a ghastly shade of white. She’s only about six years older than me – rather new to the managing business – but she knows exactly what she’s doing.

    “The script?”

    “Right here.” She hands me a thick book, probably about three to four hundred pages. She sits in silence as I flip through the pages, skimming the information to get an idea of the plot and individual parts. I am to play a girl named Mio, and I can tell at a glance that it won’t be easy.

    “Basically,” Josephine says once I have closed the script once more, “you, Mio Tennen, are the only daughter of a world-class conglomerate president and his wife. At age eight, the three of you get into a plane crash, and you alone survive. Because of this, everyone blames you, and you are left with only a twelve-year-old kitchen boy to care for you. You grow up together, and at age sixteen, you confront your uncle, who has since taken over the Tennen conglomerate. He refuses to return the business to you, and continues to blame you for the death of his precious sister and her husband. With the memory of your parents’ shattered and bloody bodies lying in the remains of the plane surfaces a feeling you thought you had buried deep inside your heart: a dark, twisted hatred of those who blamed you for the incident. When he says something about the scar you were left with, you snap, and choke him to death. The kitchen hand, now considered a love interest, tries to stop you, and you kill him as well. Upon realizing what you’ve done, you set up the two dead bodies in a symbolic manner, and take your own life sitting in the company president’s chair.

    “Do you think you can handle it?”

    My eyes meet hers once more, and I give her an affirmative nod. “I intend to make this film the best it can be. You can count on that.” With this, I rise from the small lounge chair. “Good evening to you, Josie.”

    “And to you. I’ll give you a call when the date has been set.” She shakes my hand once firmly, and I walk slowly toward the door. “Oh! One more thing: you should probably watch a few horror movies to help you get into character. This one is a rather demanding role, so you’re going to need a full arsenal to pull it off.”

    “Not to worry. I have the perfect character already thought out.”

    It is now the third day of filming, and I can honestly say that this is not what I had planned on. I had everything perfect – the dialogue, Mio’s attitude, everything was just right, yet, somehow, I still haven’t been able to film a properly performed scene. What am I doing wrong? I’m not sure, but the character, Mio’s character, just doesn’t seem to be resonating with me anymore.

    “Alright! Cut! Take five!” The director shouts the same thing he’s been using every time he becomes frustrated with the amount of retakes we have to do. “Lily! Can we talk for a bit?”

    Anxious, strained, and frustrated beyond compare, I stalk toward him with my usual prideful façade. As I pass some crowds of staff and co-stars, I can hear their disgusted murmuring.

    “‘The best teen actress in America,’ she says. What a load of garbage. Even I could play Mio better than she does,” a makeup artist says mockingly.

    An older woman who plays my mother nods in agreement. “But when you think about it, it’s kind of a shame. She’s always done so well in all her other roles. I wonder what’s wrong. Could it be she hasn’t experienced the kinds of feelings she needs to play as Miss Tennen?” she says, shaking her head.

    “Despair, hatred, loneliness, and love. These kinds of things are important, now that you mention it. Not that someone as perfect as Lily would ever feel any of those anyway, huh?” The girls all laugh at their own sarcastic remarks.

    “Miss Lily,” the director addresses me. “Do you hear what these people are saying?”

    “Yes, director. I am very much aware of my circumstances,” I reply with the best poker face I can wear.

    “Sadly, I don’t believe you are. If, by any chance, you are not taking this role seriously, I am going to have to ask you to please leave immediately. I am placing my whole career on this production, and I cannot have a haughty princess walking around like the world revolves around her! Now please, go outside and cool your head. I’ll give you twenty-four hours to gather your wits about you and return with a respectable Mio. If you are unable to do so, we can and will replace you.”

    With my head slightly lowered, I feed him the lines I know he’s looking for. “Yes, sir. I’ll make sure to do so.”

    I step out into the drizzle of the June evening. The sun has begun setting, casting eerie shadows across the spacious lawn of the mansion in which we’re filming. Leaning against the stone wall, I look out across the rolling hills, water collecting in marshy puddles between them, lost in thought. Those idiots don’t know who I really am. If they did, they’d know their place and keep their mouths shut. The reason I took this job is not really because I wanted to be acknowledged, although that is still a part of my logic. The real reason is because my background is so similar to Mio’s. Just thinking about it makes my blood boil.

    When I was five, my father, who was a contractor, was killed in a car accident. We were walking down the main street of my hometown, on our way to a family dinner with my mother and both their parents. I was still just a carefree child at the time, so I frolicked carelessly about, and upon reaching a crosswalk, continued on my merry way, not checking to see if there was oncoming traffic. Suddenly, a car horn sounded behind me. Startled, I turned around, and, like a deer in headlights, stared at the red four-door sports car that was tearing down the road. My father leaped in front of me and pushed me aside, taking the brunt of the impact. I could hear the crunching of bones, the spurting of blood, and the screams of utter terror that arose from within and around me, still resonating in my head and heart as I remember it.

    After that incident, my own mother, a schoolteacher who loved kids, began to hate me. She looked at me in disgust, and turned away when I looked to her for comfort. The only time she recognized me as her daughter was when I earned perfect grades, awards, or anything else a parent should be proud of. I was no longer her child, but a tool she could use to bend society to her will, and I hated her for it. By the time I turned eight, we had become two entirely separate entities, never speaking to one another, never eating together, never even standing in the same vicinity; she neglected me, and I her. On the night of my ninth birthday, however, she gave me the best present I could have ever hoped for: she left – disappeared into the shadows, along with my emotions.

    Yes, my life is exactly like Mio Tennen’s. I believed this job would be a perfect outlet for all my negative thoughts. Anger, fear, sadness – all those things that forced me to grow up before I had even been a normal child – I believed they could be the key to regaining myself. Now look at me. Lily Daniels, actress extraordinaire, has fallen into the deepest hole in the history of show business.

    Those actors think it’s funny to tell me I haven’t experienced Mio’s real feelings. They say I’m too pampered to have ever had a bad day in my entire life, but what do they know?

    Despair, hatred, loneliness, and love. Despair at the loss of my father. Hatred of my mother for blaming me for his death. Loneliness after there was no one to support me. But wait. Have I ever felt love toward someone? Have I ever been loved?

    Ah, I see now. I know what I’m missing. That important feeling of having someone special and knowing that you’re special to them; that’s what I never had. My chest tightens at the thought, and my vision blurs. The rain begins to come down faster and faster, and I look up, seeking the sensation of each cold sting on my cheeks. The pure, fresh water mingles with the salty presence of my own tears, and together they stream down my face. As if the weight of the world, which already weighed upon my shoulders, had just become a little bit heavier, I sink to my knees, the intensity of my sobs wracking my whole body.

    “You should probably get inside before you catch a cold.”

    I jolt, startled by the sudden presence of another, and jerk my head up. Kneeling in front of me is the man who plays Arthur, the kitchen boy as an adult, his short brown hair plastered to his forehead, a gentle and understanding smile on his attractive face. He wipes away my tears and helps me to my feet.

    “Jonathan? What are you doing out here? Shouldn’t you be filming right now?” I ask timidly, wishing my hair was long enough to hide my face.

    “I’m not in any of the scenes we’re doing for the time being. There aren’t really any scenes I’m in that you’re not, after all,” he replies with a nervous chuckle. As we make our way to the guest rooms of the large run-down mansion, we glance around in awkward silence, being sure not to make eye contact. Just standing beside him makes me all too aware of how young and inexperienced I am. He, of all people, must have many girls who love him, and there must be someone whom he treasures above all else. Could he help me?

    “Um, say—,” we both begin at the same time.

    “Please, you go first,” I reply immediately, my face growing redder by the second.

    “No, you. I insist,” Jonathan asserts, looking just as flustered as me, if not more.

    “Do you have someone you love?” I blurt out without thinking. He gives me a blank stare, taken aback by my blunt, and apparently unprecedented, question.

    “Why?” he asks, and I can see the glint in his eye. “Ah! Could it be that you’ve fallen for me?”

    “N-n-n-no! That’s not what I meant at all!” I shout, shaking my head fervently. “It’s just, I think I’ve figured out what I need to do to be able to become the Mio we need, and I was hoping you could give me some advice on love.”

    “Love, huh? Hmm…. That’s a tough one. What kind of advice are you looking for?”

    “Well, things like what it’s like to be in love, and how people act when they’re around the ones they love, I guess.” I’m absolutely positive I’m burning up right now. This is definitely not something an actress should have to ask, but something about him makes it easy for me to become someone else entirely. He’s the one person that I know will listen, and I can be the child that I never got to be when he’s there beside me. I’ve only known him for a short while – since the first pre-shoot meeting, I think, about three months ago – but he’s always been able to brighten my day. Even if it’s just a little, Jonathan lifts my spirits and helps me be the person I probably would have been if I had grown up normally. That’s what you might call – yes, I believe that’s what I’d call him – a friend. My first and only friend.

    He rubs his clean-shaven chin thoughtfully, and his face contorts as if he’s trying to solve one of life’s greatest mysteries. In a way, though, I suppose he is. “What’s it like to be in love? I would say… being in love means that you don’t care about what anyone else thinks or says, as long as the person you love is happy. You want to be with them all the time, and just that person’s presence is enough to make you flustered or overjoyed. In a way, I guess it’s kind of like he or she becomes the center of the universe to you. You don’t think before you act, and you become selfish. You want the person you love to love you back, no matter the cost or consequence. It’s as if love were some kind of magic that can transform you, I think.”

    I stare at him in silence.

    “W-what? Is it really that weird?”

    I lower my gaze to our feet, watching them move in perfect time together. “No. Not at all,” I say quietly. “Not at all.”

    “What’s it like to be in love? I would say… being in love means that you don’t care what anyone else thinks or says, as long as the person you love is happy."

    Those words echo in my mind, playing the scene back vividly as I walk, alone, to the room where our next scene is to be shot: the presidential study. This is it, my last chance. After what happened yesterday, I think I can do it this time. No, I know I can. I have to.

    “Good morning, Miss Lily. Are you ready to give it another go?” the director asks.

    “Yes, sir. I believe today is the day when I will change everyone’s opinion of me. With your guidance, I think we can make this film the biggest success in history.”

    “Ha ha ha! Let’s hope so!” He gives me a hearty thump on the back and walks off to talk with some cameramen. I take a glance out the window to see that it’s still raining just as heavily now as it had been yesterday.

    “Hey, Lily,” a familiar voice comes from behind, and I jump. When I turn around, I’m face-to-face with Jonathan.

    “You want to be with them all the time, and just that person’s presence is enough to make you flustered or overjoyed. In a way, I guess it’s kind of like he or she becomes the center of the universe to you.” His image brings yesterday’s words back to the forefront of my thoughts.

    “Oh my God! Don’t scare me like that,” I say, half-jokingly. I brush my hair back out of my face and give him my best smile. This is the reason why I can become Mio. Jonathan Landers, the only man who has ever made me feel the way I do now. “You ready for the big climax scene today?”

    “You bet. This is going to be a hit, you just wait and see. The question is: are you?” He gives me a look, not of pity or scorn, but of genuine concern.

    “Oh, me?” I look away for a brief moment, my heartbeat racing. “Y-yeah. I’ll be fine, thanks to you.”

    He lets out a sigh of relief. “Good.”

    “Alright, everyone! In position, from the beginning of Mio’s big entrance.”

    Jonathan glances at me one last time. “Guess that’s our cue. Break a leg.”

    I take up my place just outside of the study door and take a deep breath. Here goes nothing.

    “And… action!”

    I open the wooden door brutally, slamming it into the wall without any restraint, and barge into the room. Stalking right up to the grand desk, I slam my hand down on its surface. “Uncle! I demand that we talk about this!” Jonathan, now as Arthur, slinks in shyly behind me and takes up his position by the doorway.

    The man on the other side of the desk spins his oversized leather chair around to face me, slowly. He looks at me, his shallow gray eyes coldly staring and his slicked-back graying hair just as neat as ever. “And what,” he draws out dramatically, “might ‘this’ be?”

    I straighten my back and rise to my full height. “You know exactly what I’m talking about. This business is not yours, and you have no right to retain control of it now that I am old enough to run the Tennen conglomerate myself.”

    “’No right?’ I believe my relation to the former president is plenty to affirm my right to control this company. You’re only sixteen, still a minor, and yet you think that you can control the largest income source of the United States?” He leans forward, and continues speaking coolly. “You foolish girl. I am the brother-in-law of the former head of the Tennen conglomerate, and what I say is law. You cannot have my position, and if you push the subject, I’ll have you arrested. Leave me in peace.” He waves a hand at me and turns away, his face contorted with disgust.

    “Uncle, I –!” I cry out desperately.

    “Don’t!” He raises his voice and stands up abruptly. “Don’t call me Uncle! I have no relation to you! You’re not the niece my sister loved; you’re a demon!” He jabs at my chest. “You killed her and your father! Murderer! Get away from me, you she-devil! Is there any way to stop this internal torture?! Every day, I look at her picture, and every day, I see your face. That horrible face that took on the semblance of the sister I loved, that same face that took her away from me.” His tears are flowing freely, and my control is slipping.

    It’s true. It’s my fault my parents are gone. I caused that accident. Me!

    “I did no such thing!” I scream. I lower my head to reel in my own emotions. Just keep going. This is the mood I wanted to create, so I can’t lose it now. “I had no control over the plane. It’s not like I personally piloted that thing into a TV tower!” Now tears are streaming down my own face, and my hands are clenched at my sides. Quiet rage is bubbling up within me, not just because I’m acting, but because his words are truly registering with me.

    “You don’t get it, do you?! You can’t be the daughter I once loved! True, you may have the same face as my husband, but you’re not my child! Get the hell out!”

    “But mommy –!”

    “NO! You’re not my daughter! YOU’RE NOT MY LILY!"

    Why did I just remember that? Even though I tried so hard to keep that last memory of her buried, why did it suddenly come to mind? Why now?

    “I don’t care that you didn’t personally do it. The fact remains that it’s your fault they’re dead.” He looks me straight in the eye, and I’m taken aback by the passion I can see there. “Whether you loved them or not had no effect on the circumstances. If it hadn’t been for you…. If it hadn’t been for….” His words are cut off by heavy sobs. “IF IT HADN’T BEEN FOR YOU, THEY NEVERY WOULD HAVE GOTTEN ON THAT CURSED PLANE!” A flash of lightning streaks across the darkening sky.

    Silence. That’s the only way I can respond. My throat tightens, and my pulse begins racing.

    “If it hadn’t been for you, my husband wouldn’t have jumped in front of that car. He loved you. And what did you do in return? You took his life!"

    I take a staggering step backwards, horrified.

    “Every time I look at you, I’m just reminded of how much they really did love you. They treasured you, more than all the money and power in the world. There!” He points at the scar on my forehead. “That right there is exactly why I hate you! How could they have died violent and bloody deaths, and you escaped with only a concussion?!”

    That’s right. I had almost forgotten the scar the makeup artists added for my character. Slowly, I raise a shaking hand to touch the spot where the legacy of the Tennen family remained. As I take it away, I expect my fingers to be clean; instead, they are dripping with thick, dark blood. The scent of iron wafts to my nose, and I feel sick. With a heavy thud, I fall to my hands and knees, but the blood continues to flow, staining the white carpet with the tint of my curse. A chorus of screaming echoes in my head, reminiscent of that day with my father, and I see a vivid image of a plane, crumpled and broken, lying in front of the remains of a large tower, with ambulances and fire trucks everywhere, sirens wailing. A pair of bodies is being loaded into a grandiose hearse. One is a man, the other a woman. As I look on, I think to myself that the woman’s face looks extremely familiar, and then I realize why. That woman is my mother, and the man must be my father. That screaming is mine.

    “And to think, while you were living your happy childhood with young Arthur, we all had to suffer the pain of what you had done,” my uncle says condescendingly.

    I hear a snap come from somewhere within me.

    With a new, wild look in my eye, I rise slowly and approach the desk once more. “Ah, yes. I remember now. You had to endure so much, didn’t you? I’m so sorry. I didn’t intend for it to be like this.”

    Uncle begins backing up nervously, and I lunge. Arthur tries to restrain me, but I deal him a swift blow to the chest and knock him to the floor, where he curls up in pain. With my hands wrapped around his neck, gagging sounds coming from the back of his throat, his nails scratching at the backs of my hands, I continue. “What do you say I relieve you of your suffering now? I know you loved your sister, so I’ll do you a favor. With this, you’ll get to see her so much faster.”

    His face turns a deep shade of red. I hear shouts from someone of, “Cut! CUT! Lily, stop this now! He can’t breathe!” but it doesn’t matter. After all, my name is Mio, and the only ones in the room are Uncle, Arthur and me. In one swift move, I lift him off the ground and jerk his head back. His futile struggling ceases, and his limp body crumples to the ground, silhouetted by the lightning that crackles across the sky. The thump as his head hits the floor is echoed by a crash of thunder.

    “Give her my regards, okay?”

    I make my way slowly toward Arthur, who is still lying in a ball in the middle of the room.
    He gives me a pained look, his face drenched in sweat. “You…. You didn’t actually…?” he forces out, wheezing.

    “Oh, but I did.” I hold out a hand, and he hesitates, wondering whether it’s a good idea to trust me anymore. I kneel down beside him and look him directly in the face. “I understand. Killing someone once by accident isn’t half as serious as killing yet another on purpose, right? I didn’t expect you to see my reasoning.” I rise and walk back to Uncle’s desk. Kicking his body aside, I dig through his drawers until I pull out a letter opener, and admire its gleaming edge with satisfaction. A horrified gasp whispers throughout the room, but it’s probably my imagination again.

    Another flash of lightning illuminates the dimly lit room, throwing my shadow across the floor.

    “Lily…. Stop this already. The shoot’s over. Snap out of it!” Arthur cries out, stumbling backward, trying to escape my reach.

    “Who’s Lily? What shoot is over?” I ask, genuinely curious. “I’m Mio Tennen, and you’re Arthur Johnson. We’re completely alone in this room; why would anyone be recording us?” Blade in hand, I kneel beside him once more and give him an impassioned stare. “With that in mind, I want you to know one thing before you die.”

    An audible gulp. He backs up a bit more, out of my grasp, and gets in a position to dash out at any moment. I know he won’t though, because he’s scared – scared of me, of what I’ve become, and of what I might say.

    I sit back on my heels and place the knife on the ground before me, resting both hands on my knees. To prepare myself, I close my eyes and take a few deep breaths. Meeting his gaze, I brush my hair away from my face and begin to pour my heart out one last time to my dear friend.

    “When I first met you, I was sure you’d treat me like all the others had: condescending and disgusted, like I didn’t deserve to be alive. My heart was prepared for whatever foul talk you had about me, any dirty looks you gave me. What it wasn’t prepared for was your kindness. That first day, when you walked up to me and hugged me without knowing my circumstances as I drowned my soul in tears, something new began growing inside me. Your friendship, your love, and your acceptance led me to believe that with you, things could truly be different. I felt I could be someone entirely new, and I wanted to share that new person with you, every day. I wanted to become someone who could make you happy; I wanted to become someone you could be proud of, and for a while, I was.” My tears are overflowing now.

    “That’s when I realized no one could ever be proud of a person like me. I was just a worthless orphan, wandering through every day like a dream. So I decided to regain my rightful place in the Tennen conglomerate and earn the respect I needed to be loved by you.”

    “You don’t think before you act, and you become selfish. You want the person you love to love you back, no matter the cost or consequence. It’s as if love were some kind of magic that can transform you, I think."

    My vision misty, I reach out to brush his damp fringe from his eyes, and my hand lingers on his cheek.

    “I love you, Arthur.”

    Arthur’s eyes widen, and his cheek becomes hot to the touch. That’s my cue.

    With a choked-off gasp, his pupils dilate, and blood spurts from his mouth, rolling down his chin. He slumps in my arms, and I raise his lips to mine.

    “I… loved you… Lily,” he whispers as he exhales his last breath, the letter opener still embedded in his stomach.

    I remain there, the most precious person I have ever known limp and utterly lifeless in my arms, for hours. Sitting entirely in silence, the only sounds to be heard are my own empty sobbing, the ticking of Uncle’s grandfather clock, and the occasional rumbling of thunder. As the clock tolls midnight, I force myself from my pitiful state and painstakingly rise to my feet to set diligently to work.

    Uncle’s body, which still lies where it was left, is the first one to be moved. I sling one arm around my neck and grab him around the waist, as one does when helping one who has injured their leg, and drag him unceremoniously to the center of the room, square to the president’s desk. When I release him, he sinks to the ground again, and I tamper with his legs until they are just right. His upper body, being unable to support itself, slouches, so I bend his back forward and extend his arms over his head in a position of absolute helplessness.

    With a sigh, I glance at Arthur. I had respectfully laid him down as if in a coffin, legs straight, arms crossed over his chest. Now, I pick him up in a princess cradle and carry him, much more carefully than I had Uncle, to the president’s chair and set him down in it.

    One last step. The grandfather clock, which now reads twelve fifteen, continues as if nothing has happened. Opening the hatch on its glass surface, I yank out the two gold filigree hands and lay them on the desk, the hour hand pointing to Arthur, the minute to Uncle. I step back to admire my handiwork and gently take a seat on Arthur’s lap, wishing I could stay this way forever. Extracting the letter opener from out of his stomach, I use its red tip to trace the scar on my forehead, and then touch it to my lips.

    Taking Arthur’s hand in mine, I place the blade in his palm and wrap both our fingers around it. This is my final goodbye.

    Uncle cowers in my presence. Arthur is mine. I finally sit in the spot that should have belonged to me all along. With this, everything is as it should be. Everything, that is, except one. Wrapped in the arms of the man I love, I whisper one final parting with this world before joining Arthur in another.

    “My name is not Lily.”