Chapter 19

It has been a week since the news of Mandy Andrews' suicide broke out. Reports say toxic substances were found in his blood. Of course. To everyone in their homes, this was probably just another tale for parents to tell their kids not to do drugs. Another great talent the world lost and would mourn for a week until everyone carries on with their lives. A week of remembering the great things one man has done. A week of critics flipping their hatred into adoration for the benefit of their own names and companies they are affiliated with. And here I am, watching how beautiful Mandy once was in an old interview talking passionately about his craft. I could never unsee the look of horror in his face just as he was about to jump out the broken window.

Everyone else is over him though. By this time, the naysayers are back at going against the current trend of adoration for a dead actor. Now they are saying, he was only great at one role. And what's more important? They say it's the release of the first music video off my sophomore album. Love is Free was hitting 47 million views by the end of 24 hours it has been uploaded, surpassing all records previously set by other more established artists. I didn't know people were that eager to see me walk dazed and confused in the middle of an unpaved road of the Downtown market.

The Fandom was undoubtedly ecstatic. There has been an outpouring of support on every news websites, social media pages, comment sections and my PO box. I doubt The Grid reads all of them but I'm pretty sure nothing gets to me. There were just times when I could overhear Lucian on the phone that some of the mail had some distasteful content. Stalkers were apprehended but I never really met them. Or maybe I did. With that, I kind of understood Lucian's overprotection of me.

My hands shook while browsing through other videos to watch. I've been getting this weird trembling all over my body. It even hurts when I'm not moving. I felt a bead of sweat trickle down my temple and move faster as it slides down my cheek. There were some news stories that caught my attention. Apart from reviews on my new single, Kenna was also trending. The headline says it all. She was involved in some nude photo scandal as a picture of her with blurred parts was used as a thumbnail for the report. It was interesting yes, but I did not feel like participating in violating another person's privacy. I've only met her once, if I can remember it right. There were other news reports flashing left and right about a new baby for this powerhouse couple, a minor accident involving an action star, and some altercation at a bar between two big music royalties. A small article about a police state rule enforced on some cities hid behind other headlines such as this family's new line of lipstick for their unnatural injected lip fillers. A Photoshop 'disaster' causing a person of color's skin going white. Or a story about the next crazy thing an aging child actor did in his just don't interest me.

I click on another related video for Mandy Andrews, probably the last one he did before he went off the rails. He seemed brightly enthusiastic about whatever he was saying and the host of the late night show was getting a bit awkward. Audiences were laughing in the background. To an average viewer, it would only seem like a fun interview where the celebrity may have had a little too much to drink before coming on the show. Only then when Mandy mentioned, "I was awakened," that his energy changed and became more serious all of a sudden.

"I always thought that this dream of mine, becoming a successful actor, be in a blockbuster or star in award-winning movies… I thought that would make me happy. You know? I was thinking I would find what I'm looking for once I've reached that pinnacle of success. But you know what I found? Discontentment. Maybe that's how it's always been with us human beings. But something about in this industry I'm in that makes everything magnified like a thousand times." Mandy fixed his seat on the blue couch. The audience were quiet as the host listened intently with his elbows on the table and his hands on his mouth.

"But aren't you happy with what you do? I mean, you wouldn't put out great performances like that… great performances the world has ever seen without loving what you do."

Mandy was quick to reply, "Don't get me wrong. I love what I do. Acting is all I ever live for. But this fame. I feel like it's so unnecessary to have this kind of… life. I just play parts for a living. I play pretend. Even kids do that all the time. They're just characters. They're not alive, but I am."

Noticing the great shift of mood in the room, the host tried to divert the situation at once, "Tell me something, how do you get into those characters. I think everyone in the audience would want to hear that. Am I right?" And the people behind the camera cheered.

"You know what, if you really want to be an actor… let me see. I live by this rule one phenomenal actress once said, that uh - if you want to be an artist, you have to be human first."

"That's interesting, Mandy. Being human, very interesting perspective. But you see, not everyone can go to that crazed, psycho character you got into." And the audience laughed while Mandy slightly smiled.

"I get what you mean. But I don't know it was… Everything was subliminal. There was just something in me at that time, you know. It's like emptying yourself. You see, our bodies are like some form of vessel. And for me to get into that deranged character, I had to reduce myself bit by bit. You empty that vessel so something else can come in. When I'm in that process, I have no control over it. It's just as surprising to me as it is for viewers. Sometimes, I look back and watch my performances and I go whoa…" He paused with a surprised look on his face, his hands raised up. "Was that me?" And the audience drowned his voice in laughter.

"… You know when you're in that zone, it's just like I've submitted myself to this character. And that I'm a slave for this…" A loud noise at the set suddenly blared that caught everyone by surprise. Mandy had a bit of a smirk on his face as the host tried to take over.

"I think the fire alarm went off. I'm sorry, guys. This is what happens when we're on live television everybody. We'll take a break and we'll be right back." The host had an annoyed look on his face but he tried to force a cheesy grin by the end of the clip. Shortly, the screen turned to black until I could see my face in the reflection. The door opened behind me. It was Lucian carrying a golden card.

"An invitation." I quickly shut the laptop and stood up from my seat.
"To where?"
"You've been invited to this year's Most Influential People." He handed me the shiny gold card with my name written behind it in cursive. "For your outstanding contributions to the World of Entertainment."

It was a very simple invite. No brands. No logos all around but just my name on one side and a bar code on the other. It would probably lead me to a website where the date and the venue would be. I look back up to Lucian who only stared back into my eyes. He was quieter than usual. I mean, he's always been silent and brooding but something about today made it all the more visible.

"Why?" I took my chances.
"Nothing. I'm just thinking about you. Your future."
"That invitation. It's a call from the Elite."

My heart stopped beating for a moment. Ever since that night at the Downtown hotel, Lucian seemed more careless when it came to sharing information with me. It's as if he doesn't really care as much as he used to. Like everything coming out of his mouth were more of the truth than a sugarcoated lie. He watched as I got my last session at The Grid's secret medical room. I could still feel the effects of the combination of electric waves and the last green tablet I ingested just in time. My finger tips were shaking terribly that I curled my hands into a fist.

"They usually hold events like this to look for a face for their new campaign. And this, Glory, is what I've been trained for my whole life. Getting us here. This moment." He had a solemn look on his face but it was clear that something troubled him.

"Right now, I'm not even sure if I want you up there." His voice cracked, "After what you just saw. I don't think we have any choice."

With one breath, he held my down on my shoulders and looked me straight in the eyes. "But I'm going to ask you right now, do you still want this? This life. Everything about this."

Everything that has happened flashed before my eyes. But the tremendous view of seeing a man die right in front of me kept repeating over the great memories of my achievements. Bang. The very first night Lucian took me to dinner. Bang. The first time I heard my song on the radio. Bang. When Jagger first sat by me at the park. Crash. Broken windows. A man disappearing from the horizon. "We can't say no."

"I'll figure something out." He looked away and I just knew he didn't know what to do as well.

"No. I'm going to do this."

"You know what, Glory. You don't have to force yourself anymore. I've been working at The Grid and we've been developing something just in case and there is a way for you not to…" He kept on mumbling until I cut him off with a stronger reply.

"I'm going to do this."

He nodded quietly and I reached for an embrace. He gladly accepted my offer and I could feel the warmth of his suit. Gone was the cold exterior that used to sting on my skin. It was then that I wished everything was just like this.

"Thank you," he whispered into my ear.