It was like being under water. Hearing things as muffled, oddly echoing fragments of reality. The next few days slipped slowly by like that. The people who didn't know her kept the show going. The people who did were present, but distant. Occasionally, someone would catch someone else's eye, and they'd break the chord, the unease reverberating around us all. I wondered what Kamala would say if she could see us all like this. Alex had returned to work, fuzzy when she wasn't in charge. As though the edges of her blurred and she didn't really exist. Kate was so distant the first two days that I sent her home before I'd even gotten my coffee. I doubt she went home; she lived at the hospital.
I stopped by one day, to find her asleep, curled up in a chair, clutching Kamala's hand tightly. Jack was there, standing in the door way like he knew he should be there, but didn't know why or what to do. Aaliyah visited too, and the weight of her announcement dragged through the air around her. For one moment, feeling the weight myself, I put a had on her shoulder. She flinched, and played it off as an affront. I caught her staring at me afterwards, a small frown on her face when she thought I couldn't see. Aaron tried to keep everyone's spirits up. He really did. But there was something in the air, like the dense and suffocating humidity just before a storm.
Aaliyah was the one who snapped everyone out of it. I was grateful to her for that, and promised myself that she would never irritate me quite so much ever again. One week away from finishing Season One, Part A, she announced that she was throwing a wrap party. To celebrate. She threw around phrases like 'group morale' and 'drink till we drop' but the one that stuck to everyone was 'Kam would want us to celebrate finishing the first half. She loved the show and everyone here.' She wrapped an arm around Kate, who gave the first smile I had seen in days, even if it was small.
"Thank you Aaliyah." I murmured to her as everyone returned to their lunches after the announcement. She stared at me, possibly in shock, before shrugging.
"Any excuse for a party."
I let her pretend. Perhaps I had misjudged her, even a little.
Alex was sporting a bruise, two days later. No one would have noticed if Kate, distracted again, hadn't dropped a tray of drinks on the floor. Alex rushed to help and I saw her back as her shirt rode up. I'm not sure who else noticed. She caught me staring when she returned to her seat, and I was so relieved at an excuse to avoid her eyes that I answered the phone without looking.
"Well, this is a first. Picking up the first time I call."
"Hello mother. How are you?"
"Ecstatic darling. Have you seen the gossip columns?"
"Which ones?" I'd been trying to avoid them, knowing that people were still fascinated by Kamala, Aaron, and the curse that had decided to follow the show like a shadow.
"The ones about you and Jack!"
"Well, they don't name you obviously, not without proof, but it's pretty obvious darling!"
"Mother what are you talking about? Where are you looking?"
"Oh let me read it to you!" I could hear her rummaging around for a moment. "Ah! Here it is. 'Sources claim that, while the partnership is still going strong, the rumours about infidelity might soon bring an end to this couple. It is suggested that this well known member of the Utopia Dystopia team is having an affair with another leading member of the group. This show has brought so many wonderful scandals to our attention, we do hope it makes it to its second season; if only to provide more for us to write about!'"
"Mother, that could be anyone. And it is certainly not based in fact if it is about Jack and I."
"Oh but darling, he's so dreamy. And that woman of his has gotten fat."
"She just had a baby mother."
"I had you and I refused to put on any weight."
I rolled my eyes at the craziness from the other end of the line.
"I have to go mother."
"Oh, is Jack calling you?"
"No, mother." I hung up and groaned. The one constant source of incredulity in my life was that I shared genes with my mother.
When the sun had set, and the last shoot of the day was happening underneath the stars, I found myself curled up in my trailer. Curled up. I never did that anywhere but home. This production was that most exhausting I had been a part of. Some part of me wanted to get out. But I wanted it to succeed more than I wanted to stop hurting. At the moment at least.
There was a soft knock on the door and I rushed to sit up straight, brushing out the lines in my trousers.
Alex popped her head around the door.
"What're you doing?" She asked.
"Wondering what I'm doing here."
"That's a very deep thought for a trailer." She smiled, coming in cautiously.
"I don't mean it as a great question. I just wonder why I put so much in to these shows when all they do is take. And then there's a hit, or we create something beautiful, and I remember again. I'm just in the first part right now."
"Aaliyah was right about that party," she chuckled. "You need to loosen up."
"I don't think I'm invited."
"Everyone is invited."
"Well I don't think I'll be welcome anyway."
"Come, please. You need this too. We all need it together. You've still got four days to pick out an outfit."
"Cutting it close." I rolled my eyes.
"Someone you want to impress?" She asked, sitting next to me, with plenty of distance still.
"According to my mother, I'm having an affair with Jack."
"You're not his type." She laughed.
"Oh really? Why?"
"You're not interested." She smiled.
"Ah. True." I smiled and then hesitated, glancing over at her. "Alex?"
"You have a bruise... on your back." She stiffened up almost immediately. "Don't run. Don't freak out. I just... do I need to know anything? Is there something you want to... talk about?"
"Because if there is, I'm here. And I even promise I won't mention the press." I tried the small joke, but she didn't smile.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Okay then." I raised my hands in surrender. She sat there in silence for a while and then broke the silence abruptly.
"Do you want to visit Kam?"
"That cop called... he wants to talk to me about something they found in Aaron's trailer. I think they might have a lead on whoever torched the place."
"What about Kamala? Do they have any leads with her?"
"I don't know. I suppose he might tell me if there is. Or not. The police are more secretive than celebrities."
"I'm sure you can get something out of him."
"I wouldn't have any more of a chance than any of you."
"Don't know about that." She stood and straightened her shirt. "He likes you."
"What? I'm just stating fact. I'm not saying you should use it." I closed my eyes, exasperated. Use my pretty face to get what I want. Sounds like something mother would say.
"I'm not interested in him."
"I know." She said it like she knew everything, and I opened my eyes to stare at her and question what she meant, but I was met by the door swinging shut.
She was gone.