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I lay motionless; the machine’s long, pained beep sliced through the room. The infamous tone was drowned out only by a heart-wrenching scream as a body collapsed over mine, gripping and yanking at my limp corpse, causing my nasal cannula to be pulled out.
‘No, dear God, no!’
‘I am so sorry – we did everything we could.’
My hand was crushed by a vice-like grip as another voice entered the fray, a deep, sexy whisper.
‘Goodbye, my sweet Cassie.’ A kiss warmed the back of my hand. ‘I will never forget you.’ A hand cupped my cheek, as the very same lips pressed gently against my mouth. ‘Always and forever.’
He spoke the promise upon my lips, lingering for a long moment before the darkened shadow lifted and his warmth was gone, leaving me with the over-perfumed woman sobbing at my shoulder – Stephanie Vanderbelt.
‘Damon, wait – where are you going?’ she cried.
‘To find Kane,’ he gritted.
‘To tell him?’
‘No . . . to kill him.’
I heard the hospital doors swing open so violently that a breeze brushed against my cheeks, leaving behind the long, haunting beep of the machine and the wailing sobs of Stephanie at my side.
‘Oh no, Damon, nooooooo!’ She screamed loudly again, her voice bouncing off the walls. Her tears dripped on my cheek while her arm draped dramatically across my chest. One thing echoed through my mind: Get. Off. Can’t. Breathe.
‘Annnnd cut! Thanks, everyone, that’s a wrap!’
I waited until the applause sounded, then I opened one eye, then the other, seeing the crying Stephanie continue to hold me as if I had indeed slipped from this life. I guess I kind of had. Slowly pulling myself to sit upright, I had little time to remove the oxygen cords when Damon – or, rather, Scott Johnson – burst back through the hospital doors so fast the fake wall frame shook.
‘Great job, everybody. I really think we nailed that scene. Especially you, Abby; I mean, wow! Powerful stuff.’
A coldness swept over me as I plucked off the wires taped to my body, my brows pressing downwards.
‘Trust you to compliment my acting when I play dead.’
‘Yeah, well, I can appreciate it wasn’t as easy as it looks,’ he said, shoving his hands into his pockets. He was trying for sincerity, but it only made me want to glower some more.
What a total suck.
I peeled back the covers. I could appreciate how awkward I was making the situation, but whenever Scott was around I couldn’t help exuding a certain amount of disdain. Whenever I looked into his big, stupid, sorrowful eyes, I felt the urge to imprint his cutesy, crooked grin on my knuckles.
Derek, the director, never missed a thing. He hovered between us, and asked perhaps the most overused question of the past few agonising weeks: ‘Are you alright?’
There was no way to prepare for this. Right now it all seemed so surreal as I passed my chair with my name on the back. Well, the name I had come to think of as mine these past three years.
Cassie Carmichael, the youngest daughter and heir to the Carmichael shipping dynasty on Australia’s number one drama, Ship to Sea. The cast jokingly referred to the show as Shit to Sea because, for a small coastal town, a whole lot of shit went down. Over the years I had survived a bushfire, a flood, a hostage situation, an explosion, three broken hearts, a pregnancy scare and a mystery illness. I had survived it all, until the tragic car accident that had spelled my end. But all of the above situations were a walk in the park compared to what I had to face on a daily basis.
Calling upon my professionalism, I smiled brightly – my finest acting performance of all time. ‘Fine, absolutely fine.’
I pushed past Scott and the set crew, slamming my palms on the makeshift hospital doors and padding my way down the corridor, sporting a butt-crack gown and a thick bandage wrapped around my forehead. I was glad no cameras were allowed on set to capture my glamourous ensemble, set off by the novelty pink flamingo pyjama bottoms I sported beneath the gown and the lime-green Crocs I slipped onto my feet. I stole a biscuit from the refreshment table before continuing my storming, squeaky steps down the hall.
I was getting those looks again; sympathetic glances, this time accompanied by whispers of concern for the crazy lady. Usually I wouldn’t be caught dead in my weekend slob attire but, let’s face it, I didn’t have anyone to impress. Well, not anymore, I thought bitterly, stepping up into my trailer and slamming the door behind me. I slumped against the rickety barrier, wishing it were made of something stronger, a sturdier defence against the realities of the outside world.
I felt strangely numb, but not due to shock that my character had been killed off. You see, the Ship to Sea executives had chosen something different with this season’s cliffhanger. We had all been given three alternative endings to the season – three alternative deaths – so none of us knew who was really going to die – a ploy to keep the tension high. But I knew Naomi Kline’s bee-sting death was the most likely ending; Naomi’s contract was up and, rumour had it, she had her eye on a new pilot for an opposing network. It was the worst-kept secret ever and, safe in the knowledge that we’d be staying in the show, we’d embraced our death scenes. My car-crash-coma death seemed kind of mundane, though, considering Brian Formosa’s character had been killed off by suffocating in a shipping container. How did they come up with this stuff?
I fell into my favourite chair in my trailer, the one that I spent hours in remembering my lines. I tried not to worry about the energy I wasted on my death scene that would go nowhere, which was a tragedy in itself. A smile crossed my lips as I recalled the looks on the faces of the crew and audience at the end of the scene; it felt bloody amazing to shove it in the faces of the naysayers. I didn’t want to admit it, but a large part of me wanted to impress Scott, my on-screen – and, at one time, off-screen – love interest. We had kept it on the down-low, but we’d been pretty bad at it.
My smile slipped away, the way it always did whenever Scott entered my mind, which seemed to be every damn minute of my solitude. That’s why I wanted to keep busy: to pause was to remember, and I really didn’t want to remember. But as my eyes landed on the corner of a tabloid magazine sticking out from underneath my script, images flashed in my mind.
Scantily-clad lovers embracing on what I had thought was a private beach, but long lenses have a way of seeking you out. We were laughing, having a good time, and my arms were wrapped around Scott’s shoulders as he grinned down at me like I was the only girl in the world. Unfortunately, as the magazine stated, I was not the only one he had eyes for. I know you are not meant to believe everything you read, but when ‘Homewrecker’ is the caption under your picture it makes you sit up and take notice.
I stared at the caption now, having slid the offending publication out from under the pile. The magazine was tattered and dog-eared, thanks to the fit of rage that had seen me throw it across my trailer, then attempt to rip it in half. As I looked over the pictures again, I saw nothing but ugliness. The dimples of cellulite on my thighs, the sandy wedgie of my bikini. The shot of Scott checking his phone while I sunbaked beside him held a whole new meaning. As I’d blissed out on our weekend getaway, little did I know that waiting at home was Scott’s very pregnant girlfriend. Reading over the article for the hundredth time, it still didn’t seem real.
Scott Johnson had been dating Sydney model and socialite Danielle Kendall for the past eleven months. I thought back to all the dinners, the late-night talks, the trips we’d taken over the past year – it just couldn’t be possible, could it? I felt sick. I really needed to get rid of this magazine.
Instead, I slid it into the drawer, at the ready should I feel the need to torture myself again. I felt dead inside, a fitting emotion considering my last scene. I recalled the feeling of Scott’s lips upon mine, the first real contact we had since I’d whacked the shit out of him with the rolled-up magazine.
He hadn’t denied it.
Guess he didn’t have much of a defence when her Instagram was loaded with photos of them together. Thanks to a fake alias, I’d managed to get myself befriended onto her private profile for a bit of detective work. I wasn’t proud. It wasn’t my finest moment, but neither had been discovering all of their happy snaps on their loved-up weekends away, and even mountain family get-togethers. It was like shoving a dagger into my heart and twisting it. We didn’t remain Insta friends for long; I couldn’t stomach it.
A part of me had wanted to be killed off from the show, so I wouldn’t have to see Scott every day, and act in emotion-laden scenes with him that hurt like hell. Though it probably made me look like an amazing actress, my feelings were all too raw, too real. Had it not been for the support of my manager, Ziggy Forsyth, I might have given up long ago.
And just like that, as if I had summoned her from my very imagination, a knock sounded on my trailer door, and she whipped it open – as always – before I’d given permission to enter. But as she stood before me, still, silent, in a way I had rarely seen before, I knew something was wrong. ‘Cyclone Ziggy’ was always filling the space with movement and noise, but not today, and that could not mean anything good.
I straightened in my chair, still wearing the hospital nightgown and head bandage. I cared little for how I looked as I focused on Ziggy’s solemn face, her wild, woolly hair and cherry-red glasses failing to soften her expression.
‘On a scale of one to ten?’
Her lips pressed together in a grim line. ‘Put it this way, I think we might have broken the machine.’