May Maple was seriously starting to consider redesigning her room, maybe even her whole house.
Her red-painted walls along with her mattresses’ velvet red sheets were starting to annoy her. Staring at them just a tad bit longer left an overbearing tick in her eye that had her fingers twitching the entire day. Her drawn curtains barely let any rays from the slowly descending sun enter the room as she felt the beginnings of a headache echo in her skull.
A numbing silence reverberated in her room as her concentration did not stray from the smooth texture of her sheets beneath her fingers. The pad of her thumb scrubbed dizzying figures over the crimson fibers and her glazed eyes stared unseeingly at a faraway spot on her white lace curtains.
In a rare occurrence, her mind seemed deserted of her usually anxiety-driven thoughts. In those few precious moments, May’s only companions were the faint ticks of her wristwatches and a heartfelt peace that seemed to flow through her entire being.
This is amazing, May thought idly, her mind feeling like it was suspended mid-air.
Blinking sluggishly with eyes weighing like bowling balls, May cast a glance at her bedside clock. Bright neon numbers greeted her mockingly. 3:00, it blinked in flashing red numericals. The realization was accompanied by the rapping of knuckles on her door.
“Ms. Maple, your makeup artists have arrived.”
Phoebe, her manager’s smooth voice invaded her room. It was enough to ground her to reality. Her fingers stilled, the skin of her thumb feeling numb. The room came into sudden focus as she heaved a deep sigh through her lungs.
May flung the sheet to the side, pushing up on her feet before freezing when her vision tilted slightly to the left. She gave a slow blink as she lumbered towards the door. She was almost afraid she would bang her head against the wall; she certainly wouldn’t put it past herself.
Phoebe was a woman with butter blonde hair and dazzling hazel eyes. Her hair was twisted in a bun, not a single strand out of place which May often found herself admiring when it usually took her around two hundred brush strokes to get them just right. She had several manila folders clutched under long manicured nails and her expression visibly perked when the door swung open to reveal May’s brown tresses.
All May got was a small but genuine smile before Phoebe was pushing her way in simultaneously waving the single maid who had accompanied her to make the bed. May nodded gratefully at the young girl before she was being ushered to sit on the vanity chair in front of her mirror whose bright blue lights had been turned on.
There were two of them working on her, both women - Sarah and Jade, May recalled - as the former untangled her hair from its frizzy braid while the latter unpacked their equipment. They didn’t ask or say anything except when they had greeted her with a clear ‘hello’ and though she had witnessed it countless times before, she still found it fascinating how two people could work in perfect tandem, communicating with short glances and minuscule nods. May was glad she had already decided her hairstyle and dress for tonight with Phoebe earlier who had then, communicated it with Sarah and Jade. She found it relaxing to not speak as they dolled her up.
The sun’s fading rays illuminated her face in shades of orange and caused her hair to flare up with splashes of red that few took notice of. Her eyes flicked up in the mirror as Phoebe’s frame appeared on her left.
“Are you sure?” Phoebe asked, her warm palm settled on May’s shoulder, “We could postpone it to a later date.”
May parted her lips, a resounding ‘I’m fine’ on the tip of her tongue but she hesitated when she searched Phoebe’s expression behind her in the reflection. Genuine concern shone in her caramel eyes and she couldn’t bring herself to brush the inquiry with nary a thought. Honestly, she didn’t want to postpone, it would cause her more stress than anything. It was better to get on and be done with it. The quicker the bandage was ripped, the better.
May stared upwards at the pulsing lights surrounding her even when her eyes stung from the harsh rays. She was tired, so very tired of hiding and running away. She thought she was getting better, taking care of herself more, and finally letting go but every time she thought she had taken a few steps forwards she was proven wrong. She wanted to enjoy her life without being reminded of them at every turn. But lately, life seemed to be out to get her.
“It’s already been a long time since the announcement, Phoebe, it’d be too much of a hassle if we do anything now.”
Phoebe nodded stiffly, shifting on her heel to fish out her phone. She rotated it towards her, holding it up for her to see though the screen was blank. May shook her head as much as she could without being scowled at. She planned to practice her excellent acting skills later in the night, not this early. Phoebe understood as she just gave a friendly shrug and turned away to double tap on the screen to blink it open. May remembered regretfully how if Phoebe would have asked the same question six months ago, May would have been pouncing on her and pulling her in for a picture almost immediately. But now just a single look at her phone had her mouth tasting bitter.
Forty minutes later, May, with her freshly straightened hair, pulled back in a half-up ponytail and bold eyes looking ready to slay, felt a lot less melancholy than before.
As she examined herself in the mirror, she felt the stirrings of age-old confidence inside her. Pride in herself and her strength that she had slowly built as she grew up. A sudden bout of excitement surged through her – probably the first and the only one – and she realized that some part of her wanted to do this. A part of her that had been suppressed by the grief and regret that had been coursing through her for the past six months wanted to show people that May Maple had just stumbled, not fallen. That she was not yet finished.
“You’ve been born for this,” Phoebe whispered, her voice originating from somewhere on her left but May couldn’t tear her eyes away from her reflection, “just be yourself.”
It was difficult to look away from the mirror when she realized that her chest felt astonishingly lighter and her mind was filled with memories of night-long singing sessions and bright flashes of cameras as she performed but she managed it. Her eyes caught the glinting edge of metal as she revolved.
The aluminum metal frame had raised flowers and swirling leaves all over it and the picture framed within it was one that was engraved in her mind. Like how if you keep repeating a word, again and again, it eventually loses its meaning, the picture was having the same effect in May.
A beautiful shot of both her mother and father’s, arm-in-arm from their trip to the Royal botanic garden in Kew. Uniform rows of tulips blooming around them displayed them in the most serene atmosphere. A faint wind blew her mother’s hair behind her as she grinned up at her husband.
They looked beautiful and radiant.
And alive, May added with no emotion.
She had stared at the picture for an endless amount of time for the past months and her brain refused to make any sense of it anymore.
May turned away.
This one is for my parents, who have always been there for me through thick and thin. Who have shaped me into the person I am today and cheered for me on my lowest days. For all the things they have given me and I hope that someday I might be able to return to you a fraction of the love you have given me.
This is for those two who defined my forever...