"Layla?" Jessica prompted.
Layla gave a small start before turning her attention back to her interviewer. She was dressed far too formally for the interview, her suit immaculate. Layla looked down at her own torn jeans and t-shirt, smiling slightly.
She gave a bright smile as she straightened up, flicking her brown hair. "Could you repeat that please?"
Jessica laughed nervously before glancing at the camera once again. "Your start was a little unconventional, wasn't it?"
Layla cleared her throat before answering the question she had rehearsed a hundred times before. She had to be careful to keep her accent ambiguous.
"Well, I guess you could say that I had the typical rags to riches story. My manager noticed me after a cover I did while busking on the subway went viral. I guess he liked what he saw because he signed me to his label - WWJL- and here I am," Layla shrugged as she let out an airy laugh.
She was glad she had remembered to leave out her manager's name - he preferred it that way. It had been drilled into her that this was how she would conduct herself in interviews but even so, she wondered whether the laugh had been a little much.
"It really does feel like a Cinderella story doesn't it?" Jessica questioned as she let out an artificial chuckle.
"Yes," Layla said as she masked her uneasiness with a bright smile. "I guess you could say that."
"And your debut album came out a few weeks after your sixteenth birthday," Jessica said.
Layla frowned. She didn't know whether she was asking her or telling her so she simply nodded.
"Around a year ago?" she continued.
Layla nodded once more, slightly confused.
Jessica let out a theatrical gasp before looking at the camera again and Layla had to clench her fists to stop herself laughing. She was that type of interviewer.
"Sixteen and it went to number one along with four singles, one of which is currently still top of the charts. I take it you're performing that for us?" Jessica asked, looking at her imploringly through her thick eyelashes.
Layla forced a laugh. "I guess."
"Great," Jessica announced as she thrust the microphone an assistant had just handed her at Layla before turning to the cameras once again. "Here's Layla Edwards with her number-one single, Cruel Fate."
Layla tried not to stare at the woman as she walked over to where the band and back-up singers were waiting on the other side of the room. Despite the awkwardness of it all, she was glad she could get away.
She pushed the brown waves away from her face as she placed the mic on the stand. At least she was doing a ballad today. She didn't think she had it in her to do a dance performance. Her tour had only ended yesterday and she had yet to fully recover.
She signalled to the band to start and briefly warmed up her voice. She was thankful she had insisted on writing her own music in her contract. She could relate to the lyrics in a way the rest of the world couldn't. They had quickly assumed she was a love struck teen as the tabloids paired her with every guy in the industry around her age. She smiled at the irony as she sang.
"Cruel fate, what have you done to me?" She ended the last line with barely a whisper, remembering to smile at the camera as she had been taught.
"Well there you are folks!" Jessica chimed in as Layla jumped. She had forgotten she was there.
"The girl with the golden voice proved it once again. I'm Jamie Jenkins and you're watching Five."
Layla waited for the camera to stop rolling before turning to her.
"Your name isn't Jessica?"
"No," she said slowly as she scowled. "It's Jamie."
Layla winced slightly as she extended a hand, forcing a smile on her face. "It was nice to meet you Jes- Jamie."
Jamie glared at her before storming away. "Somebody get me a xanax," she yelled to nobody in particular.
Layla knew there was no point feeling bad. She had been instructed to act like an airhead and she had played the role well.
"Warming your voice up when the camera is on you? What were you thinking?" a voice called from behind her.
Layla closed her eyes, mentally preparing herself as she usually did when her manager was around.
When she opened them again, Jeremy was scowling down at her, his tinted glasses hiding the fury in his eyes.
"Well?" he asked.
Layla opened her mouth to speak before he chimed in again.
"And what did I tell you about one word answers?"
Yet again, she tried to speak before he cut across.
Layla sighed as she did the routine again. She forced herself to carry on even as her body screamed in protest. Her knees were burning and her mouth was dry. A combination not meant for a performer.
Her performance at the award show was in a week and the pressure was mounting. She hated performing at those shows the most- where singers feigned surprised as they received an award their label had already paid for and fashion mattered more than music. Still, she was one of the most anticipated performers of the night and had to act the part.
She had lost count of the hours she had spent performing in a stadium that was empty aside from Jeremy. She caught sight of him now as he sat in the audience, his arms crossed and his face set in a permanent scowl. He expected nothing short of perfection and that was made clear by every time she was made to do the entire set all over again.
The words she sang had long since lost meaning and were a dull echo of what they had once meant when she had first written them. Then, they were a glimmer of hope- a means of escape. Now, they were a simple reminder that she was yet another industry planet, confined to the whims of those above her. The thought was depressing but still, anything was better than her old life.
And that was the reason she couldn't stop. Even though she was both physically and mentally drained, she still had to prove herself. She had only been in the business for a short period of time and the threat that she would be sent back there stayed in her mind constantly.
"Take a break," a cold voice rang out, causing Layla to come to an abrupt halt.
Unable to stop mid-routine, her legs twisted out from underneath her and she fell hard on the cold stage, her microphone falling next to her with a screech.
Layla lifted her head in surprise as Jeremy approached. He looked down at her in dismay, his silvery hair a heavy contrast to the dark setting they were in. "Your grandfather contacted me," he said, his expression stubbornly neutral as he spoke.
"What?" Layla gasped, attempting to sit up as her muscles screamed in rage. Her composure melted as she stared at him, her face growing pale.
Choosing to disregard the effect his words had on his client, Jeremy continued in the same monotone. "You're starting school on Monday."
There was an edge to his voice and Layla knew he wasn't happy with the news. He couldn't control her when she was away from him.
Lost in her own confusion, Layla's mind was reeling with unanswered questions but she chose the most important one.
"Did he- did he say anything else?" she asked tentatively, her heart rate rapidly rising as she clenched her fists, a former rush of pain erupting in her side. Despite years of growing animosity towards the person that had once abandoned her, she couldn't help the fact that she could barely breathe in anticipation.
So this was what it was like- what she had always envisioned. And yet it was fleeting, almost instantaneous. As if it hadn't happened at all.
The last time she had heard from her Grandfather, she was in a hospital bed, certain death awaiting her. She wondered whether he remembered. She certainly did.
The adrenaline that had not yet left her body turned against her, slowly poisoning her as her heart dropped.
"Yes," Jeremy responded.
She waited for an answer but none came. He merely studied her, his hard gaze refusing to waver. "Get back to work."
She watched him walk away, a familiar sense of hopelessness eating away inside her. "What-what school?" she managed to call out, her voice breaking slightly.
She was surprised to see him turn.
Her muscles finally gave way and she fell back, her eyes fixed on the stage headlights as her body went numb.