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XIII. Good Girl Gone Bad

“What really happened that night?” It was more of a command than a question.
“It wasn’t my decision.”
“Then whose?!” I roared.

He was clearly taken aback by my tone that he had both his arms extended at me. Struggling to find the words, he had both his hands on his head and vigorously scratched it, messing up his sleek brush up. It’s an easy question. Why is he hesitating? He has already confirmed that it was not some nightmare. He turned his back on me as he paced back and forth. His hands were shaking as he typed something on his phone.

“Alright. Alright.” He flinched, trying to gather his thoughts. “You passed out. It-it- it was… I put you on your bed, then suddenly the people I called still barged in even when I told them not to touch you. It was The Grid.”
“You own The Grid! What are you talking about?!” I screamed.
“Yes, yes! I do but some of the executives have… they’ve been suspecting bias in my judgment.” He tried to keep his voice down.
“What do you mean?”
“Glory, I may own The Grid, I may have the label in my hands but these people… they have their own agenda.”
“Just like you have yours. Right?”
“No, Glory. I’m on your side. Please believe me. Everything that I’ve done, it’s for you and it’s for your dreams.” His voice broke as he pleaded.

“God, Lucian, how do you expect me to believe that now?!”
“I’m telling you these people… they’re the ones you should not trust. I’ve been against their methods from the start but I can’t do anything about it! I’m only a fraction of The Grid. I’ve been assigned to be in close proximity to you but I don’t call the shots. You have to believe me. It wasn’t my decision to put you through hell!”

“That’s right , Lucian. Put all the blame on people I don’t even know if they exist! You are hopeless.”
“Please, you have to listen to me. You have to go out there and do your job like it has always been. They can’t know that you already have an idea of what’s been happening. Once they know, they’re going to eliminate me.”
“Maybe that’s what you deserve.” I scoffed.
“Glory, I’m literally the only thing keeping you alive!”

What he claimed sent chills down my spine.
“I’ve been against every plan The Grid had that had to do with forcing you to become a mere puppet. They wanted you to be a soulless being they can easily control. Believe me, every time they had to take you underground for electroshock, I’ve always protested. It hurt me the very first time seeing them do that to you and it hurts until now. I kept convincing them that it would not work for their agenda if you become a robotic piece of flesh. People can see through it and they will not succeed. But I was just really trying to save what’s left of your sanity. Because I have loved you from the very moment I saw you singing your heart on a Thursday night. You told the audience back then that you were doing this for your mother who was sick. Your voice spoke of the pain that I and everyone else know. You are a real artist and I would hate to see them turn you into something you are not. A lifeless shell people will pay money to see. I’ve fought them many times not to change you. I’ve tried everything to do this my way but The Grid has long been suspecting that I’ve grown attached to the subject. So I had to keep you in the dark.”

My mouth was left agape at all the things he said. I tried to search my head for anything to click with the things he said but nothing came up. There was no proof to anything he just laid down in front of me. Somehow, I was impressed with how fast he could come up with a lie. At the same time, his words seeped right into my mind, taking root at all the existing memories I have. Still, nothing grew out of it. Until he reminded me, “You were supposed to be the simple girl, plucked right out of the simple life but was born ready to be a star. You had immense talent. A prodigy. You had the ear for the correct pitch. You had the voice of an angel. You were a sweet… innocent girl.” He lifted his phone up to me. On it was the cover image of my first album entitled Innocence.

“Do you still recognize her?” His voice echoed in my ears and bounced right into the walls of my mind. The pain was like a sharp streak of chalk on a blackboard.

“I told them it was the perfect formula. That you had the charm to win the hearts of many. But your debut did not sell commercially. The executives of The Grid told me I did not know what I was doing. They had to step in. We were just walking out of your third live performance at a small theater. Do you remember that?”

Images of the night he described started springing out of the shelves. Lucian smiled at me as we made our way out of the backstage. He said he’s taking me out for a congratulatory walk under the street lamps. His smile was different then. Nothing like what he is now. We stopped to sit on a bench at the park. He told me how happy he is that he’s making my dreams come true. At the time, I asked him, “Why me?” Of all the other girls out there, why did he pick me? He shrugged only to tell me, “One look at you and I know I wouldn’t change anything about you. You are perfect as it is.”

“Do you still recognize her?” His words echoed once more to every corner of my brain until I felt the same hands that grabbed me on that night. I could remember Lucian screaming as two men in masks held him down. A man in a black ski mask jumped on me, lifted his fist and beat me to a pulp. The pain, I could still feel every blow of his fists. My face went numb after a while and my ears rang a consistent sharp note. Just like that, they left. The horror on Lucian’s face became engraved in my mind. He was shaking and crying as he tried to call for help.

“It was the first time they put you on electroshock therapy two years ago.” He breathed deeply, “They told me you suffered major injuries to your face on that night. That you need this therapy to restore any damages to your brain. And that it would take months or even a year to recover. The Grid was quick to cover it up in the media as a minor accident and the hype for your name died down. They made sure nothing of the incident came out on the news. It was easier back then when you were just starting. The Grid can simply make up stories to put you in a positive light. It was also simpler back then to remove anything negative. It started becoming clear to me what they had done when they had scheduled you to meet with different doctors during your supposed recovery. When the bandages were removed from your face, I was disgusted to realize everything.” He stopped and looked at me straight into my eyes.

“They changed you.”

My heart sank right into my chest. I saw my reflection at one of the mirrors in the dressing room. My eyes could see it now.

“I confronted them but they told me it was necessary for you to sell. That it fits the direction I’ve told them I’m taking you. That I had no right to object as it has always been the plan.”

Nothing from what he said after registered in my head as I looked into my face in the mirror. Nothing is real. Tears started falling down my cheeks as the realization sets in. Even in tears, the skin that held my face had an unchanging beauty. Slowly, my imagination distorted that image into that of Maria. She told me that it’s going to be okay. My heart beat went faster at an irregular pace. My hands shook as I pinched the skin on my cheek. Maria’s eyes widened and roared at me to run. Run!

“I’m sorry, Lucian. I can’t do this anymore!” I bolted for the door as quickly as I could.
“No please, don’t leave! Please!” It was hard seeing him on his knees trying to grasp my arms. There was fear in his eyes that I could not explain. But I would not be held down. I reached for the door but it opened right before I touched the knob.

A man stood before us in his blood red suit.

Lucian’s jaw was on the floor, “Dad?”

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