Aidan felt guilty sending Laura off alone with Lucia. Laura was his only “friend” here, and Aidan was sending her off with a known two-time killer. As soon as his internal monologue called her a friend, he immediately recoiled. Sure she was listening to him for now, but how could she really be his “friend?” They were complete strangers. That was a fact. Aidan could tell himself all he wanted that they were on the same team, but he didn’t know that. He could tell himself that they bonded because they both refused to kill anyone else in the sake of trite television, but he didn’t quite know how true that was either. For what Aidan didn’t know, he could pad with a delicate semblance of script. The problem was that Aidan was drastically starting to feel the pages running out.
The two girls walked off, and Aidan’s hand instinctively reached out at Laura. Don’t go.
A voice that never spoke called out. He commanded them like little minions in his army, but as their figures rounded the corner, Aidan got a fresh reminder of how loneliness felt.
He wasn’t actually alone though. No matter how scary the prospect of being alone seemed, he wasn’t really. Millions of Americans were watching him. Sure not every minute. Aidan could afford to pick his nose, pee on a bush, or scratch his lower back, and the editors would cut hopefully cut most of that out, but every minute there was someone watching him. Someone who knew exactly what was behind every corner that Aidan rounded. Someone who knew exactly what every little rattling sound that sent violent shivers down Aidan’s back, was. Someone knew Aidan’s immediate future, and it wasn’t him.
He hated it. His whole vision for his fabulously grand life was at a dramatic end. He could see himself now; dressed head to toe in a gray Armani suit. Would it be gray? No, it had to be. Gray matched his eyes and fair complexion well. Black was too garish, anyways. He would be riding in a black limousine, though. White leather interior, with a small partition for a bar built in the side. He’d be hand in hand with his fiancée. Someone he’d met when he did a brief stint in New York as an actor. His man could be the breadwinning theater-turned big screen extraordinaire. Aidan loved to think fifteen years in the future, but he couldn’t even guarantee fifteen minutes.
Well, this was a start. The girls were gone. It was just him, and the flirtation of the rifle. Every little line lead up to this moment. Aidan hoped it would have felt more poetic. He hugged the rifle to his chest like a Christmas present. In a smug sense, he felt victorious. He wanted protection further than his charm and persona could offer, and now he got it. He went through hell, and came out the other side. His ordeals were far from over, of course, but at least he now had a fair shot.
With no one in sight, Aidan tracked down and tore through the girl’s bag. There was nothing personal in the bag itself. With it’s previous owner long dead, it had no ties to any semblance of individuality, save for a few wrappers. Rations, water bottles, and the first aid kid went flying off. Aidan ravenously parsed through her bag, pulling out any spare magazines for the gun. Aidan could find three of them, adding to the additional one on the rifle itself. A manual came with it, on the very slim chance that Aidan would find a second of downtime to read it. He greedily snatched that up too.
Minutes passed and there was no sign of movement. Lucia hadn’t gone back on her word, and Laura hadn’t been shot. While they were occupied, Aidan was left exclusively alone with the body. Yeah, that’s what she was, a body. Aidan hadn’t known her past a few awkward pleasantries. He tried to be her friend, tried to save her, but the circumstances of the world didn’t work out. It was her fault, really. She scared Lucia by coming over running with a gun. She asked for it.
Aidan could keep telling himself that, but the girl’s dead eyes bored directly into him. He could feel the collective judgment project through her pallid face. He promised the same sense of camaraderie to her as he did Lucia. Lucia deserved his facetious empathy a whole lot less than this girl did. All he could do was dig through her things and parse apart whatever he felt like taking. He could keep telling himself that she deserved it, but she wasn’t Gene, for example. She didn’t actively threaten them. She was just as scared as they all were, and she died for her panic. It wasn’t fair. America was probably thinking that as they watched Aidan paw through her items like a bandit.
“Stop looking at me.” Aidan murmured to the body. He clearly wasn’t talking to her, but he may as well have. “STOP FUCKING LOOKING AT ME.”
With a swift tap of the toe of his boat shoe, he craned the girl’s face away from him. He couldn’t stand her judgment. He tried. He was still trying. Escape was a lofty dream, but it was now a promise that he’d made. He wasn’t smarter than sixty-five seasons worth of producers had been. How could he hope to outsmart them at their own game?
It was a good thing that Aidan now had this rifle. It was even hard for him to delude himself into thinking that he knew what he was doing.
The redheaded corpse was heavy. As rigorously as Aidan worked out, even he wasn’t prepared for all of this dead weight. That was a sobering thought, dead weight.
What was once a person was just one-hundred-fifty-pounds of sheer, unflexible, unwilling weight. Aidan could bench just under that weight without a spotter easily, but he was finding himself struggling with her. At first, he’d tried to carry her in his arms, but she was still coated in dried, browning blood. Vanity was a love that still hadn’t died in him.
Aidan settled on dragging her, using her ankles as handles to drag the poor girl’s body across. Aidan tried not to look at her, securing her behind him as he pulled. If Aidan had been better at diffusing the situation, he might have saved her too. He wanted to cry for her, or to at least give her one last writ of humanity, but he couldn’t find any. It wasn’t that he didn’t care. It was just too painful to.
Aidan watched the room drag on away from him as he sluggishly made his way to the supply closet. Past the rows of spare basketballs, and a little towards the left of the stacked baseball plates, Aidan came across a very familiar comfort. The pristine white lacrosse net was a beautiful reminder of back home. Beautiful, and heartbreaking at the same time.
Lacrosse was the only thing his father was guaranteed to see. Every time Davison qualified to play in some state tourney, his father would drop all his business in Vegas and come see him play. It didn’t matter if he was in the middle of negotiating licensing rights for the contestant’s likenesses, or if he was striking a deal to turn the gambling system into a fancy phone app, his dad was always there. Aidan was far from the best player on the team. He was tall, but his run was always a little awkward. He was strong, but he was always a little too nice to use his full brutality.
But when his dad was watching, he always scored well. He always made his dad proud. Most Improved, Freshman year. MVP, Sophomore year. All thanks to his dad’s presence. Aidan wanted what all boys wanted; his father’s pride.
“Great game. I love you, kiddo.”
Aidan decided on a suitable location for the girl’s body. If he propped her behind the basketballs, she was just out of the camera’s vision. He felt that her parents didn’t deserve to see her slowly decay. She might have been a killer, but no body deserved that indignity. Aidan thought that everyone deserved a beautiful funeral. If there was a god, he’d decide how he’d ugly you up when you got upstairs.
It was just Aidan, the camera, and the poorly lit supply closet now. Laura and Lucia were distant flirtations in the back of his head.
“Dad.” Aidan started weak.
Dad. I’m so fucking scared. I have no fucking idea what I’m doing here, okay? People want to be cast on this show so badly; to prove what they’ve got is exactly what every wannabe star could dream of. I-I thought this was my dream. To be world renowned and famous one day. I wanted to do something to make you and Mom proud. I wanted to be somebody, to be worth something. A whole lot of something.
You know we’d always have those little strategy sessions about how to survive here. I miss that. I miss you being there, telling me what to do. To the cameras I’m this big, smart, confident actor with this dazzling display of wit and cunning. But I’m not that guy. I never have been. I can’t fake it any more, Dad. I don’t know what to do. I can’t keep lying to everyone. Eventually they’re all gonna know I’m a fraud. I need you here. You’re supposed to tell me what to do. How to act. How to get everything I want out of life. You promised me you’d teach me.
I don’t want anything else other than to live. I’d be a hobo and still be happy. I just don’t want to die, Daddy. Please, help me.
“I’m going to make you proud. You, Mom, Alyssa. Everyone’s gonna be watching me when I get on that helicopter home.” As soon as he spoke, disguised in a pseudo-confident pitch, he snapped his head away from the camera. America didn’t need to see the look of terror and uncertainty that was plastered across his face.