‘Welcome, our most venerable guest.’
John’s voice rang out across the room which was crowded with fanatics. As Cherry appeared on stage, the audience moved forward in a wave, edging closer.
He cleared his throat. ‘People, as you know we’re privileged with her presence. Many of you have been fans since her first book, Who I wanna be, and have followed her with an almost religious fervour.’ Sweat beads gathered on John’s forehead, his hands shook slightly with excitement as Cherry stood beside him at the rostrum.
Cherry smiled beatifically her worshippers in the stadium. She loved these moments. The adoration led her to dizzying heights; she became swept away with her own fame. She reached her hand across to John, touched his arm lightly while he was speaking.
‘Let’s hear what Cherry has to s—‘
John felt the zing immediately. Rendered speechless, he turned to face her. Those ruby lips, her sea-blue eyes, the perfect, symmetrical face. The audience, at least three hundred people, faded to a blur, as John focussed on Cherry. And him. He wiped his brow with the sleeve of his jacket—something his mother had told him never to do—then drew his finger along her cheekbones, to her clavicle, trailing between her breasts down to her navel.
Were the rumours correct? He wondered if he’d ever find out. Here, backstage, her hotel. Didn’t matter where. He, like so many others before him, was captured by her spirit and beauty and myth.
The crowd roared, snagging John’s thoughts of him and Cherry. With a sigh, he drew his gaze back to the onlookers, clawing their way to the stage. They’d clamber up soon, if he wasn’t careful. He nodded to the security detail. Any one out of line would be dealt with.
‘People, let’s hush now.’ John waited as the noise died down. ‘Let’s hear what Cherry has to say,’ he said again.
Cherry smiled, looking around. ‘Welcome, and thanks for coming.’ Her voice was honey: thick, dripping, golden. ‘I suppose you want to know the real deal, don’t you?’
A cheer broke out. John watched, transfixed as Cherry walked across the stage, the lapel mic picking up her tale of childhood, dreams, telling stories and fame.
Her speech was drawing to a close. She spoke in a whisper, ‘And it’s all a lie.’ The onlookers gasped, a collective intake of breath that threatened to suck Cherry from her spot in the limelight. ‘At least the childhood part is. You see, I was discovered on a beach when I was…um, well I guess you could say I was eighteen. In your time.’
The crowd was silent. John leaned in slightly. She was going to do it. He knew it.
‘Someone found me, washed onto shore, smashed and near-lifeless on a rock. He kissed me and I woke. I’d never seen the sky from land before. It was so beautiful. Then, my gaze fell onto my saviour. Handsome, strong. But his kiss robbed me of my tail. Left me with legs. Ordinary. Just like you.’ Her voice was bitter; gone was the sweet sound of honey.
‘You see, I was special. I was a mermaid. But now, I’m just human. And I don’t know how to turn back.’
Her confession was too much for those in the crowd. The din of hundreds of people cheering, yelling, demanding more from her, was overwhelming. The people at the front were pushed against the stage, as those behind crushed forward. Some clambered onto the stage.
Cherry stood still, tears falling onto her cheeks.
John jumped from his seat. Security drew weapons. He cowered, head tucked into his chest, eyes squeezed shut. The crack of a gun shot rang out; the sound echoed in John’s ears.
When he opened his eyes, only moments later, Cherry was gone.