“Breaking news out of New York. The nation is in mourning tonight after the body of world-renowned pop star Lila was found near her Hampton’s home this morning after a three-day search by local and state authorities. State officials confirmed the identity of the body because of the distinctive tattoo sleeve covering her left arm. Foul play is suspected. We’ll keep you all updated as we follow this story closely.
“When we get back from the break, Ariana Grande gives us ten reasons why miniature pigs are the best replacement for your broken heart. I’m Mario Lopez, we’ll be right back.”
Brianna switched the channel to Grey’s Anatomy and continued to eat the stale bag of kettle chips that had been lying on her couch for the past three days. It was all she had been able to stomach, along with Topo Chico, after what had happened. Serena, sat in the other corner of the living room and they hardly looked at each other as the night wore on, watching the various broadcasts about Lila’s death.
From Ryan Seacrest on E! News: “Lila’s passing is not only devastating to the music industry, but also a blow to the global community. Her countless contributions to various philanthropic organizations are just one of the many things that made her such a well-rounded, compassionate woman. Excuse me,” Seacrest said, dabbing a handkerchief underneath his eyes, “I’m just really emotional about this. As our viewers know, Lila and I were quite close. Here’s a clip reel of some of my favorite moments with her.”
As if it couldn’t get any worse, for the next five minutes, Brianna and Serena watched as Lila and Ryan Seacrest visited children’s hospitals, remote villages, and even the fucking United Nations, where Lila gave a seething critique of the United States’ immigration policy and its treatment of children at the southern border. “See You Again” by Charlie Puth played softly in the background, seemingly to emphasize the closeness between Lila and Ryan.
“Why did we have to kill the nicest fucking person on this planet?” Brianna asked from across the room.
Serena just said, “I hate that fucking song.” Brianna kept eating kettle chips, before switching to Entertainment Tonight.
Rachel Smith, the New York correspondent: “In studio tonight, we have Charlie Puth here to give a touching tribute with his hit song ‘See You Again.’” The lights dimmed and Charlie, accompanied by acoustic guitar, began singing. Serena groaned.
Brianna could almost see Lila rolling her eyes, saying, “Is he going to sing that song every time someone fucking important dies?” She was funny. Was.
Brianna snorted at this thought, getting Topo Chico in her nostrils. She got up from the couch, running to the bathroom to clear her nose. She could hear the rain and thunder outside and, just like her little dog that was kenneled in her room, it made her anxious. She flipped on the bathroom fan and got rid of the chips and Topo Chico sitting in her stomach.
From the living room, Serena yelled, “I’m going home. See you tomorrow.”
Brianna didn’t want to be left alone, but she knew she couldn’t tell Serena that. Everything was Serena’s idea, after all. Serena was the one whose grandmother had given her the book on ritual sacrifice, specifically to gain fame and fortune. Serena was the one who hated Lila the most, who thought that she deserved what we had done to her. Serena was also the one who had berated Rebecca, Lila’s third back-up singer, when she cried after they finished the ritual. To show emotion around Serena was to show weakness.
At the funeral three days later, Brianna stood in the corner of the cathedral with Rebecca. They were approached by Lila’s mother, whom Lila had hated, dressed in some couture throwaway she had surely pilfered from Lila’s closet.
“It’s so sweet that you two girls were able to come, and Serena of course,” she said, gathering them up in an awkward sort of group hug that made Brianna achingly uncomfortable. “Lila loved you guys so much, she always said that you all made her songs sound just a smidge better. Of course, they were already great. She wouldn’t have sold millions of records if they weren’t, but you guys were integral to the process.” She flitted away before Brianna or Rebecca could reply.
“She doesn’t even seem sad,” Rebecca said.
“You know what’s sad? I don’t even remember her name,” Brianna said. “I should’ve asked where she got her drink. Is there a bar here?”
“I didn’t even notice her drink. I was so busy staring at her adult braces.”
“Rebecca,” Brianna laughed.
“Anyways, we don’t need a bar,” Rebecca said, passing her a Xanax.
Brianna swallowed it dry and waded into the crowd.
She saw James Corden pestering Beyoncé, Lila’s father lingering by the closed casket, Lila’s mother chasing Celine Dion, before she finally found Serena mingling amongst the cast of Gossip Girl. Lila had guest starred in season three and, apparently, they all adored her. Brianna stood to the side until Serena noticed her and beckoned her over. She made her way in between them and stood next to Serena.
“This is one of Lila’s other backup singers, Brianna. She has a brilliant voice, too. Not as brilliant as me,” Serena laughed, “But pretty great.”
“Are you so sad?” one of the blonde ones asked.
“Yeah, I mean, we’re all pretty devastated. We were in the middle of tour and working together every night, so we had all gotten even closer than before,” Brianna said before trailing off, once she realized they weren’t paying attention to what she was saying. Rather, they were all watching Lila’s mother clumsily rearrange the flowers next to Lila’s portrait. She had refilled her drink, which is probably why she slipped on one of the carpeted steps and spilled the new one all over Lila’s old dress.
“Someone is clearly devastated,” the British one said.
They were interrupted by the beginning of a mournful song that signaled for everyone to take their seats. Serena and Brianna found Rebecca, fully in the throes of the Xanax she had taken, and sat in the second row, behind Lila’s family and next to her manager, best friend, and various other ‘friends’ who also happened to be on Lila’s payroll at one point or another.
The ceremony was uneventful. Notable people spoke, not so notable people also spoke. Brianna noticed that Lila’s father stopped her mother from taking the podium, probably because she was too drunk, but no else seemed to see that interaction. Brianna began feeling the Xanax, too, and she lazily smiled at Rebecca in thanks before realizing that she had nodded off in the pew next to her.
That was when Serena stood up and took the podium herself. Brianna shook Rebecca awake, who audibly laughed in the silent cathedral as Charlie Puth took the stage with an acoustic guitar. People stared, but Rebecca didn’t notice.
“This is for you, Lila,” Serena said, looking upwards. There was the glint of a tear in her eye. Brianna might’ve cried, maybe, because Serena’s voice was beautiful; but of course, Serena was singing “See You Again.” Brianna couldn’t believe it.
Leaning over to Rebecca, Brianna whispered, “Serena fucking hates this song, I can’t believe she’s singing this.”
“Lila hated this song, too. That’s why she’s singing it.”
A week later, Serena was on Good Morning America, talking about Lila with Robin Roberts and singing, for what seemed like the thousandth time that week, “See You Again,” with a guest appearance by none other than Mr. Puth himself. Serena had managed multiple interviews, had hired Lila’s old manager as her own, and was in the midst of negotiating a multi-album deal with Interscope, Lila’s former label. Seeing all of this gave Brianna hope that maybe what they had done would be worth it. All that Brianna could think about, though, while she stared at Robin Roberts’ beaming smile, was the dream she had had that night. Usually, Ambien prevented her from dreaming, but it seems as if the guilt was a more powerful drug.
She was in the living room of Lila’s Hamptons home the night of the ritual. Serena had cut the power and the place was littered with candles, the flickering light creating moving shadows that Rebecca kept jumping at. Rebecca was visibly nervous, much to Serena’s annoyance. Lila, however, was oblivious.
“I can’t believe the power went out, it’s not even storming,” she said, lighting a cigarette from one of the candles and plopping on one of the couches in front of the wall of bay windows that showed the pool and then the beach behind it.
Serena walked in with the drinks.
“I love that we’re doing this sleepover,” she said, handing Lila her drink.
“Well, it was your idea,” Lila said, before passing out almost immediately after her first sip in some sort of twisted dream logic. The thump of Lila’s head colliding with the floor sounded through the room as Serena, Rebecca, and Brianna were dragging her limp body off of the couch and into the middle of the plush, Turkish rug that adorned the room.
“She’s heavier than she looks,” Serena said. No one replied. “Grab the salt.”
Rebecca grabbed the salt, creating a circle around Lila’s body. Serena laid out a set of knives next to Lila’s head, along with the book that her grandmother had given her –
A knock at her door broke Brianna out of her recollection. She was thankful for it, for at first she had thought someone was knocking at the door of Lila’s home rather than her own place. When she got to the door, she saw that tt was a police officer, which sent Brianna’s heart into her throat.
“Are you Brianna Gallagher?” the cop asked.
“Yes, I am,” she said tiredly.
“I’d like to ask you a few questions, do you mind if I come in?” Without a word, Brianna opened the door further and the officer walked in. She pointed towards the couch in the formal living room.
“Coffee? Tea?” Xanax? she asked.
“Water is fine. You seem pretty worn out.”
Brianna scoffed at this passive aggressive insult, even if he had not meant it like that.
“I’m tired. One of my best friends just died.”
“That’s why I’m here, Ms. Gallagher. I wanted to ask you about that night.”
“I figured.” Brianna waited, forgetting about the water. She sat down.
“Where were you that night?”
“Well, as I’m sure you’ve heard from the police in New York, I was at Lila’s house. In the Hamptons.”
“Yes, we did hear that from them, but there’s a separate investigation going on here in Los Angeles and we just want to make sure everyone has their facts straight. Was anyone else with you two?”
“Um, Serena and Rebecca. We were having a sleepover. We were all on tour together.”
“And you were Lila’s backup singers, correct? You three?”
“That is correct.”
Brianna answered the rest of his questions in a stupor, regurgitating information she had already given to multiple investigators and Lila’s parents and her boyfriend, until the police officer pulled a picture out of his pocket and put it on the table between them.
It was the book.
“Does this look familiar to you?” The officer said, staring at her face.
Without hesitation, Brianna answered, “No. I’ve never seen that book before.” She wondered if something in her eyes had given her away.
The rest of the officer’s questions were inconsequential, and Brianna eventually sent him on his way, dry-swallowing another Ambien before calling Rebecca.
“A cop just came by. He had a picture of Serena’s book.” There was no sound on the other end of the line. “Hello?”
“Sorry, Bri, I’m with my agent right now. Speaking of books, guess who just signed a book deal?”
“Who? You? What the fuck are you gonna write about?” Brianna asked. The Ambien was making her brave.
“Someone needs a nap. Anyway, I’m gonna have a ghost writer, duh, but it’s going to be about my experiences on the road with Lila and about me as an up-and-coming singer,” Rebecca said. Brianna could tell her attention was elsewhere, probably signing some contract for a hefty advance.
“How can you profit off of the person we murdered?” Brianna asked. She hoped no one had tapped her phone, then realized how absolutely paranoid that sounded.
“Not to be fucking crass, Bri, but wasn’t that the whole point of what we did?” She hung up without saying goodbye.
Brianna tried calling Serena next, but an unfamiliar voice answered the phone.
“Who is this?” Brianna asked.
“This is Serena’s assistant, who is this?” the woman replied.
“It’s Brianna, don’t you have caller ID? Let me talk to Serena,” Brianna said, barely hiding the annoyance in her voice. Brianna waited for a few moments while the line went silent. She couldn’t believe Serena was screening her calls.
“Hello?” Serena, finally.
“Hey, it’s me. A police officer just came by. With a picture of the book.” Brianna thought of phone lines being tapped again. She couldn’t remember if the Patriot Act made that legal or not and reminded herself to Google it when she wasn’t so out of it.
“Bri, I’m not sure what you’re talking about. Are you talking about Rebecca’s new book? How would a cop have a picture of that?” Brianna couldn’t tell if Serena was fucking with her or not and it bothered her that Rebecca and Serena were clearly getting closer.
“Serena, I’m talking about the book your grandmother gave you. The one we used for the ritual. The cops out here are asking questions.”
“Look, I’m gonna give you back to my assistant and she can figure out a good time for us to meet and we can talk about all of this then. Love ya.” She hung up, didn’t even hand the phone to her assistant. Brianna felt like she was going insane. Maybe she was. She just wondered why she was the one that had to go crazy. Serena was always the crazy one and, when considering the fact that this whole thing was her idea, it seemed kind of unfair to Brianna that she would be the one to go insane because of it. She popped another Ambien and hoped that it would knock her out for at least a week.
“The hottest new pop song this week, “Anatomy” by Serena, just debuted at number one, marking the sixth consecutive number one single from her debut album, Serene. She has taken the music world by storm this year and is embarking on a co-headlining, worldwide arena tour with fellow pop singer Becca. They both rose to prominence after working with Lila and handling her tragic death so gracefully last year. In the studio tonight, we have both Serena and Becca, here to talk about the tour, the albums, and their dear, dear friend Lila.”
Brianna muted the tv but couldn’t resist turning on the closed captions. She caught glimpses of what they said.
Serena: “…miss her so much and wish she were here to celebrate…”
Becca: “…so influential in my songwriting and even in my #1 New York Times…”
Serena: “…excited for this tour and the tribute we have planned to her…”
Some poor schmuck with ultra-whitened teeth and hair that was gelled so aggressively it looked rock hard smiled and ate up what Rebecca and Serena were feeding him. Brianna probably would have, too, if she were there. They both looked so beautiful somehow, as if they were literally glowing, and Brianna couldn’t tell if it was the studio lighting or some other ethereal gift they had been given by whatever they hell they had sacrificed Lila to.
Brianna had started to see Lila outside of her dreams; in corners of rooms and in her peripheral vision, just out of reach or in the dark enough to make Brianna question if she was really there. She wasn’t. Brianna knew that. But, still, she saw her. At least she looked like shit, too. Dead and rotting, kind of like Brianna. Her hair was getting thinner, her skin was paler, and there were permanent bags underneath her eyes. Last night, one of her fingernails had fallen off.
She was decomposing, just like Lila. It was at a much slower rate, but Brianna could feel it happening. She just didn’t know why. Or, more accurately, why her.
That night, after she took an Ambien and a Xanax, Brianna called Serena and Rebecca. They were in LA doing press for their albums and it was time that she pulled the Lila card. They hadn’t reached out in nearly six months and she deserved answers.
On Serena and Rebecca’s respective answering machines, she left a message: “Hey, it’s Bri. We really need to talk. The cop from earlier this year keeps coming around and asking all of these questions. He knows that we were there that night. He said he has DNA evidence of all three of us. We need to meet and get our stories 100% straight. Call me back.” Brianna didn’t feel bad for lying.
Two days later, the three of them sat in Brianna’s kitchen, all the lights on in the house because Brianna couldn’t bear to see Lila in the dark anymore. She was decomposing even more rapidly now and not only was Brianna irrationally concerned that she would stain the floors, it was also deeply unsettling to see a fleshy skeleton that vaguely resembled someone she one knew standing in the corners of her house.
“No offense, Bri, but you look like shit.” That was Serena.
“I feel like shit, too, if that makes you feel better.”
“It doesn’t,” she replied curtly.
“What’s going on?” At least Rebecca sounded a bit more concerned. Brianna and Rebecca had always been close, prior to the murder. Brianna admired Rebecca’s compassion, and while most of that had evaporated in the year since their ritual, it still came through every now and then.
“I feel like I’m fucking losing my mind. I’m seeing her everywhere. I can’t sleep. Even when I take Ambien or Xanax.”
“All you’ve been doing is eating kettle chips for a year, of course you’re losing your mind. At least you look skinny, even though you cheat,” Serena said, pulling out her phone. Rebecca said nothing, put her hand over Brianna’s.
“What do you mean you’re seeing her?” Rebecca asked.
“I see Lila, but like…dead.”
Brianna couldn’t tell if Serena was looking at her like she was crazy or stupid. “That’s because she’s dead, honey,” Serena said.
“That still doesn’t explain why I’m seeing a dead person!”
“Look, babe, I really don’t need this energy right now and honestly, neither does Becca. We’re about to go on tour and we’re literally in the middle of album cycles. Do you know how fucked our schedules are?”
Brianna snapped. “Serena, I swear to god, if you ever call me ‘babe’ again, I will put you in an early grave, right next to Lila.”
“Okay, fuck this. I’m leaving.”
As Serena walked out, Rebecca gave Brianna a sympathetic glance. “You know how she is. How she’s always been. She only cares about herself. And now that she’s got the biggest album in the world, ‘herself’ is a pretty big deal.”
“Maybe we should sacrifice her next, see where that gets us,” Brianna offered.
Rebecca went cold. Stiff. Her phone buzzed. “Serena just texted me. She’s waiting for me in the car. I better go.” Brianna laughed to herself as Rebecca left, following Serena like a puppy. She could see why, since Serena had given Rebecca everything she ever wanted. Or, at least that’s what Serena wanted Rebecca to think. Brianna knew that it was Lila that had given her everything she ever wanted.
Three more of Brianna’s fingernails had fallen out. She had six left. Still had ten toenails, though. Her skin seemed to be baggier and it was definitely paler than it had ever been. She had never been quite tan to begin with, but when her mother facetimed her the other day, she joked that Casper had answered the phone. Brianna couldn’t bring herself to laugh. She was becoming a paranoid mess, one that her mother could barely even tolerate. She hung up the phone quickly, making up some excuse to go.
Brianna kept all the lights on in her house at all times. She had covered all the mirrors with sheets and trash bags. Empty bottles of Topo Chico littered the living room and kitchen, crumbs of kettle chips covering the couch. Empty pill bottles everywhere. She knew she had one move left, one last chance at any sort of redemption.
Serena and Rebecca were doing an exclusive show that night at The Shrine and Brianna, leaving the house for the first time in months, planned on attending. She had reached out to Rebecca’s assistant who had hooked her up with VIP access. That was as far as her plan went, though. She wasn’t sure what she would do when she actually got there.
First, though, she had to make herself presentable. She had bought an expensive wig, since all her hair had fallen out. She covered the dying skin of her scalp with a bald cap so that the netting of the wig wouldn’t irritate the open wounds. She attempted to put on makeup, but just ended up peeling off a layer of skin on her cheek, exposing the fleshy tissue beneath. She covered it with a spray on foundation, the makeup stinging as it came into contact with the exposed cheek muscles. Delicately, she put on clothes that covered every inch of skin that they could. She could feel her skin aching to fall off and was afraid of opening anymore wounds. Brianna didn’t have much time left.
Lila watched her get ready from just outside the doorway to the bathroom. Brianna wondered why she didn’t say anything. She wished she would say something. Something like, I forgive you or You deserve this or Kill Serena. She remained silent, though, almost playfully so. Brianna couldn’t tell if she was smirking or if it was just the way her dead skin hung off the jawbone that was just ever so slightly visible underneath the rotten flesh.
When she was ready, Brianna called an Uber and arrived at The Shrine about halfway through the show, in between Rebecca and Serena’s sets. She had brought a knife, which she cradled in her pocket, fingering the blade, not minding that it was cutting its way to the bone of her finger. When Serena’s assistant saw her, she rushed Brianna to the green room, most likely because she didn’t want anyone else seeing such a terrifying sight.
Serena and Rebecca looked absolutely radiant. Dressed in custom Versace, made specifically for the show, they looked in the prime of their lives. Brianna would’ve been jealous if she wasn’t so angry.
“Oh my god, Bri, you made it,” Rebecca said, walking over to give Brianna a hug. Her nose scrunched up at the smell.
“You smell like a corpse,” was all Serena said, who went to hug her, but decided against it. “What are you doing here?”
Serena’s voice seemed to be echoing, but neither Rebecca nor Serena seemed to notice.
“What did you do to me that night? That night we killed Lila.”
Serena seemed to be considering the question for a moment before answering. “Look, Bri. The ritual called for a blood sacrifice, one whose fame would be transferred to us. That’s why we killed Lila. It also called for another sacrifice of sorts, but one that was more long term.” Serena stepped closer to Brianna. “Rebecca and I chose you. You’re kind of our life support. That’s why you look like such shit and we look so fucking gorgeous.”
“Why would you do that? I thought we were in it, all of us. Rebecca?”
Before Rebecca could speak, Serena chimed in again, “Now that it looks like you’re about to be dead, too, maybe it’s best that you know why this happening to you.” She seemed to ponder the moment before continuing, savoring the words, “I have everything I’ve ever wanted now. Nothing can hurt me anymore. Thanks to you.”
Brianna couldn’t believe what she was hearing, let alone comprehend the fact that, according to Serena, she was about to die. “How could you do this to me?” She looked to Rebecca.
Rebecca looked sad, but not remorseful. “Bri, you know I love you, but… I couldn’t give up this opportunity. And look at us! Look at everything we’ve achieved!” Brianna staggered backwards onto the couch against the wall. The bright lights of the green room were giving her a headache and she could feel their warmth on her dead skin. “Bri, I’m so sorry.” Rebecca’s voice was echoing, too. “You know I didn’t care about killing Lila. I hated her, but, if it makes you feel any better, I’ve felt really terrible about what we did to you.”
“What did you do to me?” was all that Brianna could muster.
“I made you a special drink, too. A recipe from the book. One that tethered you to Lila. When she died, so did a part of you. As she rotted, probably in hell, so did you. And everything that we took from you and Lila was given to us,” Serena said, approaching Brianna on the couch, “And honestly, babe, it was all worth it. I’ve never gotten a chance to thank you. I’ve been thanking Lila left and right and god, I’m so fucking sick of talking about her. I wish I could tell everyone that we were the ones who killed her, but…”
From outside in the hallway, a woman was shouting, her voice getting louder and louder as she approached the green room.
“Hot mic, hot mic, hot mic! Serena!” she screamed. It was her assistant. The door flew open, but from the look on her face Brianna could tell it was too late. Brianna had thought the echoing of Rebecca and Serena’s voices had been in her head, but it must’ve been throughout the entire venue.
Brianna pulled the knife out of her pocket and, while Serena was comprehending what she had just done, Brianna lunged at her, aiming the knife at her throat. Serena was swifter than her and she moved out of the way of the knife and took Brianna’s arms in her hands. Brianna’s rotting flesh slid off the muscle and bone and Serena, disgusted, threw Brianna to the floor. The crack of breaking bones as Brianna hit the floor reverberated through the room.
Rebecca ignored Brianna on the floor, who was writhing in pain. “What the fuck do we do?”
“I don’t know, I’m not your assistant,” the woman said, looking towards Serena, “We need to get out of here. Now. I’m calling your publicist, but this is gonna be messy.”
Without looking at Brianna, Serena said, “What about her?”
“What about her?”
Serena and her assistant left. Rebecca stayed for a few moments, considered Brianna’s broken body on the floor, and then followed them out into the hallway.
Brianna was unable to get up, but she didn’t mind. It was the nicest green room she had ever been in and Brianna had always wanted to play The Shrine. The hustle and bustle of people around her reminded her of when she was on tour with Lila. There was no better feeling than the feeling right before taking the stage. She imagined the packed auditorium, everyone cheering for her, wearing shirts with her face on it before it had begun to rot. Brianna imagined the songs she would perform and the outfits she would wear. Brianna imagined her own trio of backup singers, ones that wouldn’t murder her, but who would remain faithful best friends.
In a way, in that moment, Brianna got everything she had ever wanted. It was all around her. She could almost taste it.