the winner

Chapter 2: Set On Fire

Has there ever been a time when you experienced what it is like to be an idol? Live performances with your fans cheering you on? Being bombarded with 500 projects per month by your management? Rising above the haters when they pull you down? No? Well, I do. I hear the crowd as they cheer and scream their lungs out, in my anticipation. The manager gestures for the technician to lift the pedestal for my grand entrance. My name is Cynthia. Cynthia Rinaldi. The platform below me rises and I smile at the millions of my fans. The colorful lights, blazing flames, and the pop of confetti add to the excitement. As soon as I am on the same level as the stage, I get my charm in action and grip on the microphone. I hear the backing tracks loud and clear in my earpiece. I start with the fans favorite hit. With energetic moves and a creative stage presence mixed with indomitable confidence and beautiful vocals, I become NYX, a big shot idol, currently in the first position. The concert ends after two rigorous hours of fun and then, I get ready for the meet and greet backstage. I don like this part of the show, because of an incident that took place about a year ago, and I know that it is wrong to keep dwelling on the past, so I just go on with it. As my dad says, do whatever it takes to keep the money flowing.

I drink some juice, strawberry, my treasured kind. My manager walks in, her name is Ivy. Ivy Marbiz. She has chestnut brown eyes and straight short hair which is black. She is 35 years old. It was an easy choice to hire her since she is the daughter of a close friend of my dad. She was top in her class and bagged the most internships in her college, but that was not what attracted me to hire her. It was her charm of making people trust her effortlessly. Was her charm working on me as well? Maybe. I consider her a safe card in my management. She had proven her loyalty to us on several occasions, especially, when she had been offered about twice the pay that we give her to manage the events of another idol, a rival of mine, Blaze. Blaze Shaw. He might look so-called good and the sweetest words might roll off his tongue but trust me when I say that he is a snake. The venomous kind. Nevertheless, she didn accept it, although the rivals had ensured protection from us and a genuine contract, she brought that contract to me and told us that she would never betray us. Four years have passed by and we, now, trust her wholeheartedly.

Oh, by ”we ” I mean, my father, brother, and I. My father, Ethan Rinaldi, a tall man with emerald green eyes, was one of the head investors in my venture to become an idol and my brother currently works as my PA. Other than them, our team includes about three investors, a vocal coach, two performance directors, two makeup artists, eight bodyguards, one outfit designer, three estate managers, and a few people who work backstage as the marketing team, social media heads etcetera. I am just the face of all this. Sure, I sing and perform but without these masterminds, I would be nothing.

Back to the present, Ivy seats herself next to me and says, ”You did great out there. Your vocals were on point and your dance moves were sharp! I was starstruck as usual and your father was proud of you. ” I replied with a meek thanks. She then continued, ”Okay, so, your PA will come in and run through your schedule and he will stay with you throughout the day. Ive got some personal errands to run. ” I said, ”Oh okay, but you will be back tomorrow, right? ” She nodded, stood up, waved me goodbye, and walked out of the door. I liked her company but my PA, aka, my brother was a load of fun as well.

After 5 minutes passed on the clock, I heard a knock. I said, ”Come in! ” My brother walked in. Derick. Derick Rinaldi. A lazy computer genius. With lush brown curls dropping to his brows, he always wears colored contacts to differ from our family lines typical emerald eyes, and he is five years elder than me. I am twenty-two. He glared at me with his mahogany brown eyes. I cocked an eyebrow at him. After two minutes, we burst into laughter. Yes, this is how we do it. He said, ”As your personal assistant, it is my responsibility to inform you that today, youve got about three more events. The first is this meet and greet, which starts in twenty minutes, there are five special fans that you will meet today. Don worry, it will go well. And if it does not, then, no worries. Next, weve got to attend a practice show by a to-be pop group that weve invested in, and at night weve got two photoshoots to attend. Both are hosted by the one and only, may I add, my favorite, Mr. Ahad. Yeah! thats about it. ” I mocked him by trying to replicate his tone, ”yEaH, tHaTS aBoUt It. ” Don get me wrong, I enjoy all the aspects of being an idol. But some days can get very exhausting. People would kill to be in my shoes right now mostly because they have no clue about the work pressure.

My brother sets his gaze on the TV screen right in front of us. He smirks at the remarks of the hosts on the show. My parents have always looked down upon him because he was hesitant to get proper education and then never really worked hard by himself. He would come home drunk on several occasions and that took a jab at our reputation. He works for a maximum of three months before giving up on a job, and so my parents always called him a quitter and ensured to raise me to be quite the opposite. However, to prove them wrong, he took up the open position of becoming my PA. He has been dedicated since then, that was about three years ago, and looking at how far he has come now, makes me proud. It was always a thick relationship between us, and despite our parents constant comparisons and countless remarks, nothing could tear us apart.

Speaking of parents, my mother, Estella Rinaldi, is a renowned member of the womens association on a global level. I look up to her. She has worked her way up from the bottom to the top, unlike my father who had inherited wealth from his family. Not going to deny the fact that he has compounded the assets tenfold, but my mother had started with nothing. An orphan who had been abused until the age of fifteen. However, she fought her way up, quite literally, and became a top boxer in a well-renowned city and then, made a name for herself in the top five in the world. My father has Italian descent, and my mother is of Greek, I guess that explains our good looks. My brother is twenty-seven, but he looks thirty-eight, at least thats what I tell him.

The alarm goes off. ”Five more minutes Miss. Rinaldi! ” Rick says to me, his eyes still set on the screen. I roll my eyes and walk into another room to freshen up. My makeup artists, Tristan, and Esha come in and finish with the final touch-ups. Im not remarkably close to them and I like to keep it that way. All I know is that they are a married couple who moved here about two years ago to pursue their dream of becoming makeup artists. They are good at their work, and I appreciate that. Then, my outfit designer, Ash Herald, comes in.

She is a lifesaver. Not only with outfits but also with her advice. Its a shame that I don meet her very often. She walks in with her tall frame accentuated with high pointed heels and a tight bodycon dress. She is always calm and collected, no matter the odds. I fidget on the seat, waiting for her to approach me. She grips my arm, turns me towards her, and says, ”Is NYX nervous for today? Well, don be. I assure you, everything will go well. I know that you don like these meet-and-greets for a reason and that is completely acceptable. We all respect the true love that you have for your fans. ” I feel at ease with her words. She is of my age, just a few months younger, and yet her level of maturity is higher than most fifty-year-olds.

I slip into the dress she presents me with, and I love the fit. I let her know all about it and thank her for her work as well. I step out of the room and go into the hall which is filled with six of my fans. They look young, around fifteen years old, and in the room, there was no one except them, not even the usual bodyguards, but oh well, I can defend myself against fifteen-year-olds or defend them against some other intruder in case something goes wrong. Rick told me that there were five fans. Maybe he forgot to read all the names, I mean he did slack in some aspects of his job, so it would not be surprising if he forgot. Nevertheless, I talk to them, take pictures, and sign their shirts. One of the girls caught my eye.

Her hair was jet black with icy blue eyes, and she wore a cute denim romper. She seemed very shy and didn ask me too many questions, she respected my boundaries and treated me like a normal person. It was a rare encounter for me. I asked her to stay back for a bit when the girls were leaving but I made sure that I was subtle because I did not want to make it seem like I was favoring her. She agreed to stay and stared at me dumbly.

I hopped off the stage and sat next to her amidst the array of red cushioned chairs. I asked, ”Whats your name? I couldn hear you over the other girls. ” She said, ”Brianna. ” She was noticeably quiet and gave short answers to all my questions. She reminded me of myself when I was her age; she was sixteen. There was a spark in her eyes when I performed for the girls, the kind that I once had when my dreams were far from my reality. I was intrigued and so, I asked her if she was into performing.

She said that she used to like it but not anymore. Her expression told me that I was pushing some buttons which would soon result in her crying, so, I changed the topic swiftly. After ten minutes of me asking her questions to which she answered, reluctantly, or just avoided completely, I said, ”Okay then Bee, I shall get going now. It was nice talking to you. ” When I stood up, she tugged the rim of my dress and looked up at me, and said, ”You asked me what I like the most about you, it is your talent of putting on a fake nice mask in front of your fans. Anyway, all the best for the movie you
e starring in, it will be a hit with these skills of yours. ” She paused for what seemed like an eternity, sighed, then swiftly paced out of the room.

I was left hanging as she walked out of the door. I wanted to stop her and ask her more but something in me told me that it was not the right thing to do. The way she walked reminded me of someone, I couldn put my finger on it. I shook her words off me and left for the concert. I cannot slack on my schedule.

I had to change in the car because I was late. It was a lot of effort, but hey! Im in it to win it, so lets get going. I was stuck on Bees words because the media was on my side, all the shows as well, surely the rivals can make statements but those are not displayed elsewhere, at all. It was uncanny for her to say something like that as my so-called superfan. Have I done something bad unknowingly such that I hurt her indirectly? Is that why she thought I was acting innocent? My bodyguards followed me into the vast hall. There were five girls on stage, but I couldn focus on the concert, I didn even take time to observe their faces, one of their voices seemed familiar but that didn matter. I can think straight right now. Why is this bothering me so much? After the not-so-amusing day, the chauffeur drove me home and I hopped into my bed without a second thought. Today has given me yet another reason to not like meet and greets. My soft cushions, my spongy quilt, and silky pillows are what I need for the next hour.

Cynthias dream:

Brianna is standing on the stage, performing with a band. Cynthia is in the crowd, cheering her on. Bees group members start to sing a song, but she does not know the lyrics. She lets nervousness take over her and gets swallowed as the stage cracks open. The crowd gasps. The group members continue performing as though nothing happened and the crowd soon forgets about it but Cynthia can help but think about helping her, however, she cannot unfasten the seatbelt that holds her tightly on the chair that she is seated upon.

Cs pov:

My eyes open with a dramatic pause in my dream. What was that? I met Bee today and now, Im dreaming about her. Great! Just what I needed, another character in my dreams to make them more complicated. I believe that our dreams are connected to our reality in more ways than one. They always give us signs and these have helped me in the past. I pay attention to them and remember the details, or at least try my best to. I pushed the quilt off me and hugged my pillows for a while, all whilst thinking about my dream and Bee. I thought she was kind and sweet, but she turned out to be unpredictable. All that I could comprehend from the dream was that I am stuck at the point where she needs help. In our reality, does she need my help? Is she in some kind of a problem? I knew I shouldve stopped her that minute.

Too many unanswered questions baffled me. I should meet her, once again. I will ask Rick to give me some information about her. I walk into the kitchen and call Rick. No answer. I decided to call Ivy to ask about his whereabouts, and she picked up but told me that she didn know. There was a lot of background noise, and it was clear that she was partying in a club. From the tone of her voice, I could make out that she was drunk. This is rare. She only parties when there is incredibly good news but oh well, if something good happened, good for her.

I think about who else I could call. Everyone else was off their shift, so I decided to call my dad. He picked up. When I asked him about where Rick was, he said, ”He has gone downtown to the new resto-bar to check it out. I think he is with his friends, but don worry he will come back on time to deal with your photoshoot events. Now take a rest and pose well. Bye, honey! ” I said, ”Thanks dad, bye. ”

I know that it is not acceptable for me to show up in a place where my brother is partying, but desperate times call for desperate measures. So, I get into my car and drive straight to the bar. I call two of my most trustworthy bodyguards and they accompany me into the bar. I try to find Rick but I was unable to, so, I request them to look around for my brother and I start looking for him as well. We searched for fifteen minutes, both in and around the bar but he was nowhere to be found. I was worried. This had happened before. He would get into bets and then the big gangsters trashed him, kidnapped him, and bribed us. But it had been three years since that had last happened, I knew that he had changed or at least thats what I wanted to believe. One of the bodyguards called me and I reached the place immediately.

In front of the bodyguard, at the dead end of an abandoned alley, in the dark, I saw a man on the floor. He had hurt his leg and was bleeding profusely. I walked closer to him and sat down near him and slapped him. Hard. Then tears flowed down my eyes as I hugged him. It was Rick. I assumed that he had gotten into a fight once again. I asked him, ”Who did this to you? And why? ” He was not in the right state of mind to talk, but I forced him to talk to me about it. Call me cold-hearted for not taking my brother to the hospital first but he had earned this with his actions. I asked the bodyguards to call my doctor and his nurses as he spoke to me.

He said, ”I told mom and dad that I was going downtown to check out the new resto-bar but, ” tears trickled down his cheek as he spoke and I held onto him as he spoke, ”I had received a threat message from someone, stating that they would kill you if I did not give them some personal and sensitive information that they could use against father, so, I waited for them to come here. They ordered me to give out information about his next investment, personal details about his inventory as well as the new companys secret employee codes. I prepared a faux file and presented it to them. They quickly transferred the information to their laptops. They got tricked by me and left, but as I was about to leave, one of their bodyguards kicked me into the hoard of waste containers and shot my leg. They left me here so that I would bleed to death, slowly and painfully and that none of you would ever know about this. That way when they sell the information, there would be no one to rat out how they got their hands on it. ”

I was in shock. If I would have never come here, looking for Rick, he would be, de…dead. Gone forever. I stepped away from him as the doctor and the nurses treated him. My eyes dry up. I curse myself for believing that he had been the cause of this chaos when all that he was doing was to protect me. Maybe my dream was indicating that Rick needed my help, but he was represented as Bee. I call our security team and increase Ricks protection. I need to get to the bottom of this.

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