The pain surprised her. She had thought it would hurt less this time.
Looking down, a tear fell from her cheek and disappeared into the pool of warm blood. She knew she would have to find somewhere to wash. The borrowed red dress, doing its job perfectly to the aghast high school talent show audience, didn’t hide anything from her partner onstage, Denis Friebt. He held the gun – and a face awash with defeat, horror and guilt.
“You can’t make me shoot you onstage. They’re going to know about it,” Denis said, wearing a face full of defiance, horror and fear. “I’ll get expelled.”
“You don’t know what it’s like being a girl. I have to do this. This,” Reilly said, pointing to the prop gun and the pre-dented bullet, “This is the only way.”
Jaw-clenched, Reilly Crowe flashed a winning smile to the audience and ignored the second tear welling up in her eye. With a flick of her tongue, the silver, pointed BB pellet shined through her teeth.
The audience, as the sea before crashing a wave, drew a collective breath.
“She’s done it! The bullet catch!” shouted the announcer’s voice.
They went wild. Everyone – the nobody freshman who only heard rumors about a topless photograph being texted around, the sophomore guys who had ogled and jeered for weeks, the sophomore girls whose tittering laughs haunted her, and even Rachel Rex who had snapped one pic in the gym when Reilly was distracted – cheered, hooted, hollered. Flashes of new pictures hit her like bleach. New pictures, new posts, new rumors, a new reputation.
“I get it. I do, honey,” her dad said. “Forget the magic show. They’ll just freak out watching you get shot onstage.”
“You’re not mad?” Reilly said. Confiding in her father was the last thing she wanted. But he found the gun. Like her, he always sniffed out the truth. So she came clean.
His big arms wrapped around her. “I’m mad at them. I’m mad that you have to deal with this. But I am so proud of you. I would never have come up with a plan to fix it. Never in a million years.” She felt his tears through her hair. “You sure you’re not going to get in trouble?”
“I might. Especially if Ms. Dixon figures out my real finale before the show.”
“That’s the real magic trick, I guess. C’mere, kiddo.” And he squeezed her middle tightly.
The red dress squeezed her middle tightly as she sauntered, slow and easy, to center stage. Giving her bow will suck. What mattered was finishing the show confident and unafraid.
The applause thundered, reverberating the paper under her dress that was supposed to catch the bullet and amplifying the pain radiating from the pellet in her chest. Even as she bowed, walked offstage, past Ms. Dixon’s blustering face and into the principal’s office, she smiled past the pain.
Was she hurt? No one would know for sure. This was the real magic trick.
**I dedicate this entry to the memory of Audrie Potts.**