12th July, 1999
The crowd erupts in cheers and whistles, mixed with the reverberations of applause around the court as Rose serves the winning blow. The second she surpassed her score of 40 with her final hit, she leaps for joy, beaming with pride. She won the state tournament, and this match in particular, by a landslide.
Friends and family come to her service, ready to envelope her in hugs and throw out congratulations like confetti. The trophy is handed to her - a silver figure of a tennis player holding up a racquet in victory and pre-eminence. She finally got the state trophy. After seven years of practise and training, and games leading up this event, she finally wins.
“Smile, Rose!” Her mother beams, holding up a camera attached to a lanyard around her neck. Her father pats her on the shoulder in pride, right before she prepares herself for the photo. A photographer edges closer to the family, before requesting to take a couple of photos for the local paper. The humid air plasters curls of hair to Jennifer-Rose’s forehead, and she huffs in frustration. Moisture never did her looks any good.
Still, she beams at the lens ahead of her, clutching onto her trophy with a sensation of self-fulfilment that ripples through her. After a collection of photos have been taken, the photographer thanks her for her patience, and she nods in response. Her parents have gone off to boast and gloat to impressed strangers about their perfect poster-child, who also happens to have a killer backhand.
Naomi skips towards Rose, leaping into an embrace. She doesn’t mind that she is still clammy with perspiration from the match – she’s just happy to see how proud she is of her win. She’s happy to see those grey eyes light up; to see those dimples make an appearance. It’s whilst Naomi is squeezing the life out of her that Jennifer-Rose’s eyes catch a figure looming in the distance, on the outside of the court, just beyond the crowd. The golden Bluebeach mountains stretch across the horizon, blurring into the blue sky in the middle of the day, and the unclear figure gets less obscure with each step they make towards the court. Rose feels a tightness in her chest, like a warning sign that something is wrong, and something is going to happen. She pauses, still fixated on the person as they idly join the throng of spectators and reporters, as if they were late to the game or something. Rose relaxes slightly once she realises who the person is, but the relaxation is quickly taken over by apprehension once again. The circumstances of his appearance are odd - why turn up at the end of the game, when people will soon be heading home?
A storm must be coming; she hears a voice in her head tell her. A storm is coming.
The gunshots ring out like fireworks, and the horde around the court disperse into different directions, hollering and scampering helplessly. Rose collapses onto the ground, blood oozing from her left temple and painting the court floor ruby. Naomi screams, her ears ringing. She goes to grab rose, but someone stops her. The tears are instant and ever-flowing. Looking around her, she sees a few other casualties – maybe six or seven. Most of them strangers – unsuspecting victims caught in a barrage of bullets. She knows that Rose was the target. She’s not quite sure why, but the shooters eyes were fixated on nobody else. They were angry, like a raging bushfire. And in these few moments, the world has stopped spinning.
Bret wakes up at four in the afternoon, groggy and dazed. His hangover has left him useless, slow and lazy. His head is throbbing, and he feels sick. He should know well enough to not drink too much; he knows the damage it does the next day. He rises from his bed, feeling trapped in the darkness of his room. Picking up his cell phone beside his bed, he’s taken aback by the amount of missed calls and texts he’s been bombarded with. Most of them are from Naomi, some from Sophia. He opens up the thread of texts from Naomi:
Call me when you get this Bret
Bret Answr ur phone
Rose has been shot
Rose has been shot
Shes in the hospital
I just got out
Bret rubs his eyes, trying to make sense of the texts. He can’t quite believe what he’s seeing. His stomach summersaults and the room spins. Then he remembers, today was Rose’s tennis finals. He completely forgot about it. He doesn’t know where the shooting happened, but he instantly regrets not watching Rose play, like he would have any other time. The shame is so strong, it stings. He tries to remember what happened last night – what got him in so much of a state that he couldn’t even wake up today. All he knows is that he got blind drunk, and the evening prior is nothing but a cryptic blur in his mind. Just when he thinks he remembers a face, he loses it. He can recall a dim-lit room, and some kind of a struggle. Then he realises that it was him who was struggling, with someone else. He was in a fight. He goes to instinctively touch the bruise on his cheekbone which he feels, knowing he must have had a blow to the face at some point. He got so drunk that he can’t link A to Z in his mind; he has no clue how he got home, or exactly where he went. The lost memory is frustrating.
He runs downstairs, still in nothing but his boxer shorts. His parents aren’t home, and the housemaid is in the kitchen, making a late lunch. He doesn’t even bother to ask her where his mother and father are, and when they’re coming home. He just switches on the TV and jumps straight to the local news channel. And there it is, in big white letters: Bluebeach Tennis Shooting Kills Three, Wounds Two, Critically Injures One. Almost like it’s a countdown. The screen is playing out the aftermath of the pandemonium, where police and ambulance cars are parked around the vicinity, and some witnesses are reporting what happened a few hours ago.
“Jennifer-Rose Middleton, the winner of the tennis tournament, was one of the victims gunned down at approximately 2:45pm this afternoon. She was rushed to hospital and is in currently critical condition.” The reporter monotonously says.
Though hearing the news brings Bret into a state of disbelief and shock, nothing makes his heart drop and his throat close up like the identification of the shooter. Once he finds out who has been arrested, he feels faint. In less than thirty seconds, he’s bent over the bowl of the toilet in the bathroom, spewing his brains out.