Chapter 24

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“You look awful, Maude,” Kyra, the makeup artist said, admiring her personal work of art.

Maude was sitting in the dressing room of Morningside Theater in front of a wide mirror. Her dark natural hair was disheveled, her makeup gave her a frightening, unkempt look. She was dressed in gray, ashen rags that limply covered her body. She smiled at her reflection while Kyra crept out of the room.

She was ready.

The audience had arrived, and the Baldwins had front-row seats in the magnificent theater. Maude never felt calmer and happier. She had come such a long way, and she was finally able to do the thing she loved the most. If Mrs. Ruchet could see her now, she wouldn’t believe her eyes. That the girl she had mistreated could still stand tall and proud was amazing in itself.

There was a knock at the door. Maude hurried to the door and saw James walk towards her, her phone in his hand. She’d left it with him to keep away any kind of distraction.

“I hope you aren’t feeling too nervous. You still have twenty minutes to calm down, take some fresh air if you want.”

Maude shook her head.

“I’m fine, thanks.”

“I’ve got someone on the phone here for you,” he said, smiling gently. “She wants to congratulate you before you go on stage.” He stretched out his arm towards her but Maude looked at her phone, puzzled. She didn’t know anyone who would want to congratulate her.

“Is it Victoria? Because we already spoke this evening and—”

“It isn’t Vic. Take the phone you’ll see.”

He put the phone in her hand and closed the door behind her.

Maude put the phone to her ear, but almost dropped it when she heard the voice on the other end.

“So tonight is your big night, huh?” Mrs. Ruchet snarled on the end of the receiver.

“Mrs. Ru-Ruchet,” Maude stammered helplessly.

“Who else do you expect it to be? Your mother?”

“How did you know? About tonight I mean. I­—”Maude was hopeless for words. She hadn’t heard of the Ruchets once since she’d arrived in New York.

“Your producer, Mr. Batwing told us. He left us a message saying how important this was and that it would be nice if we supported you and crap like that,” Mrs. Ruchet snarled.

Maude gathered her wits together. She didn’t want Mrs. Ruchet to ruin her evening. The sooner she ended this conversation the better. That was easier said than done.

“I have to go. I have to get ready,” she lied. “I really can’t stay on the phone,” she added hurriedly.

“Oh so I see. You’re snubbing the people who raised you.”

“No, I just have to get ready. I—”

“It doesn’t matter. You know why? Because you know the clock is ticking, Cinderella.”

Maude’s heart stopped as she listened to Mrs. Ruchet's cold words, picturing the snide smile she was wearing on her face.

“You know that soon the clock will strike twelve, and you’ll have to come back to Carvin. You haven’t forgot our little pact, have you?”

How could she forget, Maude thought bitterly, as she choked back tears.

“Let me refresh your memory in case you’ve forgotten.”

“You don’t have to remind me,” Maude replied, trying to steady her voice. She never wanted to give Mrs. Ruchet the satisfaction of sensing her distress.

“I’ll give you every penny I receive for the album. I won’t touch a cent,” Maude uttered, her voice shaking a little more with each word.

“Exactly. And?”

Maude closed her eyes and swallowed.

“And I’ll come back to live with you for ten more years, until the twins are eighteen and I’m twenty-six. I won’t leave for university or the Conservatoire de Paris, or anywhere else. I’ll stay in the basement ten years longer.”

She heard Mrs. Ruchet laugh, her terrible, and threatening laugh. Not being able to stand it any longer, Maude hurriedly hung up, her vision blurred by a flow of hot tears.

At that moment, Jazmine and Cynthia entered the dressing room excitedly wanting to see Maude one last time before she made her debut.

They stopped abruptly when they noticed Maude’s grief-stricken face.

“Maude, what’s wrong?” Cynthia cried as she hurried towards her.

Maude couldn’t answer and just shook her head as she tried to prevent the tears from flowing.

“Who was on the phone?” Jazmine asked worriedly, noticing Maude’s phone in her balled-up fist.

“I can’t go on stage,” Maude trembled. “I can’t go like this. Tell Ms. Tragent to prepare Lindsey.”

Cynthia and Jazmine shared a worried glance.

“Maude, it’s normal to have a little stage-fright before going on stage. This is your first time. You’ll be wonderful, I’m sure,” Cynthia spoke soothingly.

Maude shook her head.

“Where’s Matt?” she asked, trying miserably to wipe her tears.

She needed to see him right away.  She didn’t know why, but she felt seeing his easy-going, laid-back smile might calm her and somehow reassure her.

Jazmine looked uncomfortable.

“He isn’t here . . . yet.”

“He didn’t come?” Maude asked.

“He’s going to make it, I’m sure, Maude,” Jazmine reassured hurriedly. “I’ll call him right now. I’m sure he’s on his way.”

She almost ran out of the dressing room with Maude’s phone and slammed the door behind her. The phone barely rang once before Matt answered.

“Hello?”

“Where are you? What are you doing?” Jazmine asked frantically.

“Jazmine? I’m doing as you told me to do. I’m staying away from Maude.”

“I never told you not to come for her big night, Matt!” she shrieked. “Damn it! The only time you ever listen to me, you go way overboard. I told you not to play with her feelings. I never told you not to be her friend. Get your butt over here right now!”

“What’s going on? Is she all right?” Matt asked worriedly.

“No, she isn’t all right! Just get over here as soon as you can, Mathieu Beauchamp, or I’ll tell the press that you’re going out with Lindsey, and you’ll never see the end of it!”

“I’m on my way but honestly, that is the lamest threat I’ve ever heard.”

“I know. I’m completely off my game. Just hurry, please.”

Jazmine hung up and re-entered the dressing room where Cynthia was wiping Maude’s face with a tissue.”

“Matt is on his way, he’s just running a little late. Don’t worry he’ll be here on time.”

“I don’t care if he comes,” Maude stated as she got up from her seat and left the room quietly.

“I convinced her to go on stage. I don’t know if I should have. Should we call Dad?”

“I don’t think so. It’s too late now. She has to go on stage. Lindsey would be too happy. Let’s go take our seats.”

They hurried past Maude just in time to hear Ms. Tragent say, “Kyra did a great job on the makeup. You look awful!”

Jazmine squeezed Maude’s hand as she passed her and prayed fervently that Matt would arrive on time.

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