Chapter 25

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Suddenly, Maude was alone on stage, a broom in her hand, waiting for the curtain to rise. She heard the orchestra play the opening theme, but try as she might, she couldn’t help but hear Mrs. Ruchet’s words echo in her ear.

Ten years.

She would have to spend ten more years with the Ruchets. She had agreed to it. She even had it in writing. She had also made sure that pact was stashed in a tiny corner of her brain, where she couldn’t see it, feel it, or think about it.

Maude had enjoyed her time in New York not wanting to think of what would happen when her six-month stay was up. Could she really go back to her dreary life? Maude looked down at her rags and smiled bitterly, pushing back the tears that threatened to overflow once more. In the opera, Cinderella managed to escape her condition. Maude knew she wouldn’t be so lucky.  She hated this story, she thought angrily. It was just a huge deception. This whole opera was a farce!

Suddenly the curtain pulled up and Maude faced the crowd.

The room was packed. Women wore their most exquisite evening dresses, the men accompanying them bore their best suits, small girls were fidgeting impatiently in velvet dresses like fairy queens. Every seat, every balcony was filled with people waiting to hear the renowned Cordelia Tragent’s version of La Cenerentola.

Maude’s mind went blank.

She barely noticed the Baldwins in the front row, looking worriedly at one another wondering if Maude would start singing. She glanced at the orchestra pit where the musicians, puzzled, had started the opening theme again, hoping that Maude would start singing. They didn’t realize that her heart was pounding a lot louder than their music, and that was the only rhythm she could perceive at the moment. What she did notice though, was a tall, slim, disheveled young man who had just arrived, breathlessly but quite discreetly, in a light brown trench coat. Matt hadn’t had the time to change into a tuxedo and had come to the Opera House as soon as he possibly could.

Maude came back to earth with a start and a painful, frightening realization. She couldn’t do this. She couldn’t sing. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t play pretend. Mrs. Ruchet had won. So Maude did the only thing she could think of doing.

She ran off the stage.

***

Victoria noiselessly pushed open the door to Maude’s room. The room was filled with darkness and she could only hear the young, anguished girl sob breathlessly. She sat on the side of Maude’s bed and stroke her disheveled hair gently.

Victoria stayed by her side through the night, trying to soothe her, feeling her heart would break as she heard Maude sob.

“Oh, Victoria!  I can never face Ms. Tragent again,” she cried.

“Maude, it will be okay.”

“No, it won’t,” she answered staunchly. “She’ll kick me out of her class and she won’t ever let me come back! And Ma- I mean everyone will think I’m a terrible performer.”

“Honey, it happens to everyone. The show wasn’t ruined because Lindsey went on stage to play your part.”

Maude straightened in her bed, sniffling. She would probably catch a cold after having walked under the pouring rain before finally being able to hail an unwilling taxi. Catching a cab in New York on a rainy night was nothing short of a miracle.

“That doesn’t make it any better,” she stated mournfully. “Lindsey will never let me live this down. And it’s all my fault!” she wailed.

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