Chapter 34

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Matt watched Maude intently through the glass pane while she sang ‘Falling For You’ soulfully in the vocal booth. After weeks of intense studio work, the recording of Maude’s freshman album was nearing completion and they were just days away from the release of her first single, ‘Betrayed But Not Broken.’

Soulville was hosting a party for the occasion, and everybody was caught in buzzing excitement.

Although the recording had gone smoothly, Matt couldn’t help but feel an acute sense of disappointment. Ever since the Thomas-related incident, his relationship with Maude had been more than strained. Cynthia, who secretly wished to see her two honorary siblings together had informed him that Maude and Thomas were no longer on speaking terms, but Matt had felt only temporary relief at the news. Maude might not be talking to Thomas, but she wasn't really being that friendly with Matt either. She had acted curtly towards him during the past weeks. Of course, Matt had responded just as curtly as Maude, but he had only been following her lead he told himself. Since when had he ever followed anybody’s lead, he shamefully wondered. He was the great Matt Beauchamp. He always knew what he wanted and went after it, ready for anything. In omnia paratus was his motto. Besides, Frenchmen never had any trouble conquering a girl’s heart. It was in their DNA. How was it then that Maude Laurent caught him completely off-guard?

Men, Frenchmen being no exception, are often ridiculously surprised at how insecure they can feel when they start falling for a woman who appears haughtily immune to their clumsily endearing manoeuvres.

In the present case, Matt had made the mistake of falling in love with one of the proudest women he would ever cross paths with. For Maude would have rather died in atrocious sufferings than to admit that she regretted her heated argument with Matt. Besides, she didn’t have a minute to herself, and Matt was just a distraction she really didn’t need, especially not while singing ‘Falling For You.’

Maude’s eyes met Matt through the glass as she sang the chorus. She resolutely shut her eyes tight and took a closer step to the microphone. She had more important things to think about.

She needed to go to Paris to retrieve the box her mother had left her, but she had not the faintest clue how to proceed. She would soon be returning to Carvin and had to find a way to go to Paris before being locked up in the Ruchets’ basement for the next ten years of her life.

However, at least before that gloomy perspective became her dreary, day-to-day reality, Maude’s social calendar was packed.

In three days, her first single, ‘Betrayed But Not Broken’ was to be released and a week later she was to attend Franklin High’s annual Summer Dance. It was exhilarating and frightening at the same time. These events were worth looking forward to but were at the same time a reminder that the end of her stay was inevitably and ineluctably coming to an end.

“All right, Maude, that was great,” Matt said at the other side of the room. “Let’s take five. Apparently, James and Alan want to speak to us in the conference room.”

“About what?” Maude asked, as she joined him in the sound room.

“About your release party,” Alan answered as he and James entered the room.

“I am totally ready to perform. I’ve been practicing for­­­­­—”

“You won’t be performing,” Alan stated bluntly.

“What?” Maude interjected.

“We have decided,” Alan started. He turned towards James, who wore an expression of deep disproval but who remained silent. “We have decided that you weren’t ready to perform.”

“I am ready,” Maude insisted. “If this is about what happened with La Cenerentola­­—”

“It has everything to do with that evening.”

“A release party is meant to promote the artist,” Matt intervened. “What’s the use of throwing a release party if no one even gets to hear her sing?”

“There will be reporters, producers, people from the music business. It’s too much pressure on Maude for now. Once the single is a hit, she will sing at other events. For now, the stakes are too high.”

“I made one huge mistake, I know that,” Maude pleaded. “I’m never making that mistake again. I can sing Friday night, Alan.”

“How do I know you’re not going to have a serious case of stage-fright again, huh?”

“It wasn’t stage-fright, Alan! I—” Maude stopped short. Alan was the last person who needed to know about her issues with Mrs. Ruchet.

“So what? You’re going to keep her cooped up for the rest of her career?” Matt sneered. “She’s a singer, Alan. Singing in public is part of her job, and she needs to do it every occasion she gets. She’s ready for this.”

“No,” Alan said firmly. “Instead, you two are going to be promoting this single to every reporter in the room. You’ll be interviewed together, you’ll smile to the camera and say ‘cheese’ for the entire evening.”

“Together?” Maude asked.

“You heard me. We’re going to be selling you two just as if your first single had been ‘Paris Versus New York City.’ You’ll tell them how great you work together, that you’re the best of friends, that it was the greatest experience you ever had. You’re going to make this work,” Alan finished.

He looked at them squarely in the eye before leaving the studio.

Maude turned to James pleadingly.

“I tried, Maude,” James said, as if reading her thoughts. “He won’t budge, and Travis agrees with him. I’m outnumbered. Just remember that this will still be your evening. Your music will be played, and your single will speak for itself,” he added softly.

“I hope he’s right,” Maude whispered as she watched James leave.

“We’ll do our best,” Matt replied. “I guess we’ve got to call a truce.”

“A truce?”

“I’m sure you’ve noticed we weren’t on the best of terms these last few weeks. We’ll have to pretend to be the best of friends for at least an evening,” Matt observed.

Maude looked up at Matt and saw the usual mischievous twinkle in his eye.

“I’m all in,” Maude answered. Somehow the idea of spending the entire evening with Matt didn’t seem to bother her in the least. But nevertheless, she said, “I guess I can manage having you around for one evening.”

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