Chapter 47

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“Maude Laurent Williams Baldwin, you are officially welcome in your new room!” Jazmine cried.

Maude had finished transferring her belongings into the Baldwin sisters’ room, and the girls wanted to celebrate with a girls’ night out. She had come a long way since January. Back then, she had wanted her own space apart from the Baldwin sisters. Now she knew she wanted to spend as much time with her newfound cousins as she possibly could.

“Jaz, you still haven’t cleaned up your side of the room!” Cynthia admonished. “You are such a slob! You know what Maude? We should kick Jaz out of this room.”

“You’d miss me too much,” Jaz answer “Three cheers for Maude, the upcoming release of her self-titled album, and tour!”

“Hip-hip-hurray!” the girls answered in unison.

“I’m just grateful I’ll be allowed to sing at my own release party this time,” Maude smiled wistfully.

“After seeing your live performance in Paris, Alan couldn’t wait to have you on stage again. Your performance was breathtaking. I almost cried when you sang ‘Coming Home.’ It’s a good thing Matt was there before you performed,” Cynthia observed, with a side glance at Jazmine.

“He was there when I needed him the most. He’s a true friend,” Maude acknowledged.

Jazmine and Cynthia looked at each other before Jazmine spoke up.

“You do know he doesn’t see you just as a friend, right?”

Maude looked down at her glass, embarrassment painting her cheeks.

“I’m not sure. He seems to think I’m with Thomas, and I haven’t had the time to talk to him about it.”

“Matt likes you . . . a lot,” Cynthia declared. “I promised him not to tell you, but the night you were at Ambrosia with Thomas, he waited hours for you at the Met.”

“Are you sure?” Maude asked raising an eyebrow.

“I was there,” Cynthia insisted. “And it’s not a small thing considering Matt—”

“Hates museums,” Maude completed softly.

The memory of their evening in Paris floated back to her mind.  Suddenly she realized. She was his foolish mistake. She was the girl  “on a date with a total loser, not half as handsome” as he was.  Matt had feelings for her. Real, genuine feelings.  That’s why he had been angry about her dinner with Thomas at Ambrosia. He’d waited hours at the Met for her, poor thing. And that explained his reaction when he thought she’d agreed to date Thomas.

She needed to talk to him now!

Maude jumped off her bed, but at that moment Victoria appeared at the girls’ door.

“Maude, can I speak to you alone?” she asked. “And Jazmine?”

“Yes?” Jazmine asked sweetly.

 “Clean that room before I come back, or you’re the one who’s going to be needing a human rights lawyer.”

Maude followed Victoria to her room where photo albums and pictures were scattered on her bed.

“We haven’t had time to talk since we came back from France last week, but I think you must have a lot of questions.”

“You have no idea,” Maude let out with a heavy sigh.

“First, I have to say that my family and I had no idea that Aaron had had a child before dying. We would never have left you on your own if we’d known.”

“I know that. I’m guessing you didn’t have any contact with Aaron after he left.”

“Let me start from the beginning. When our family fled what history would call the Biafran War, Aaron was thirteen. I was younger and couldn’t really understand what was going on. He was confronted to the horror of the war in the media. He saw pictures, images of children sick, crying, starving, and he felt helpless. He thought we shouldn’t have fled and that we should’ve helped the population. When he became a young man and years after the war ended, he wanted to go back to Nigeria as a human rights activist. My father, Saul Williams, forbade him from leaving. He said our lives were here, and he also looked down on what he didn’t even consider a profession. My father warned him that if he left, he was to never contact our family again. I loved Aaron so much. I had two brothers, but Aaron was my best friend, my protector, my hero. He used to call me Queen, which I thought to be totally appropriate.” Victoria laughed then sighed painfully. “I’m ashamed to say I selfishly begged him to stay.”

Victoria paused and shook her head sadly.

“I remember that night like it was yesterday. I cried and pleaded. I told him I needed him more than any of the unnamed persons he would save. He smiled sadly at me and said, ‘If I stand by and watch what is going on without doing anything, Queen, I am as guilty as the perpetrators. I hope someday you will understand.’ That was the last time I saw him or heard from him. Until that day in October 1995 when we received that fateful letter. Aaron and his wife, Danielle Williams, had been killed.”

A tear rolled down Victoria’s cheek.

“I hadn’t known he’d married,” she said in a hoarse whisper. “My father took it very harshly. My mother died not long after, blaming my father for Aaron’s demise. I never fully got over it myself, but I can say that today I understand Aaron’s choice. I fight for women’s rights, and there isn’t a single day that passes in which I don’t thank Aaron for showing me that we all have our part to play in making this world a better place. Your father and mother were heroes, Maude. They helped a lot of people, and you have to be proud of that.”

“Even if it means I never got to know them?” Maude asked, bitterness echoing in her tones.

Victoria smiled sadly.

“I don’t expect you to understand now, just like I clung to Aaron years ago. I hope one day you will.” She took her hand and pressed it affectionately.           

“You are my redemption, Maude. I never got to thank my brother for everything he’s done for me, but now that you are here I know I will find peace once more.”

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