As she played, she released the pain she had been holding back for years. Her parents were dead. They were gone forever, but she was still alive. Though her pain was severe, it also gave her strength. Strength to sing in a clear voice, strength to overcome her fears, strength to master her initially shaky fingers, and strength to let her notes reverberate through the audience.

It may be long to get me there

It feels like I've been everywhere

But someday I'll be coming home

Round and round the world will spin

Oh, the circle never ends

So you know that I'll be coming home.

Her voice rang out as clear as water from a fountain and wavered with deep emotion as the song washed away her doubt, drowned her insecurities, and melted her pain into a beautiful, calm river of hope.

Maude ended her song and carefully folded her hands on her knees.

"I did it," she muttered softly to herself.

The crowd broke into thunderous applause. She could hear whistling and thumping. As she walked towards the host, she squinted her eyes to avoid the blaring lights and saw the crowd on its feet, cheering and calling her name.

She smiled and greeted the host, a tall man with a prominent nose and a large, kind smile.

"Wow, wow, wow," he exclaimed. This host was known for his exuberance. But then, TV hosts are rarely known for being discreet. "That was incredible, Maude!"

Maude laughed, relieved to be breathing at a normal pace again.

"Just tell me, Maude," he started in a conversational tone. "How does a sixteen-year-old teenager, raised in the north of France, end up spending six months in New York recording her debut album with the world's hottest pop star?"

"That, my friend, is a very interesting question," she answered, her dark brown eyes twinkling mischievously.

Chapter 1

October 2011

Maude Laurent, a tall, slender, sixteen-year-old girl with soft brown skin, was quickly walking in Carvin's deserted streets in the rain. Her long eyelashes drooped to avoid the droplets from entering her wide brown eyes. Her dark natural hair, usually held back in a bun, had frizzled with the rain and rebellious locks of hair covered her forehead under her soaked hood. She could barely see where she was going, but walked steadily nonetheless, her step firm and graceful at the same time although she carried two heavy grocery bags. Her foster mother, Mrs. Ruchet, had sent her on an errand in the rain to the local grocery store on an evening when the town was desolate, not one inhabitant leaving their cozy chimney, not one car venturing out of its garage, not one stray cat rambling in the street.

But there she was, Maude thought angrily, her thin raincoat drenched, her old worn-out gaping boots deep in mud.

Ever since she could remember, Mrs. Ruchet had made her life a living hell. Maude woke up early each morning, cooked and cleaned for the family, took the eight-year-old twins to school, and went to school herself where she fought not to sleep through her classes. She would then pick up Jean and Jacques from school, try unsuccessfully to make them do their homework, prepare dinner under Mrs. Ruchet's stern glare, bathe the boys, do the dishes, take care of meeting Mrs. Ruchet's every demand, and then go to bed, wake up, and start all over again the next day. Maude was tired. Her only motivation in life, her reason for waking up every morning was the dream she secretly harbored.

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