“Olivia, we need to discuss something important we’ve been keeping from you.” My mother says in a serious tone. The solemn look on my parents’ faces triggers my nerves as I mentally prepare myself for their next words.
“I’m sure you know that we have been working with Payne Corporation for a long time now and that they are one of our few trusted business friends, right?” she asks, more of like confirming. I can only nod my head, confused why she was questioning me about our family’s business relationships.
To clear my confusion, My Dad adds, “You are graduating from the University of Johannesburg tomorrow, the Payne family invited us to their house for dinner to celebrate your graduation and pair you up with their oldest son, Tay.” making me even more confused than before.
“What do you mean by ‘pairing me up with their son?”
“We decided it will be for the best if you marry Tay; it is going to benefit both families,” My Mother says excitedly. I am mentally reluctant to comprehend their words. How could they marry me off to a stranger without my permission? What about my dreams and desires?
“Mother, are you serious? How could you make this type of decision without asking me first?” I try to control my anger which is threatening to explode at any moment.
“What do you mean, if I am serious.” Of course, I am. You won’t find a boy like Tay anywhere else. He has everything any woman wants in a man,” she says with confidence, intensifying my murderous thoughts.
“I’m not any woman, Mother! I will not marry someone I don’t know and I will...” I raise my voice in anger but my mother interferes before I finish.
“Don’t you dare raise your voice at me, young lady! I’m your mother, and every decision I make is for your own good. So don’t insult me by questioning my decisions.” Dad intervenes before she can say more.
“Grace, calm down. She doesn’t know what she’s saying. Give her some time to absorb the news.” My Dad humbly requests.
“For God’s sake! What does she need time for? Everything is crystal clear. She’s just looking for an excuse to provoke me, I know it!” she exclaims angrily, staring at me. Dad tries his best to calm her down, but just like her, I don’t know when to shut up.
“Mother, do you seriously think…”
“Enough, Olivia. I will not allow you to disrespect me like a slutty brat, then expect me not to retaliate. Talk respectfully like I had taught you.” She yells and adds. “As long as I breathe, you will do as I say. This marriage is happening.”
It is graduation day, but last night’s memories still feel fresh in my mind as tears flood my eyes and spill down my cheeks. Everyone looks forward to their graduation, but I wish the ground would just open up and swallow me. After the conversation I had with my parents last night, I couldn’t sleep. I feel numb at the thought of marrying a stranger. Ever since I was young, my parents made all the decisions for me because apparently, they know better. I sigh as my hands travel through all the stylish clothes in my closet, though I had a more simplistic taste. Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I was born into a regular family instead of a rich one that is highly expectant and baneful. I was so lost in my thoughts that I missed a knock on the door.
“Olivia, are you in there?” a voice asks. It’s Nora.
Nora is in her mid-forties with a friendly face. Seeing her smile every day makes my life a bit more bearable. She was also my nanny and still more of a mother to me than my real mom.
“Yeah,” I respond.
“I thought maybe you were with Amber.”
Amber is my horse and my only friend since I don’t have any. I always take her for a little run every morning, but today I didn’t feel like it. My uncle Shawn gave her to me as a birthday present.
“Why the long face, my love?” Nora asks and I throw myself at her.
“Please just hold me tight!” My voice cracks.
I break the hug after a while and smile at her.
“You look beautiful!” I say slyly.
“Nice try at changing the subject. But I will let it go for now.” She continues,
“Your parents are already in the main hallway, so finish up whatever you were doing and come eat breakfast.”
She plants a kiss on my forehead, then walks out. I glance at the clothes one more time before I loosely follow behind.
When I reach the main hallway, my parents and Nora are already seated, while the maid places plates on the table. I join everyone at the table.
“Good morning, sweetheart,” Dad says, smiling at me.
“Good morning, Dad.” I grin before saying the same to Mom. My stomach groans at the sight of the delicious food as my impatient hands reach for the omelet. But, as always, mom ruins the mood with her bitter words.
“I’m glad you still have some manners because from what I witnessed last night, I thought you might have lost them.” She says casually and places a fork of eggs on her lips. A newspaper is placed next to her and the front page is my picture and the interview I did days ago for my graduation.
The multimillionaire daughter of Grace and Joe Ferguson graduates at twenty!
Mom always finds an opportunity in everything and my graduation was one of them.
“Grace, do you have to start now? Come on, let Olivia eat her breakfast at least.” Dad’s voice laced with disbelief.
“Well, kill me for telling the truth.” Dad gives her a long look but doesn’t utter another word. It has always been like this. No matter how hard I try to satisfy her, she would always find a reason to complain, just to make my life a living hell. Although Dad is better than her, I couldn’t help but feel abandoned. I wanted to yell at her and empty my heart, but I knew it would be to deaf ears. It was just going to fuel the fire, and I was in no mood to deal with her right now. I sigh and eat my breakfast, preparing myself for the longest day ahead.
My parents sat in the front row, looking at me and the other students on the stage, waiting to receive our nursing degrees. The champagne loose linen pants make my hips itch. I move my legs discreetly to appease the feeling, but I make it worse, causing me to pull my pants up from behind a bit. I notice my mom glaring, signaling me to reposition myself through her eyes—doing as I was told, I stop. I notice the girl next to me, staring. But as soon as our eyes meet, she smiles and whispers lowly,
“Nervous?” I simply nod—but it was a lie.
While the chancellor continues to announce the names of other students, I study the girl next to me. She has neatly braided blonde hair, a tiny nose, and small hazel eyes roaming everywhere as she bit her dry bottom lip. Moving my gaze from her face to her body, I notice she is wearing jeans with a plain red shirt. To complete her look, she had a black velvet locket wrapped around her neck with small black earrings. Seeing her simplistic style makes me envious. Here she is, wearing what she wants. Meanwhile, I couldn't put on nail polish without mom being on my case. After a while, the blonde girl says, “I’m nervous too‚”
“I mean, who wouldn’t be? To stand on the stage, get your degree, and then begin your new life is everyone’s dream.”
Is it though? I keep the thought to myself. If only she knew —
Although I’m unhappy, I couldn’t help but smile at her genuine words.
“Oh, sorry! I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Brie, and you?” she introduces, stretching her hand to me.
“Olivia.” I take her hand in mine.
The chancellor calls my name, and I walk further onto the stage, holding my heavy graduation gown to avoid stepping on it while trying to control my breathing. Mr. Howard hands me my degree and moves aside so I could make a speech since I was first in my class. I’ve been the first in every class I have ever been to.
Seeing all these people staring at me makes me a bit overwhelmed. I tighten my grip around the degree to prevent myself from screaming and running away. Clearing my thoughts, I grab the microphone before speaking.
“I’m thrilled to get my degree as it is a dream for every student to accomplish their passion. I want to thank my parents for helping me achieve it. And thanks to the professors for not giving up on me, and for encouraging all of us to keep on pushing and to want better things in life. Thank you.” I force a smile and turn to look at Brie before leaving the stage.
Although what I said wasn’t true, I had to since I knew telling the truth would not help my situation.
The ceremony ends shortly and everyone walked off to the other room. I stay behind with Brie and a few other students.
“Olivia, I’m going with Andrew to the after-party. Do you want to join us?” Brie asks, with hope shining in her eyes. I look at my parents and find them engaging with other parents. I doubt they will notice my lack of presence, which I tell Brie.
We walk to the other room and to say it is beautiful is an understatement. The walls are white and the decorations are breath-taking. There are gold cocktail tables and chandeliers and soft music playing. I grab a juice as the waiter passes by me and stand by the table to observe. Seeing my fellow graduates talking, laughing, hugging and taking pictures made me realise how alone I am.
Since I was young, Mom wouldn't allow me to be friends with anyone other than her friends' kids, who I had nothing in common with except for wealthy backgrounds. Seeing everyone enjoying themselves triggers something unexplainable in me. My chest tightens, making me wonders how it feels to have a friend instead of being left out, but I don’t get to think much about it as a voice says.
“Do you mind if I join you?” I turn my head to find Andrew with a smile on his face and a glass of wine in his hand.
“I don’t mind at all,” I respond and look back at the scene in front of me.
“You don’t look like you are enjoying yourself.” he points out and I release a small laugh.
“And how should a person be to show that they are enjoying themselves?” I ask and bring the glass to my lips.
“Not like you.” He says, and he locks eyes with me.
“So, when is your graduation?” I change the subject.
“I already graduated,” he explains further, “I came here to support my friend Brie since she was nervous.”
“That's nice of you.” I say and continue listening to him furthering about his time at Witwatersrand University, one of the best in South Africa, and now he is hoping to join the art world soon.
I stare at my reflection in the mirror and the girl starring back at me has no life in her eyes. She is just a mirror image of what she used to be. It’s 7 pm and everyone is preparing themselves for dinner and here I am, sitting alone with my thoughts.
The ceremony went better than I expected, thanks to Brie and Andrew. A small smile forms on my lips from the good memories I made at the party, but that doesn’t last long as soon as I hear a knock on the door.
“Ready to go?” Nora asks, leaning against the door. I look at my reflection one last time and walk out with Nora.
“What took you so long? You know how much I hate being late,” Mom snaps at me.
“Grace, let it go. She is ready now.” Dad drags Mom out with him before she can throw insults at me.
“Don’t mind her.” Nora says, and we both walk out. Our driver opens the backseat door for Nora and me, and I offer a smile back. Mom is in the passenger seat and Dad in the driver’s seat. The drive is short and within ten minutes, Dad pulls into the Payne driveway.
We alight from the car and I fix my red thigh split velvet dress. My long black hair is curled and I’m in black heels, carrying a white clutch bag with gold bands.
“Don’t embarrass me.” Mom warns, while glaring at me.
We walk up to the double doors. A Range Rover and SUV are parked in the driveway. Mom rings the bell and a woman dressed in a white t-shirt and a black skirt opens the door.
“Welcome. This way, please.” We all follow her, hearing laughter coming from the living room.
“Ah! Grace, thank you so much for coming.” A black-haired woman hugs Mom.
“Thank you for inviting us to your wonderful home.” I bite my lower lip to refrain myself from saying something, choosing to listen to mom compliment to who I think is Mrs. Payne.
“Thank you so much. Take a seat, please.” Nora and I take a seat across from two guys.
The first one is brown-haired with grey eyes. He’s dressed in a grey suit jacket, a white t-shirt, and grey trousers. His legs are crossed, and he’s holding a glass of wine in his hand.
The second one is black-haired and dressed in blue jeans, a white t-shirt, and a black leather jacket.
“You look beautiful, Olivia!” Mrs. Payne compliments and I offer her a genuine smile.
“Thank you, Mrs. Payne.”
“Ah! So polite, call me Carmen dear.”
“This is my husband, Christopher, but you can call him Chris…” a familiar voice interrupts her. I look up to find Andrew dressed in black jeans with a dress t-shirt and a scarf around his neck.
“Ah! I see you’ve met one of my sons,” Carmen says. Andrew walks over to her and mumbles a ‘sorry I’m late’, then plants a small kiss on her forehead.
“And sister-in-law, I go by Nate.” the black-haired one introduces.
“They’re not married yet, Nate,” Andrew says and chuckles.
“I’m practicing Drew, don’t be a party pooper.” Nate pouts, and I couldn’t help but smile.
“It's nice to see you again, Olivia. It’s a small world indeed,” Andrew grins.
“I come second. Nate is the youngest, and Tay is the oldest.”
“Nice to meet you, Ms. Ferguson,” Tay says. His brown eyes pierce into me, causing me to release a shaky breath. His voice is so beautiful, seductive, exhilarating, and would drive any woman crazy.
“Same to you” I softly say, praying my cheeks haven’t turned pink.
“Dinner is ready,” the housekeeper, who welcomed us, announces. We all make our way to the big dining table. Mom makes me sit next to Tay and dinner gets served. I glance at Tay without making it obvious as he serves himself. He pours himself a glass of rose wine and places two baked potatoes on his plate.
“You are staring,” a voice says, and I blush and turn back to my food, causing Nora to release a small laugh.
Dad, Chris, and Tay talk about business as dinner goes on, and I try my best not to let anyone notice my boredom. I grab a glass of wine and bring it to my lips. But Satan has it out for me.
“Olivia, you know how I feel about you drinking.” I don’t drink, but I wanted to tonight just to forget about this nightmare that is becoming my reality. I hold the glass close to my lips, hoping she will forget about it and get back to her conversation with Carmen. I can feel Tay’s gaze on me. Probably waiting for my response.
“Don’t worry, it is nonalcoholic.” Carmen says, and Mom relaxes. The rest of the dinner goes by pretty quickly.
“The food was amazing!” Mom tells Carmen as she dries her lips with a napkin.
“I’m glad you loved it. They will serve dessert soon. Please, let’s go to the living room.” Carmen says and we all walk back to the living room.
“What do you think about Tay?” Nora asks as we settle down on the couch.
“I don’t know,” I answer truthfully.
“I’m so happy that Ferguson Holdings and Payne Corporations breathe merging,” Mom says, excitedly. I roll my eyes and cross one leg over the other. A phone rings, and we all turn our heads to the source.
“Excuse me,” Tay says, and a shiver runs down my spine. He stands up and walks out of the living room, answering his phone. Andrew and Nate are looking at something on Nate’s phone, and I block the rest of the conversation and eat my ice cream until it was time to leave.
“Thank you so much for agreeing to partner up,” Carmen tells Mom.
“Thank you for choosing us.” They hug each other, and I do the same to everyone except for Tay, who hasn’t come back from his phone call.
The drive back home is peaceful, and as soon as we arrive home, I make my way to my room. I strip out of my clothes and put my pajamas on. And my eyes shut as soon as my head hits the fluffy pillow.
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