I looked into my full length mirror at my dull green eyes and all I can see is pain.
Porcelain skin that appeared more fragile than I’d like to admit with long legs and a small waist. Natural ginger curls fell down my back and rested just above my waist.
Sometimes, I wonder why God had to make two of us. I wonder what life would have been like if I was born first or if I was born with my father’s brown hair and blue eyes like my twin sister and not my mother’s green eyes and red hair.
But no, I was born second and the loss of blood caused my mother’s death. My birth family resented me for that and branded me as a curse of some sort. The fact that I looked more like my mother upset them even more. Tears fell down my cheeks as I look at the calendar on my dressing table.
Today is my twenty-fourth birthday and I can hear my maternal grandparents running around the kitchen, trying to cook my breakfast. Last year, they almost burnt the whole kitchen down as they tried to make my birthday breakfast themselves. A small smile tugged at my lips as I recall running into the kitchen and spraying everything, including them, with a fire extinguisher.
But who could blame them? My maternal grandparents were both prominent business figures until they retired when my birth family left me on their doorstep during a cold, rainy night with a single note that said to ‘keep me away from the public’s eyes or else’.
Without any hesitation, my maternal grandparents packed up the next morning and left the city to move to the countryside where they had a huge bungalow property that had been unused for years. They said my mother spent a lot of time here during her childhood and wanted to raise me here.
We live a simple life but my grandparents were not able to do a lot of physical work due to their age and health issues so they hired maids and cooks. Which explains why they’re so bad at cooking themselves since it is always the chefs or me cooking.
A timid knock at my door snaps me out of my thoughts. I quickly wipe my tears away and reply with a soft ‘come in’. The maids rush inside with my outfit of the day as I hold my towel tightly around my body and smile towards each of them.
“Good morning, Ms. Avery. We wish you a very happy birthday. Here is your outfit, may we assist you with dressing up?” the younger maid with pigtails questions as the other two smile towards me. My birth family never gave me their name so I took my mother’s maternal family name instead.
The maids ask the same question every morning but are met with the same reply. I do admire their tenacity though but I’ve never undressed in front of anyone and that isn’t going to change anytime soon.
“That is quite alright. Are grandmama and grandpapa cooking breakfast?” I question as I glance at the white dress adorned with the embroidery of red roses and a pair of white heels with slight annoyance.
I hate when my clothes have the colour red since it brings too much attention paired with my naturally fiery ginger hair. But at least the sleeves were white lace and long sleeves with the dress reaching just below my knees. I rarely wear anything shorter than that since I don’t like to show too much skin.
I’ve never been a fan of shopping, in fact I hate it. At the age of twenty-four, my height never grew past 5′4 feet, and I was more curvy than the average girl. At first, it was too tiring to travel to the city and shop for clothes that fit me but then grandpapa arranged for me to have my own personal tailor. I tried to refuse and begged them to save their money since my birth family never gave them a penny to raise me. But they both refused so I eventually let them have their way.
“Of course, Ms. Avery. It is your birthday after all, they refused to let any of us enter the kitchen,” the younger maid replied cheerfully as I gave her a small smile in return. I was about to speak but the sound of several pots and pans hitting the floor fell into our ears.
Letting out a sigh, I thanked the three before dismissing them. Without wasting too much time, I threw the towel wrapped around my hair onto the floor and quickly slipped my dress and shoes on. Normally I would blow dry my long hair and tie it back in a ponytail but this time I just braided it into a wet fishtail and kept it hidden behind my back.
With quick footsteps, I made my way into the kitchen and saw my grandmama smiling sheepishly as grandpapa stood beside him and tried to hide a plate of burnt toast. They began to laugh nervously once I shot them a playful glare. I couldn’t care less about the burnt food, I just don’t want any of them getting hurt. I already owe my life to them, what would I do if something happened to them?
“Katerina! Happy birthday, my sweet princess. We’ve been waiting for you, come sit down. I made your favorite, chocolate chip pancakes with sunny side up eggs,” grandmama hurriedly pushed me towards the breakfast table outside by our swimming pool as grandpapa tried to slyly get rid of the burnt evidence. Upon seeing the breakfast table filled with my favorite food, I raised my brow at grandmama who looked away guiltily.
“Haha, your grandpapa had a hunch that our cooking might not go as planned so he had our chefs prepare this in advance!” grandmama explained as she pushed me down onto the chair on the right side while she sat on the left side and grandpapa sat at the head of the table.
“Thank you, grandpapa and grandmama. You didn’t have to do all of this for me though, you should be resting during your retirement. I’m sorry. It’s been so hard for you both, I promise to repay you both soon,” I gave them a bright smile as I reached across the table and took a hold of their hands. Their smooth hands were now wrinkled with old age from having to raise me for so many years.
“Nonsense! We should be saying sorry to you. While your twin sister lives like a princess in the city with the Dale family, you are kept hidden away in the countryside with us old folks. You always have to be careful about your identity, even when you go shopping in the city. Truly, your mother would not have wanted this life for you, we are sorry we couldn’t give you a better life than this,” grandmama spoke as she caressed the side of my face. Tears began to pour down her green eyes and I couldn’t help but shoot a panic look at grandpapa, only to find him tearing up as well.
“Please, don’t say that. I love my life. I love my life so much because it was given to me by the both of you. I took your precious daughter away from you, and yet you chose to keep me and raise me. I’m so thankful to you both every single day. You gave me a home filled with warmth and happiness,” I spoke earnestly and stood up to hug both of the elders.
The staff of maids and cooks present were smiling warmly towards the small family. They had never served such kindhearted upper-class folks before. Usually, rich people were arrogant but not the Avery family. They were akin to Saints and Ms. Katerina Avery is considered an Angel among their eyes.
We stayed in a warm embrace for a few moments longer before my stomach grumbled, making everyone laugh as my face flushed red. I coughed lightly and quietly returned to my seat and continued to eat peacefully with my grandparents.
This is my life and I love it. The peace and quiet of the countryside. The freedom to do whatever I want. My own little home that I can always come running back to. I love it with all of my heart.
I hope nothing ever changes.
“Here, take this and go shop for a few things in the city. Mr. Romero will drive you safely into the city and be back home before dinner, alright princess?” grandpapa stated as he handed me his credit card and ushered me out the door.
I would have protested but this happens every year. There isn’t much to do in the countryside as we live in a pretty remote location. Many of my school friends moved into the city once we graduated so whenever it’s my birthday, grandpapa would give me money and allow me to shop around in the city with my friends.
“Thank you, grandpapa. I’ll be back soon, I love you both,” I gave them a small smile before walking towards the car where our driver, Mr. Romero, stood holding the door open for me. He was a sweet middle-aged man and his wife, Cynthia, is our head chef.
I thanked him and sat quietly in the car while staring out the window. It was only noon right now and I’ve been going to the city at this exact time on my birthday for several years now but something felt different today. I couldn’t help but squirm uncomfortably in my seat as dread began to fill my whole body. I don’t know why but I want to turn around and go back home to my grandparents.
Mr. Romero must have noticed my discomfort because as soon as I opened my mouth, he looked at me through the rear-view mirror and shook his head.
“Your grandparents told me that you would try to get out of spending money again this year. But this time, I really cannot bring you back. I promised them that I would bring you to the best shopping mall so that you can buy whatever you want. Don’t worry, I am here with you and will make sure that you return safely tonight, okay, kid?” I smiled and nodded my head towards Mr. Romero who used the sweet nickname he’s been calling me with ever since I had instructed him not to formally address me by Ms. Avery when I was a child.
Laying my head on the windowsill, I dozed off slightly and awoke to the sound of hard rain falling. I looked out the window and noticed that we were already at the mall. I turned towards Mr. Romero who was reading a book as I slept.
“Awake, kiddo? Let’s go before the stores close,” I smiled towards the thoughtful man who had patiently waited while I slept instead of waking me up.
We made our way into the high-end mall and I unconsciously kept my head down. It was a force of habit whenever I visited the city. At night, sometimes I would wake up from nightmares in which I was in the city and ran into someone from my birth family. As a result of that, whenever I am in the city, I tend to keep a low profile but this time, Mr. Romero forced me to visit a high end mall. Huffing in mild annoyance, I tugged my dress lower and followed Mr. Romero into each store that he suggested.
I didn’t really end up buying anything for myself. I bought a new purse for grandmama and a new wallet for grandpapa though. Mr. Romero glared at me when I refused to buy something for myself so in the end I agreed to buy myself a designer red scarf since it was the only thing I could see on sale.
“Thank you for your purchase, Madam. Have a lovely day,” the Prada saleswoman stated as I smiled towards her and exited the shop. Mr. Romero had instructed me to find him in the shop across from Prada once I was finished with my purchase since he wanted to buy something for his wife.
Humming a tune to myself, I began to walk towards the store across from me while tugging the scarf out of the bag and wrapping it around my neck. It felt like added protection against the curious eyes around me. Even though I was wearing a finely tailored dress, I still stood out like a sore thumb in this high-end mall filled with only people from the high society.
But still, today it felt like more eyes than usual were looking at me. My fearful eyes darted around the mall as I could feel someone spying on me, making the skin on my back shudder in terror.
“Over here, kiddo!” Mr. Romero called out to me and I quickened my steps towards him. I smiled when I noticed his satisfied expression while he held a gift bag.
“Let’s go, I want to get home to grandpapa and grandmama before dinner,” I smiled towards him as he nodded his head and took my bags from me.
Together, we left the mall and returned to the car but not without me looking around the parking lot in fear. Mr. Romero noticed my uneasiness while I settled into the backseat and tightly gripped onto the seat belt.
“Is everything alright, kid?” he questioned worriedly and I met his gaze with a small smile before nodding my head in reassurance.
But...why does everything seem not alright? Please God, I pray that I return home safely tonight.
“Kiddo, what you did was very dangerous and if you’re grandparents found out, they would scold you till next year! You don’t need to help everyone you see, kid. Help yourself first,” Mr. Romero chided me as I sniffled and wrapped a white towel around my shivering body. I had seen an elderly woman being honked at for crossing the street slowly so I exited the car in the rain to help her.
“I know, I know. I’m sorry, please don’t tell my grandparents!” I pleaded but Mr. Romero continued driving silently before turning to look at me up and down.
“You really think they won’t notice your drenched clothes?” he questioned when I gave him my best puppy dog eyes. My eyes traveled down to my wet clothes before my mouth formed an ‘O’. My face flushed red and I wrapped the towel around myself tightly before turning to face the window instead.
“Shit!” Mr. Romero suddenly cursed as he stomped on the brakes. I turned to look at him in shock before following his gaze towards the front. We were so close to reaching home but three SUV’s were blocking our way on the empty road with another SUV behind us so we couldn’t reverse.
I watched petrified as a man stepped out of the first SUV with several guards escorting him towards our car as one guard held an umbrella over the man’s head. He looked like a powerful man and something about him didn’t sit well with me. Mr. Romero was about to lock the doors but the guards beat him to it. One of the guards yanked the door open and began to drag Mr. Romero out of the car.
Without thinking, I pushed my door open and ran towards him but hit something hard, making me fall onto the cold ground as rain hit my face. My fearful eyes traveled up and met cerulean blue eyes that I thought I would never see in my whole life. The man whose chest I had knocked my head against was the star of many of my nightmares.
“Father?” my eyes widened in pure shock and I failed to notice one of the guards coming up behind me.
“Good evening, Ms. Avery” he replied, not bothering to hide the disgust in his voice and expression.
I stared at him in confusion and was about to ask him what was going on but something hard hit the back of my head. Pain filled my whole being as I screamed out and rubbed the back of my throbbing head. I lifted my hand to my eyes and noticed red liquid covering it.
“Why? What have I done to--” my slurred words were lost as the pain became too much and the last thing I remember was my face hitting the cold, wet road.
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