They were southern royalty, if such a status still existed. The Tremaine’s, one of Georgia’s most elite families. But they weren’t gaudy or boastful; Mr. Tremaine was an orphan, adopted by a husband and wife who had all the means to raise a child but couldn’t conceive. Mrs. Tremaine was a star debutante, a cheerleader—an all-around American girl—and their love story was equally as simple and therefore beautiful.
After marriage at the ripe age of nineteen, Mr. Tremaine and his closest childhood friend went in on a business deal together—one that would make Mr. Tremaine the wealthiest man in the south. They bred horses—for racing, of course, and grew their empire until it had expanded all up and down the East Coast. There wasn’t a race in the country where the family name wasn’t spoken.
Mrs. Tremaine stayed quite busy raising their daughter, Asher. They were all perfect, content—a state that was difficult to come by for most. They maintained humility, kindness, and compassion, even in the midst of hardship. Mrs. Tremaine had spent her entire life suffering from the horrors of cystic-fibrosis, and it wasn’t long until she succumbed to her illness. Asher was only twelve, a bright young thing, the spitting image of her mother.
Mr. Tremaine threw himself into his work, allowing his house staff to handle the raising of his only child, for seeing her only made him long for his late wife even more potently and painfully than normal.
Asher didn’t mind; she understood that her father was at a sort of loss, especially with a daughter verging on her teenage years. She was kept quite busy with school, friends, summer camps—but her passion was ballet. Though humble, she knew she had a gift, and it had been her form of therapy, to throw herself into something with abandon as well.
She was sixteen now, a simple, graceful beauty, her chest tighter than her fingers around the letter she clasped as she stood outside her father’s office. She waited, patient, listening to his voice on the phone. He sounded…happy, light. Her brows furrowed as his footsteps drew nearer. He often paced while on the phone, a quirk she’d witnessed time and again. He was never one to sit still.
“Yes, yes, tomorrow, love. I’ll call you tonight,” he said, voice muffled by the white door. Love. A name he’d never called her, or her mother…or anyone, for that matter. He’d never call his associates such a word, so who was it? She pushed aside her curiosity out of kindness and respect for his privacy, reaching up to give a timid knock.
“Yes?” her father called, voice switching back to its disgruntled tenor. She bit her lip, pushing the handle down and peeking around the door. His tight eyes wavered before he smiled.
“Thought you’d be out with friends. It’s Friday,” he chided. She blushed, stepping into his rich, lavish office and seating herself before him at his oak desk. He leaned back, arms behind his head, his striped tie loosed. He was a healthy man, fit, still young—an eligible bachelor, Miss Leesy—the head of their staff—often reminded her.
She gave a shrug. He sighed, leaning forward, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“Asher, you’re young. Go make friends, get into some trouble!” he urged.
“I have friends!” she defended with a small smile. His eyes danced as he gazed on her; those thick blond locks, those bright blue eyes, that oval face. Everything about her was her mother. His smile faltered a brief moment before being replaced by a tighter one. He nodded to the letter.
She flushed, licking her lips and straightening up. Out with it, baby girl, Miss Leesy had told her, her weathered, chocolate hued hands on her hips as they stood in the kitchen this afternoon.
“I…I should have mentioned it sooner, but there was just the slimmest chance I’d get in…and…well, Miss Leesy helped me…”
“Go on,” he said, attempting to hide his smile. She huffed, tucking her hair behind her ear, holding out her hand and extending the letter to him.
Curious, he grasped it.
“I made it in…to the School of American Ballet…in New York…”
He unfolded the letter faster now, eyes scanning the stark print, amazement coursing through his veins. She shifted in her seat, hands shaking as she clasped them in her lap.
“Asher…” he breathed, shaking his head.
“I know it’s expensive, and in New York, but they have room and board and—”
“You’re going,” he said, cutting her off, eyes snapping to hers. She shook her head, eyes widening.
“Dad, like I said, it’s expensive—”
“And you never let me spend anything on you, so this is me putting my foot down. You’re going,” he said, grinning. Tears welled in her eyes.
“Really?” she breathed. He pushed his chair out to stand, meeting her at the side of his desk, embracing his daughter—his only child, the last thing he had that connected him to the other half of his soul. He cradled her head, pressing his lips to her hair.
“I’m so proud of you, Ash. You’ve worked so hard—you deserve this,” he said, his own voice tight with tears. How many recitals had he attended? How many times had he caught her practicing in the mirrored dining room? How many damn tutus had been strewn about their home, even the stables? She sniffled, wiping her face before she looked up at him. For a few fleeting seconds, they both recognized the sparking joy that had evaded them since their matriarch had passed away.
In her darkest moments going forward, she would cling to this memory with a strength that knew no bounds.