A Change of Destiny
She doesn’t talk to anyone, does she?
Perhaps she’s just shy.
Don’t bother. She’s a weirdo. Let’s go.
Fifteen-year-old Elise Benoit-Smith cringed as the other orphans whispered the usual things about her. She sat at her desk sketching the same landscapes of Durham. Elise had lost both her parents at a very young age and had lived in St. Jerome-Emiliani Orphanage since then.
Growing up, she often wondered why her parents had to die and leave her behind. Who was she? All she knew was she was half-French and half-British. Fumbling in the pockets of her dress, she gripped her rosary. The orphanage director, Mrs. Caroline Lindsay had told her that it belonged to her birth mother. It reassured her that her mother was always near her.
Elise closed her sketchbook and got up from her desk. She dusted away the remnants of eraser bits using the back of her hand and walked out of the classroom. Strolling across the courtyard, Elise paused briefly to stare up at the slightly cloudy sky. The sun’s light seemed to barely make an effort to break through the clouds.
Despite bearing a grudge against her parents for leaving her alone in this world, Elise knew she had to also accept the fact that she was privileged to be provided with a roof over her head and three meals a day. The orphanage also had a school, which Elise attended with the other orphans, and a church on their grounds where mass attendance was compulsory.
Arriving at the church, Elise pushed open the large, old wooden doors and entered. It was usually quiet at this time of the day. The other orphans preferred to spend the rest of the day going about the town, but Elise preferred the quietness of the church.
She walked towards the very front pews, knelt, did the sign of the cross before taking a seat. Taking the rosary out of her pocket, she entwined the beads through her fingers, clasped her hands together, and started praying. Dear Lord, Elise prayed quietly. I pray that I will have the confidence to open up to others. I want to cross this invisible line that has separated me from everyone for as long as I can remember. I want to be accepted for who I am. Amen. Ending the prayer with the sign of the cross, Elise got up.
The cold air emitted from the grey stones of the walls and tombs caused goosebumps on Elise’s fair skin. It was a satisfying feeling, this kind of numbness. It helped her briefly forget the pain of being ostracised. She had been bullied by the other orphans for her inability to socialise with others. Due to her introverted personality, she had been passed off as weird and creepy. Deep down, Elise longed to have someone she could relate to.
She also knew that Mrs. Lindsay had tried to be a mother figure over the years, but Elise now found her overbearing personality unbearable. From her childhood to becoming a teenager, Elise hated being misunderstood because of her personality, but she was scared of showing her vulnerable side of being unwanted and barely knowing her identity.
“I guess I’ll go and do some blog work,” Elise murmured as she headed for the exit.
Exiting the church, Elise looked up at the sky and saw that the sun was seemingly making an effort to burst its rays through the clouds. The orphanage also had a library, Elise’s second favourite place. It was a place for inspiration for her short stories, which she often posted on her blog along with hand-drawn illustrations. Mrs. Lindsay often praised her for her talent in both art and writing, even recommending her to have some of her stories and illustrations published by Stone Soup in the past several years.
Elise turned on the school’s computer and logged into her blog. She had a moderate number of fans. Their comments were filled with nothing but praise, some saying how her stories related to their personal lives and have inspired them. This was just enough for Elise to know that some people understood her. Better than the other orphans who did not, nor even try to understand her.
Mrs. Lindsay had also pestered Elise to reluctantly submit one of her short stories and illustrations for a writing competition several months ago. The results had not been announced yet. They must have thought my stories weren’t up to the expected standard. She thought.
It was already dusk when Elise finished up her blog post. She turned off the computer and headed straight to the cafeteria to pick up her dinner. As a child, Elise always ate alone and started taking her meals to her room when she got older. Eating her meal at her desk, Elise stared out at the night sky from her window. She hated the night, and it was not because she was scared of the dark.
She had been diagnosed with asthma from a young age, and would sometimes have attacks at night which prevented her from getting any sleep. Other occasions included stress or any physical activity, thus having to sit out of P.E. lessons. After tidying away her dinner plate, Elise showered and prepared for bed, remembering to use her inhaler before going to sleep.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Lindsay was in her office having a discussion with an unexpected gentleman visitor.
“Are you sure you want to take her on as your ward?” Mrs. Lindsay asked with a sceptical expression, “She usually keeps to herself and is very reluctant to open up to others. I have tried to help her ever since she was a little girl, but I guess I was a bit too overbearing and it rubbed her the wrong way.”
“I’m sure of it Mrs. Lindsay,” replied the gentleman. “An acquaintance of mine is a university professor of English Literature who organised a writing competition just several months ago. All the feelings she pours into her stories and artwork shows her desire to change. She is on the road to independence and I would very much like to support her by giving her the future she deserves.”
“Don’t you think you’re being a bit too generous, sir?” said Mrs. Lindsay, “On top of taking her in as your ward, you’re even granting her a scholarship for secondary school.”
“Of course not Mrs. Lindsay,” said the gentleman. “In this world, there are people who are less fortunate for many reasons. You have been a charitable woman yourself. Providing shelter and food to many children who have lost their parents or have saved them from domestic abuse. Exposing her to all these limited possibilities will definitely help her evolve into the person she wants people to see her as rather than allowing her to continue staying in this orphanage until adulthood.”
“Very well then,” said Mrs. Lindsay. “I will speak with her tomorrow morning and contact you once she gives me her answer.”
Sunlight woke Elise the next morning. She turned over in bed, desperate for a lie in. It was the weekend anyway. I didn’t have any attacks last night. She thought to herself. But it did not mean she was on the road to fully recover from her asthma. Just as Elise was preparing to sleep longer, there was a knock on her door.
“Elise,” came an orphan’s voice from outside. “Mrs. Lindsay wants to see you in her office.”
Elise groaned as she got up and hurriedly got dressed. As she made her way to Mrs. Lindsay’s office, she passed several orphans who were snickering out loud if she had gotten into trouble with the orphanage director. Knocking on the office door, Mrs. Lindsay’s firm voice called for her to come in. Elise entered the office as Mrs. Lindsay gestured for her to take a seat in front of her desk.
“Am I in trouble?” Elise asked quietly.
“Oh no! Of course not dear!” exclaimed Mrs. Lindsay in surprise, “There is something I need to tell you.”
“Did something happen?” asked Elise, “If it’s about the writing competition I’ve applied for several months ago, I don’t think I won. There are a lot of people out there who are better at these kinds of things.”
“I had an unexpected visitor last night,” Mrs. Lindsay told Elise. “He is an acquaintance of the university professor who organised the writing competition. He saw your short story and illustrations and was thoroughly impressed by them. He has decided to become your benefactor and take you on as his ward.”
Elise abruptly stood up when she heard this. “Why me?” she exclaimed.
Mrs. Lindsay sighed, “I was a bit worried about how you would take all of this in. However, he definitely sees potential in you and persisted to make you his ward.”
Getting up from her desk, Mrs. Lindsay approached Elise and placed both her hands on her shoulders. “If I were you, I would take this opportunity. You deserve better Elise. Who knows when another chance like this will present itself before you? People should see you for who you really are, and it shows in both your writing and your artworks.”
Elise’s heart began to pound with excitement, but it did not show on her own face. Does he see potential in me? She thought to herself. The orphanage was like a living hell and this is my opportunity to leave it. Mrs. Lindsay hasn’t even told me his name yet so I don’t even know what kind of man he is. If I leave this orphanage, will my life get better? Or will it be worse? Reaching into her pockets, Elise gripped the rosary, fidgeting with the beads and the cross.
“Who is my benefactor?” she asked nervously.
“Ah!” exclaimed Mrs. Lindsay, “I was about to get to that part. His name is Jean-Pierre Courbet. He is the current president of the Courbet Pharmaceutical Company that has been passed through his family for generations.”