The Birthday Girl
Estrella Marlene Lorenzo
My mother had always told me since I was a child that I was bright.
I had brains, she said, beauty and most of all, a big heart.
I didn’t understand why that was so important or why any act of kindness I did brought such a big smile to her face. It only gave me great joy to see her so happy when I was good. She used to tell me that for a long time she had been unhappy and the day I was born I became her happiness. Her bright light. In the dark world she lived in, she explained with a small smile on her glowing face, I was the only bright thing in her life. A star amongst the dark sky.
So, she named me Estrella.
My childhood home had been built by only the best architects Italy had to offer and was painted and displayed as if it was art itself. It had fifteen rooms with fifteen locks, each floor covered in yards of golden spattered tile, a kitchen big enough for Momma to spend her days in, and hundreds of acres of land that we were never allowed to see. If my father could have put stardust in every room he would have done it for her. The rooms were filled with all the treasures any man could ever want and my father made it perfect just for her. My father built my mother this house as a wedding gift yet Mom and I were never allowed to go outside.
My mom loved my father dearly but the man my mother married on her wedding day was not the same man that brought her home. Throughout the years he bought her lavish gifts from around the world and rare artifacts from the bottom of every sea but that did not distract her from the truth. No matter how pretty you make a building look it will still be a prison when the door locks.
When I was born, her prison became a house of birth and her love learned to break down walls. Eventually, after years of persuasion, we were allowed outside once every four months. On those days, we screamed and laughed like never before. I would run until my legs gave out and stare up at the sky and think to myself, it really is this blue.
Books and paintings did not give justice to how beautiful the afternoon sky looked on days like this. On my 15th birthday, my father decided I would be thrown a grand party to celebrate my coming of age. I had never had a party before and the excitement I felt that day was indescribable. Hundreds of people came to see me and give their blessing to me and the years to come. I met people I had never seen before which doesn’t say much since I have known 10 people at most my entire life.
I hadn’t seen these many people since my brother’s 14th birthday party. I was not allowed to attend because father said it was dangerous. But from my spot on the balcony, I could see the men and women who gushed over my little brother with praise whereas, most did not know I existed. I was told that it was for my own protection but being this isolated did not feel like safety.
Every year as my brother grew older I watched from the balcony as grand feasts were made in his name and millions of dollars graced our house in prospects of his future. Jealously was not something I felt often and I was not completely sure if it was just that. Envy, maybe, that he was known, he was cared for, he was alive. Physically I was just as alive as he was. I breathe, and move, and speak, but he has seen the world, he has left this prison too many times to count. When my parents migrated to America from Italy I was only told stories of our homeland yet my brother took a flight there for the first time when he five years old.
In this world, being a girl was a disadvantage and I felt like I was.
However, I loved my brother dearly and I knew he felt the same way. He thought I was made for great things and the smartest person he knew, unlike my father who liked to use me as his chess piece whenever he had the chance. My brother believed I was made of the same magic as stars. I knew my father was not a good man, I had learned that from experience, and when my brother “came of age” I made sure he was never involved. I always convinced my father that I could do the dirty work and let my brother perform smaller tasks. I was the oldest and even if I was undervalued and underestimated I still didn’t want to see anyone get hurt.
I didn’t know what to think about my party, I was so overwhelmed that I was even getting one in the first place. I hadn’t been this happy in a really long time. The party was better than I could have ever dreamed of. It wasn’t about the hundreds of people and the gifts they brought with them. I was able to communicate with new people other than my family and servants. I met people and they showed me the wonders of the world I would never be able to touch. They showed me how big the world outside this golden palace was. When the party ended, I waved the guests goodbye and that night I cried myself to sleep dreaming about the sea and the mountains I would never get to experience.
I hum along to the soft music playing in my room a few days later, sitting on the windowsill drawing in my notebook. I shake the thoughts away and focus on the peak of trees over our iron gates. I steady my hand and try to capture what my eye sees when I notice a steady stream of black vehicles drive up to our house.
Not even five minutes later, my door opens abruptly causing me to jump in my seat, seeing my father and his two guards at my door. My father’s face remains blank as he looks at me, I do not think I have ever seen a smile on his face when he is near me. I think my little brother Xavier receives all of them and there are not enough for me anymore. I have learned to make Mommy’s smiles enough.
“Reya, come with me, beautiful.” I walk up to him leaving my notepad behind. The men tower over me and I draw close to my father for protection as he leads me out of my room. I take in the giant mural painted in the hallway walls, giant trees taking up most of the art, animals running through the forest, and a pack of snarling wolves following close behind. When I was really little I used to be terrified of the mean-looking wolves and I would close my eyes and run down the hallway imagining the giant wolves nipping at my ankles. Beasts that drank blood like it was water, the substitution much more favorable. The wolves leave a trek of dead animals behind them ripped into pieces, almost grinning at their work. I have never liked the wolves and have never been one, I have always been the deer, the rabbit, the fox, fighting to get away.
I was taught quickly that foolish thoughts like these would get me killed. I could not be weak or I would never make it in the real world. I made myself stronger every day in hopes that my father would finally let me out. I never expected that it would be like this. I am lead to the foyer where almost thirty men stand all dressed in fine suits and expensive accessories. When I make my way down the stairs they all look up giving me mixed expressions of smiles and...hunger. I knew my body was not that of someone my age, I had blossomed early and tried my best to hide it. My dress was a pale grey floor-length gown that dipped low in the front and was backless. I didn’t think anything of it when my maiden picked it for me this morning.
I smile back hesitantly at the men knowing it is polite of me to acknowledge my father’s partners. I hear a few chuckles and my father smooths some of my curly hair from my face. I was used to being in the room when my father had meetings but I was not sure if I had met any of the men here before. Which makes sense since the only meetings I am allowed to go to are with his three leading officers. Why are they here?
“Sit.” I take a seat at the bottom of the stairs without a second thought and the men look impressed. My father starts to discuss business with the associates while I stare blankly at the wall in front of me. I look down when I notice the majority of the men still looking at me and at the bottom of the step I see a beautiful little ladybug. I smile, lifting my dress and bending down to watch the ladybug move around before it scurries onto the bare skin of my feet. I giggle softly at the sight, peeking at the colorful insect in wonder.
“Fuck, look at her, men.” I look up from the ladybug and see them all looking at me or more specifically my cleavage where my large breasts are forced up against the fabric. I straighten up with a blush, crossing my arms over my chest forgetting the ladybug altogether. Forgetting what a beautiful sight it is to see something from the outside survive in here,
“20 million of the profits from this quarter along with 5% shares from my company in Italy and America.” One man speaks up, his beady eyes watching me and I look around for mama but I don’t see her anywhere.
“30 million along with the vineyard in Maya court and last week’s shipping at the docks.” Another calls out right after until a yelling match starts up amongst the crowd.
“15% in De la Rosa,” The men stop speaking, “60 million dollars along with access to the shops in L.A, Las Vegas, New York, D.C. and of course Europe.” Even my father looks shocked and the man steps forward and I tense up at the familiar face. His tall figure stands out amongst the crowd and he is dressed in an all-black Armani Suit as if he stepped out of the night itself. I would not call him a friend but at this moment it seems like he is the only one in sight.
Cain Anthony Marcelio.
I don’t know what the bidding is for but it cannot be anything good and by the look, things are about to get so much worse. I need Ma. From what I have come to learn about Cain since our first meeting when I was 11, he is not a good man.
“You are willing to give all of that for my daughter to be yours?” At my father’s words, I want to stand and scream at him, I want to run out of this house and never come back but before I can move two guards step next to me. My father has just made a deal with the devil and his name is Cain.
Cain pauses to look over at me and I hold my shaking hands against my chest, chewing so hard on my bottom lip that blood flows into my mouth. The burn of the cut is the only thing telling me that this is all real and not some nightmare.
“That and much more if necessary,” I squeeze my eyes shut to keep my tears at bay, seeing the look of approval on my father’s face.
“Wait, I have a condition of my own,” Cain speaks up, looking proud of himself when he sees the shiver that runs down my spine.
“I want her now, I will not wait three years for her. She will leave with me today.” A choked cry leaves my lips and I try to back away but the guards gently push me forward. Even they look remorseful, fuck them if they really felt bad they would let me run.
“I agree to your terms.” My father shakes hands with Cain and just like that my fate is sealed.
“Father, no you can’t.” I struggle against the guards as they drag me towards Cain and I kick the back of one of the guard’s knee and he falls forward. The other guard yanks me away from the stairs completely and I am forced in front of the devil. “Mama! Xavier! Help me!” I scream, begging anyone to help me and I cry seeing the maids bring down my belongings. The women crying silently in goodbye and I pray for him to change his mind but he doesn’t. One of the maids speaks hurriedly with my father yet he makes no move to help and the betrayal cuts deep.
“Father! No, I have been good! I have been strong! I do as you say! Please, father, don’t let them take me!”
“Estrella!” My mother comes sprinting into the room with the guards chasing after her. I elbow the man holding me and manage to attach myself to her as I sob. My brother comes running into the room after my mother but my father pulls him tightly against him.
“Momma, I don’t want to go. Please don’t let them take me, I want to stay. Let me stay.” I sob and she screams at my father to reconsider, to let me go, to call it off. My father looks at her solemnly and I think he only regrets making her upset and not giving his daughter away to strangers.
“She will be a queen, it is her duty as a woman to please her new partner. It is what is best for everyone, my love. Now let her go.”
My brother watches silently with cold eyes and I know that if I was in his place this would not have happened. If I had been what father wanted he would not have sold me away.
“M-Mommy, p-please.” Suddenly, I feel arms wrap around my waist and hot breath against my neck and my mothers widen, “You sick bastard, you let her go. You cannot take my daughter. You cannot have her!”
“Oh, but she is already mine.”
She is pulled away from me just as I feel a needle pierce into my neck and my body becomes limp in Cain’s arms but I can see everything and hear it all. My crying, my mother’s screams, my father’s orders, my brother’s silence, and my heart, oh how my heart breaks.
The last thing I see before it all goes black is the smile on my father’s face.