“Olivia, we need to talk about something important we’ve been keeping from you, ” Mom says in a serious tone. The solemn look on my parents’ faces begins to trigger 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 as to why she was questioning me about our family’s business relationships.
As if to clear my confusion, Dad says, “Since tomorrow you are graduating from the University of Johannesburg, the Payne family invited us to their house for dinner to celebrate your graduation and pair you up with their oldest son, Tay.” he informed me, making me more confused than before.
“What do you mean by ‘pairing me up with their son’?”
“We decided it is for the best if you marry Tay. It is going to benefit both families,” Mom says, excited. My mind refused to comprehend their words. How could they marry me off to a stranger without asking for my permission? Without asking about my desires and dreams?
“Mom, are you serious? How could you make this type of decision without asking me first?” I try to control my anger that 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 a woman wants in a man,” she says with confidence, intensifying my murderous thoughts on how to kill her.
“I’m not every girl, Mom! I will not marry someone I don’t know and I will— ”
“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 you dare try to question my decisions. “She opens her mouth to say more, but Dad interferes.
“Grace, calm down. She doesn’t know what she’s saying. Give her some time to absorb the news,” Dad says slowly.
“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, glaring 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 properly like I taught you‚” She yells.
“As long as I breathe, you will do as I say. This marriage is happening. “She declares.
Last night’s memories still felt fresh in my mind as tears swell down my cheeks. Everyone looks forward to their graduation, but I wish the ground would just open up and swallow me. Since the conversation I had with my parents last night, I couldn’t sleep. The thought of marrying a stranger makes me feel numb. 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, though I had a more simplistic taste. Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I was born in a regular family instead of a rich one full of high expectations and toxicity. I was so lost in my thoughts that I didn't hear a knock on the door.
“Olivia, are you in there?” a voice asks. 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 more of a mother to me than my real mom.
“Yeah,” I responded.
“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 egg omelette. 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 with 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 just happened to be 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’s 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 shout, yell at her, and empty my heart, but I knew it would be of no use. It was just going to fuel the fire, and I was in no mood to deal with her right now. I sigh and start to eat my breakfast, preparing myself for the longest day ahead of me.
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 start to 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, signalling 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 that 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 pretty much been the first in every class I have ever been in.
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 really happy 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 wasn’t going to help my situation.
The ceremony ends shortly after and everyone walked off to go 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 it is beautiful it is an understatement. The walls are white and the decorations are breathtaking. 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 observing. Seeing my fellow graduates talking, laughing, hugging,g and taking pictures made me realize how alone I am.
Since I was young, Mom wouldn't allow me to be friends with anyone other than her friends' kids which I had nothing in common with. Seeing everyone enjoying themselves triggers something unexplainable in me. My chest tightens, making me wonder 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 from of me.
“You don’t look like you are enjoying yourself, ”he points out and I release a small laugh.
“And what should a person look like to show 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’s your graduation?” I change the subject.
“I already graduated,” he explains further, “I came here to support my friend Brie since she was nervous. So here I am.”
“That's nice of you, ”I say and continue listening to him tell me 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 glance at myself in the mirror and the girl who looks 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 begins to form 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.
“Finally! 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 door for Nora and I get in the backseat and I smile at him. 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 climb out of the car and I fix my red split thigh velvet dress. My long black hair is curled and I’m in black heels with white clutch with gold bands.
“Don’t embarrass me,” Mom warns while glaring at me.
We walk up to the double doors. A Range Rover and an 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 to hear 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 black-haired with brown 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 brown-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 cuts her off. 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 brown-haired one introduces.
“They’re not married yet, Nate,” Andrew says and chuckles.
“I’m practising 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 Ferguso,” Tay says, his brown eyes pierce into me causing me to release a shaky breath. His voice is so beautiful, seductive, exhilarating,g and would drive any woman crazy.
“Just Olivia.” I offer him an awkward smile.
“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 rosé wine and places two baked potatoes on his plate.
“You are starting, ”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 starting to become 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 Tays’s gaze on me. Probably waiting for my response.
“Don’t worry, it’s non-alcoholic,” 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, dessert will be served 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 pyjamas on. I get under the covers, and my eyes shut as soon as my head hits the fluffy pillow.