“All the world’s stage,
And all the men and women are merely players,
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts.
His act being seven stages.”
- (Act II, Scene VII) As You Like It
She let out a frustrated sigh and closed the book/. Tears welled up in her eyes and she brushed at them furiously. Sniffling, she took numerous shuddering breaths in an attempt to soothe her frayed nerves. Steeling herself, she rose to her feet. It was time to put on the act.
She took a few tentative steps towards the floor-to-ceiling mirror that decorated the mahogany wall. Dressed immaculately in a ruched, ivory, silk chiffon gown, she was a vision. Her bronze curls were locked up in an elaborate twist. A few stray strands adorned her shoulders. Diamond jewelry ornamented her.
She knew she should be ecstatic. Elation should be engraved upon her. She was going to be a tycoon’s wife! Nevertheless, the only emotions she could dredge up were a bone-deep terror and anguish that gnawed at her shattered heart. Her mind churned and whirled and transported her back to that fateful day. In retrospect, her twentieth birthday had changed her life.
Two Months Back…
It was twilight. A soft breeze caressed her as she walked the familiar lane towards home. It was her twentieth birthday. She had only merely finished her waitress shift at the local diner. Fortunately, the tips had been exorbitant for her that day. Thus, she had splurged in the luxury of purchasing numerous candies for her siblings. She imagined their joyous countenances and giggled to herself.
However, the moment she turned onto her driveway, she knew something was very wrong. Two sleek Mercedes cars were parked there. She was instantaneously wary. “Who was paying them a visit this late at night?” she wondered.
As quietly as a ghost, she let herself in through the back-door. Nobody was in the vicinity. A whisper of voices wafted towards her from the study. Bewildered, she tip-toed towards the room and stood still as a deep, male voice boomed out. Mr. Thomas! She pressed herself against the thin, cherry-wood wall and strained to hear the conversation beyond.
“Look, Andrews. I have given you all the time in the world for God’s sake! It’s time for me to obliterate our little contract,” Mr. Thomas’ agitated voice reached her.
“But-but-but you said you would give me time. I am trying, sir. Please don’t do this. Please,” her father begged.
“Do what? Take what’s rightfully mine? You are currently in a debt of fifty thousand dollars to me! All the interests…even the principal amount is unpaid!” the menace in the wealthy man’s voice was absolutely distinct.
“Please, sir-,” her father began.
“You will clear out this filthy abode by noon tomorrow. Take your worthless family out on the streets if that’s what it takes. Of course, if you don’t comply, you can always have fun in prison. After all, the contract does allow me to take this house you know,” Mr. Thomas sneered in a harsh voice.
“Please, sir. I beseech you. Have mercy, please. With the ongoing draught, the farm is half-dead. Business is collapsing. Don’t make my family starve to death. Please, I will do anything. Please.”
The anguish in her father’s voice made her heart constrict.
There was a poignant silence in the room inside. A silence that seemed to stretch on for an eternity before Mr. Thomas spoke up.
“Get your daughter Nicole married to my son.”
Her jaw dropped and her knees gave out. She crumbled to the floor even as her stomach plummeted.
“What? No! She is my baby! My only girl! Not her! No! Have mercy! No!,” her father shrieked in agony.
“That’s the best deal you get Andrews. Get Nicole to be my daughter-in-law and have the happily-ever-after for the whole family, or desert this place by tomorrow.”
She dragged herself to her full height. She was just about to burst into the study when the doors opened from within. All of a sudden, she found herself face-to-face with Mr. Thomas.
“Well, hello Nicole,” he put on a sickeningly honey-sweet voice.
“I will do it,” she replied in a cold voice.
She ignored her father’s screams of protests and held the other man in a dead-on stare.
“Excellent,” he smiled, before walking out.
With that one little word, her world tilted.
“Hey, Nicole! It’s time to walk down the aisle, beauty,” her bridesmaids broke through her reverie. They were all Xavier’s, her husband-to-be, friends. She repressed the bile that always rose to her mouth when she thought of her playboy betrothed. She knew he despised her- he had made that all very clear. He was just as much a pawn as she was in this sick display of a power game. Sadly, he blamed her. She sighed and drew the bolts on her path of thoughts. Instead, she let the girls gush over her. They were lavishing her with superficial compliments. They called her a goddess, a ravishing beauty, the prettiest bride and what not?
She smiled wryly. Listening to them blabber, she wondered why nobody called her what she really was- an unhappy bride. Then again, she realized, this was the part she was supposed to play in the staging of the little, sick show called life.