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What had I done to deserve this? I noted the sympathy behind my father’s deep blue eyes, and the apathy behind the soulless green eyes of my mother.
What an appropriate color for her- the color of money, her one true love.
“Adelaide, Mr. Cunningham is a great match for you,” my mother lied through her perfectly white teeth. My face contorted into a look of pure disgust. She desperately tried to smile back, but sadly, her recent botox injections prevented any facial expression. My mother is the definition of superficial- inside and out.
“Adelaide, honey, we’re sorry, but there is no other way.” I could tell so much about my father by looking into his eyes. They begged for my forgiveness.
There was no hope. My father would give Cunningham his blessing, and I would be forced to accept his proposal. My family, once the richest family in Massachusetts, was now plunging toward bankruptcy, and Charles Cunningham was the only person who could save us. The Oliviers and the Cunninghams had known each other for hundreds of years. During the Great Depression, the Cunninghams had greatly suffered financially. By loaning them a great deal of money, my great-grandfather had not only solved their financial problems, but also saved them from a certain social death. Now they had a chance to return the favor. That favor, however, came with a price.
Charles Cunningham had graciously agreed to help us, but only if I married him first. I cringed as I recalled his and my father’s conversation.
I sat beside my father, to his left, and my mother on his right. He rubbed his clammy hands together nervously before he spoke.
“Charles, it pains me to say this, but…”
“You need money,” Cunningham interrupted with a smirk.
“Unfortunately, we do.” My father went on to explain our situation to our guest, whose smirk never left his face as he listened intently.
Cunningham lifted his hand to signal my father to stop.
“Eli, please. I am aware of our country’s financial crisis. I am not an imbecile. Of course I will help you, if I receive something in return.”
“Anything,” my father pleaded.
His answer was short, simple, and concise.
“Adelaide.” His smirk transformed into a smile. He was clearly proud of himself.
Charles Cunningham, at forty-three, stood five feet, four inches tall, three inches shorter than I. This gave me the glorious opportunity to see every hair on the top of his rapidly balding head. The few white hairs became obsolete once he stood below some form of light. The glare was blinding.
“Adelaide, I need a sensible wife. You are by far the most sensible woman I have ever met.” The buttons on his filthy, stained white shirt cried with the pain of his bulging stomach. I wondered how much it expanded once it was loose; I hoped to God I would never find out.
He was right. I was sensible, sensible enough to know that my life with this man would be miserable. I was sensible enough to say no.
I shook my head lightly to clear my mind as I returned to reality. My mother stood with her arms crossed, impatiently waiting for me to speak. My father nervously ran his hand through his messy black hair, his dark blue eyes pleading.
“Excuse me,” I uttered as I rushed out the door. I ran faster than I ever had before, the wind stinging my eyes, as blue as my father’s, and my loose black curls flying behind me, whipping my back with each stride.
I stopped at a cliff to catch my breath. I didn’t know how far I had run, and I didn’t care. I planted my feet on the rocky terrain beneath me, closed my eyes, and inhaled slowly, my nostrils filling with the salty aroma of the Atlantic Ocean. The sun began to set, transforming the once blue sky into a plethora of brilliant colors.
Tears clouded my vision. I would never agree to this. Never. I could never be Mrs. Charles Cunningham.
“I won’t do this!” I screamed, tears rolling down my cheeks.
I felt exhilarated. I would find a way to refuse this man’s proposal. As I stood pondering my escape and staring out at the setting sun, I felt two hands press hard against my back. I screamed as I fell toward the rocks protruding from the ocean below.