"Maisey Sue," Momma starts, giving my reflection in her gilded mirror a critical once over as she pats her perfectly coifed hair. She can't even bother to face me directly anymore. "What have you been on about? I heard from Mr. Thatcher that you still have an unhealthy attachment to that beast. No daughter of mine will be moping around, spending all her time with a bull. Especially that one. This stops today."
I try to control my facial expression, because Momma can't know how furious I am. She doesn't do emotions. But that ass Mr. Thatcher ratted me out! I swear he's more nanny than ranch manager.
I can only hope he left Paul out of this, the ranch hand that helps me sneak in to see Midnight. He's the only person that doesn't shy away from spending time with me anymore. But I can't think about him now. I need to fix this mess before I lose any more freedoms.
Momma never outwardly shows it, but she loves some good old gossip. It's just the distraction I need so she doesn't dwell on why I was visiting Midnight again. My love-hate relationship with that bull is too much to dissect on a good day.
"Yes ma'am, I understand," I rush out, wanting to placate her first. A moment goes by before I add, "Did you know that only yesterday Mr. Hillis next door had a lady friend over?" I pause again for dramatic effect. "He's apparently twice her age. Could be her father. The maids are all in a tizzy about it."
She turns slowly toward me, her face a cool mask of indifference, but there's a slight twinkle in her eye. I've got her.
"Well, I hardly think Mr. Hillis's affairs are any of our concern. I'm going to have a talk with the maids about their wagging tongues. Mind you keep away from that bull and go wash up for the dinner party. The Prescott's will be attending." There she finally pauses, her lips pinching just a bit. "And so will David."
My mouth pops open in surprise, but before we have the chance to unpack that train-wreck of a statement, Aunt Nadine comes sweeping into the room, sucking out all the air and ending our conversation.
I take this interruption as a gift and retreat as quickly as I can. But it's not quick enough to escape hearing my aunt's shrill voice, "Face it Alexandra. Maisey is never going to leave this house. She'll always be a burden to you. I think you have to consider..."
Her bitter words trail off, too faint to hear now as I finally reach my sanctuary. I already know how she finishes that sentence; I've heard it all before. She'll be trying to convince momma to send me to a home for 'people like me.' I'm honestly not sure why Momma hasn't yet.
Shaking off my gloomy thoughts, I move further into the library. Visiting Midnight and reading are really all I have left to occupy my time. And I guess talking to Paul, though he's hired help, so I'm not sure that counts. Even so, he's a good listener. And easy on the eyes.
The next turn brings me to the small nook I've claimed for myself, and I can finally breathe. No pressure here, no staff reporting my every move, no Momma and her disappointed looks. It's heaven.
I plan to read a bit before getting ready for the dinner party, but then the reality of my life hits me again, a stray tear slipping down my cheek. Just the thought of having to face David tonite is haunting me. Why do I still care?
Hastily wiping my face, I grab the latest book I'm reading. I'll leave it to Dalton with his rugged good looks and cowboy charm to whisk me away for a little while.
Three hours later, I pass through the ostentatious archway to the grand hall where we'll be having an 'intimate' dinner. The room could be used for a broadway musical; it's so immense. I've never quite understood why Momma uses it for these occasions other than she wants to show off our wealth. I much prefer eating in the kitchen if I can get away with it. Money means nothing to me anyway. It can't fix what happened last year.
As planned, I show up just in time to miss the social hour Momma likes to use to strengthen her 'connections.' Honestly, I'm not sure she even wanted me here for making the rounds. I'm no longer her pride and joy, just an oddity brought out once in awhile for the sympathy vote.
Nevertheless, I do as expected and make my way across the parquet floor coming alongside the mahogany monstrosity of a table. I need the corner spot, so I end up right next to Momma. And David.
His noticeable dismissal of me is cutting. I can feel the sharpness of it driving deep. We were in love once. Or maybe it was just me. Either way, it's plain cruel that Momma seated us so close. We haven't been face-to-face in months, and the last time we met ended in disaster.
Thankfully we're saved from having to make small-talk as the first course is placed before us, and the champagne begins to flow. I drain my glass to help calm my nerves, motioning for a refill. Momma notices and gives me a pointed look before turning her charming smile back to the gentleman on her left. That's her warning to behave. We'd just see about that. After all, she's the one that seated me next to David.
Swallowing hard, I turn to stare at his profile. He truly is a beautiful man. At least on the outside. I try not to remember what it's like to receive his undivided attention. To feel special. To imagine our life together. Because it was all a lie.
My skin flushes, blotchy red patches appearing as my anger rises to the surface. A slight tremor starts in my hands, making my champagne slosh dangerously close to the edge of the glass. Momma is too distracted to have noticed, but David recognizes the signs of my impending melt-down.
He leans in close, whispering in my ear. His warm breath tickling my neck and making an involuntary shiver rush down my spine. Damn him for getting that reaction from me.
"Maisey, get yourself under control before your mother sees you. You know how she detests when you make a scene. Maybe lay off the champagne," he murmurs. His voice smooth like whiskey.
Good lord, how I wish I could punch him in the face and get away with it. How could he still make my heart beat faster and my breath hitch just by being near when he cast me aside so easily? Like our engagement meant nothing. Like I meant nothing.
Feeling a little wild and slightly emboldened from the alcohol, I turn my head to face him, bringing our lips within kissing distance. Drinking in his full lips, his strong jaw, his amber eyes, I search his gaze for the man I fell in love with. The one that didn't break me. But I realize he's no longer there, and I feel...nothing. It's the first time I don't feel devastated looking into his eyes. And it's absolutely freeing. While my body might still respond to him, it seems my heart has finally let go.
All the harsh words I was ready to spew out in an effort to make him feel small and foolish rush out of me in a soothing wave. I can tell by the tightening of his eyes that he recognizes the change in me. He slowly leans back, breaking the tense moment.
Glancing quickly over at Momma, I know she saw us. Sweat breaks out on my brow as I consider how she'll respond, but to my utter shock, she gives me a slight nod. Maybe, just maybe, she's hoping I'll get some closure tonite. Maybe she does care.
I don't have long to wonder about Momma's musings though, because apparently the nod was for David. In my preoccupation with my own seating arrangements, I failed to notice the empty seat on his other side.
Standing, he turns to welcome the most alluring woman I've ever seen. Cynthia. She's beautiful and refined; everything I'm not. She also has a rock the size of an egg sparkling on her ring finger which David is currently bowing to kiss.
Oh my word, she's his fiancé.
The next few moments are a blur as I rush to escape this fresh hell. Someone calls my name, but it feels like my ears are plugged; my head is swimming. I know that I'm over David, but it's still painful seeing him with Cynthia. Seeing a life I'll never have thrown in my face.
I need to see Midnight.
Maneuvering quickly through the house and past nosy staff, I reach the pen in record time only to find Mr. Thatcher standing in my way.
I must look like a complete mess, because his gaze softens.
"Mr. Thatcher, I'm not asking for permission. I don't care what you, my momma or anyone else thinks. I need to see Midnight," my voice catching at the end. I'm barely hanging on.
"Miss Maisey, you need to go back to the main house. Let me escort you," he replies gently, trying to steer me back the way I came.
"No! I need him," I plead, tears welling in my eyes. "Please."
He gives me the saddest look, then straightens up.
"Midnight's gone. Your momma sold him today."
His words don't really register at first. When they finally trickle through the haze in my brain, uncontrollable sobs wrack my body. Mr. Thatcher, the coward, makes a hasty exit, presumably to find Momma.
Left alone, I drown in the memories of what broke me.
I'd been visiting Midnight again. I just loved to watch him. He was majestic, treated like royalty, but lacked all responsibility. I envied his carefree life. But Momma was not keen on my obsession. His only worth to her was how much money he brought in. She'd warned me to stay away, but I didn't listen.
That day I'd grown particularly bold and slipped into the pen with Midnight. I'd been secretly hand feeding apples to him for weeks. And now he was munching happily on my offering, preening in the sun shining down on his glossy, black coat.
A shout from behind startled us both. 'Maisey, have you lost your mind? Get out of there!" Momma yelled. I froze in shock. Momma never yelled. It was unfortunate she chose that moment to start, because Midnight wasn't happy with the interruption. He let out a menacing huff and raced toward the fence where Momma stood. I was between him and Momma. He broke my spine.
The truth? I still visit Midnight because I hate him for what he's done to me. I rail and rage at him, screaming my pain. But before I leave, I still feed him an apple. Because I love him too for staying the same when I lost everything.
I lost the use of my legs. I lost David. I lost Momma.
Now, I lost Midnight.
I'm spiraling, drowning, sinking deep. It doesn't even register when someone wraps their arms around me, holding me close, until a soft voice murmurs, "Please, talk to me, Maisey. Let me in."
Blinking, I look up to find Paul's clear, blue eyes shining with warmth and tenderness.
"Why?" I whisper.
He rests his forehead against mine and breathes out, "Because I see you, Maisey. So many people in your life have let you down, but you keep going, keep trying. And I want to be someone you can always count on. If you'll let me."
His sweet words pull me back from the darkness.
"I'd like that."
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
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