Mary was sitting in the pantry today. Her stepmother had guessed again, which meant that she would sit there until morning. Mary wasn’t offended; she was even glad when all those who came to her stepmother’s house got drunk. Mary had no peace; they all tried to pinch her, tease her about life. Sometimes they even made her dance, and Mary loved to dance madly back then when her father was with them.
She went to the dance studio, but the girl didn’t really want to dance in front of drunk people. Her father had married Mia five years before. For some reason, he decided that it would be bad for him and his daughter alone. Mary’s life had been a living hell ever since, and before that, they had a very happy family.
Mary remembered how well they had lived before. Her mother had always baked a cake on the weekends when they had guests over, and it was fun. Papa loved Mama very much and bought her flowers very often. Then mum got sick for exactly a year. Mary and Dad took care of her; Dad took her to all the hospitals. But mum died.
When mum died, Dad immediately turned to gray. All night, all last night, he sat by mother’s side, holding her hand. He sent Mary off to bed, though she wanted to stay too. In the morning, he woke her up and said, “Mary, you’re not going to school today. You will stay with a neighbor.” Only after these words, the girl opened her eyes and looked at her father.
And when she saw him, she screamed. At first, he didn’t understand what was wrong with her. Then he looked at himself in the mirror, and he understood everything. He hugged Mary and said, “Don’t be frightened, my daughter. It’s not a big deal.”
Until the funeral, her father never said another word. Not one word. He silently prepared everything, silently did everything. At the cemetery, he bent down to his mother. He stood like that for a while, then straightened up. Not a tear, nothing. A lot of people came. Mum and Dad were always friendly and cheerful.
A lot of people came to say goodbye to Mom. And when everyone left, Mary and her dad cleaned up the table, all the dishes were washed. Her father told her to go to bed. Mary obediently came out of the kitchen, but she did not go to bed. She stopped outside the kitchen door. Dad sat down at the table, he put a bottle of vodka in front of him, poured a glass to the brim, he drank it. He sat for a while, drunk again.
And then he put his head in his hands and cried. Mary was very scared. She never in her life thought that Daddy could sob like that. She ran to her room and hid under the covers. She fell asleep quickly, for it had been a hard day.
When she woke up, her father was making her breakfast. Everything seemed to be as usual, except Mama was gone, and Daddy’s hair was white. Mary was nine years old at the time. She felt badly about her mother’s death, but she tried not to show it. She saw how hard it was for her father, but she went to work and did household chores all this in silence. They stopped talking and laughing all together. Everyone was afraid to say the wrong thing.
Then a year later, Mary woke up to voices in the kitchen. She cautiously looked out of her room. Her father was sitting in the kitchen, a bottle of vodka on the table. And a bright red-haired woman was sitting on his lap, hugging Daddy masterfully. Mary then jumped out of the room and threw herself at this woman with her fists.
“Get away! Get away from my daddy! We have a mother!” The woman shrieked, and Father grabbed Mary’s hand and took her into the room. “Stay here and don’t come out. Mia will live with us. She will be your mother.”
“I’m ashamed of you, acting like a savage, Dad. I don’t need a substitute. I only have one mother,” her father’s side and knelt down in front of her. “Honey, you have to understand. I have business trips all the time, and you’re the only one at home, not counting the neighbor. When people find out about this, they’ll send you to an orphanage. And Mia is normal, and I like her.”
“That’s what I thought,” the father went out, and Mary was left crying in the room. Traitor, how could he? Mary came out of the room in the morning and immediately saw Mia. She was cooking something, and Father was sitting at the table, smiling.
Mary saw a bottle of beer in front of him. “Dad, beer in the morning?” “Come on, daughter, it’s the day off. Mia gave me permission.” Mia gave Mary an unkind look, but then her father turned to them, and Mia smiled widely. “Sit down, Mary. Let’s have breakfast.”
Mary wanted to mutter something angry, but she changed her mind. She wasn’t going to make a scene. It was her father’s choice. She would just see less of this woman. It had only been two weeks since her father and Mia had been married.
Her father left on another business trip and never came back. His car went over a cliff at breakneck speed. Her father was pulled out alive. The money was urgently needed. This was the only thing that could give her father a chance.
Mia must have loved her father after all. She found the money by approaching a local oligarch. There was a man in a small town who owed everything. Nobody really knew anything about him. They said he was some old man who hardly ever came out to people. Sometimes you’d see his car driving through town.
There were never any cars like that in town. For some reason, everyone was afraid of him, even though no one had ever seen him. There were a lot of tales about him. They thought he was almost a Bluebeard in town. No one knew where he had come from, but about seven or eight years ago, several buildings in the very center of town were demolished, and then a huge castle-like cottage was built very quickly. Some said the man came here after some drama in his personal life, and some said that he was just a thug who was taking a well-deserved retirement.
There was a bank in town that also belonged to this oligarch. It was there that Mia took a loan on some special terms. A neighbor told me that Mia went there firmly convinced that she would not get a loan, or rather, to seem good to people. She went there knowing that she would be denied a loan. Mia would have lost nothing, and her reputation would have been greatly enhanced. But she got the loan.
Mia was very upset, especially since the bank was aware of everything that had happened and offered to transfer the money immediately to the hospital account. The same neighbor said that Mia nearly howled with rage. She had not expected such a turn of events. But there were too many people in the bank, people were watching her carefully, and if Mia refused the loan, they would stone her. Not literally, of course, but still.
In fact, Mia In fact, Mia had grand plans. She planned to sell that huge apartment in the center in the future, especially since the town was growing and expanding. She wanted to do it with the help of the same oligarch who had built a hotel here, a ski lodge, and ran a factory that had stood half-destroyed for 10 years.
Her father had an operation, but it was not very successful. Her father survived, but one half of his body hardly worked. When he was discharged, Mary heard Mia yelling at him in the room that because of him, she now had a huge loan that she would never pay it off, that she should send Mary to the streets or something else she could think of, but that he should pay for himself. Her father kept quiet, and in the evening, he and Mia got drunk.
Well, to be more exact, her father was very weak, so Mia gave him a shot, and he fell asleep, and she continued her phone but in a different company, in a big room with no one to be embarrassed. Her husband was discharged. Why not have fun? That was the way it had been since that day.
It is good if Mary has the time to feed her father before his loving wife brings him a glass so that he sleeps and does not see too much. Otherwise, he starts screaming and falls out of bed. Mary had a hard time as well. She was in the way of Mia. In general, the girl felt that if it was not for Mia, her father would have died very soon under mysterious circumstances.
And then a strange thing happened. Mia had no money to pay the loan. She thought of something interesting. She brought to the house some young man in dark glasses. As Mary realized, he was some kind of loan officer or swindler. Mia gave him all her father’s documents. The young man promised to take out a loan on him.
He said they had a well-established system. The service cost exactly a third of the amount that could be taken. Mia agreed. She hoped to pay off her loan and get some more money. The young man did not cheat; he took out a loan on Mary’s father. But they found out about it three months later when people from the bank came to their house.
Mia was furious. Not only had it all turned out this way, now they also had to restore father’s documents, or else they would not get their allowance. There was practically no food in the house, pasta, potatoes with rottenness from a sale, the cheapest vegetable oil. Mia blamed her father for everything. She yelled at him, sometimes even beat him.
Mary was 13 years old at the time, just after her birthday. Her father died. He was the only family member for the girl. Mia’s drunkenness became very frequent. The guests would change, Mia would get a good night’s sleep, and the house would be full of fun again. Mary often missed school, and Mary’s life, in general, became a nightmare.
Mia, every time she saw the girl eating something, she didn’t just reproach her. She even shouted at her, allegedly because of their family, now she was afraid to go out in the street. And she could not sell the apartment because it was Mary’s property, and Mia was only a guardian. When people from the bank once again called, Mia was drunk. They stayed in the house. The combined debts of father and Mia were such that Mia would never be able to pay it off anyway.
The men in black suits were sitting in the kitchen, talking loudly about something and waiting for the hostess to sleep it off. Mia woke up and went straight to the kitchen for a drink of water. She just entered and saw them. She wanted to run, but they caught her. The kitchen door was closed. The men were talking to Mia about something, and Mary did not know what.
Mary was very scared, so scared that even her stomach was aching. The man left, and Mia sat in the kitchen for a long time. Then she came out to Mary and looked at her for a long time. And then said, “Damn you, you’re your father’s brat. Why did I ever meet him?” Mary cried and went into the storeroom, as was her habit.
And the next day, Mia disappeared. She was gone for a week, and then she appeared. Turns out, she wanted to go somewhere far away, but it did not work out. At some stop, the same guys from the bank took her off the train and brought her home. They advised her not to do anything stupid like that anymore.
Mia stopped drinking alcohol and got a job. She became suspiciously affectionate towards the girl. Mary didn’t understand what the change was. What was this woman up to? But the fact that she was definitely up to something was immediately clear. One day, Mia brought a strange woman into the house. She was so unusual, with shorts, cropped hair, and her hair was multi-colored. She had a large traveling bag in her hands. She pulled out different beautiful dresses, and from a small suitcase, the woman took out a camera.
Mary watched these preparations spellbound. She had always liked everything to do with photography, and here, all the mysteries right in their apartment. Mia was so affectionate, so smiling. “Mary, I was thinking, you don’t have a single beautiful picture, and you’re almost a big girl. We have to fix that. Kate will take some pictures, and we’ll choose the best ones and make you a big picture in a frame.”
Excited by the prospect of having her own beautiful picture, Mary eagerly agreed. The woman named Kate set up her camera and started taking photos of Mary in different poses and outfits. It was a new experience for Mary, and she found herself enjoying the attention and feeling a glimmer of hope that things might be changing for the better.
As the photo session continued, Mary noticed a change in Mia’s behavior. She was no longer harsh and critical; instead, she was supportive and encouraging. It was a stark contrast to how Mia had treated her in the past. Mary couldn’t help but wonder what had caused this sudden transformation.
After the photo shoot, Kate showed Mary the pictures she had taken. Mary was amazed by how beautiful she looked in the photographs. For the first time in a long while, she felt a sense of self-worth and confidence. Mia suggested choosing the best picture to be framed and displayed in their home.
In the following weeks, Mary noticed that Mia had become more involved in her life. They would have conversations, go shopping together, and even cook meals as a team. It was a strange but welcome change. Mia seemed genuinely interested in Mary’s well-being and aspirations.
One day, Mia shared her secret with Mary. She revealed that she had always dreamt of becoming a photographer but had given up on her dreams due to various circumstances. Mia saw a reflection of her own aspirations in Mary and wanted to support her in pursuing her passions.
Mia explained that the woman, Kate, was a professional photographer who had agreed to mentor Mary and teach her the art of photography. It was a unique opportunity that Mia had arranged for her. Mary was overwhelmed with gratitude and excitement. Finally, she had someone who believed in her and wanted to help her succeed.
Under Kate’s guidance, Mary dove into the world of photography. She learned about different camera techniques, lighting, composition, and storytelling through images. It was a creative outlet that allowed her to express herself and capture the beauty she saw in the world.
As Mary honed her skills, she started participating in local photography competitions and exhibitions. Her talent was recognized, and she received accolades for her work. The town began to appreciate her unique perspective and artistic vision.
Through photography, Mary found solace and a sense of purpose. It became a way for her to heal from the wounds of her past and find her own identity. The support and encouragement from Mia and Kate played a significant role in her growth as a photographer and as an individual.
Over time, Mary’s relationship with Mia transformed into a genuine bond of love and understanding. They had both overcome their past struggles and found common ground in their shared passion for art. Mia became not only a stepmother but also a mentor and friend to Mary.
As the years passed, Mary’s talent as a photographer continued to flourish. Her work gained recognition beyond the town, and she started receiving invitations to showcase her photographs in galleries and art exhibitions across the country. It was a testament to her resilience and artistic vision.
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