Maisie Dearing-Grady, at eighteen years old, had her entire life’s plan laid out in front of her. Her last day of high school was now behind her and she was ready to move on to the next phase in her life.
Though Claire and Owen were very adamant in allowing Maisie to decide her own future. Her decision for her career path didn’t surprise either parent when Maisie chose dinosaurs. Zia quickly becoming one of Maisie’s biggest admirers, has guided Maisie proudly into the field of Paleo-Veterinarian. She was accepted into Berkley and more than ready to be able to finally hold a position at the DPG and not just a junior volunteer. She couldn’t wait to be able to join Zia and Owen on their excursions to the sanctuary for checkups.
As far back as she could remember, her life was about dinosaurs. The first nine years of her life was filled with dreaming she was surrounded by the magnificent creatures. Her time was spent imagining herself in the midst of the action, living inside the stories she created in her head. That life, though, Maisie never thought back on often. As it was a life filled with hopes and dreams, it was also tainted with lies.
It’s been the last nine years that have meant the most to Maisie. The day she was pulled away from Lockwood Estate and into the protective arms of Claire and Owen, Maisie was able to finally live. The days following the crumble of her childhood, Claire and Owen took their time gaining Maisie’s trust. She quickly learned that they were always honest with her. Answering the questions exploding from her mouth with pure honesty. They included her in their adventure and together they became a family.
Maisie found herself running around in the sunlight, screeching with delight as Owen chased her in the back yard as Claire busied herself with organizing their new house. The couple freshly married and Maisie legally their daughter, they were all free to be happy.
Even through the hard times, Maisie still cherished her life with her parents. The bickering between her and her parents happens every so often, but she also knows that just means how much they love her.
As they years flew by, Maisie grew up. A free spirit most friends and family call her, but that was all at the hands of her parents, determined to give her the life she missed out on.
Maisie woke up the morning of her high school graduation with a grin the stretched across her face. The ceremony wasn’t until later in the afternoon, but she didn’t want to waste any time. Reaching for her robe, she skipped down the stairs a little more chipper than normal.
Claire, having the day off was perched at the counter, sipping her coffee and working on her laptop. Owen impatiently tapped his foot as he waited for his bagel to finish toasting. “Morning,” Maisie sang as she skipped into the kitchen. Claire and Owen’s eyes met, both of them exchanging a look before Claire moved her focus to Maisie.
“Good morning, sweetie.” She tried keeping her tone level, trying to hide the surprise there. Maisie was not necessarily a morning person.
Owen’s bagel popped up and he reached for it, only to find Maisie had snatched it before he could. “Hey!” He complained as he watched her reach for the butter.
“Too slow, old man.” Maisie giggled as she took a bite.
“Old man?” Owen narrowed his eyes, but knowing she had adopted Claire’s personality, he grumbled to himself as he put another bagel in the toaster. There was no sense in trying. He already knew he was going to lose the battle.
“Hey, mom, what shoes are you wearing today?” Maisie wondered as she sat beside Claire to finish her stolen breakfast.
Claire glanced at her daughter from the corner of her eye, “Why?” She asked cautiously, her fingers drumming along the keyboard as she answered an email.
Maisie shrugged, taking a bite of her bagel.
Claire rolled her eyes and shut her laptop, turning fully to face Maisie, she huffed, “Really Maisie? We just bought you shoes to match your dress.”
Maisie threw her mother an innocent smile, “I know, but I liked the ones you picked out. I think they will match my dress perfectly.”
“Oh, Mais,” Claire groaned and waved her hand absentmindedly, “fine, I’ll wear something else.”
“You’re the best!” Maisie shrieked, kissed her mother’s cheek and took her breakfast with her as she ran from the room.
Claire listened as she heard Maisie’s footsteps travel into the master bedroom. She met Owen’s eyes when the closet door opened. “Don’t look at me!” Owen said as he hurried to collect his bagel. “I’m not the one that introduced her to those damn shoes.” He sat down beside Claire and she smirked at her husband.
“No,” Claire chuckled, “but I’m sure if we let her, she’d be wearing her chucks to the ceremony.”
“I don’t see anything wrong with that,” Owen said as Claire stood up to the sound of items being tossed out of her closet.
“That’s why I took her shopping.” Claire said quickly and snatched up Owen’s bagel before rushing out of the room to save the items being tossed out of her closet.
“Claire!” Owen wined as she hurried away.
Owen sat comfortably on the couch, a game claiming all of his attention. Claire rushed around making sure things were in order before they left for the graduation ceremony. Owen ignored Claire as she bobbed around in front of him as she walked from one room and back to the other.
“Mom, you have the tickets?” Maisie called down the stairs.
Claire waved them in the air like Maisie could see them. “Got them!” She called back and shoved them into her purse.
Claire spun around and made her way to the laundry room where she had pressed the gown the previous night. “Check!” Claire called over her shoulder, bringing the gown out to drape over the chair by the front door.
“My phone!” Maisie’s panicked voice floated down the stairs.
Claire spun in the other direction and walked into the kitchen. “On the dock where you left it.”
Claire brought Maisie’s phone and placed it in her purse so it wouldn’t be forgotten. She paused where she was and waited for Maisie to yell down another panicked request for an item. When nothing came her shoulders relaxed and she sat beside Owen.
“Mom!” Maisie shrieked, causing Claire and Owen to jump to their feet. They stumbled up the stairs when Maisie screamed for Claire once more.
“What?” They bother asked, pausing at the bedroom door to find Maisie tossing papers off of her desk.
“I can’t find my speech!” She turned around, tears pooling in her eyes.
Claire crossed the room and placed both hands on Maisie’s shoulders, immediately feeling the tension there. “Honey, it’s on your laptop.”
“No!” Maisie shook her head, swiping the back of her hand under her eye to angrily wipe her tear away. “I printed it out! It was on my desk!”
“Honey,” Claire shook her daughter’s shoulders lightly and couldn't hide her smile. “I mean you have it saved on your laptop. Just reprint it.”
“Oh,” Maisie reached up and scratched the back of her head. “Wow, yeah, sorry.”
“Nervous, Kiddo?” Owen asked and received a death stare from both women in front of him. “I’ll be downstairs.” He said and hurried out of the room to finish watching the game.
“How do you do it?” Maisie wondered.
Claire tilted her head to the side, confused. “Do what?”
“Keep so calm all the time! You’ve been in front of the press and news cameras more times than I can count. You always look so calm! I’m panicking just standing in front of my entire class. And their parents. And the entire faculty. And…” Maisie trailed off as panic began to close her throat off.
“Trust me, Mais, I’m acting just like you before a big meeting or conference. I just learned how to hide it.”
Maisie gripped Claire’s arms, “Teach me! Please!”
Claire couldn’t help but laugh. “First of all, take a deep breath.” She waited until Maisie did as she asked. “Now, realize that no one has heard your speech. Therefore if you lose your place or lose your paper, you can improv and no one will know about it.”
“Oh,” Maisie’s shoulders relaxed, “I never thought of that.”
Claire motioned towards Maisie’s laptop. “Now print out your speech and give it to me. I will place it in your gown pocket.”
Maisie did as was told and handed the folded piece of paper to her mother. “Right in my pocket. Please don’t try and proof read it.”
“Promise.” Claire gave a hard nod and gripped the paper tight in her hand. “Now, finish getting ready.”
“Mom!” Maisie called out as Claire turned to leave. She turned back to look at Maisie. “Thanks.”
Claire nodded once and shut the door behind her.
Making her way back to the couch, Claire sat beside Owen. She glanced over at the cap and gown ready for Maisie to put it on. “This is happening, huh?” Claire wondered, curling herself into Owen’s side.
He glanced at Claire and followed her gaze. “She did it.” He sighed and leaned down to kiss the top of her head.
Claire nodded, “She’s come so far.”
“Yeah she has. We did one hell of a job, huh.”
Claire couldn’t help but laugh. “Yeah, we did.”
“I’m ready.” Maisie’s voice appeared behind them and they both stood to look at her. Her black and white flowered dress hung just above her knees and on her feet were the silver heels that belonged to Claire.
“Oh, you’re so beautiful!” Claire gushed.
Owen stood frozen in place. Visions of a nine-year-old girl in dirty jeans and a messy ponytail flashed in his mind. The tiny giggles that floated out of her bedroom as Claire red to her before bed. The small kid sprawled out on the DPG floor coloring posters for an upcoming rally. That girl was gone. In front of him was a young woman, ready to face her future with as much determination as Claire could pass on.
“You ok, Dad?” Maisie’s voice pulled him from his thoughts. He blinked a few times, realizing she had put on her robe, and Claire was helping her place her cap on her head.
Owen swallowed the lump in his throat. “You bet, let’s go.”
Arriving at the school, Maisie kissed both her parents and hurried off at the call of her friends.
Claire and Owen searched the crowd until they found Karen, the boys, Zia and Franklin. They sat down in the seats saved for them and waited for the ceremony to begin.
As soon as the music started Claire choked on a sob and Owen cleared his throat to try and keep the growing lump at bay. They searched the students until Maisie came into view. She waved before moving to her seat.
“She’s so beautiful!” Karen gushed beside Claire.
“Yeah,” Claire sighed.
They sat through the principle’s speech and Claire held her breath when it was Maisie’s turn to step up to the podium. Her shoulders immediately relaxed when she saw how calm Maisie looked.
Owen leaned over so his lips were at her ear, “Cool, calm, and collected.” That was enough for Claire’s tears to spill over. Those were the words Owen always spoke before Claire stepped in front of the camera. “You did it.” He added and reached his arm around her shoulder to pull her against him.
Maisie’s eyes met Claire’s first and she gave a hard nod of approval. When her gaze met Owen’s he threw her a thumbs up and she smiled in return.
“Good evening, Parents, Friends, Family, Teachers, Faculty, and Students. My name is Maisie Dearing-Grady, class valedictorian. It’s an honor to stand up here and represent this wonderful group of students.” She gestured out towards her classmates. “Many of you I have known since Elementary school and others have joined the journey later on, but we all made it here together.
Looking back at my years getting to know many of you, you’ve learned of my origins and still saw me as,” she chuckled, “well, still me.
There are many people I need to thank for helping me get to where I am today. My friends who never left my side through anything I faced, my teachers for being my guiding light and helping to show me the way. All my friends at the DPG who quickly became my family. But there are two people who, from the moment I met them, guided and protected me in ways that not many could understand.”
Maisie met Claire’s eyes before continuing.
“My Mother, a woman I’ve dreamt of my entire life, I learned, technically didn’t exist to everyone I knew. But she stayed alive in my mind. There were many nights I laid awake, wondering how much I looked like her, what features we shared. In a single moment those fantasies I held onto so tightly, were ripped from my grasp.
A woman, then a complete stranger, held me as I learned I’m different. My dreams of one day when I’m old and gray, crossing over to the other side and finally able to meet my mother, were shattered. This woman who seemed to know just how to comfort me, held me night after night as I cried over a life that never existed. A stranger who took me in when she didn’t need to. She promised me a future where I belonged. A life worth living. She taught me that mothers aren’t defined by giving birth to a child, but the unconditional love and adoration one woman has for a child. A woman driven by her career, who put her entire life on the line to protect me. Claire Dearing became the mother I always dreamed of and so much more. I can honestly say without the woman I met nine years ago, I wouldn’t be standing here today. My mom has taught me how to be strong, independent, and above all to be tenacious. That being said,” Maisie snickered as she made eye contact with Owen, “is a characteristic my father often wishes I didn’t inherit. Especially when it’s us against him.”
Maisie glanced back over to Claire who tried her best to smile through her tears. “Thank you, Mom, for stepping up and being the woman I’ve always dreamed of.”
Owen wrapped his arm around Claire’s shoulder and she sunk into his side, letting out the sob she was holding back. She mouthed “I love you,” to Maisie and she responded with a wink and peeled her gaze from her mother to her father.
“Dad,” she took a deep breath. The tears she was doing so well at holding back, choked her when she saw his own eyes red and wet. “Every little girl dreams of a dad to protect them. The man that chases all the monsters away. I can honestly say I’ve got the real deal. As a stranger he fought on the frontline for me. Protected me from the most darkest of monsters to walk the face of the earth. He taught me how to be tough. He showed me how to find the courage I need to face the world. Many times he’s had to catch me when I fell, many times he helped me stand tall and face my fears. There’s no way I couldn’t do any of it without his guidance. Thank you, Dad, for being my hero.” Maisie took a deep breath to calm her nerves as Owen have a tight nod.
“Now as I look out at every graduate today, we are ready to step out into the world. No longer bound by the safety nets and warnings from our parents, that we may not be making the right choices. This is the time we take all they’ve taught us and bind it with the guidance of our teachers. Together as the class of 2028, we will step fearlessly into the next phase of our lives. The future is ours! Let’s make the best of it.”
The entire auditorium erupted in cheers and Maisie took a moment to take it all in. She reveled in just how far she has become. Her life up until the disaster at her grandfather’s estate was a good one. She had love and comfort. She had a life where she was happy, but there was so much wondering, dreaming of what could have been. Then her life with Owen and Claire was also filled with love and comfort, but there was a feeling of contentment she never felt before. She no longer found herself dreaming of what could be, but lived for what is. She became the woman she was today because of Claire and Owen. She was finally living her dream.
She sat back down surrounded by her peers and waited patiently for the Principal to call her name, announcing her as a graduate. “Maisie Dearing-Grady.” She walked across the stage, smiling at her parents jumping to their feet. Her father’s ear piercing whistle filled the auditorium and it was music to her ears.
Once every student received their diploma, Maisie was asked to lead the class in the change of their tassels. She stood and confidently strode up to the podium once more.
With one last look at her parents, she turned to her classmates and raised her arms, palms facing up. A sea of navy blue gowns and caps moved together, standing as they looked at their valedictorian for the words that would set them free. She gripped her tassel and the rest of her class followed as she shifted it to the other side of her cap. “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the class of 2028.”
A roar of whistles and howls echoed through the auditorium as caps flew into the air. Maisie watched her own soar above her head. A whirlwind of her hopes and dreams flowing through the air. Every dream, every goal may have seemed so far away, but as her cap came falling back down into her outstretched arms, she smiled. Without her parents, she would have never found the courage to reach out and grab them.
The sea of blue spread out as families and graduates filed out of the auditorium to meet out in the courtyard for pictures and congratulatory hugs and kisses. Maisie walked blindly through the congested courtyard in search for the two people she needed the most.
“Maisie!” The voices came from her right, but they were not the ones she was listening for. She glanced quickly in the direction her name was being called and smiled. Bracing herself for the arms that held her tight. “You nailed that speech!” Kate, Maisie’s longest and closest friend gushed.
Maisie soon found herself sandwiched by two more friends, also congratulating her over her speech. Maisie was only half listening to the three as they made plans to meet up at a party most of the kids was attending later on. Her main focus was on trying to find her parents. Finally spotting Zack’s head over the crowd, she stepped away from her friends.
“Hey, Mais, you coming later?” Samantha wondered.
Maisie waved her hand absentmindedly behind her and shook her head. “No, I have plans with my family.” Without looking back she jogged over to where she saw her cousin.
“There she is!” Karen gushed over her niece, but Maisie had her focus set. She picked up her pace and Owen braced himself for impact.
“You did it, Kiddo.” Owen said, closing his eyes and trying his best to make this moment last. This may very well be the last time his girl came bounding into his arms.
“Did you like my speech?” Maisie asked when he placed her feet back on the ground.
“Yes, it was perfect.”
“What happened to the one we worked on for hours?” Claire wondered, pulling Maisie’s focus.
Maisie flung her arms around Claire’s shoulders and she held her daughter tight. “I realized I already knew what I wanted my speech to be about after you pulled that all-nighter with me and still worked the next day. Don’t get me wrong, I like the speech we wrote, but I wanted to find a way to thank you and I needed the world to know.”
Claire pulled Maisie in for another hug and huffed, “Ok, no more making me cry today. You’ve reached your limit.”
Maisie giggled, “Sorry, Mom.”
The family posed for pictures as the crowd around them began to thin out. Friends waved at Maisie as they walked by, some asking if they would be seeing her later.
“What’s going on later?” Owen wondered as he stood beside Maisie with Claire on the other side in the traditional graduation pose.
“Everyone is going to a party.” Maisie answered as she smiled so her aunt could take the picture.
“You?” Owen simply asked.
Maisie shook her head, “No. I was actually thinking we could go out to the cabin this weekend.”
Owen draped him arm across Maisie’s shoulder and pulled her into his side, “Yeah, Kiddo, we can do that.”