#1 – The Big Announcement

January 12th, 2011

The ample garden at Red Terrace was crawling with Waterford kin and kith.  It was a veritable who’s who of Massachusetts society.  The core of the Waterford family descended the stairs from the outdoor dais to the sounds of ebbing applause.  Hidden in the benign hum and murmur of the mingling that began as the applause waned was political wheeling and dealing, business wrangling and more than a little rivalrous chatter and gossip.

Lawrence Waterford, father of the soon-to-be bride, spared no expense when throwing a party about which he cared not at all, this was no such gathering; this was a gala of the first order: one of his daughters was getting married.  For an event such as this only all-out renovation would suffice.

Weeks had been spent sculpting the Waterford’s already legendary Red Terrace garden into a masterpiece of nuptial commencement.  The scent of gardenia was unmistakable on the air; a massive cherry tree, its pink blossoms perfect in spite of the off season, seemed ancient in spite of the fact it had been there less than a week.  The once horseshoe-shaped pond was transformed into a heart with a walking bridge connecting the ends of a stone path in the shape of cupid’s arrow.

“Would you look at the size of that rock?” said one of the aunts as soon as she drew near enough to be heard.

“Simply gorgeous,” replied another as she tilted her grotesque hat out of the light.

The rock in question was a gem of extreme splendour and obscene size clasped in an exquisite, delicate gold ring adorning the fourth finger of their niece’s left hand.  The two stood shoulder to shoulder, twisting the young girls hand back and forth to cause the light to dance across the glinting stone.  Together they peered into the depths of the gem looking for what no one knows.

Tish was the youngest daughter of premier land developer Lawrence Waterford.  She had just made the official announcement that her long-time boyfriend Marcus had proposed in a way fit for a Brothers Grimm princess.  Leaning back heavily in her chair, and speaking entirely to herself, Tish’s older sister, Kerstin, smirked and said, “Poor bastard.”

Her quiet commentary, however, wasn’t quite quiet enough.  The aunts turned their sad sights on the girl.  One of them mused in her auntly way, “oh dear, don’t worry, there’s a man out there for you…  somewhere…  surely.”  Kerstin rolled her eyes.

Lynda, Kerstin’s step-mother, tilted her head sideways, as she did frequently when attempting to appeal to her step-daughter, and asked, “Why can’t you just be happy for your sister?”  Although it had all the markers of being a question, it wasn’t; not at all.  It was a statement: it was a thinly veiled “shut up”.

“Oh, I am happy for her,” Kerstin replied dryly.

She disliked the pageantry of which her family was so fond and for which they were so famous.  Tish and Marcus’ pairing had been a foregone conclusion for years; the idea that a grand announcement party was necessary seemed absurd.  “It’s about expectations,” she’d be told by one of the housemaids.  Kerstin scoffed at the notion.

Marcus was a good man, that’s what her grandmother had told her.  He was a good man worthy of a Waterford marriage; whatever that meant.  He was a handsome man, Kerstin allowed herself to admit, and a smart one.  Too smart for her sister, the cynical side of her couldn’t help be add.

The marriage would endear her younger sister to the family money that much was certain.  Kerstin could almost see the dollar signs floating in Tish’s eyes.

Kerstin wished that she was still in Grand City; if she hadn’t been so prone to her grandmother’s guilt she probably would still be there.  When her mother’s parents died in rapid succession her still-living grandmother used that guilt to lure her back to Emerald Heights.  “We’re not getting any younger your grandfather and me,” the grandmother had reminded the young woman.

It had obviously been a moment of weakness that allowed her to be swayed by the old woman’s pleas.  In Grand City she had been Kerstin Waterford, college student and would-be author.  Daughter of Lawrence Waterford, yes, but the hundreds of miles of distance seemed to mute the impact of that connection – especially given that anyone who cared was not anyone she associated with further.

“You’ve picked a lovely date,” someone said to Tish.  Kerstin cringed; she couldn’t place the voice.

“Yes, thank you,” Tish replied.  “The day just spoke to us.”  She glanced briefly at her sister.

Kerstin WaterfordKerstin’s jaw slackened and she fought back the myriad things that surged through her mind.  Spoke to her, indeed, she thought; it’s my birthday.  She hadn’t been surprised when the date was announced; it was exactly her sister’s style.  It was a strange reaction and she knew it.  For the most part she would be happy to be forgotten by her family, but the idea that her sister was attempting to steal her significance was another matter entirely.

She’d had enough.  She stood, excused herself with all the elegance that she’d been taught and headed into Red Terrace.  From the high balcony of its third floor sitting room, Kerstin had a view of the entirety of Emerald Heights from her position at the western edge of town, straight across to city to the ocean.

Her family was the oldest in Emerald Heights and its influence was hard to miss.  Streets were named after ancestors – she herself grew up Ajax Lane named for her great-grandfather.  Waterford Holdings, the family business, had been started by Ajax before the turn of the century, when Emerald Heights was nothing more than a well located shipping harbour and rail depot in middle Massachusetts.  The depression of the 1930s saw the shipping industry dwindle but Ajax Waterford’s fortune was recession proof and he scooped up as much land as he could manage.

Ajax and then later Kirk – Kerstin’s grandfather – had redeveloped and revitalized Emerald Heights into its present incarnation.  Grandfather Waterford had retired last year and handed the reins to Kerstin’s father, Lawrence.  The company was eventually intended to end up in Kerstin’s hands; a fate which she hoped to avoid at all costs.

Kerstin was interrupted from her musings by voice from behind her, “Miss Kerstin,” the voice beckoned in the manner that Waterford help customarily referred to the family, “your grandmother would like to remind you that the family is gathering in the dining room,” she paused, looking pitifully as she met Kerstin’s eyes, “I’m sorry, K.”

“It’s alright, Esther,” Kerstin replied, “It’s my fault for being born a Waterford.”

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