Being Inspired, maybe - 71

A picture paints ... well, as many words as you like.  For instance:

And, then, the words:

200 acres of manicured gardens was an understatement.  I could see only a small part of them from the front gate, as my car drew level with the front entrance.

Ahead of me, and every other visitor was the driveway, and either side a continuous row of multicoloured roses.

Invitations were being collected and participants directed to the specially allotted car parking spaces in a tree-lined area not far from the main house, or should I say mansion 

It was so large it was visible from about two miles away, the most visible parts the two towers at the end of the East and West wings, where I was told there were spectacular views of the ocean one way and the hills the other.

Heidi was there at the front gate, waiting, and got in the car after I handed over my invitation.  Another oddity, she seemed well acquainted with the staff, and, if I was not mistaken, seemed to hold some authority over them.  It was a passing thought.  If she knew the daughter, that would probably put her a rung or two above the servants 

"Family business sorted?" I asked casually.

"In a manner of speaking."  There was an edge to her tone that suggested further discussion was not expected or wanted.

"I missed you this morning, by the way," I added.

It elicited a smile but nothing more.

I followed the cars ahead of me, and then the directions of what was obviously one of the gardening staff into a parking space.

I had to marvel at the array of expensive cars in the lot, but the invitation list as I understood it, was a who's who list.  I was expecting to meet a movie star today, even a presidential hopeful.  These affairs were always a good platform to press the flesh, and it was no secret Worthington was anti the current incumbent.

And it was quite contrary to my father's allegiances.  I didn't delve into or discuss politics.  Health and weather for me were less contentious subjects that tended to avoid robust discussions.

A squeeze of my hand, before we got out of the car conveyed more than words.  Something was bothering her, but I got the impression she would tell me when she was ready.

The other guests were heading slowly towards the main house where I could meet see a number of marquees set up, home to where I was guessing refreshments were being served.

I waited till she joined me, then, as a surprise, she took my hand in hers.  This was the first time, previously we had just ambled along together just happy to be together with no stress or expectation.
I was beginning to think last night was a watershed moment in the relationship.  Had it cemented a level of trust, or set the tone for what was to come?  I think, by the time we reached the first marquee and handed a glass of champagne, I'd decided to go with the flow.

Overthinking the situation could only end in disaster, and my only fault, or at least one if the few, was that I tended to overthink everything.

I didn't see anyone I knew, not personally, that is, I'd seen just about everyone's face in a newspaper, magazine or on television.  Up close, they didn't seem as formidable, and, in fact, some seemed quite personable.

Heidi seemed more at ease with the participants, and, judging by their reaction when she greeted them, in a manner that said it was more than just a passing acquaintance.  I'd met some of them before, usually in the company of my parents, and in less formal circumstances, but not with the same ease, mainly because I was not the social butterfly.  That I left to my brother and sister.

Then, as we approached Worthington himself, and the relatively new wife, Valerie, I saw the momentary flicker on Valerie's face when she saw Heidi, one that was in stark contrast to that of Worthington himself. 

At that moment, I came to a stark conclusion.

Heidi didn't know the daughter, she was the daughter, the one who'd gone missing after the acrimonious divorce, reinvented herself as my Heidi, and had chosen this day and this event to return to the family manor.

An effusive greeting for her father, who called her Hermione, and was rebuked with an "I'm Heidi now, dad", a tense standoff with her stepmother who didn't call her anything, and a cool reception from the two stepsisters who clearly thought she was raining on their parade.  It was not surprising that the Cinderella story leapt into my mind at that very moment.

But, by then, after multiple shocks and surprises, I had the bear-sized hand if Worthington to shake as Hermione/Heidi introduced me as a 'special' friend, leaving me uncertain as to what that meant or entailed.  Perhaps she was testing the water with her father's approval register.

"Henry Taylor, I believe," Worthington said as he grabbed my hand and ferociously shook it to the point where I could feel numbness setting in. "I've heard good things about you."

"Mr Worthington."  I decided not to ask what those good things were, because in my own estimation, all I'd done of late was be disappointing.

When he gave my hand back, I faced Valerie who had simply proffered her hand, both limp and damp, "Mrs Worthington."

It elicited a reply, in a voice that spoke of five packets of cigarettes a day, "so you are the secret she has been keeping from us," and make it sound like Heidi had dragged along a dead cat for company.
I could see how the reports of her were correct and it wasn't hard to feel an instant dislike towards her.  And I could feel that same hostility in Heidi who all but snubbed her.   Heidi was not her daughter, so I suspect that meant there would be no love lost between the two.

Thankfully the stepsisters, teenage versions of their pretentious mother, left the moment after greeting Heidi.  They hated her as much as Heidi didn't like them.

"I wouldn't call it a secret," I said, "but to be honest, until now I hadn't realised who she really was."

"And that now makes a difference?"

No mistaking the hostility in her tone, no doubt considering I'd known all along she was a very wealthy heiress, and I was a lowly gold digger seeking to improve my fortunes.  Disconcerting maybe, but not ask unnatural reaction on her part.

"I didn't tell him for the very reason you're alluding to Valerie, so you might want to keep those thoughts to yourself."  It was interesting Heidi called her Valerie, but, then she was only a few years older the Heidi.

Yes, the war was about to break out, the uneasy peace between them was very fragile.  A few heads turned, and Worthington noticed.  He was not about to have the event's importance overshadowed by a family squabble.  "This is not the time or the place."

"Later, then," Heidi said, and after smiling sweetly at her stepmother, grabbed my hand again and we left, heading straight for the champagne tent.

No words were spoken until she had downed two glasses of champagne.  "That didn't quite go as expected," She said quietly, and I think it had a lot to do with her agitated state earlier.
It was an understatement if anything.  

Then she added, having regained some of her composure, "I'm guessing you're annoyed with me."  A plaintiff look, one that told me she had been hoping that awkward moment of meeting the family was more celebratory than comparative.

I shrugged.  "I can see why you were hesitant about telling me who you were.  And somewhat astonished that I didn't recognise who you, which doesn't say a lot for me, does it?"

"You're one of the nice one's Henry.  That's why I like you so much."

I was still undecided whether I should be thankful or annoyed she didn't tell me, and instead followed her lead and had another glass of champagne.

I'd just seen my parents arrive with my brother Joe and his wife Miranda.  They'd missed the meet and greet, so unless word filtered back, I was hoping to keep it away from them, and particularly my mother, for Heidi's sake.

At least Heidi knew about my parents and who they were, and my disdain for them.  She hadn't met them yet, but that would probably happen before the end of the day.

Not that I was overly worried about my father's reaction if he did discover the truth. He would be indifferent to Worthington because he considered himself his contemporary even though his wealth fell short by quite a few billion dollars, but my mother and Miranda were social climbers who could be embarrassing.

She looked around and then stopped when she saw my father and mother.  

I followed her eyes and groaned.  "You don't want to meet them, believe me.  Especially if they know who you are."

"Very few people do, Henry.  It's why I changed completely from Hermione.  Just say I'm an old school friend."

But I was saved the problem when Worthington had taken to the top of the stairs overlooking the marquee area and called the participants to order for the start of the hunt.  Joe had seen me, and had started walking in my direction, but then got pulled in Worthington’s direction by my father.
He would not be interested in why I was there, more that it would be a perfect opportunity to introduce his son and heir to the movers and shakers, political and legal luminaries, and to rub shoulders with the Worthington’s.  I would like to see how my mother fared in battle with Valerie, but I intended to keep a low profile.

"Saved by my father, ironically," she said, standing close beside me, knowing that my attention had diverted to them.  I could only guess what she thought after my comments, which were not exactly complimentary when I should be doing the right thing and building bridges like my father did at any occasion such as this.

Perhaps I was not so business-minded, at least, not in the same manner he was.

Of course, being saved on one hand didn't mean being saved on another.

"Henry, old son?  I thought that was you.  Punching a bit above your weight I see."
I turned sharply to see Frank Whittle, playboy, a man about town, and utter cad, apparently back home after a few years in Europe.  It was the price he paid for making too many mistakes, and it seemed he hadn't learned anything.

"Frank.  I'm surprised to see you back here."

"Just s minor blip in the greater scheme of things.  I heard there was an heiress in town, and just had to meet her."  He transferred his oily gaze to Heidi, who looked disgusted.  

"And this must be her."

I was not sure what he was intending to do, whether to hold his hand out politely, or more likely to put an arm around her in as s gesture of politeness, but two seconds later he was sprawled on the marquee floor, with three security guards holding him down.

Heidi was shaking her hand, what had been seconds before a fist that connected with his newline and looking very dark indeed.

To Frank, she said, "That's for assaulting my friend and thinking you could get away with it."  Then to the guard that just dragged Frank to his feet, "Show this piece of shit the front gate, and don't ever let him back in."

Over in 30 seconds and no one but me the wiser.

"Remind me not to annoy you," I said, stepping back out of the dishevelled Frank's path.

After shaking the imaginary wrinkles out of her dress, she took another glass of champagne, grabbed my arm, and we started heading towards one of the rotundas.  "I think we need to talk."

I couldn't agree more.  Since I discovered she was an heiress, she had become this whole new other person, one that was going to give a roller coaster a ride for its money.

© Charles Heath 2019


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