Chapter 1 (still a rough draft)
“Look Sarah! Look! There it is! We’re here! I can’t believe we’re actually here!” Laura all but screamed in excitement at her friend and co-worker Sarah Mavis. Her shouts of glee caused Sarah to quickly cover her own ears so they didn’t start to bleed out from the sound.
“Yes, thank you for that unnecessary announcement Laura. It’s much appreciated.” Sarah drawled sarcastically, as she glared over at Laura with a look that matched her tone. “Without you shouting in my face, I would never have been able to see the enormous mansion looming just outside the window,” she finalized with the expression of annoyance still plastered on her face.
“Geez, someone’s in a rough mood tonight,” Laura snapped back in the hopes of putting Sarah’s sarcasm in check.
“Sorry Laura. I’m just not as excited as you are about this,” Sarah replied matter-of-factly, but her calm and collected façade would not be enough to fool her friend.
Laura may, at times, have a more carefree approach to life, but that never kept her from noticing her friend’s more anxious mannerisms. She could tell that as each day drew closer to the party at the infamous Aldrich Mansion, Sarah’s attitude became more and more tense. Something about this event was bothering Sarah, but Laura was cautious not to pry too much. Pushing the subject would only cause her friend to withdraw even farther away than she already had.
So Laura put on a fake smirk and said, “That’s okay. I’m usually more enthusiastic than you about everything always, because you’re a stick. A big stick in the mud.”
“Hey now, that is not “always” true!” Sarah retorted and threw up her hands to make the quotation marks signal when she outwardly spoke “always”. Purely for emphasis of course, and not at all because she was being over dramatic. Laura rolled her eyes at this and turned her view back to the mansion that continued to grow in size as the limousine approached the outside gates, awaiting entry.
Sarah noted the end in banter, and followed her friend’s gaze towards the elaborate mansion they would soon be getting out to meet. She dropped her hands back into her lap and began nervously fidgeting her fingers, all the while wondering how they managed this.
The so called mansion that they had finally arrived at, was the once highly publicized Aldrich Mansion. It had been renowned for its sophisticated parties provided by the wealthy owner and benefactor Drake Aldrich. Of course this had been several decades ago, and well before either woman’s time. In spite of that fact, any good journalist in the tri-state area worth their salt, would know of its rich history full of tragic and juicy scandals.
Several years ago the owner, who had once been extremely active in the community, all but vanished from the public eye. This resulted in him becoming one of the world’s most famous of recluses. No one, not even the most auspicious of journalists, was ever able to get close enough to the story to find out why he decided to shut everyone out. Regardless, his avoidance to the spotlight was unable to stop the rumors from circulating.
There were those who speculated that Mr. Aldrich and his wife had had a child that passed on, causing him to become cold and distant. Others further assumed that he himself had become ill, and so withdrew. However, the most convincing rumor to date was that of his wife.
Numerous accounts were reported of her acting rather strangely, almost delirious, in public. Thus it was surmised that he was forced to lock her away in the Mansion to maintain privacy, keeping her away from any prying eyes that could damage their family name.
That was part of the reason why Sarah and Laura were here now. Now in the present day, when the heir to the Aldrich name, the legitimate son of Drake and Grace dispelling the rumors of a deceased child, had reopened the Mansion to the public. Invitations had been sent out to the best of the best in news and media influence, as well as several choice celebrities, politicians, and charitable organizations. Mr. Aldrich Jr was pulling no punches to make this evening one of the biggest events of the year. Possibly even the biggest of the decade.
Sarah couldn’t believe their luck that they, two relative newcomers to the media scene, had somehow managed an invitation. She knew they were good journalists who worked well together, but they weren’t awe-inspiring. Which is why she did not feel the same excitement as her friend Laura.
“Hey Sarah, are you coming out or what!?” Laura prodded in aggravation, breaking Sarah out of her reverie.
Sarah had distractedly missed the fact that the limousine had long since passed through the gates up the long stretch of driveway, which lead to the large round-a-bout circling around to the arrival point at the main entrance of the Mansion. Sarah was certain that Laura had all but teleported from her seat to the stairway, most likely before the vehicle had even stopped moving. Now she was glaring back through the open door of the limo, giving Sarah a look of murderous intent for not exiting in a timely fashion. This was her cue to remove herself from the vehicle, and hopefully not die in the process.
Tonight Sarah was inconveniently donned in silver sling-back pumps, and a long flowing emerald green halter dress that were conveniently provided by her cohort. Laura was always prepared for upscale events with an arsenal of clothing at her disposal. If ever there was a friend one could count on for a killer costume, it was her.
While she was thankful for the gorgeous ensemble that was perfect for an elegant occasion such as this, Sarah was not particularly gifted with moving in the attire. Especially now when it required her to hunch over and step out of a vehicle’s low door.
Knowing it was inevitable, she mustered up as much courage and grace that existed within, bunched up the hem of the dress in her fists, swung her feet out the side door, and slowly lifted herself into a suitable standing position. By the time she was completely out of the limo, Laura had come to her aid, fully aware of her friends clumsy disposition. She was holding out her arm for Sarah to lean on in case she plummeted to her death. Which was highly possible at this point.
“Seriously Sarah, how is it you’ve survived for this long on your own two feet?” Laura chided while she held fast to her friend’s arm.
As soon as Sarah was in a full upright position, they quickly cleared away from the vehicle just in time for it to move forward so another limo could take its place.
It was in this moment that Sarah began to grasp the reality of the situation. The round-a-bout had a myriad of limos and sporty cars entering the courtyard at a snail’s pace. All around them there were lights flashing as paparazzi scrambled to take photo after photo of those lucky enough to be invited to the soiree. People were shouting “Who are you wearing!?” to random celebrities as they passed by, some of whom Sarah remembered as being childhood crushes.
They were here. Sarah and Laura both had arrived to this madness, and with that thought a rush of emotions overwhelmed her, resulting in a mini panic attack. It was such a blessing that Laura was still gripping her arm, even if she was only doing it for her own moral support.
Both women were extremely similar in their emotional range. It was how they released that energy that truly revealed their differences. Laura was the more extroverted of the two, which could be exhausting at times for Sarah. However, that didn’t affect how grateful Sarah was to have her by her side, especially in their current state of chaos.
“This is insane,” Laura was staring out at the busy view, the look of awe illuminated by the lights of cars and cameras. “I never thought I’d get to witness something as nuts as this.”
Then the star struck women were instructed to avert their gaze and make their way up the stairs as security came out to assist guests into the Mansion. Once they made their way to the giant windowed double doors, they pushed in to verify their names on the list. Laura was first to give hers prompting the assistant to nod. “Yes, I have you here Laura Gadel,” and he proceeded to check off her name.
After her friend was all set, Sarah stepped up to give hers. The assistant looked up from the book assessed who she was and smiled at her. Before she even had a chance to speak, he blurted out, “Ah, Sarah Mavis correct?” She bobbed her head in quizzical agreement. “Alright you are all set then, enjoy the party.”
“Umm… thank you, sir,” she awkwardly replied, confused at the odd behavior. Her mind wandered with questions as to why this attendant acted as if he was all too familiar with who she was. Did he read her work? Sarah wanted to comment to Laura about the strange reaction she received, but Laura proved to be unaware, too busy being dumbfounded.
Laura’s mouth was agape in awe, and she smoothly transitioned back to rambling in her excitement. “I mean I had always hoped and dreamed to see what fame and fortune was like. Everybody does,” she scoffed. “But actually being here!? Oh man. Sarah can we just bask in this all night?” She was pleading with her co-worker now. “Do we really have to low-key work? Can’t we just enjoy pretending to be filthy rich and just get plastered, eating all of the hors d’oeuvres?”
While Sarah was cognizant of Laura’s word vomit, she couldn’t shake the weird way the assistant seemed to know her name and how he acted pleased at her arrival. He didn’t even seem to check for her name on the list, yet he allowed her in without further clarification. She knew she was reading too much into it, but it was difficult not to. Shaking off the thoughts, Sarah decided to keep her head in the game especially when her co-worker was losing hers. Snapping into mother mode, it was Sarah’s time to shine and reign her friend in.
“Laura. Laura, Laura, Laura,” she repeated her name for emphasis as she removed her arm from Laura’s grasp to place her hands on Laura’s shoulders. This drew her friend’s attention away from the commotion surrounding them, making her painfully aware of the reality check that she was about to endure. Laura rolled her eyes like a child about to be scolded by their parents.
“You know why we’re here Laura.”
“Yes, I know why we’re here,” she huffed. Irritated at how responsible Sarah could be at times.
“Really? Cause you keep giving me that attitude young lady, and I don’t quite appreciate it,” Sarah smirked at her colleague, half joking with her, while still laying down the law. They did have a job to do here, and were tasked with getting as much information as they could on this mysterious heir. As was every other reporter/journalist that was invited tonight. Essentially their job was their main access to even being here.
Laura smiled at this and let out a short chuckle at Sarah’s words. “I know, I know. It was just wishful thinking. I wouldn’t mind if we had had the time to let our hair down in a place like this though, or really just do that in general. Seriously how long has it been since we’ve gone out for a night on the town? Like a really fun girl’s night?”
Sarah had to stop and really process this one. Lately it had been a difficult feat to strive for due to the stress of planning and preparing for this night. Any chance of a social life these past few months were neglected. Not that she really had much of one to begin with. However, since meeting Laura a few years back when she first was hired at a NY Bureau of their local News organization, her social status significantly increased, but only ever if Laura was involved.
Though it had been a while since the pair had had a girl’s night, she gathered that Laura was going out quite often with others. Her extroverted nature aided Laura with an endless supply of peeps to hit up. “It’s definitely been a minute since we’ve had fun together. But it’s not like you need me to do that. Although I really will need a bomb karaoke session or dance party after this snob fest,” Sarah concluded.
“Oh same girl same,” Laura nodded back in agreement. “And I know I go out a lot, but it’s not the same without you.” She playfully but gently nudged into Sarah’s arm so as not to tip her friend over. Sarah was obviously going to struggle in her heels all night.
“I mean, I still have a blast and occasionally wake up with a decently annoying hangover, and some fuzzy yet fond memories… but for real you’re one of my favorite people. Plus there’s the added bonus of getting to bitch about work while drinking.” They both laughed at that, which helped to calm Sarah’s nerves to a point.
“Thank you Laura,” Sarah beamed at her. “You’re one of my most favorite people too. We will for sure have an amazing all out banger of a night soon. Promise. Like tomorrow night soon.” She patted her friend on the shoulder reassuringly. “I just ask that tonight we stay almost entirely sober, so we can remain vigilant on any News news. No ‘he said she said’ gossip nonsense. We need to get our detective game faces on tonight. At some point we need to question some of the assistants floating about. That would be a good place to start,” she thought back on the young man who checked their names off when they entered. Well, one of their names, she mused.
“Roger that ma’am,” Laura commented as she grazed her eyes over the room’s inhabitants.
They had only arrived at the Mansion a mere ten minutes ago, and yet countless others were still piling in. The event invitations gave instructions for guests to appear at 7pm and the host’s greeting would be at 7:30pm. Sarah thought it was almost like going to a concert. Arriving early for the gates to open, then watching stragglers trickle in eagerly awaiting the show to begin. This was ample time given to mingle before the heir graced them with his presence. After that, Sarah hoped that the majority of guests would be drinking enough champagne to become loose lips.
Thinking about champagne encouraged the pair to search for the nearest waiter serving it, and once they found one they both claimed a flute of champagne to nurse on for the remainder of the night. It would garner for them the ability to conversate and fangirl over the famous people that the women made a game of spotting in the crowd. With the amount of elegance surrounding them, it was quite clear that this would be a night to remember.
Sarah surmised how she was exceedingly grateful that they were first and foremost here for work. If it had been a night for leisure, Lord knows the embarrassing things that could have occurred with Laura being her party buddy. There were decent amounts of big wigs, and even more paparazzi to not avoid experiencing a whole debacle documented for all eternity. She shuddered at the thought.
It was precisely for this reason that she knew everyone here would be on their best behavior. Unless, of course, their best behavior was still God awful. In glancing around the massive entrance hall, she could sight a few from the invited with those exact tendencies. Speaking of massive entrance halls, Sarah gasped in awe at the sight before her. Good lord, she thought to herself, this place was massive. Even thinking that felt like an understatement at how insanely high up the roof went. The rafters stopped short of being a full cathedral ceiling.
Laura was currently wrapped up in an intense conversation, mostly taking place on her side, with one of her most absolute favorite of musical artists, leaving Sarah free to fully absorb their surroundings. It’s widely known that everything else becomes so much more fascinating when you’re friend is gushing over the person they’re talking to, and you really just can’t relate.
So she preoccupied herself with observing, and there was a lot to visualize in this entrance. People kept swarming in in droves, and yet the amount of space in the hall didn’t appear to lessen in size. At no point in time could Sarah ever recall setting foot in a house of this magnitude.
The hall contained the typical Mansion’s double sided stairwell, with the curved staircases meeting at the top. Most of the décor and architectural design was a beautiful blend, an elegant marriage between the old and the new. A modern antique aesthetic.
Amongst the various standard Mansion accessories, Sarah noted a giant glass chandelier that had the potential to kill several people in this room if it were to unexpectedly come shattering down. That was one of Sarah’s bad habits, awful and morbid thoughts frequented her mind on a daily basis. She took another sip to brush that dark cloud of thought away.
Even though there was an obscene amount of tasteful décor to behold, the most breath-taking and obscure item in the whole of the hall was the life sized painting of a young man, possibly in his early 30s, looking down on everyone from above the staircase. Interestingly enough the frame of the painting was not itself particularly ornate, but the painting, Sarah marveled.
The main attraction of the painting held a familiar appeal. This was mostly due to the fact that it was a portrait of the apparent late Drake Aldrich, original owner of the Mansion, whom she assumed all of the guests had seen images of previously. Especially since news of this party had been bursting forth all over the media for the past few months. Drake’s face plastered headlines on a consistent basis, with no matter on the notion that he had long since passed away.
Regardless of his tragic passing, the image of him in this portrait was so… natural, so effortless. It snatched Sarah’s breath away on numerous reasons, one of which was that he was rather handsome in a more masculine, less supermodel-esque way.
He seemed tall, dark brown hair with a hint of black, equipped with a killer smirk and gleaming green eyes, and yet the portrait was simple. An average view of a man wearing normal or casual attire, and he was smiling with the entirety of his face. Put plainly, the portrait was humble in its execution, and it was not the kind that one might imagine a wealthy person to own.
Sarah began to wonder what it was like being there, in the moment that the painting was brushed into existence. The idea of it only made her curious as to what or who could make a man smile like that.
He had had a wife. What little she was able to glean from their marriage, Sarah discovered that much of it was joyful and this smile proved it. The painting was so endearing in believing the contents held a deep love, the kind that Sarah often feared she might never experience. The only way she ever did now was by reading about it, or even writing it out herself.
What was she like? Sarah wondered, and more importantly, where were all of the paintings or images of her? The lack of memorabilia expanded her curiosity.
Sarah was here for that information. While their Bureau had given them a priority to find out what had occurred while Drake Jr’s father went through his reclusive phase, Sarah’s curiosity was on other matters. This determined journalist was dead set on the idea that some tragic incident had manifested in regards to his wife, and by the lack of picture evidence of her, Sarah’s suspicions continued to increase. It was all rather odd.
Most accounts of Drake Sr detailed him being madly in love with his wife. Her name was Grace, and she had shown to be not too keen on being in the spotlight as often as her husband was. After a while, talk of her died out. The subject became a hot button issue for journalists to discuss, and Sarah was determined to discover why. If she could manage to break free at some point tonight, then it would be her side mission to uncover information on Grace.
Of course, Sarah would not inform Laura of this hair brained scheme. If Laura knew, she’d only tell Sarah to drop it and try to have even the smallest ounce of fun tonight.
While Sarah dwelled in her thoughts, a newcomer joined in her friend’s conversation. He had managed to sneak into the two lady’s discussion, one that Sarah would have continued to ignore if he had not started to ask the more pertinent questions. However, he did, and her attention shifted to this newbie, although she tried to show no clear signs of her newfound interest.
“So, what are your thoughts on this evening? Why do you think this random heir showed up out of the blue to throw this big bash, backed with a ton of media coverage?” Sarah stole a quick glimpse at the owner of these questions, and duly noted that he was not the celebrity type. He wasn’t recognizable, but he had the air of a lurking reporter fishing for answers right out the gate.
Sarah concluded in her mind that he was most likely in the same situation as them. He was desperate for a good story and was in a mad dash to gather as much ammo as he could to start. It wasn’t entirely a horrible plan, but Sarah knew better. Any good story could be created in a jiffy, but great stories, those required lots of time and care. Not to mention a decent amount of research both in the field, and on the side lines searching through piles of historical documents and stories.
On further scrutiny of this new reporter, she could tell he was about mid-twenties, no younger than Sarah and Laura, that much she knew. He had no notable features, besides his dirty blonde hair and honey brown eyes. Another average up and coming eager reporter. One who was patiently waiting for an answer, which Sarah observed Laura winding up for the pitch. Right up until her new musician friend blurted it out in her stead.
“You know, I was wondering the same thing! Does anyone here really know? When I received the invitation I was initially confused since I’m not from this area, and I wasn’t too familiar with the name. Then it was all over the news about Drake Aldrich Jr and the mysterious filthy rich family,” she paused to take a sip of champagne. “I just assumed it was a weird ‘Batman/Bruce Wayne’ thing, and he’s just asserting how wealthy he is.”
Laura had kept her mouth shut through this and nodded during the whole spiel. In fact the entire group agreed on the points she assessed. The invitations had appeared out of left field, and there was no apparent rhyme or reason for the odd timing.
“I totally agree,” Laura commented, inputting her two cents. “It all feels very ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, like we received golden tickets to enter the estate. Except without the picking us off one by one until there’s one of us left to take over.”
The musician and reporter chuckled at that analogy, until Sarah piped in. “How do you know that’s not his intention?” It was a simple question coming from her, that managed to silence the group with palpable terror. Their reactions resulted in a quiet smirk from Sarah as she delicately sipped on her champagne. She really knew how to ruin a good time, one of her many shining qualities.
Brushing off her remark, they continued to guess and conspire as to what this party’s true intentions were, until the musician’s agent called her away to meet with other important figures in order to solidify her top star status. She exchanged cordial goodbyes with the remains of the group, and even told Laura that they should meet up again soon. That of course made Laura’s entire life. And then there were three.
“Okay, my favorite pop star wants to be my best friend. I think I can go home now. This night can’t get any better,” Laura shined with pride.
“Yes, you two will be the best of friends. Maybe she’ll even buy you a super expensive best friends forever heart pendant made of gold and encrusted with diamonds,” Sarah encouraged the fantasy.
“Oh my gosh, do you really think so!?” Laura dove head first into her delusion, which was a game the girls often indulged in purely for entertainment purposes. Life was too boring otherwise.
Sarah rolled her eyes at her friend and let out a hearty laugh. “Yes Laura. I totally think it’ll happen.” The sarcasm was strong with Sarah.
“Good cause it will happen,” Laura stood firm in this belief with a half-smile, indicating a silly tone as she nudged Sarah in her side. Laura had a concerning habit of nudging Sarah, which Sarah had an idea she’d need to do an intervention on soon.
Laura’s face changed to a quizzical expression as she looked around the two of them noting the third party member was now absent. “Hey where’d random cute reporter guy go?”
“You thought he was cute?”
“Yeah, couldn’t you tell? Wait… you didn’t think he was?” Laura snapped back in exasperation.
“Sorry no. I wasn’t really paying mind to all of that. I was more curious to see if your ‘bestie’ had any decent insight to this whole charade. She didn’t obviously. I’m still a little disappointed about that,” which was true. Sarah was bothered by the lack of information, but that was to be expected at the start. The night was still young, and the guests were buzzing with a familiar mixture of gossip and excitement, as the host had yet to make his grand appearance.
“Hey now, that’s not her fault. She didn’t even know of his existence until the invite. Besides, you can’t win them all. I’m sure we’ll find better intel as the party commences. There’s got to be people here that know of what’s going on.”
“True,” Sarah half-heartedly agreed right as the music died out and the guest’s conversations hushed in response. She darted her eyes around the crowd, searching for what was causing the sudden change in the atmosphere, when a commanding yet soothing voice began to speak over them. Now was the moment each guest had waited for, the heir apparent to reveal himself.