Straining in the back seat of the Bentley EXP 9 F, a sad smile hovered on 17 year old Alexandra’s pale face. Her emerald green eyes devoured the scenery as Merlin slowly drove down the long driveway of Silken Oak Wine Estate.
A light breeze stirred the leaves of the huge deciduous oak trees guarding the driveway, dropping hues of autumn leaves onto the paving. The familiar fragrance of crushed leaves drifted through the open passenger window as the car’s tyres rolled forward.
Driving through the estate’s gates, a fierce stab of grief lanced her heart. Hot salty tears filled her eyes, hovered on the edge of her lower lids. She sniffed and dabbed at her eyes with the balled up tissue in her right hand. A sudden gust of air lifted a stray auburn strand of hair as she closed the window.
Grateful for the privacy provided by the partition between herself and Merlin, she did not lower it as usual. Entombed in the sudden silence, a heavy sigh escaped her. She worried at her long ponytail, twisting then untwisting it. Dad made it clear – she was to stay with them until she came of age. “Six months, I can survive six months.” She cajoled herself.
As they drove through Katoomba, she leaned her tired head against the plush headrest. “Your last hour and a bit of freedom has arrived” her mind sinisterly whispered. A concrete block of dread lodged in her stomach.
Mired in her thoughts, Alexandra lost track of time. “Dad won’t protect me. He took me away from Stephanie who birthed me and left me with Grandma when I was three. Now my guardian angel is gone. At least my days will be spent at school, my home away from home. On weekends I can escape to Silken Oak, and carry on with my numerology and astrology studies with Merlin.” Her eyes dropped closed and she sunk into a restless slumber, riddled with disconnected images.
An hour passed as Merlin drove to Sydney. He stopped in front of Stephanie and Jonah’s house.
Startled Alexandra woke up as Merlin opened the car door for her. She unbuckled her seatbelt and got out on shaky legs. Ominous storm clouds hovered in the sky above.
She smoothed her black pants, straightened her spine and walked up the grey concrete paved garden path to the huge glass front door. She pressed the doorbell, its shrill screech grated on her already raw nerves.
Stephanie opened the front door, immaculately attired in a formal dark grey pencil skirt suit, not a hair out of place in her neat black bob. Poised in the door, she ran a critical amber gaze over Alexandra. Behind Stephanie, the vast entrance hall, laid with clinical white tiles stretched into the house.
“I see you still don’t know how to dress properly.”
Alexandra tucked a stray hair that escaped from her ponytail behind her right ear.
“Good morning mother.”
“We are going to have to do something about your hair. I will see what I can arrange with my stylist next week. He is very good and could maybe even do something about that awful red bush of yours. There is no way I can introduce you to our friends when you look as if the cat dragged you in.”
“Mother, I …….”
“Take off those hideous ballet pumps and leave them in that corner with the garden shoes. You can take your luggage to the guest bedroom in the left wing. Then come to my study. Merlin, wait in the car for us.”
Alexandra walked into the guest suite. “Doomed for six months….” Her inner voice tolled.
She stashed her suitcase in the empty cupboard after taking out her vanity bag.
She stared at her face in the tiny bathroom mirror, reciting the Ho’oponopono calming prayer as she brushed her hair.
The internal intercom system crackled and sprung to life in the bedroom.
“Where are you?! We have to leave in half an hour! Come to my study this minute.”
“On my way…”
Alexandra tied her hair back, put the brush back in her vanity bag and put it in the bathroom cupboard.
Coming to a halt at the study door, her stomach churned, she took a deep breath and knocked.
“Don’t just hover there, come in and shut the door. I have a few things that I need to make clear to you. Let’s start with the rules you are to abide by. I had my secretary type them out. Here is your copy. I will give you a minute to read it before I go through it with you.”
“You can’t make me change schools. It is my last…..”
“Just who do you think you are? You are not eighteen and until then you shall abide by my rules! Your father is in agreement. I will not put up with any of your wilfulness. I should never have allowed you to live with your Grandmother. Your sister, despite being 7 years younger, properly brought up by me and your father, is light years ahead of you. I will tolerate none of that airy fairy nonsense you grew up with. The rules of the Universe, what utter nonsense is that?!”
Speechless, Alexandra looked straight at Stephanie. A ball of acid bile burned a pathway from her stomach into her throat. She cleared her throat.
“Does Dad know about this?”
“Exactly what are you insinuating?”
“Nothing I am simply asking you, Mother, does Dad know about this, these rules…..”
“Are you querying my authority? Are you?! Answer me!!”
“No. I am asking a simple question. Has Dad had any say in these stupid rules?”
“You WILL abide by these rules. Do not for one moment think I will allow you to thwart my authority, not whilst you are under age and staying in this house. You have been left undisciplined far too long. Your obstinacy is a clear indication that you need a firm hand. You will no longer study arts. Extra lessons in mathematics…”
“You hate me, you always have and you always will. It is not my fault you fell pregnant before you married Dad. You are and always have been unfair to me.”
“What did you just say?”
“Don’t you ever again dare mention it if you know what is good for you. I am your mother. You will respect me and the rules in this house, which you will follow to the letter. You ungrateful chit! You – you are the devil’s own child.”
A loud crack of thunder rattled the study windows. Lightning streaked in its wake.
“Go wait in the car. And while you wait read those rules. I have no intention of changing any of it so you may as well get acquainted with it. ”
“I cannot believe…..”
“I told you go wait in the car!”
Alexandra threw herself into the front passenger seat of the car. She looked at the rules clutched in her white knuckled hand. She balled it up, opened the cubbyhole, stashed it and slammed the cubbyhole shut.
With her mother in the backseat, Merlin drove them in complete silence to the solicitor’s, Klevansky Simmonds & Associates, offices.
Upon arrival, Alexandra followed her mother into the main reception. The receptionist took them to the opulent main boardroom. A slight scent of lemon polish drifted up from the solid mahogany table.
Dad nodded to her as Stephanie settled down next to him. His head bent towards his wife as she started up a whispered conversation with him.
Alexandra stationed herself in a chair opposite her parents. Her gaze drifted out the large window overlooking Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Uncle Solly entered, devoid of his usual affability, he curtly nodded at them. Seating himself at the head of the boardroom table, he opened the file in front of him. In his rich baritone he started reading Grandma’s Last Will and Testament. Finished with the minor bequests, he cleared his throat, took a sip of water and proceeded.
“To my only child, Jonah, I bequeath the amount of 40 million dollars, payable seven days after Alexandra’s eighteenth birthday, on condition that: Alexandra remain at Sydney Girl’s High to complete her year 12. Should this condition not be adhered to, the amount of 40 million dollars will be donated to the RSPCA.”
“To my granddaughter Leila I bequeath the account which was opened at her birth, to which she will be entitled access to at age 18.”
“To my granddaughter Alexandra I leave the following: Immediate access to a bank account which I opened in her name at her birth. I further leave her the balance of my estate, whether moveable or immovable, together with Silken Oak, to be kept in Trust until she turns 18. The Trust will be run by my solicitor, Solly Klevanski.”
Alexandra’s eyes darted from her Dad’s deathly pale face to that of her mother’s angry red face.
A river of pure relief washed through Alexandra.