Sandy threw her phone to the floor and screamed.
The caterer was running late due a local kale shortage and the DJ had called in sick with liver failure or some other such nonsense that could have surely waited. Now to top it all off, there weren’t nearly enough paparazzi outside. Didn’t they know the daughter of Sandy Moss was turning eighteen today? She’d certainly told as many people as she could (when she had learned it herself, five days prior).
April had spent the morning changing and re-changing her outfit. Nothing looked right.
She didn’t want some glamorous celebrity party. She had been dreaming of a quieter affair, perhaps a sleep-over with her two best girls. Faith would probably suggest they watch a horror movie – she really had a thing for brooding psychopaths lately – and Melinda would pretend she wasn’t terrified, she just really needed the bathroom every time someone got ripped open.
April glanced one last time at her reflection in her chosen attire, hearing Sandy’s voice echoing in her head. That outfit makes you look so fat and what is your hair doing? It would have to do.
She navigated the crowds of people who had materialised in her house, hoping to catch a glimpse of a single warm, expressive face but was met by only glitz and Botox and schmooze. Perhaps her friends had decided not to come. She couldn’t say she blamed them.
As she rounded the corner she noticed the light was on in the office. Sandy didn’t usually allow guests in here as there was far too much evidence of Travis’s incompetence within. At first she didn’t approach, worried she’d find her father sobbing in to his casebook, or worse, her mother locked around the butler in one of those sweaty, breathless moments Sandy thought no-one knew about.
She could hear her mother gushing at her guests in the hallway. She tuned out the crowds and was pretty sure her father’s sobs were not coming from the office, but from the patio. She pushed the door open a little wider.
Inside, Melinda was perched awkwardly on a plush couch by herself. April took in Melinda’s hasty looking make-up and noted how she’d hadn’t done anything with her hair, and then she immediately hated herself for thinking like her mother would.
“Mel! You made it, I’m so happy to see you!” April gushed, rushing towards her friend. Melinda smiled, but it didn’t quite meet her eyes.
“Are you?” came a voice from across the room.
April turned to see Faith glaring at her. Faith had two main emotions – flirty and furious. In their time as friends, April had watched her flip from one to the other like some sort of moody coin, but she wasn’t usually this angry at April.
Faith pointed a finger at April’s face. April tried to focus on the situation and not that Faith’s nails needed a file.
“You know we got searched at the door and then turned away, right? The butler had to sneak us in – yet again!” She was right in April’s face now. “We’re supposed to be your friends April and you still let them treat us like shit!”
“Faith, it’s not April’s fault-” Melinda started weakly, but April stopped her with a wave of her perfectly manicured hand.
“No, you’re right, it is my fault.” Her voiced wavered slightly, she wished she was better at sudden confrontation, “I… I should’ve met you down the road and sneaked you in.”
“No April!” Faith was escalating to anger level two now, her voice had gone a bit squeaky, “You should’ve stood up to your goddamn mother and put us on the guest list!”
April dropped her head, she didn’t know what to say. She wished Faith would quieten down. What if her mother heard?
“You’re so controlled by that woman,” Faith seethed, now at anger level three. “Who even are you April? Are you one of us or one of them?” When April didn’t respond, Faith grabbed Melinda by the arm and yanked her towards the door. “Come on Mel, let’s go!”
Melinda looked sadly between Faith and April, mouthed ‘Happy Birthday’ and allowed herself to be led out the room.
April stood for a moment, reeling from Faith’s words. She was right, of course. She was afraid of her mother, afraid of upsetting the status quo.
She slipped back in to hallway. There were so many people in the house. She tried to peer over the crowds for a glimpse of her friends but couldn’t see them anywhere.
Her mother was at the foot of the stairs, faking interest and performing her fake laugh with a stuck-up looking man she sort of recognised from a movie she’d once seen and a woman who’s face didn’t appear to move at all.
“Oh yes, fabulous work and very discreet!”
April knew that it would greatly piss her mother off to know she had let common folk in to the house for reasons other than servitude, but that also meant she would have spotted them a mile off. So she took a deep breath.
Sandy excused herself from the man and leaned towards April, making a big show of it. “Yes my darling daughter?”
“Have you seen Faith and Melinda?”
Sandy smiled and pointed across the room where an extravagantly dressed woman stood, “I have, Chrysisov Faith is right over there, shall I introduce you?”
April looked blankly at her mother.
“No, Melinda and Faith,” she hesitated, “my friends?”
Sandy forced her face to look blank.
April sighed.”My poor friends?”
Sandy laughed, clearly uncomfortable with where this conversation was going. April could see the script being written in her head. “Poor friends? Whatever do you-“
Fuck it. “You know,” April spat, sounding much more sure than she felt, “those two girls who you said should feel lucky to be allowed to wipe my arse let alone sit in my hot tub?”
Like a switch, Sandy’s face darkened. Then, in the way she had come to master, the charm was back. She turned to the couple who had baulked at the ‘poor’ comment and practically fainted at the rest. Well the man had, the woman still looked the same.
“Please excuse us, Mr. & Mrs. Lobo, seems like April has already had a drink!” She waved her hand dismissively at her daughter. “Oh my naïve dear; eighteen for half a day and already taking full advantage of the bar!” She laughed that fake laugh again. “Her poor friends! Really April – is that any way to talk about your fellow humans? Us in our finery and our mansions, it doesn’t make us better than those in their filthy rags!” Her voice was just a bit too loud now to ensure everyone within earshot would hear.
She turned back to the couple, her voice oozing with schmooze. “We must meet up again later, Diego to discuss this doctor – Vatore you say? He has done a wonderful job with your face, Penny!”
Sandy grabbed April’s wrist and yanked her out of earshot of the guests. April could hear them gossiping about her rudeness, but her mind was elsewhere. Vatore… that was a new name, so how come she felt like she’d heard it before?
“How dare you embarrass me at my party-” Sandy hissed, barely above a whisper.
“It’s my party-” April started weakly.
“In front of my friends! And don’t you dare answer back! Just because you can vote now it doesn’t give you the right to go around having an opinion!”
“I’m… I’m just looking for my friends. It’s my birthday…”
Sandy smiled in the cruel way the world never saw. “They’re probably back in their rat-infested little houses by now.” She took a step towards April, her voice low, smooth and with the unmistakable edge that told April she had gone too far. “Oh, they were so sad when they got hauled away – and strip-searched I do believe – in front of all those high class people. Someone must have tipped security off that they had weapons.” She brought her hand to her chest in mock sympathy. “Whoever would do such a thing? They were both wearing such lovely outfits too – I guess Oxfam had just had a sale.”
April pushed past her mother and headed towards the stairs. Sandy raised her voice again for the no doubt eavesdropping crowd, it was like syrup. “It’s OK darling, we all make mistakes. You go on up to your room. A little lie down and you’ll feel much better!”
April reached her bedroom and slammed the door.
Vatore. She thought. Where have I heard about Vatore?Her eyes scanned her room and settled on her bed. Of course.
She checked that her father hadn’t heard the commotion and followed her. He did that sometimes, although he never said anything, just sat and looked sad until she asked him to leave.
There was no sign of Travis.
April reached under her bed and felt around. Her palm landed on the leathery cover of the old book, its pages weathered and faint. She ran her fingers over the embossed letters on the cover and teased it open. The passage she wanted… it was here, somewhere. She had only read about it the previous day, she was sure.
Her eyes scanned down the faded lines. She could picture the page; a small transcript, possibly a news article. It had seemed uninteresting to her the previous night as she lay captivated by the much more extravagant stories around it. Turning the page, her eyes went wide. She read it twice, still not believing.
Vatore. There it was.