Control: Chapter One
Gracie August danced from foot to foot across the floorboards. In her long striped socks and nightdress, she flitted to each window and threw it open theatrically, throwing her head back in the sunlight with arms outstretched. She smiled to herself and closed her eyes. The bedroom was soon lit by chambers of sunlight streaming through the windows. Upon hearing a movement from her sister’s corner of the room, she padded across and rested her arms onto the iron bedhead, a teasing smile playing across her lips.
“Morning, sister,” she sang, “Today’s the day, today’s… hey, aren’t you excited?”
“Mmhmm.” Louisa answered drily with a tinge of amusement. She stretched and ran a hand through her straw-like blonde hair. Gracie rolled her eyes and in one swift motion, seized the bed-sheets and tossed them upward so they floated like clouds in the orange morning sunlight. She sunk onto the bed, extending her legs to catch the tangle of sheets.
“You’re a nuisance.” Louisa said, unable to suppress the smile that overtook her round face. Her little sister laughed again before she pushed off the bed and stared at Louisa for a moment.
“Well,” she said, pausing, “I’m bursting with contentment, and I’m starved too, actually… I’d die for a pastry… oh, the caterers are here! Can you hear them? I can hear them! I wonder, will charming little Gracie get a pastry?”
Down in the garden, little Georgie August had began the most important day of her life ripping up her mother’s peonies. The infant delighted in tossing up fistfuls of dirt, her joyous giggles ringing out against the silence of the sleeping household. By the time her mother found her, she’d ruined her dress and was covered, completely, in dirt. Cora was a swan-like, slender creature, and calling for her daughter, she descended the garden steps with sighs of disdain.
Cora grimaced. Holding her at arms length, she foisted her daughter onto the maid with orders to have her ready in five minutes. By this time, Louisa and Gracie — Cora’s stepdaughters — were waiting in the living room. They sat, straight-backed and expressionless, looking straight ahead. Their hands were folded neatly on the silk tablecloth.
“Good morning, girls.”
“Good morning,” they chorused, permitting the corners of their lips to upturn, as was the custom greeting. Friendly, but by no means overjoyed. There was a silence, and Cora occupied herself by plumping the sofa cushions where she sat. Louisa and Gracie continued to stare emptily ahead. And then, they heard a sound that made them straighten a little more. Gracie smoothed her hair, and her eyes flitting for a millisecond to the side. The footsteps grew nearer.
“Good morning, Grace. Louisa.”
“Good morning, Father.”
It was only once he came into their line of sight that they dared move. Governor Abel August was a towering man of fifty years. A politician high in the ranks of the aristocracy, he was a serious, logical man that prided himself on the fact that he was never ruled by emotion.. Everything, with him, was calculated. Everything made sense. He had grey eyes, piercing and ever critical. His eyes were like a barrier between himself and the world, and though nobody would ever admit it, something was always ‘a little off’ with him; he never quite engaged. He gave a curt nod to the girls and sat. The maid returned Georgie, and the family solemnly gathered around.
“Happy second birthday, Georgia.” Governor August said, offering her the present. Georgie seized it with her chubby hands and another bout of giggles. She tore at the bright pink paper to reveal a box of artist’s coloured pencils and a sketchbook. She paused for a moment, confused.
“Can I…” Gracie said quietly. Governor August nodded. Gracie got to her knees and opened the box, drawing a squiggle with a green pencil.
Georgie grabbed a pencil too, and began to draw. It was an aimlessly messy pattern, but it held artistic value that made it nearly impossible for Gracie to look away.
“Presents are done,” Governor August said suddenly, getting up, “And the guests will be arriving soon. Go and get ready for the party.”
Though Louisa never admitted it to anyone but Gracie, she often hated the dresses her stepmother chose for her. She didn't care that they were the height of fashion, or whether glitter was ‘in’ that season… she detested how itchy and uncomfortable they always were. Standing before the mirror, she regarded herself with a glum expression. She sighed.
“It doesn’t look even.” Louisa declared with a frown, tugging at the flimsy golden fabric.
“It looks…” Gracie tilted her head. “It looks… splendiferous.”
Louisa rolled her eyes as Gracie pushed for a view of herself in the mirror. The younger girl smiled at her reflection and for a moment was still, caught in her own gaze. Then she snapped back into her usual lively, facetious self.
“Well, I’m excited. And the guests are here!”
Louisa nodded. Gracie turned on her heel and was gone — Louisa followed, but soon lost her sister in the sea of people. Guests had crowded out the patio, and were spilling onto the lawn. The garden was bathed in sunlight, dappled through the canopy of tall trees that bordered the lawn, and from the patio, Louisa could hear the sweet melody of violins at the bottom of the garden. The women’s golden dresses glimmered. There was a soft, easy hubbub of conversation, and every so often, a burst of polite laughter or the clink of champagne glasses from somewhere in the crowd. She craned her neck to see who had arrived, searching, scanning…
Louisa turned. The President and his wife.
“The jewel of a generation!” the First Lady gushed, kissing her on the cheek. Louisa shook her head and smiled demurely.
“How are you both?”, she asked.
“We’re well.” The President said. “Ready for Georgia’s surgery, I hope?”
“Yes.” Louisa answered.
“Don’t worry about it at all,” the First Lady said, “It’s over very quickly. It’s a brain surgery, it is, but it’s nothing to worry about. It’s like a little injection, or taking nasty medicine. And at two years old, she won’t feel a thing.”
“Thank you.” Louisa said. She took a champagne from a passing waiter and raised her glass. “To the most important day of a girl’s life.”
“Here, here!” The President said.
“She’ll be fine,” his wife said, “Don’t worry a single bit.”
Tara Wesson is a second-year Journalism and Creative Writing student. She likes long walks on the beach, piña coladas, and getting caught in the rain. But no, she's really just a book-lover with a dog called Shorty, a love of travel, and a penchant for dad jokes.