A suburban street. Manicured lawns. Flash cars parked in paved driveways. Fancy gates, like those to heaven – or hell. Sweeping boulevards, old oaks, huge houses domineering the landscape. The battered old seventies Holden, when it pulled up in front of a large cream coloured mansion, looked startlingly out of place. The driver, a young man of about twenty five, turned to his passenger, 'Are you sure you don't want me to come with you?'
The women in the passenger seat twisted the engagement ring on her finger nervously as she stared at the house she had once called home, 'No, no, it's fine. I'll ring you when I'm done.'
'Okay,' the man, Francis, replied, 'well, I'll be in a meeting until four but anytime after that.'
The woman leaned over and planted a kiss on her fiancés cleanly shaven cheek, 'Thanks.'
She stepped out of the car and anxiously straightened out her pencil skirt which was already creaseless.
'Oh, and Delia?' the man called through the open door, 'Good luck.'
Delia nodded, closed the door, and began the longest fifty metres of her life up the paved, bluestone driveway to the set of large white, colonial doors crouching under the veranda.
It had been seven long years since she had last stepped inside that heartless fortress of opulence. Seven long years since she had seen her father, talked to him, loved him… Well, she had never stopped loving him, even if, in his arrogance and blindness he had dispossessed her.
A conference room, sterile, clean, with walls of glass. Metal chairs, metal tables, metal men; and Liam Hemingway, CEO and co-owner of one of the largest mining corporations in the country, seated at the head of the table, like the King he very nearly was. To his left and right, respectively sat his two eldest daughters, Georgia and Tegan. Georgia was accompanied by her 'long-term partner', Andrew; Tegan by her fiancé, Chris. Delia, seated at the opposite head of the table thought it strange that both her sisters were in serious relationships with Englishmen, but then again, both men worked for major mining companies in direct competition with the Hemingway Mining Corporation. Also at the table was Ernest Kent, Liam's friend from his college days at Harvard and trusted business partner.
Liam Hemingway had an announcement to make – an announcement which would rock the very foundations of the business, that was why he had called his daughters to the pristine office on 48th Street.
'I have come to a decision,' he began at length, loving the feeling of knowing that every person in the room waited impatiently for what he had to say. He made them wait a little longer. 'I have come to a decision concerning the future of the business…' he almost laughed to see Georgia fairly drooling with impatience, 'I am going to retire next month and I am dividing my portion of the business between you.'
Tegan squealed in excitement as Ernest Kent nearly fell off his uncomfortable metal chair in surprise.
'What?' Kent couldn't help exclaiming.
'It's my decision,' Liam replied sternly.
'Surely we could have discussed this!'
'There is nothing to discuss.' As always, Liam Hemingway had the final word.
Liam turned to his eldest, Georgia, 'What can you say to ensure your assets in this business?'
'That I will, as ever, follow your ways to the letter, not let anything else get in my way, nor be distracted by other proposals. I am completely and utterly dedicated to you and to this business.'
Liam smiled indulgently, 'And you, dearest Tegan, are you as dedicated as your sister?'
'Of course, father,' Tegan replied, sickly sweet, 'but I believe I am even more dedicated than Georgia, the journalist who has been exploiting companies like ours for the past six years while I have been here, working for you, honouring you, protecting you from the evil of the media,' at this she glared pointedly at Georgia, 'This company is my life, as much as it is yours.'
Inwardly, Liam giggled gleefully, childishly. His two eldest were already at each others throats – just where he wanted them. His gaze now turned to Delia, the youngest by far at only nineteen. 'Ah. Delia, petal, what can you say to show your dedication to this glorious enterprise?'
'You! who I hoped to take up my mantle – you! How could you… how dare you! Nothing? Nothing will come of nothing! What kind of answer is NOTHING!?!' Liam spluttered, his ire raised irrationally
'An honest one,' Delia retorted, 'I love you as I should, respect you as I should, obey you as I should but you are not this business and therefore I will have no part in it.'
'Come, now' Liam reasoned, 'Do you realise what you are saying?'
'Yes,' Delia replied firmly, 'and I am also aware of the toxic waste you dumped in the local creek and I will, under no circumstances, be part of such an atrocity.'
'What?' Delia was surprised. It was one thing volunteering to leave and quite another to be told to go.
'You heard me,' Liam snarled, standing, 'GET OUT! And don't bother returning home – ever.'
Kent rose, 'Surely, that's a little drastic, Liam.'
'If I wanted your input, I'd have asked for it.'
'That much is obvious,' Kent muttered under his breath, before he spoke again, loud enough for Liam to hear, 'If you insist on acting in such a mad manner, then I refuse to sit idly by and watch. Forgive me, Liam, but is this wise?'
'You can go with her then,' Liam shouted angrily, 'seeing as you sympathise with her so much!'
Delia stood without a word, gathered up her papers and left. Kent, after a staring match with Liam, followed in a huff.
Grey clouds hung overhead, the remnants of a storm, threatening more rain and discomfort. Apprehensively, Delia knocked on the door. It was answered by a short, middle aged woman, dressed in black and white – the maid. It wasn't anyone she had seen before which wasn't surprising really – Liam had a bad habit of overacting to non existent or imagined insults, most staff didn't last very long.
Delia sighed quietly as she introduced herself to the maid. The woman looked surprised; Delia obviously wasn't expected, but everyone knew about the third daughter, the exiled daughter, the wronged daughter – everyone knew about Delia. With a tired smile the maid let her in. She began to show Delia the way but Delia still remembered, even after seven long years. Nothing much had changed; it was still decorated in the same white, sterile, show-room manner it had always been with its pristine never-been-lived-in-look. Delia followed the long corridor to the room at the end – Liam's room. Apprehensively, she pushed open the tall, heavy doors, trying not to make contact with the cold metal handles that felt like dead things and violence.
What she saw did not surprise her, it had been expected yet she still felt inexplicably shocked when she saw her father lying there in his giant bed, hooked up to a labyrinth of tubes and medical instruments, his skin yellow and his once bright eyes sunken into his prominent skull. Delia couldn't help but shudder at the nightmarish sight and a thought floated into her head, Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well. She brushed away the thought impatiently – her father was not dead…yet. She went to kneel beside him, careful to avoid stepping on any of the tubes.
'Hello, father.' she whispered.
He turned to face her with disbelieving eyes, 'Delia?'
Liam sighed contentedly, 'Good. Tell me a story, Delia, you always loved to tell stories.'
'I'll tell you my story. Once upon a time, not so long or so far away, there was a lonely young woman who had everything one could dream of yet had nothing. One fateful day she was given the chance to make a change for the better in a place that was headed for disaster, but she didn't take it because she was young, foolish and righteous, she couldn't see how she could help her father even when he asked her to. The young woman had to learn the hard way that beliefs aren't necessarily truths and that one has to accept the responsibilities one is offered, the opportunities to make the world a better place rather than heading down the martyr's path to discontent and idiocy. That path brought her here, to this very room, to you, father.'
Silent tears trickled down Liam's sallow cheeks, 'I don't like that story.'
'Not all stories are meant to be liked.'
'Forgive me, Delia.'
'There is nothing to forgive, father.'
It was then that Liam finally saw what Delia had meant. Outside, the sun emerged from behind the clouds.