Astor Dixon was pleased with her current situation. Her husband was making steady progress in his political career and impressing all the right people. Her interfering mother-in-law was distracted by various societies and charity organisations that she had taken upon herself to crusade with. And her eldest daughter Anastasia was doing very well in school, her piano skills were becoming particularly impressive with all the extra tuition she had invested in!
However, her youngest daughter, Claudia, was still disinterested in her studies and seemed more interested in joking around with her new friend than achieving the grades that were required to stay on at her private school. Astor had recently had to deal with a stern phone call from the headmaster about Claudia’s commitment to her education, and Astor had been forced to drop subtle hints about her interest in funding a school trip to France. At this rate the family would have to pay for a whole new wing just to ensure Claudia’s place at the school was assured!
The next morning, a family meeting was called. In tense whispers Astor discussed Claudia’s future with her husband and mother-in-law. ‘We all know Anastasia will be fine. We know all the leading universities are scrambling to offer her places, and she will have a choice of excellent careers. She will be able to support both herself and the family interests. However, I am concerned for Claudia’s future. She is already draining our finances with her propensity for trouble! And her behaviour reflects badly on the family image. If Antony is to be successful in his political career, we cannot have a bad apple causing scandals! There is only so much our media friends can smooth over.’
Anastasia walked in at this point, uncomfortable with the situation. She stood quietly in the corner waiting for the usual family drama to be over.
Astor glanced at the stairs to see if her younger daughter was also descending. Satisfied she was not within earshot, she leaned forward and hissed, ‘We need to ensure Claudia’s future. If she cannot make the right choices, we must make sure she associates with people who will keep her on the right path. I do not like this boy she has befriended, the son of an ageing rock star no less! He is sure to cause trouble!’
Her mother-in-law stirred her cup of tea slowly, one perfectly arched eyebrow raised. ‘Son of an ageing rock star? Seems a perfect match for the daughter of an ex actress,’ she shot a sharp look at Astor.
Antony scrambled to clear the tension, dropping his teaspoon which the butler swiftly caught and returned to his saucer. ‘Now, now, mother. You know that Astor is right, we cannot have Claudia destroy all that you have worked for.’
Felicity added another lump of sugar to her tea and continued stirring.
‘Indeed,’ Astor continued, basking in the moment her husband had taken her side for once against his mother. ‘Two things Claudia does have going for her are her charming conversation and her beauty. Now, if we can just find her a good husband who can keep her in check, then she will be quite comfortable.’
‘Well, it worked for you dear,’ Felicity interjected with a triumphant smile.
Just then, Claudia stomped down the stairs, aware that most family meetings were orchestrated around her behaviour. The mood in the room was already bitter, so she knew her mother and grandmother already had their claws out!
‘Claudia,’ her mother said sharply, ‘I have arranged for you to have a meal at an exclusive restaurant in San Myshuno! The rich and famous have been clamouring for a place on the waiting list, but your wonderful father has used his contacts to skip the queue!’
‘Just me?’ Claudia asked in confusion.
‘Yes, well you see, it is a new establishment, and the owner wants to promote a certain image. He wanted a young couple of the right sort to have a date there, to promote it as a suitable place that can be hired out for proms and sweet sixteen parties, and that sort of thing.’
Claudia sank into the chair, she had a sinking feeling about this, ‘A couple, mother?’
‘Well, I know you don’t have a boyfriend yet..’
‘You don’t do you?’ Antony interrupted sharply and Claudia shook her head in mortification.
Astor continued, ‘…so I took the liberty of finding a suitable date for you! A lovely young man, Malcolm Landgraab! He’s from a very good family, his mother is the famous businesswoman, and his father is a celebrated doctor!’
From behind her hand, Claudia mumbled, ‘When?’
‘This evening. So you’ll have the chance to wear that sparkly vintage dress your grandmother bought you!’
‘This evening!? But I have to go to the art gallery with Felix! It’s for an essay and you are always telling me I need to work harder at school. How am I meant to improve my grades if you don’t let me do my assignments!?’
Antony made a noise a bit like a flatulent elephant, ‘Prrrph! It’s only art, Claude, just write about colours and light and drop a few mentions of Picasso and you’ll get an A!’
‘There’s more to it than that, Dad,’ Anastasia interjected on behalf of her sister.
Knowing that there was no use arguing about it, Claudia agreed and disappeared upstairs to get ready. She had learned that there was little point resisting her family’s demands, instead she had found a way of drawing her own amusement out of these things by subtly undermining all their efforts. If they wouldn’t let her make her own plans, then she would at least enjoy disrupting theirs!
Her sister, however, was uncharacteristically annoyed.
‘Mother!’ she hissed as soon as Claudia was out of earshot, ‘You’ve gone too far! It’s one thing planning out our careers and our social lives, but you cannot tell Claudia who she can and cannot have a relationship with!’
‘Oh, calm down,’ Astor smiled reassuringly, ‘I’m not asking her to marry the boy. You know Claudia is not the best at judging a person’s character. I’m simply putting suitable choices in front of her, and she can decide for herself which one she likes!’
Felix arrived as Claudia was getting ready, and Felicity manoeuvred to intercept him before any of the others could send him packing!
‘Hello dear,’ she said with a twinkle in her eye, ‘I’m afraid your friend had landed herself in trouble again.’
‘I promise I had nothing to do with it,’ Felix laughed, ‘and if I did then it was all Claudia’s fault!’
‘Oh, I can believe that!’ Felicity smiled affectionately. ‘Look, I’m afraid you will have to postpone your trip to the gallery. My daughter-in-law has had one of her ridiculous ideas again and Claudia is the unwilling victim.’
‘Uh oh, should I attempt a daring rescue?’ Felix suggested helpfully.
Felicity gave him a mischievous wink in reply.
Claudia appeared then, looking stunning in her vintage dress. She told Felix the whole story (with a few dramatic embellishments).
Felix played along, gasping and feigning utter shock like he was in the audience of a salacious chat show. He was amused to hear about Felicity’s catty remarks towards her daughter-in-law.
‘And the worst thing is…’ Claudia continued, ‘…he’s bound to be an awful bore! I can’t imagine what we’ll have to talk about.’
Did you say Malcolm Landgraab?’ Felix grinned, ‘You could ask him about his girlfriend!’
‘What!?’ Claudia laughed.
‘Yeah,’ Felix continued, ‘He’s dating a friend of my sister.’
‘My mother should have done her research better!’ Claudia joked, ‘How am I meant to seduce him now!?’
Felix winced at the thought, ‘Do you need me to come and rescue you?’
‘I think I’ll be ok. But I’ll text you if he starts to talk about chess club and things get scary!’
So this was how Claudia found herself at The Black Rock restaurant in San Myshuno with Malcolm Landgraab. She wasn’t too keen on making small talk so she jumped onto the karaoke while they waited for their table. She had to be better than Geoffrey right? (Why had Malcolm brought his dad with him anyway?)
As Claudia was being shown to her table by the hostess she suddenly found herself surrounded by a group of business people. They seemed keen to talk about politics to her, asking questions about her father’s charity that she had no clue how to answer! Geoffrey skillfully extracted her from the crowd and she hurried over to her table thankfully, thinking maybe it wasn’t a bad idea to have him there as a chaperone after all!
Claudia gazed down at the clusters of light that called to her from the streets of San Myshuno. She wished she was down there right then, exploring the Arts Quarter with Felix.
Malcolm wandered over, he seemed distracted and kept anxiously tapping away at his phone.
‘Is that your girlfriend, Kyra?’ Claudia asked, watching his reaction in amusement.
He jerked his head up and looked a bit sheepish, ‘Umm, yeah. Sorry. Uh…’
He sat down putting his phone away with a guilty expression and Claudia felt a little bad for him.
‘It’s ok,’ she smirked, ‘I was forced here against my will too.’
His tense shoulders seemed to relax a little then. ‘It’s my mother,’ he confessed, ‘She doesn’t like my girlfriend, she thinks she’s not… good enough for me.’
‘You mean rich enough?’ Claudia corrected.
‘I guess,’ Malcolm looked sheepish again. ‘Kyra’s really sweet. And funny. She makes me happy but my mother doesn’t understand that. Father does, but he can’t stand up to her.’
After that, the ‘date’ went a little easier. Claudia and Malcolm had found their common ground and spent the evening complaining about their parents and swapping embarrassing stories. Claudia was never going to marry a man like Malcolm! But it was good to know she could find people she could relate to in the circles she would be forced to move in as she got older.