The Glass House sat on the highest crest of the highest hill in Bel-Air, its sleek band of windows reflecting the colors of the setting sun. Terrah Banfield stood on the vast veranda, a tiny figure in a white Dolce and Gabbana blazer, framed by glorious pinks and oranges. The freeway snaked between the green slopes, a glimmering river of red and white. Thousands of souls down there, going about their business in a city built on stories.
Terrah snapped twice. “Come along, Bozeman,” She purred, her accent indistinguishable, refined. A majestic Rhodesian Ridgeback clicked across smooth Brazilian slate, matching Terrah’s stride. Sheets of glass whispered open at a her touch and Terrah stepped into her cavernous living room.
Johanna was there, lounging on the sofa in permanent repose. Her fingers tapped steadily on the screen of her phone. Terrah appraised her daughter, sliding her shiny curtain of platinum hair from one shoulder to the next. “You’ll need to get ready soon, darling,” she said.
“I’m working, Terrah. My followers need answers.” Johanna’s eyes remained fixed to her screen. “I can’t leave them hanging.”
Terrah’s own phone chimed. She touched one crimson-tipped finger to her ear and sat delicately in a plush, white silk swivel chair. That would be Vance. “Hello my love,” she murmured.
“Hi Doll,” his voice squawked in her ear. “I’m at the bottom of the hill. Do we need anything?” Van didn’t need to go to the market and he knew it, but he liked pedestrian pursuits. Oh, how the man adored a trip to Costco. Terrah smiled fondly. She was amused by these small reminders of the way things used to be.
“No, darling,” Terrah glanced at the flock of caterers circling the vast kitchen. “Just come home. Zander and Susan will be here soon.”
As Terrah touched her ear again, Mathieu burst into the room wearing athletic shorts and a ripped Supreme shirt. He smelled faintly of sweat.
“Matty, gross,” Johanna wrinkled her nose, her eyes never leaving her screen.
Mathieu flipped his long hair out of his eyes, grabbed an hors d’oeuvre from the kitchen and popped it into his mouth. Terrah sighed in mock frustration. Mathieu had always been so unrefined.
“You’ll shower first?” she said as Bozeman settled at her feet. “I would like… ”
“I know, I know, you want to make a good impression.” He interjected, popping a crudité in his mouth. “I’ll be gorgeous by the time Zander and his little bumpkin get here.”
He kissed his mother on the top of her head and bounded upstairs.
In her most indulgent moments, Terrah would allow herself to feel supremely blessed. This life, this beautiful home, Mathieu, Joahnna, Alekzander, her loving husband, all felt like a happy accident. Then she would pinch herself hard. “Who are we kidding here,” she would think. “This is mine because I took it.”
Terra’s childhood in a one-stoplight Montana town felt like a million years ago, another lifetime. She was just Tara back then, the prettiest girl in town. “Use what you got,” her mama would tell her. So she did. Her high school yearbook was filled with messages “Sweet Tara,” “Always so quiet and smart,” “Coolest girl in school,” they read. If they only knew. She’d earned her valedictorian rope on breaks in the back room of a club ten miles outside of town. Her community college degree too. Tara’s co-workers at the club called her their little bookworm. She called herself "Ferrah Falle." The butterfly. Transformation. Wings. Escape.
The doorbell chimed. Terrah picked up a flute of champagne. Alekzander entered the room with tall woman in a cocktail dress and cheap shoes. Her dark hair was plain, pulled back in a tight ponytail. Alekzander kissed his mother on both cheeks.
“Well, hello, you must be Susan,” Terrah extended a jeweled hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Susan broke into a friendly smile, my goodness it was wide. She gripped Terrah’s hand a little too tightly and stepped back to her place next to Alekzander. Oh, Zander. Her good boy. The only one of them who had chosen a different path. He refused to be called Zander in public, even as a young boy. He eschewed the designer sweats his brother favored, instead he wore business casual, suit jackets and jeans, off the rack. He was a stickler for rules, for pete’s sake. Terrah had no idea where she’d gone wrong.
“Darling,” she kissed both cheeks. “Van will be here any minute. Please, help yourself to an aperitif.”
Alekzander turned to Susan. “We only do first names in our house,” he said with a tinge of embarrassment. “My dad must have stopped at the market.”
As if on cue, Van entered the front doors with a boisterous, “I’m here!” He carried a brown paper bag on one burly arm, as if it was a baby. “And I brought a fresh batard.”
He bustled into the kitchen, greeting the staff, handing them the bag. “This is Johanna,” Terrah motioned to her daughter, who stood and slid her phone into the pocket of her dress. Mathieu bounded down the stairs, his hair still damp.
“And this will be Alekzander’s older brother, Mathieu.” Terrah smiled. Matheiu ignored Susan’s outstretched hand, instead he gathered her up into a tight bear hug.
“Please, sit down,” Terrah motioned to the swivel chairs. A tray of hors d’oeuvres appeared. Alekzander offered Susan a flute of champagne.
“Oh Zander, no, thanks.” she demurred. “I'm not drinking right now, remember?” There was an awkward pause. Terrah froze for a moment. What did that mean? Snap out of it, Terrah. She smiled at Susan. “Now, why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself?”
“Well, as you may know, Zander and I met at the gym,” Susan began. “We were both going for the fifty-pound plates and, well” she glanced at Alekzander, “the rest is history.”
Susan’s laughter didn’t match her simplicity. It was generous, warm. Terrah appraised her youngest son. He seemed nervous, which meant he really liked this plain woman. She was calling him Zander, touching his arm. Not a good sign.
Van stepped into the room, wiping his hands on his trousers. “Susan,” he said with a toothy grin, “I’ve heard so much about you.”
He hadn’t, but Vance Banfield could sure put on a show. He was still the most charming man Terrah knew; and their social circle was teeming with charming sharks just like him. He had an easy way about him, a boyish enthusiasm that erased skepticism in everyone he met. He had certainly drawn Terrah in, back at the club in Rosebud County. It didn’t take her long to decide that Van, with his big plans and his rinky-dink chain of backwater clubs, was her ticket out. They were both good at games, secrets their currency. They made a good team.
A bell chimed quietly. “That will be dinner,” Terrah smiled, turning towards the dining room. She glided towards the head of the massive glass table, beautifully set and glowing with candlelight. An understated arrangement of white lilies splayed delicately from an abstract crystal vase. Susan chose a chair and began to slide it out. Terrah glanced at Zander, her eyelids downcast. Zander responded by tapping Susan gently on the small of her back, directing her to the place directly across from his mother.
“Susan,” Terra unfolded her napkin and placed it in her lap. She turned her icy gaze on the young woman. “Tell me what you do, dear.”
“I’m a dental hygienist,” Susan folded her hands in her lap. Terrah glanced around the table. Johanna and Mathieu looked bored.
“She also runs marathons.” Zander interjected, still so nervous. “We’re training for the LA Marathon together.” Funny, Zander didn’t have an athletic bone in his body. He was always the one who buried himself in books, chess, video games. His mind worked just like his father’s, and yet he was so square.
Mathieu, Johanna, Zander, none of them understood what it really took to have this life on top of the highest hill. She and Van had worked for years building up an empire, only to see it stagnate in the 1990's. It had been Terrah’s idea to put the clubs online, just at the right time. A virtual gold mine. A little offshore accounting here a little jiggering with the finances there. A shell company to cover it all up. Who knew that the Dollar-Off stores would be so popular? It wasn't long before Banfield Enterprises was a household name. Van ran the business and Terrah shifted her focus to charity work, foundations and social engagements. She was exactly where she wanted to be and it felt delicious, like revenge on the entire universe.
“I’ve heard a lot about your charity work,” Susan smiled blandly, “Athletes for the Blind is an amazing organization.” And still such a solid way to launder money, Terrah thought. Of course, she was involved with legitimate charities as well. All of the women she worked with on charity boards, balls and auctions had their “pet projects.” She didn’t know a soul in their circle who hadn’t done something shady to get where they were. There was no need to talk about it, nobody did.
Servers arrived soundlessly with steaming plates, placing them gently at each place.
“Athletes for the Blind is very close to my heart,” Terrah picked up her fork. “We’ve raised millions of dollars for some very worthy programs.”
“Terra is an amazing woman,” Van looked up at the server and winked. “You’ll have to see her in action some time.”
“I would love that.” Susan said shyly. “Actually, I was hoping to talk with you a little more about your work." So that's it. "I’m starting up a new dental charity with some partners. Teeth for Tots. Zander is involved. We could really use someone like you on our board, Mrs. Banfield.”
“Please. Terrah.” Alekzander shot his mother a look.
“Sorry. Terrah,” Susan looked down at her plate.
“I’d love to help, dear.” Terrah purred. “You know, Johanna is a social media expert.”
“Influencer,” Johanna corrected. “But giving back is one of my specialties.”
“Just say the word,” Van agreed. “We’d be happy to get you all set up.”
At the mention of social media, Johanna joined the conversation. Mathieu, ever the social butterfly, got the group laughing with stories of people at the gym, his auditions. Terrah shifted her gaze to Alekzander. He was quiet, observant, as usual. Something about him is different. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but she was going to have to start paying more attention to her youngest child. China cups clinked softly in their saucers, candles flickered. Alekzander noticed that his mother was watching him. He smiled.
“We should go,” he said quietly to Susan. She nodded and stood, taking her purse from his outstretched hand.
“Thank you so much for having me, Mr. and Mrs. Banfield.” They moved toward the foyer.
“It was lovely to meet you.” Terrah kissed them both. “Bisous,” she murmured.
“Did you bring the G-wagon?” Van grinned.
“Oh, no,” Alekzander replied. “Susan is much more comfortable in an Uber. Thank you again for dinner.”
Zander closed the massive front doors behind them as Susan tapped on her phone. “That wasn’t stressful,” he said, as they walked to the curb. A black sedan pulled up.
As they settled into the back seat, the car moved down the winding street, past gently lit mansions tucked behind formidable wrought iron. Zander reached into his coat and pulled a wire out of his sleeve. He unclipped the receiver, wincing as the tape ripped from his skin. He handed the whole mess to Susan.
“Good work today, Alekzander,” she said, all business. She glanced at the driver. “Did you get everything?”
Fuller pulled an earbud from his ear, nodding. “Yep. Everything.”
“Teeth for Tots,” Alekzander grimaced. “That’s rich.”
“Leave your mother to us,” Susan replied. “We’ll have everything we need soon enough."
“We’ll see about that,” Alekzander shook his head. “She’s smarter than she looks.”
“You’ve got problems of your own, Alekzander,” Susan said. “Play your cards right you'll get your plea.”
“And Ginny?” Alekzander started hard at her.
“I always keep my word, Alekzander.” Susan smiled blandly. “Your wife will be out of jail in no time.”
Susan locked eyes with Fuller in the rear view mirror as the black sedan melted into a river of red lights, and into the night.
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Hi Julie! Thanks for letting me know about this story - I loved it! It’s so different from all the others I’ve read for this week, which was so refreshing. This all felt very sleek, from the setting to the writing style. The character development of Terrah was very well done - I feel like I got her backstory and a sense of her character all fairly quickly and smoothly. The end reveal was also really interesting - Zander has a lot of secrets from his mother! I wonder what he did to get into trouble in the first place... Great writ...
Thank you so much, Laura! I had a hard time with the gothic-ghosty angle of the prompt, but once I settled on layered secrets, it fell into place. These characters and their world were a lot of fun to play around with. People in LA are so fascinating. I live in a pretty modest neighborhood and I'm shocked at how many people have Hummers, G Wagons & Maseratis in their driveways (sometimes all three!). I always wonder what shady business they must be up to...or not? Anyways. I'm so happy you liked it - and I really appreciate that you t...
I’m glad you did this rather than a different prompt because it meant I got to read this! I had to google a g wagon as I’d literally never heard of them but I think they’d count for a gothic prompt - they’re monsters! This was fantastic writing, I’m really glad I got to read it 😀
Lol! All the high-level gangsters on TV drive G-wagons! And some dude in my neighborhood. Yikes!
In England, we have pretty narrow roads compared to yours. I literally don't think a g wagon would fit on our roads. Definitely not in cities. There are a few American cars you never ever see over here simply because they are too big. The biggest we ever get is a jeep and even that is a bit of a squeeze sometimes.
I can't imagine some of the cars we have here on those teeny little streets! And you should see how some people drive them - a mama with a giant bun on top of her head flying down a suburban street in a huge Chevy Suburban...that is a terrifying sight!
Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. The names won me over all by themselves. I know you said you struggled a little this week deciding which prompt to use. You made the right choice. And the twist ending. I never saw it coming. It's really just perfect. You also have gift for description. I could see the house so clearly and I could picture all the characters. I think this one is a contender. Very well done.
I have a hard time with gothic and ghosts, but secrets...those are fun! I liked the idea of the mansion being something sleek and modern and I had a ball with the soapy characters once I got rolling. (Sorry, had to go there...) I'm so glad you liked it!!
I'd write a long thing of praise but you've struck me speechless, so I actually can't say anything but this: YOU. ARE. A. GREAT. WRITER. This story... Oh, I can't even describe how I feel. Thanks for reading my comment! Could you read one of my stories? Thank you! I love hearing what people think!
Hey there Ms Julie, I came to read a new story and there was none to be found. I've been less prolific lately as well but I just submitted a story called "Silence". I'd love it if you could give it a look and let me know what you think. Also reach out to me when you submit another story. I'd love to read it when you do.
Thom! Hi!! Thanks for the message! It's just the little push I need to write something this week. I know it seems like I've disappeared into thin air, but in reality, I've been sucked down into a pool of quicksand under a mountain of work. I'm completely slammed...which I'm very happy about because work is always a good thing, but I also miss having the head space to write. Anyways, I have something cooking for this week - I'll let you know if I manage to get it posted. In the mean time, I'm heading over to your page to read right now!
Julie, I’m so glad you responded. You are one of the people for whom I write. Your feedback is that powerful. I’m glad you’re busy with work but selfishly I hope you find that time to write. I miss your stories.
Well if that's not motivation, I don't know what is! Seriously, the feeling is mutual - I look forward to each and every one of your stories, and to your comments on mine. Knowing you're excited to read my writing and that you'll give me your feedback is one of the things that gets me in front of my keyboard even when I'm just not feeling it!
Oh my gosh! What a great reveal! You set up such a fabulous story. I thought - I expect we were supposed to think - that Susan was pregnant. I never in a million years would have seen it taking the turn it took. You write beautifully - so rich, such detail. The entire dinner scene, Terrah and her family were all so clear to me. Loved it!
Thank you Kristin! I had so much fun imagining these characters. I actually read an article a long time ago about oil fields in Montana and the temporary cities that spring up around them for the workers. The article focused on young women who travel to the oil fields from other places - even other states!- on the weekends to work in the strip clubs nearby, because the money is irresistibly good. That was kind of my springboard. Once I got Terrah into place, everything else kind of just flowed! I also may watch a little too much TV.
Beautiful imagery Julie! I loved this story - and the twist at the end definitely satisfies the “is not what it appears” criteria. I’m left aching to know more about what happened to Ginny. How many more secrets does this family have buried beneath their designer clothes and fancy furniture? Eep my mind is running wild! Lovely piece.
I love it, Aj! That's exactly what I was hoping for - your mind running wild - it's a huge compliment! It was fun to play with these characters and their secrets. I'm so happy that you liked it!
I'll give this story a 10/10 :)
Well, it's official! You just made my day. Thank you, Blair Witch!
no problem, ya deserve it ^^ hey if its alright, could you maybe check out some of my stories and leave some feedback? I'd love to see what ya think ^^
I'll be happy to!
What are the odds we both have verandas and sunsets in our first paragraphs? I'm gonna keep going, but that struck me.
I totally did not see the end coming! Nice. You painted a vivid world (it's all soo LA, or what I also imagine LA is like on top of the highest hills) and left me wanting more. For example, whaaat? Alekzander has a wiiife??? There's a lot his mother doesn't know about him.
Heh heh heh! I had fun with this one. And LA...right? All those people with their Bentleys and fancy mansions. I always wonder how they got there. I worked for some people once in their home in Bel-Air. It was a tiny house surrounded by all kinds of opulence. I like living in such an interesting place. (Except for the traaaffic.) It is pretty funny that we started such different stories with verandas and sunsets. Great minds!