Advent Stories #15 | Old Wars, Old Enemies

‘Mrs Sterling. How lovely to see you again.’ Franny was waiting for her coat from the cloakroom at Annabel’s having just finished a lunch meeting, when she spotted a familiar face amongst other diners. She would know that face and hair style anywhere; Leila Sterling. She decided to drop by to say hello to the old battle axe and as she approached the table she saw two other people sitting with her. Brodie, her son, and wouldn’t you know it, Lana Smith of the Smith publishing dynasty. Franny does not bother to hazard a guess as to what is going on, she knows just what her old foe is up to.

‘Francesca.’ Leila purses her lips, there is nothing lovely about seeing Francesca here so she will not waste the words on her.

‘Hi Brodie. Welcome home.’

‘Hey Franny, how are you?’ Brodie gets up for a casual hug and kiss on the cheek with a friend. He and Franny don’t get on like a house on fire, but they are friendly enough for Blu’s sake.

‘Good. How are you?’

‘I’m well thank you.’ Brodie clears his throat, ‘this is-’

‘Lana, how are you?’ Franny says hello to an industry acquaintance. Lana Smith is no stranger, they traipse the same circles and just walked a red carpet at a special performance of the Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House. She’s nice enough, but Franny cannot see her and Brodie as a couple. That is what Leila is doing, playing matchmaker for her son, after destroying his relationship with Blu. Leila and Franny exchange a look, they know the score.

‘I’m very well thank you. How are you?’ Lana exchanges a kiss on the cheek with Francesca Milan, industry heavyweight, attorney, and wife to Roland Milan, one of the more powerful studio heads in the film industry. Of course she knows who she is.

‘Likewise. Sorry to be so rude, but I saw Mrs Sterling and wanted to say hello. Enjoy your lunch.’ Franny exchanges the briefest of smiles with Leila Sterling, it is a smile laced as a warning, before leaving the party to it.

‘Excuse me a minute, you two catch up.’ Leila hurries after Francesca before the little wench has a chance to get away. She needs to remind her of the past. ‘Where do you think you’re going?’

Francesca expected Leila to come after her, the look they exchanged was word enough. ‘Home, to my children. Not that it’s any business of yours.’

‘Don’t cause any trouble Francesca, remember I hold all your cards.’

‘Do you?’ Francesca folds her arms, looking squarely at Leila Sterling, that daring smile resident on her face. ‘Do you really?’

‘I know your secret.’

‘What secret will that be?’

‘Don’t play games with me young lady-’

‘Oh do shut up. Your threats are empty, you have no power over me. Look around you Mrs Sterling, the world has moved on.’

‘You signed-’

‘Ah yes, I signed a gag order. Is that what you were going to remind me of?’ Franny laughs wickedly. ‘I may have grown into the woman you see here today but don’t let the Maybachs and Chanel purses fool you, I am still that girl who grew up on a council estate in Kilburn Park. Are you sure you want to step into the ring with me?’

‘I’ll sue you for-’

‘Please go right ahead and let’s air your stinking laundry for all the world to read. To hell with you and your gag order. You fucked with the wrong person when you said the things you said to one of my best friends. You may hold the card but I hold the ace and believe me, I’m an excellent player.’

The cloakroom assistant hands Franny her coat and as she slips it on she is happy to see the look on Leila Sterling’s face is one of fear and loathing. Good. Without another one she walks out to her waiting car.

Brodie observed the exchange between his mother and Francesca, what the hell did they have to talk about and why was his mother so discombobulated. Leila Sterling never looks out of sorts, her head could be on fire and she will remain cool as a cucumber, but looking at her from where he sat, having the most boring of lunches, at her invitation, she looked… vulnerable. She left without bothering to return to the table to say goodbye to her guest. His mother is playing matchmaker with one of the children of her cronies but this won’t go anywhere; nice as Lana Smith is, she is just that. A nice woman he’d been forced to have lunch with. Before he left for New York she often played match maker for her sons but only succeeded with Logan. It is why they tease him so much about being a mommy’s boy.

Brodie signaled to a waiter for the bill, this rather dull lunch is at an end; he’d almost forgotten about the woman sitting opposite him.

‘Lana I’m sorry but-’

‘No. please don’t say it, at least then you won’t completely hurt my feelings.’ Lana smiles, she knows Brodie Sterling is not interested in her, knew it from the moment of their introduction, when she arrived at lunch. Leila Sterling and her mother are old friends and truth be told she has a crush on Brodie, handsome, very successful and oh so sexy Brodie Sterling. She is keen, but he isn’t. It’s just that simple. She’d heard the story about his wedding in the autumn, he’d been jilted at the altar by Blu Braithwaite, another name she is familiar with. Brodie and Blu made a darling couple, and when their engagement was announced- because the Sterling family is just the type of family the press is obsessed with therefore they document their every move and life happenings- several hearts were broken. And when it was reported that the bride had done a runner, one could almost hear the universal cheer; it trended on social media for two days straight, made even worse by the fact that neither one of the couple would talk about it.

‘I’m sorry. My mom… she doesn’t know when not to get involved. To be honest I don’t think I’m in the headspace to get involved with anyone, I’m just-’

‘I heard.’ Lane laughs a little, ‘you’re a Sterling so the press keeps the nation well informed about your lives. I should know.’

Brodie’s smile is uneasy, he avoids the press as much as possible, so much more since “the wedding that wasn’t”, as one headline put it, it broke on both sides of the Atlantic and his assistant, brothers and sisters did a good job of trying to isolate him from the gossip mill about his life, but he knows what’s being said. Blu Braithwaite is the daughter of Clyde Joseph and Marie Aramide Braithwaite; One of the most successful and wealthiest investors in Europe. He is the son and one of the heirs to the Sterling dynasty, his mother being the President and sole heir. To say the press is obsessed with their lives is stating the obvious so of course his blind lunch date would have heard about the wedding and its aftermath, seeing as she comes from the same ilk.

‘I am sorry it happened.’

‘Thank you for that.’

As the couple step out of the restaurant the waiting paparazzi immediately erupt in a frenzy of flashes on their sight.

Couple du jour, Lana Smith and Brodie Sterling spotted on a lunch date. Blu Who?

The picture notification pops up on Blu’s phone.