Start of an Era

The Pricefield Empire expands.


“You know, I’ve never seen anyone take a selfie with an analog. It’s so…”

“Daguerreotype?”

“Well, yeah, I guess. In the ‘reset the clock’ type way. Imagine if that was the first craze of photography history.”

She looked down at her faithful camera. “I’ve used and maintained this thing for a decade, now. I have a room filled with mini-hallways like a galleria, for my original prints. I wasn’t lying when I said I hadn’t missed a day taking a photo.”

“That’s insane. In a beautiful way. Your dedication is inspiring.”

“Easy, girl. You’ve already sucked up to me enough.” Resisting the urge to pull the picture and shake it, she instead rested the camera on the pedestal, centering it on the royal blue pillow. “End of an era. I hope our new cameras are just as meaningful.”

“I doubt it. It was simple. Unassuming. All you had to worry about was focus and exposure. Now, that’s step one of forty.”

“Not for me. Digital is your area. I think I’ll still stick to analog and film for now. They have wonderful compromises for those, even today.”

“You’re so old school. What makes digital so uncomfortable to you?”

Max hummed as the two walked down the darkened halls of the gallery, checking her watch as she did so. “It’s not that – I like the digital advantage – I use my phone’s camera once in a while. It just feels more natural. Not just the picture taken itself, it’s more than that.”

“I think I get it. You actually feel like you’re taking the pictures, rather than the camera doing all the work.”

“I guess so. I like to call myself a human camera. I just want the most direct way to take a photo, as little in the way from my eyes to the subject.”

“Huh. I guess that’s why you’re not a ‘filter’ type of girl.”

“Sometimes, I am. That’s where Chloe comes in, to retouch the image.”

“Wow, you don’t do anything new age. You’re completely stuck in the retro zone.”

“I post it online. I think that counts.”

“Never change, Max. You are totally one of a kind.”

“No matter how many changes I seem to go through, I’ve always been the same.”

“Good for you. I’m glad you never met me before Blackwell. I was a little on the bitchy side.”

As far as Max was concerned, it was a distant memory. “What changed you, Vic?” She was genuinely curious about the answer.

“Honestly? You.” She toyed with her new earrings – a six month celebration present from her beloved – and tilted her head to the side, away from her friend. “You were the stuff of legend in Arcadia. We’re the same age, and I came to Blackwell because I needed to see you for myself. Like, what made you so special? How do you see things? You either have to be an inspiring figure, or a tortured soul to take the photos you do.”

“Maybe a little bit of both. Was I everything you hoped for?”

“You’re everything I aspire to be. I didn’t come to this school to make friends, and yet, you came to me, reaching out to someone you didn’t even know. I couldn’t even stalk you like I wanted to, and fakebefriend you. I mean, I’ve always had Nathan to get me in the crowd, I didn’t expect you to like me. Actually being the most popular girl’s friend wasn’t something I tried to do. It was a total connection.”

“I felt a kindred spirit.”

“The odd thing is – I felt something familiar in you, too.” She paused. “Is it some kind of Gaydar Network?”

“Maybe. Were you gay at the time?”

“I don’t think so. I’ve had boyfriends. Nothing serious. But Kate… she’s something else entirely.”

“As in… ‘something serious’?”

The blonde’s lips quirked. “You could say that.”

Max decided to play along. “When’s the wedding?”

“Hah, Hah.” Her eyes took on a different shine at the mention, despite the sarcastic tone. “We can’t all have the Pricefield™ happily ever after guarantee.”

“No one can,” she teased smugly, “but the Victory Marsh could be a strong contender, too.” She shrugged at Victoria’s glare. “It was the best Chloe and I could come up with. Chloe’s a wrestling fan, so ‘Katie Vick’ brings back bad memories for her.”

“Why am I not surprised?” She hooked her arm behind her back. “If you can’t combine the names, then we’re not destined to be, right?”

“I think Victoria Marsh, or Kate Chase, is perfectly adequate, don’t you think?”

She gave a deflated sigh, and looked over to Max. “If things were that easy, I would have asked that on our anniversary. Maybe a lot sooner. I love her, she loves me; it should be that simple. Why isn’t it this fucking simple!?”

Max jumped back, just a little bit, at the outburst. Her friend hadn’t sworn in a long time, for Kate’s sake. “You don’t think it could be? Is it her family again?”

“Her family loves me,” she assured her friend quickly. “Her mom is slowly growing on me. Her aunt… her aunt’s a bitch.”

“How do you really feel, Vicky?”

“I’m sorry… you know I wouldn’t slip into my old self unless I really needed to get something out. But somebody had to stand up to her.”

“It was brave, that’s for sure.” Kate had given the event a mention, about Victoria telling her aunt off, but she didn’t know what was said, and how it was taken. “So, what happened?”

“A total ‘Deliver us from Vicky’ moment happened.” She sighed. “We drove down to her house for dinner, with every intention of burying the hatchet and a tearful hug party that I was totally looking forward to seeing. Marge, apparently, didn’t have that in mind at all. She had us sit on opposite sides of the table, and prayed for about fourteen minutes.” She smiled genuinely, leaning against an empty section of the wall. “It was the first time I’ve ever seen Kate not bow her head during a prayer. She kept mouthing ‘sorry’ at me, and I just… I couldn’t take it anymore. The things that lady kept saying… I’m not too religious, but any decent deity that I believe in would have sent it to voicemail, and deleted it. It was by the time that she began to ask that He spare Kate’s sisters from the sin and corruption that has overtaken their big sister, when I decided to interrupt.”

Max bit the inside of her cheek. She had firmly established many years ago to abuse the future information she had, not only for the money, but for the power. She had gotten one bill passed, and it would only be a matter of time before the rest of the country followed, but with her on the top of the food chain in the Northwest, the ‘One Percent’ seemed a lot more reluctant to embrace homophobia. “What the hell did she say?”

“Nothing I couldn’t handle; or, rather, The Queen Bitch Victoria couldn’t handle. I gotta tell you, it felt pretty good to get my claws back out.”

“How did Kate react?”

Victoria looked flustered in a way that Max had to chuckle. “Don’t laugh! She… well, she’d never seen that side of me before. She said that my explosive persona was always in my art, and never in my actions. She said until you came along, she never really could stand up for herself to her aunt or her mom, or anyone else. I really… I thought she’d hate me for all the things I said.”

“You’re outspoken. That’s who you are. That’s what Kate loves about you. You can’t be afraid to speak your mind, it’s kinda your thing.”

“Maybe.” She looked annoyed. “Maybe I don’t want to be known for that anymore.”

“We don’t care about you because you have a temper. We care because you’re passionate. Because you care too much.”

“Tell that to Aunt Marge.”

“Oh, I plan on it.”

The blonde shook her head. “I doubt you could do worse.”

“I doubt I could make her day any better. So what did you say exactly?”

“Something I probably should have told her a very long time ago.”

~One Week Ago~

“You’re pathetic.”

From the head of the table, Margaret lifted her head, fury in her eyes. “Excuse me?”

“Sorry. I had to stop you before you began speaking in tongues – I said ‘you’re pathetic’.

The woman looked eerily calm. “This is not a day where you are the judge, Miss Chase.”

“I didn’t ask for a fucking prosecutor.” She stood up in her chair. “Can’t you mind you own business, for once in your life?”

“I don’t expect you to understand, fully, what you’ve done to my niece.”

“What is that, exactly? Please, tell me! Corrupt her? Made her a specimen of sin? Made her too happy? Give her too much attention? Redefined her belief that there was someone for everyone? Just because I wasn’t born with a dick, doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to share a kiss with someone I love!”

She grimaced, pulling herself away from the table. “You’re disgusting. Saying such a thing in my house. There’s only one thing you want from my niece, and she’s been corrupted into giving it to you, hasn’t she?”

“Do NOT talk that way about your niece! Do not challenge something you clearly don’t know about! Since when have I accused you of being a crack whore, or a bottom-feeding, trash bag slut?”

“How dare you come into my house and-!”

“Hurts, doesn’t it?” If there was one thing Victoria learned while stomping her way up the food chain, it was using her body language. Step a little closer, and even if they were screaming, they’d shut their mouths pretty quick and look for an exit. Speak low, and they’d hang on to every word. “What you accused Kate of is something worth suing over in some countries. Then again, in some countries, Kate could be sold to the highest bidder. Unlike you, some people don’t pick and choose the scriptures to live by. Did you want money? Is that what you want? I’m the third richest family in this state, and my best fucking friends make up the trifecta!”

She stepped closer, and the woman looked like she was going to attack, but she didn’t care. Her bark alone was worse than this woman’s bite. “Kate is priceless to me. And I have already promised to pay her parents off by making her as happy as I can. That’s all I can do; make her happy. I am not her sin. She is my blessing. And if you ever say anything different, I will descend upon you a lawsuit that would reallyhave you speaking in tongues, just to dig yourself out of the hole you buried yourself in!”

She turned her head to the side. “Babe, you okay?”

Her nose took on a reddish tinge, and usually, Victoria would have found it adorable, had the red eyes not come with it. “Victoria… you didn’t – ”

“Yes, I did have to.” She turned back to the woman, who was probably reflecting on her life choices, and looking very carefully into what her next steps might possibly be. “You were so obsessed about taking the devil out of her, that you didn’t notice she was crying through half of your prayer. The only reason I’m not taking this to the press, and destroy all credibility and respect anyone might have for you, is because she doesn’t want me to. Everything I do, I do for her, or with her in mind.”

Her knuckles, pale as a sheet of paper, regained its color when a warm hand slid against hers.

Kate sniffled, looking directly at her aunt as she held onto her paramour’s hand with both of her own. “I’m sure Uncle Ben has plenty of stories to tell on why he almost left you. I can’t picture my life without Victoria in it. You seem to have a lot of ways to experiment on that possibility, all while being married to him. You don’t judge me. You have no authority over me.”

She hesitated, for the smallest of seconds, before she squeezed her best friend’s hand. “You accused me of giving Victoria what she wants. All she wants is my love. And I have given her so much more.” She felt a brief pang of satisfaction from her aunt’s look of frightened recognition. “Everything. And I’m not apologizing for that. I have no reason to. As of last week, we’re engaged. We didn’t wear our rings here out of respect for you, at her request. So get used to us. Or stay out of my life.”

She dragged her fiancée along, who was more than happy to follow, to the front door. Before stepping out, she turned back around, seeing her aunt lingering in the hallway, unsure. “I love you, auntie. But if you can’t accept me, as who I am – a girl who’s happy, and loved, and grateful for my blessings – then I can’t accept you for what you are – a message of what happens when even faith is corrupted.”

Kate, almost unwillingly, let go of her betrothed’s hands and slowly walked over to her aunt, who made no signs of moving. She honestly didn’t know if she was considering her future with her niece, or if she was… saying goodbye for the final time.

Still, she hugged her aunt. “I will pray for you, auntie. And I hope we can talk again. Whether you show up at our wedding is up to you and God. Just… call me, okay?”

It took a few moments, but she felt relieved to feel arms wrap back around her. “Of course I will, dear. Just, please, pray for me. I support you. And while I can’t agree with it, I will always support you. If she makes you happy, then… well, your father supports it. So damnation to us all, I suppose. Just don’t make the mistakes I made.”

“Thank you, auntie. Thank you.” She sniffled again, releasing her aunt, the two shared genuine smiles for the first time in years.

They gathered in a final, shorter hug, before Kate joined Victoria, and the couple left the house, but not before both waved at the aunt, who stood at the front porch, watching them with curious eyes.

“I think that went well.”

Victoria snorted, turning onto the expressway. “Sure. Well. I guess that counts as working in mysterious ways.”

“I love you, Tori.”

“Still? After that display? I practically threatened to destroy her life.”

“And that’s what she needed, to hear me out. I’ve had so much to say to her, but she couldn’t hear it. A threat was what she needed in order to hear someone else’s opinions. She didn’t listen to Uncle Ben until he threatened divorce. Thank you.”

“Anytime. I guess.”

They would have ridden home in silence, just taking in the comfort of the other’s presence, until Kate giggled. “You’re really not gonna ask about it, are you?”

“What? The ‘I gave her everything’ line? The look on her face was priceless.”

“It was, wasn’t it? But… I wish it were true.”

“Not me. I don’t want you to regret anything, Kate.”

“I’m marrying you, Victoria. And we’ve talked many, many times about what that entails. It’s the point for no return in my family. Until death do us part; literally. I won’t regret a moment I spend with you for as long as I live, and we both know it. If I can’t see any faults in us twenty years down the line, then I sure as hell won’t regret it now.”

It took a moment to refocus the car. “Kate!”

“What we do are for our eyes only. And I’m spending the rest of my life with you. I just, for one night, want to be… sinful.”

Victoria nodded shakily. They were both the blushing virgins, but she didn’t expect to be the one blushing harder.

“I’m putty in your hands, Victoria.” She smiled wickedly, something she didn’t think she was capable of, but definitely wouldn’t mind seeing again. “Teach me… everything.”

~Present Day~

She coughed awkwardly. “So, um… yeah. Max, we’re actually getting married, and it might – keyword, might – go off without a hitch.. I mean, you already knew that; I’m sure Kate’s told you every sordid detail. Maybe we will get that happy ending… wow.”

“Nice deflection. Kate told me about the engagement, by accident. And if I wanted to know ‘every sordid detail,’ I would have asked you. You’d be more descriptive.” She loved seeing the girl practically glow red. “But I’m glad that my two best friends found each other.”

“It’s… it’s almost clinically insane. We’re only six months out of Blackwell, and I feel like we’re, maybe, going too fast?”

“Maybe. But you two will feel the same ten years from now. Take every moment you can together. If I could’ve changed anything with my relationship with Chloe, we would’ve gotten married at eight.”

“Oh, that would’ve been the cutest little wedding photo. I’d be really looking forward to the dance.”

“You laugh now, until the brides have the first dance. We were playing anything but traditional music on the cliff side. Good luck trying to convince her otherwise.”

“Huh. Didn’t think about that. Although, you just gave me a cool idea.”

“I’m not playing at your wedding. I doubt Kate’s gonna let any photographers in, so I’m gonna be all over that.”

“Oh, fair enough.” She smirked. “Y’know, Chasefield probably would’ve been a pretty hellish team.”

Max tilted her head to the side. “Maybe.” They seemed to be going pretty strong in the other timeline, but she never had the chance to confirm it. She wasn’t overly curious about that could-have-been, but it definitely seemed like a possibility, if this is where they are today. “How do you think Marshfield would have fared?”

“Honestly? That would have been pretty freaking cute.”

“She said that, too. But I like going to R-rated movies with my wife. Maybe in another life.”

“Maybe. But I think I’ll keep Kate all to myself in this one.”

“I don’t think Chloe would mind that.” She stopped in front of a covered portrait, next a very familiar photo – Her very first kiss with Chloe, in the photo booth at an amusement park with her parents seven years ago, above the photo of Chloe kissing her back. They had completely missed it, both skipping off to another event, but her mother had taken the strip with her. It had been one of the most thoughtful wedding gifts ever. Together, she and Chloe rebuilt the image from the ground up on a grander scale, and the two small stamp-sized pictures were now fully-blown portraits. It was pretty much the only real move she ever made on Chloe.

“My parents own a gallery, you know.” Victoria’s tearful voice cut through Max’s reminiscence; she didn’t know when the blonde started crying. “I had some really big shoes to fill. I wanted to so badly be in one of their galleries.”

“They ordered a few of your prints off our website,” she admitted, watching her friend’s grateful tears. “They come to you for their art, Victoria. You’re the standard-setter, now. You’ve filled those shoes.”

She crossed her arms, smiling at her friend and business partner. “It feels really good to be a part of the Pricefield Brand.”

“As it should.” She held out her hand, and Victoria’s smile was genuinely bright and full of hope – a sight once impossible, now common and so very welcome. They shook on the deal.

“Now, for your first task – pull apart the curtain. Just to know how it feels to open up an exhibit in your own gallery. I imagine your parents have always wanted you to earn this moment. Now it’s yours.”

With trembling fingers, Victoria reached for the velvet drapes, and slowly pushed the curtain aside. She gasped.

It was the road trip to Portland, then Seattle – the first one their group shared on Max’s eighteenth birthday – in Chloe’s cramped red truck. Since, their circle had gone for limos and SUVs for their long-distance travels, but the first one was, by far, the most intimate; they had to double up on the ride.

One of those times, and Victoria had to admit that it was an extended one time, she had sat in the lap of Kate Marsh for much of the trip. It was so innocent at the time – Kate’s arm curled around her waist, her own arm around the cornflower-blonde’s head, the two holding up the peace sign as they posed for Max’s camera.

“Oh, Max,” Victoria gasped, covering her mouth with her hands as she took a step back – the giant framing taking over her field of vision, “It’s beautiful.”

“Chloe and I were figuring what to actually put in the ‘Priceless’ section. The day we were in the amusement park – when we saw something more in each other – had to be the first, and our photo wall picture became more popular than we expected. The Blackwell Academy graduating class photo, Nathan’s picture of our circle of friends, Hayden’s picture of the Gallery opening. All priceless. The only thing missing is your future wedding photo. Well, that, and this.”

When Victoria hugged her, the tears ruining her own cashmere without a care in the world, Maxine decided that she had made, yet again, the right choice in having her as a friend.