"Mrs. Adeline Taylor. I love how that sounds!" Mrs. Madison squealed as she gestured for Frances to serve the champagne flutes to Addy. Frances subserviently accommodated, something she tended to do. Addy nodded in gratitude when Frances handed her the drink. "Frances, go busy yourself elsewhere, I have some things to discuss with your sister." As Frances stepped out of the room Addy thought about how recently Frances took on the role of a butler rather than her adopted sibling. Mrs. Madison leaned in to look at Addy's sizable two-carat ring with its platinum band. Addy found the thing to be a bit gaudy for an everyday piece to wear, but she was well aware that her future intended was also showing his own personal success of his medical practice on her hand as much as it was to signify her marital status. Emmet was doing quite well for himself by accounts, which seemed to be the only thing her mother cared about. Alice spoke of her daughter's fiance's professional achievements to anyone who would listen, as there was little else between them for her to mention. For Addy the more she was with the man, the more she was embarrassed by her own lack of personal success. After all, she was a twenty-something just out of school and he was so renowned, this only made her mother smugger upon hearing of Addy's insecurities though. Addy in her newly acquired humiliation, found her concerns to fall on deaf ears.
Addy had come a long way since her very recent sorority days. She had met the shrill doctor at a student meet and greet for the major alumni donors. He was her senior by decades, but being well mannered she knew to be obliging during their introduction. His eyes practically glazed over every time she tried to have a genuine conversation with him about her personal interests or her dabbling in modeling that got her some recognition amongst her peers. Addy was accustomed to the boys her age fawning over her to the point of hanging on to her every word, but Emmet seemed disinterested as he glanced at his phone instead of responding. Addy took it as a clue to speak less, but this only caused him to leave all the sooner. She never expected to hear from him again until a bouquet arrived with a note requesting her as his plus one to a political fundraiser event the following weekend. She confirmed her intention to attend with his secretary while awkwardly referring to him as Dr. Taylor until he later sharply reprimanded her for it in his car on the night of the event. It all came off as so very third party to Addy, yet it was not too long before this had become her new normal. The man in her life with his indifference and their cold exchanges of accompaniment between them constituted their relationship. The summer after her graduation when Emmet proposed to Addy, she half expected him to have one of his staff members do it, since he already outsourced many of their relationship communications routinely.
Unbeknownst to Addy were the troubles her family was having at home while she was away at school. The Madisons had nearly everything due to her father's many failed entrepreneurial pursuits in hock. Losses ranged from bad stock market buys to frivolous lawsuits. No matter the venture the Madison family seemed to be unable to avoid falling on the losing end of every deal. This information though was a well tucked away secret not even those living in the Madison home knew this truth besides Mr. and Mrs. Madison, who were too ashamed to ever speak of it openly. The one unacknowledged fact between the couple was that they never had as much as they had touted. Mr. Madison had received far less from his inheritance than had been promised or expected. Tom's old debts prior to that were already compounding which became financially excruciating when the much anticipated trust fund relief never materialized.
The mastermind behind painting the wealthy facade of the Madison family was Mrs. Madison. She was a woman of limited means prior to taking up the position of a trophy wife. It was her who ultimately took the initiative to downsize the household staff to the point that only the sheepish Frances was bearing the brunt of the chores. Mrs. Madison would speak on the importance of not letting wealth go to the girl's head as a method to avoid the forbidden topic of their slow-boiling financial demise. It did not take long for Mrs. Madison to truly enjoy the role that Frances fulfilled as an unpaid servant rather than the disappointing adoptee that she felt the girl had become. With every added duty Frances took on in her grade school years Mrs. Madison resented her more. To her, Frances was deeply unpolished, unrefined, and undeserving. By the time it came for Frances to go to college too, Mrs. Madison was relieved to not have to order her to do the basic tasks she felt were more effort to micromanage for Frances than to do herself. As for Frances, she assumed that Mrs. Madison would miss her even though she had never even allowed the girl to call her "mom." The only term of endearment that Mrs. Madison allowed her was to use her first name in private, "Alice."
The house had fallen quiet in the few years Addy was away. Things were abuzz when she returned with an engagement on. Emmet had wanted to live apart until they were officially married. As strange as it sounded, Addy felt there was so much formality between herself and her future husband that she hardly knew the man. It was as if their relationship was purely professional. Emmet offered her endless security and the shielded comfort of never having to make it on her own. She was very aware that he had viewed her attempt at a modeling career as tasteless, making it all the easier to quit before the industry swallowed her as she was warned frequently by those who knew of her intended path. Addy clung to her Theatrical Arts degree as her ticket to stardom, when in fact anyone she spoke to of high personal achievement winced a little at her naivety. Addy thought her beauty could push her into the entertainment industry where her inability to act, dance, or sing failed her. She considered her biggest betrayal in life as catching her sorority sisters once gossiping about her choppy delivery of dialog in the one prominent role she had scored in an off-campus play. At the time she blamed a head cold for her stumbling over her lines, but she could not lie to herself that she only got the part because the director had a crush on her. Something she had to play into to keep the part, much to her disgust. Being a proper young woman, Addy knew to keep her weaknesses to herself and to stay on topics that she considered polite conversation, but it hurt her to know she was a has-been before she ever started and being with Emmet sometimes rubbed her nose in that reality.
Frances's history with the family was less any kind of warmth or love. She was the illegitimate daughter of a distant relative, something Alice neglected to ever tell Frances for fear that the girl would look into the family history of secret benefactors with penchants for brothels. There was never a day that Frances wasn't reminded of how different she looked from the people she shared a household with. Whether it was the topic of her nose not being the right shape or her hair not falling the way it should, Frances was backhandedly conditioned to endure her wretched life among the Madisons. When she did do better than the beloved Addy, the attitude was always switched to "oh, you're still on that?" or "don't be so trivial Frances." As for Addy, she considered Frances to be more of a pet than a person. She both adored her but did not bother herself with the details of Frances' life all that much. At best Addy used Frances to emotionally dump her troubles on in times of personal stress as a last resort from time to time. A guest in the home for any short span of time would wonder how Frances had not gone mad by the treatment she received at the hands of the family. The family rarely had guests, possibly for that reason. The socially deprived Frances could not have been happier to see Addy as even her first semester of college had not softened her thick coat of shyness.
That night after the girls were in their rooms, the Madison matriarch and patriarch whispered to one another the good news of their daughter's engagement. Alice told the overjoyed Tom how Addy's marriage into money could reopen the door for them into society's upper crust, of which they had been circling the drain for years at this point. Alice confirmed that she would use a traditional wedding to put their family's name back into good repute. To which Tom smiled thinking of all the ways he could worm his way in with new investors who were unaware of his shabby track record in the business world. After that, every toast and every thought would be under the guise of ceremony to pull themselves out of the mud that they had placed themselves in for so long. Tradition would save us, they echoed each other in private conversation, knowing that it was their last hope before having to sell off their assets and admit defeat to the world. Tradition was all the Madison family had.