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Free Rein

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Lily Reynolds is done going through a difficult time. Everything’s been off course since her dad died, but now she’s going to start getting what she wants again.

She wants to maintain her high social standing, and she wants to attend a prestigious college, and she wants a career in finance successful enough to facilitate the comfortable lifestyle to which she is accustomed.

She wanted Mark to be out of her life, and now he is. She also wants Amanda to stay in her life, which is going to be a bit complicated for a little while, but it’ll work itself out eventually. Lily can be patient; this isn’t the first time she’s played the long game. 

Amanda actually has quite a lot going for her, aside from the animal cruelty charge; she’s sort of pretty and plenty rich and still underage. It might not impress a judge, but the technique would play well in front of a jury and her mother would play well in front of the press. It’s enough for the family’s fancy lawyers to swing her a plea deal. 

It turns out the mandatory minimum sentence for manslaughter in the first degree is only one year. The judge gives Amanda ten to start, but it’s reducible with good behavior.

“I asked what would constitute bad behavior, but they wouldn’t give me specific examples,” Amanda writes in the third letter Lily receives from her. “Maybe they’re worried about giving me ideas. Of course, I can’t exactly offer any repeat performances; it’s not like there are any terminally injured horses around.” 

Lily responds to every letter, but she doesn’t sign her name. She includes a return address to a P.O. box that she rents with cash so her mother’s CPA won’t see the charge on her bank records. Emails would be neater, but Amanda has limited internet access. This is the next best option.

“The shrink wants me to talk about Mark,” Amanda writes later. “I told her I only ever spoke to him a few times in passing, and that I never knew much about him other than that you hated him. I think she’s waiting for me to tell her why - like there’s some big secret I can reveal that will justify his death. She wants me to say that he raped you, or that he hit you, or that he’d dissolved the trust fund from your father’s life insurance payout and stole your inheritance. She thinks that even if Mark was killed in a fit of passion, it must have been preceded by a building anger sparked by a legitimate grievance. I told her about the ergometer, but she didn’t seem impressed.” 

“My mother is distraught,” Lily writes back. “I’m sure she never expected to have been twice-widowed before turning sixty. You’d think estate management would be a skill one gets better at with practice, but it’s like she doesn’t remember doing all of this five years ago. Fortunately, I turn 18 soon and I've always had a good head for numbers. I’m hoping I’ll be able to convince her to sign over management of some of the family finances to me - just temporarily, of course, so I can help keep everything in order while she grieves.”

“I’ve never thought of myself as the marrying type,” Amanda replies, “but I think young widowhood would suit you well. You’re very skilled at displaying stoicism in the face of adversity.”

The thing about wealth, about old money, is that Lily has never really needed anything. She has a nice home and she also has a nice summer home, and a year after Mark’s death she also has a nice dorm room at a small private university in California. It's not exactly where she'd expected to end up before, but now it gives her the distance she needs to reinvent. No one there knows about Mark, aside from the vague remarks she makes to excuse her solitude during Parents’ Weekend. No one there knows about Amanda at all, so Lily never has to pretend to be ashamed of the best thing that's ever happened to her. 

Amanda's still kind of weird, of course, but she's less off-putting via correspondence than she was in person, and even if there are still aspects of Amanda's personality that Lily doesn't love, it's not like she could ever ask for a better friend.

“The psychiatrist tells my mother I’m basically cured now,” Amanda writes. “An assortment of prescriptions that Mom prefers not to know the names or dosages of have fully controlled the violent emotional instability I displayed in adolescence, and thus I have been reincorporated into the will.”

By the time Amanda’s release date is finalized, Lily’s moved on to a quaint little 3-bedroom. She has domestic staff contracted to come twice a week to clean the bathrooms and stock the kitchen and refresh all the flower arrangements.

"Mom's taking a leave of absence from work," Lily reports in her first letter from the new address. "No idea how long it's going to last or what she thinks she's going to do with her time other than mope around. It would be insufferable if I weren't three thousand miles away from her. At least her vacation from responsibility shouldn't cause any severe monetary problems. I've set aside enough to make sure everyone can be taken care of comfortably, even if access to your family's funds does become complicated."

“I don’t think it will," Amanda reassures her. "My dad wouldn't admit it but he really wants someone to carry on the family name, even if I'm his only option.”

The idea of legacy - of children - brings up the idea of marriage, of settling down with some unknown man of adequate standing and background, of there being other people in their lives more important than each other. Lily’s been rolling the eventuality in her mind all these years. She’s made peace with it, mostly, but she hasn't yet figured out how to discuss it.

“In that case,” she writes, “I suppose we’ll have to find something else to spend your allowance on.”

They go abroad for the first summer of Amanda’s freedom - to Italy primarily, but they also make shorter stops in France and Spain. All places where no one knows or cares anything about them aside from their money.

Lily loves Europe. No one there gives a damn when she smokes indoors.

“Do you have any regrets?” Amanda asks one evening. They’re drinking wine on a hotel balcony, the lingering sunset painting the ancient city below them with blood red light.

Lily glances away from her and shrugs one shoulder. She says, "Sure. Doesn't everybody?"

Amanda finishes her drink.