Campaign of the Month: October 2017
Blood and Bourbon
Sarah Anne Widney
Caroline Malveaux-Devillers' de facto chief of staff
Intense. Authoritative. Driven. Unusually, for a woman, most describe Sarah (who prefers to go by her last name without any title before it), not by her looks but by the impression she leaves as she passes through their lives. It’s even more unusual when the woman in question isn’t unattractive. Though not gorgeous, especially not in her trademark suit complete with shoulder pads that belie just how slight of frame she is, Widney can earn a second look from many men. Her fair skin and symmetrical face might even be beautiful if she smiled. Her eyes are large and expressive, though typically the expression they’re locked into is one of severity, and combined with the hint of a frown they make her look older than her thirty years. She wears her hair long, but ruthlessly under control with a combination of pins, braids, and ties so precise that most never realize just how naturally bushy it is when allowed freedom. Nominally a brunette, though her hair has a tendency to shift more towards blond when she gets a lot of sun. Exquisitely and professionally dressed at all times, Widney prides herself on her appearance and is rarely seen in anything outside of her array of well-tailored suits. Underneath those suits Widney has the leanness of a runner on top of her already slight frame.
Name: Sarah Anne Widney
Date of Birth: May 15th, 1985
Date of Ghouling: February 12th, 2016
Apparent Age: 30
Real Age: 31
Weight: 106 lbs
Eye Color: Brown
Hair Color: Brunette, Summer Blond
Originally from Topeka, Kansas and born to Edward and Amy Widney, Sarah Ann Widney was the oldest of three children in a household living well below the poverty line. Her father, nominally a construction worker, was habitually out of work for her early childhood, and eventually went onto long-term disability drawing a fraction of his already fractional declared income, as the majority of his pay for years was undeclared under-the-table earnings. Her mother had been a teenage mother to Widney, was high school dropout, had been nearly excommunicated by her own influential mother (Widney’s grandmother, Ethel Hampton), and was far away from childhood home and friends to boot. The family limped on for years out of a trailer park, her mother doing everything she could to keep them together and afloat. They put up hanging plastic barriers inside the trailer to trap warmth in smaller areas in the winter and double insulated all the windows with extra layers of plastic over the onside and outside. They survived off of food bank donations and dollar store dinners. They grew a small garden out front in the summer to supplement their meager pantry. The children wore used Goodwill clothing that became hand-me-downs to younger siblings. Poverty was a creeping, clinging, silent killer waiting to throw the family onto the street at any moment.
That experience during her formative years had a dramatic effect on Widney, carving her into the serious, practical, and emotionally reserved woman she is today. When her friends did dangerous and risky things like jump off the water tower, she declined, too aware of what an unexpected medical bill would do to her family. When her little brothers engaged in reckless or careless actions, she chastised them, desperate to keep the family together and alleviate some of her mother’s endless stress—stress that she watched age her mother to premature gray hair at the ‘old’ age of 29. Though never overly beaten or physically abused, one could scarcely argue that her mother was not battered by the life she chose. She was acutely aware of her family’s poverty and unable to do anything in the face of it. Wearing hand-me-down hand-me-downs and quite small (likely, though not certainly due to malnutrition) she was viciously bullied by most throughout elementary school. She never complained about that treatment to her mother and did her best to hide the bruises in their cramped living conditions, though her mother almost certainly saw them given their extremely close proximity. She devoted hours a day to laundry and other chores, helping her mother try to stay ahead of things. Most of their clothing was washed not in a powered washing machine, but with an old fashion board, and hung out to dry. To this day Widney still remembers the feel of her mother’s dried out, cracked, raw hands from the soul crushing work in cold water filled tubs filled with a garden hose. Indeed, the feel of those hands is one of the very few distinct memories of her mother that she has left.
Sarah was eleven years old when her parents and brothers died. That life of crushing poverty and deprivation came to an end with as much tragedy as it had persisted in. On a particularly cold night her father brought a charcoal heater into the house. It was by pure chance (or rather, the mercy of her friend’s mother who intentionally invited the girl over on one of the coldest days of the year) that Sarah spent the night at a friend’s house. She returned in the morning to discover her entire family dead in their sleep, asphyxiated. What thoughts must have gone through her mind in that moment even she’ll probably never know: after nearly passing out herself from the intense buildup of fumes she claims to not remember actually seeing corpses of her entire family. It took a full day for the police to show up, and almost two days to get Widney into foster care—she slept two nights in a lumpy chair at the local precinct. It took another week thereafter to sort what to do with her in the long term: her maternal grandmother eventually came forward from out of state as willing to take on guardianship of her.
Sarah’s maternal grandmother, Ethel Hampton, was in many ways the opposite of her mother. A success story despite abuse she’d endured from her first husband, Ethel had succeeded in male-dominated corporate fields and established herself as a successful executive into the 70s before retiring in comfort and relative wealth. She’d grown estranged from her daughter when the latter returned home as a teenager, pregnant with Edward’s child, and declared her intention to marry the decade-older construction worker. Bitter fights between mother and daughter saw the latter thrown out of her house, prompting Amy to drop out of high school in order to support her new family. Ethel’s attempts to report Edward to the police for statutory rape did little to repair the two’s relationship, and Ethel swore she would never speak to or of him again. She still sent a stream of letters and Christmas and birthday gifts to the grandchildren she’d never seen and hoped to meet them once her daughter wised up (though as years of silence passed, that hope changed to simply when her grandchildren had grown up). When Ethel learned from Sarah that the children never saw any of those gifts (their mother had secretly intercepted and returned them to various stores for store credit or refunds as part of her efforts to keep the family afloat), and indeed had no idea who she was, she was only barely able to contain her fury for the sake of her traumatized granddaughter.
Forced to build her relationship from the ground up, Ethel did the best she could to deal with the girl who knew her only as a stranger. Brought into her opulent home in New Orleans and trying to reconcile the loss of her family, Sarah needed therapy that her grandmother did her best to provide, paying for years of psychoanalysis after school. The girl blamed herself for the death of her family, blamed herself for surviving, and wrapped up in sudden wealth she couldn’t have imagined, felt she was undeserving of everything from her grandmother’s treatment to her new clothing and bed.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the treatment (of the era) Widney never quite overcame those feelings, nor did she ever buy fully into the Catholic faith that her grandmother attempted to immerse her in. While she went to church, accepted her baptism, and even read the bible to make her grandmother happy, Widney’s faith was never there under the surface, and when she moved out for college she quickly fell from the Catholic flock. She did however take readily to her grandmother’s lessons on independence and hard work. She embraced such ideas as a validator for all the things she felt she did not deserve. She’d be better than most people, because she had to be. She owed it to her grandmother, her mother, and her brothers all to be something. That such drive also filled her days and nights helped distract her from her social aloofness. Lectured by her grandmother for years, and having seen firsthand her mother’s own suffering as a result of her relationship choices, Widney didn’t lose her virginity until late in her college years, and even then kept all partners at arm’s length, preferring “hookups” to intimacy. Her circle of friends too remained small and distant, perhaps because she blamed her childhood friendships on her survival while the rest of her family died.
Fiercely practical and driven in school, she earned her bachelor’s degree with a double major in Finance and Psychology in only three years, averaging 20 credits a semester and taking summer classes. An Masters of Business Accounting (MBA) followed even as on the side she ruthlessly pursued an array specialized programs to make herself more marketable, including Toastmasters and follow-ups to the self-defense classes she took as her college physical education credits. Her grandmother approved. Though few employers truly bought into the idea of this oh-so-slight woman protecting them or their adult children, it was a nice resume item, and gave her an added feeling of control in her life, however false it might have been.
Unable to escape her past even as an adult, Widney sought out employment not in accounting or business, but instead as a personal assistant. Whether she was seeking to avoid responsibility for her own life or sought to put other’s lives in order, her superb qualifications (and the helpful referral from her grandmother, if not outright acceptance of her chosen career path) put her in touch with the upper crust of society where she quickly developed a reputation for dependability and responsibility by working with several spoiled heiresses. Her breakthrough—and breakdown—however came with Robert Argabrite III, an orphaned heir to a massive family fortune coming off a disastrous marriage to a young escort named Samantha Watts who absconded in the divorce with a substantial portion of his fortune (some say as much as half).
Recommended by several others, she moved into Robert’s life and quickly took charge of his spiraling fortune and personal life, imposing order on him he’d not known since his childhood and salvaging the lion’s share of his remaining wealth. She fired manipulative advisers, threw out thieving accountants and lawyers, and set him on a path to recovery and success. The still-impressionable and heartbroken young man was smitten with her. What began as seemingly innocent overtures attempting to break down the professional barrier between them soon turned more and more pathetic as she ignored his attempts at getting her to open up about her own private life. Put off by his helplessness (which reminded her of her own father), dismayed by the idea of intimacy with her employer, and uninterested in the idea of a relationship in general she submitted her resignation to him less than a year after entering his employment, shortly after he confessed his already all too obvious feelings for her to her.
Argabrite took her rejection badly, turning on Widney with the swiftness of a serpent in hand. He circulated rumors that she had been fired for a lack of professionalism, mismanagement, and outright theft. Whether he genuinely believed that blacklisting her as a personal assistant and butler to others would bring her crawling back, or whether he was simply lashing out with the fury of a man twice scorned by women he loved, the result for Widney was the same: near professional ruin as even those in the know as to her competence refused to touch her for fear that they would become a target for the furiously unstable and wealthy young heir. Sidelined, with her name in the mud, Widney was left with a difficult choice as to seeking a different career, or fleeing New Orleans. Ultimately, she did neither.
On the hunt for her next long term project—for in truth Widney held most of her clients to date as messes to be cleaned up, children who had to be forced to live as adults—she was put in touch with the spiraling heiress Caroline Malveaux-Devillers in late 2015. Having recently taken a leave absence from (and some whispered dropped out of) law school following a brief and rumored disappearance during Southern Decadence (a debauched festival an upstanding young woman like Caroline had no place at in the first place) and the death of her brother, Westley, Caroline seemed an ideal candidate for working her way into the Malveaux family. Little did she know that Caroline had her own designs for her new personal assistant, who the Ventrue ghouled shortly later. She’s since functioned as Caroline’s ‘chief of staff’ among the Ventrue’s growing collection of ghouls and living servants. She helps track her mistress’ finances, manages daytime events that she cannot see to, and organizes her social calendar and other obligations amidst her restrictions as a member of the all-night Society.
Personality & Relationships
Controlling and authoritative, Widney likes to seize the initiative in every circumstance, heading off problems before they start. In public, and in her professional life, she’s the definition of the word to the extent that some call her the ice queen. She accepts no excuses and demands high quality work from others under her—if not the equal of her own work, than close to it. She manages deference to social betters and has a way of, despite her high expectations and no-excuses approach, not only bringing out the best in others but of avoiding poisoning her relationship despite it. She makes people want to meet the high expectations she sets, and almost shames them with her own ‘perfection’. She’s your disapproving mother, your expectant mentor, and your energetic boss all in one 5’8" package.
In private and among those few she trusts, Widney lets her guard down in the form of a sarcastic biting wit and general hatred of incompetence or idiocy. She strongly disapproves of those unable to make ‘good choices’ and only narrowly avoids laughing at the misfortune of those who set themselves up for failure. Even among her (rare) romantic partners however she remains distant, afraid of commitment. Those partners have grown almost non-existent since she was ghouled—and not to her significant disappointment.
Perhaps the most disturbing facet of Widney’s personality is how readily she has adapted to the existence of the all-night society and her own place as a ghoul within it. Already accustomed to working as a servant to powerful individuals, she’s excelled in her role for Caroline as the administrator of many of her day to day activities, as a confidante, and as capable emissary to others capable of avoiding giving offense and presenting the proper impression, though Caroline is loath to expose her ghouls to other Kindred in her own absence, viewing Widney as a near-priceless asset. The ghoul is typically the first person to meet her after waking, and one of the last to see her in a night.
For her part, Widney struggles internally with the effect that the bond has on her, particularly in how it pushes her out of the professional zone with her boss and domitor. Though she’s managed thus far to keep her feelings largely in check, she fears it’s only a matter of time before she says or does something that she would find wholly unbecoming, and has found herself slipping into more and more casual and unprofessional conversation with Caroline, especially when speaking of others and when the two are alone together. Academically she understands the bond, and analytically she accepts it as a trade-off for her gifts and current position, but emotionally it’s more complicated, as it creates in her feelings she hasn’t truly felt since her childhood, given her deep detachment from others. As much as professionally she despises the idea of growing more casual, close, or even intimate with Caroline as a betrayal of the careful lifestyle she crafted, part of her wants it more than anything, wants to give in and admit the love she feels.
At the same time, her position as a ghoul, as a near permanent servant, fits perfectly with her own image of herself as unworthy and needing to serve to validate her own existence. There’s a degree of peace to it that she hadn’t found in her prior work, and it would be fair to say she has truly embraced her place and enjoys her work—as well as the company of Ms. Malveaux. In many ways, perhaps as much as a result of the bond as anything else, she feels she’s found where she belongs, that spot she’s been missing since she was an 11-year-old girl.
Widney is extremely protective of Caroline, a trait she shares in its own way with the deceased Amanda Turner (with whom she might have gotten along well with in their own blunt, obtuse, and uncompromising way). While the former marine was deeply devoted to Caroline’s physical security, Widney is dedicated to her social and psychological well-being. She inserts herself aggressively as a barrier between the more needy ghouls in Caroline’s service, argues for her aggressively in the personal assistant circles that she still keeps tabs on, and does everything in her power to shield Caroline from needless and petty distractions like paying rent, transferring money, and the like. She’s particularly unfond of the more junkie like, unprofessional, and nervous (some would say paranoid) behaviors of Autumn Rabinowitz, actively working to mitigate them within the more senior ghoul (or hide them from Caroline), even as she’s been forced over the last year to rely on her as a ready resource for building her own knowledge of protocols in Kindred society.