“Could you repeat that?” Dad's voice sounds faint through the whooshing in my head.
“Mr. Winston left his son, Adam Mannering, thirty million dollars,” Atkins repeats. “There are stipulations, naturally, but the bequest is essentially free of restrictions.”
“That’s what I thought you said." Dad says, sounding remarkably calm, He turns to me and, seeing my expression, frowns.
My brain kicks in when Dad grips my arm, and with it, my anger and disgust at Winston return tenfold.
“I don’t want it!” I practically yell and stand, my chair nearly toppling over as I to race out. In the lobby, I pace near the elevators, trying to clear the red fog from my brain. I’m not sure how long it takes for Dad to appear, and when he does, he presses a button before patting me on the back.
“I know this is a shock and that you’re upset, Son. We'll discuss everything when we get home. I want you to enjoy the rest of the day and take time to digest everything. I think you should read the letters, " he says, patting his jacket, but I won’t rush you.".
I nod gratefully. . “Did you tell him we don’t want the money?” I ask.
“Adam, it’s not our money; it’s yours. And no, I said nothing of the kind. Now, we’ll discuss this when you’ve calmed down and after your mom and I have talked.”
Out on the street, Dad hails a cab, and we return to the hotel to change our clothes before leaving to visit The Statue of Liberty. Ellis Island is next. From there, we make our way to the Empire State building and walk to the top so we can tell Mom and Cait we did. While visiting the gift shop, I buy a snow globe for Mom and a sparkly key chain for Cait. Dad and I join a tour of the Yankees Stadium next, where I get Matt an official Rawlings Major League baseball. I like it so much that Dad gets me one too.
We try to forget the morning’s events, but there are times when either one of us goes quiet. I'm sure Dad's thinking about the meeting with Mr. Atkins too. I have no idea what else he learned after I left the room, but right now, I really don’t care. I'm serious about not wanting to know or have anything to do with the Winston family.
After wandering around and doing some shopping, mainly for Cait and me, Dad announces that we need to visit Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue. I discovered, years ago, that Mom loves old Hollywood movies. When I ask what and why Tiffany's, he tells me it's a jewelry store and then describes some movie called Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which, apparently, is a favorite of Mom's. The store, he explains, is iconic, and any discerning woman would love a piece of jewelry from it.
“You won't think it's stupid when you meet a woman you love as much as I love your Mom, ” he grins at my look of ridicule.
“Not going to happen,” I mutter.
“What? You haven’t met someone who makes your heart flip yet?” he jokes, and, despite wanting to appear indifferent, my ears heat.
I haven’t met anyone who’s made my heart flip, but other parts of my body have definitely been reacted girls. Natalie Jones, especially.
* * * * *
I spend most of the flight home staring out at the dark sky, thankful that it’ll be too late for a long conversation when we get home. When we arrive, I greet Mom and Cait and immediately excuse myself to go upstairs where I visit the bathroom and go straight to bed.
Coming out of the bathroom, I hear Dad and Cait. "You can see Adam in the morning. He’s had a big day, and you should be in bed," he tells her. I'm pretty sure, though, that Mom won't have to wait for the details.
“I said tomorrow, Caitlin." Dad sounds stern, and I assume she’d argued because he hardly ever uses that tone with Cait— with either of us, actually.
Despite my dark mood, I smile, imaging Cait's face as she stomps off. She's never happy about not getting her way.
I wake with a start when something heavy lands on my legs. “What the hell? I mumble irritably. It took ages to fall asleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about Adam fucking Winston. He’d known about me; Eleanor’s letter saw to that. I have no idea when she wrote it, but it must have been nearly nine years ago because she’s been dead for almost that long. However long it's been, he didn’t once try to contact me in that time. He clearly didn't want to because he instructed his lawyer to hold onto both letters until he died. I also don’t know when he wrote that letter to me. What difference does it make if it was seventeen years or six months ago? The fact is, he didn’t want to know me. Thirty million dollars! Guilt money. He can shove it!
A sharp whack on my shin brings me back to the present. I open my eyes to glare at Cait.
“Well?” she demands, arms open wide.
“Well, what? Damn, Cait!” I yell when glancing at the clock. It's seven fucking o-clock. On a Saturday!
“Go away,” I hiss, turning over.
She yanks my pillow, making my head hit the mattress with a thump, then pummels me with it until I sit up.
“Well?” she challenges again.
I reach for the shopping bag beside my bed, rummage through it, and hand her a small box.
“Here. Can I go back to sleep now?” She hits me again.
“Stop! You do not want to start a fight with me,” I threaten. Cait waves the pillow in front of my face—my only one—and grins smugly.
“Tell me what happened,” she demands.
“Wait! This first—” she decides, flinging herself onto my bed and opening the box. She grins appreciatively while dangling the chain from a finger.
“Thanks,” she says. “Now, spill.”
“Well, the Empire State Building was completed in nineteen forty-one and remained the tallest building in New York until —” Cait's narrows her eyes in warning.
“The asshole left me thirty million dollars!” I say, signing as I speak.
"You mean three,” Cait holds up three fingers.
I answer by slowly and deliberately signing and mouthing ,“t-h-i-r-t-y,” at the same time.
“Fuck!” she mutters, eyes incredulously wide.
“No shit, Sherlock,” I return just as Mom passes my door.
“Language!” she admonishes before her look turns to one of concern. “How are you, sweetheart?”
Yep, Dad’s definitely filled her in. “I’m fine, Mom. What’s for breakfast?” I change the subject.
“Your favorite,” Mom says, and I grin. Pancakes, maple syrup, and crispy bacon. I’m already salivating because I haven’t eaten since the hamburger and fries Dad and I had at the airport before boarding the plane last night.
“Thanks, Mom,” I call after her. I know she’s making that especially for me.
“Food'll be on the table in half an hour. Make sure you dress before you come down,” Mom tells both of us.
“You can buy a car,” Cait announces excitedly.
“I don’t want the money,” I tell her.
“Why not? You’re entitled.”
“Don’t you get it? He knew about me. He deliberately waited until after he died to acknowledge my existence! It was probably some last-ditch effort to save his soul or something.
"I don’t want his money, Cait. I want nothing to do with him, just like he wanted nothing to do with me!”
Cait's face drops. “I’m sorry." She dives and gives me a fierce hug. I wrap my arms around her shoulders and squeeze back before getting up to shower.
Standing under the water, I think about what I told Cait. Winston had planned for me to find out about him only after his death. I bet his family doesn't know about Eleanor or me. What a fucking coward. He didn’t want to face them or me, so he had his lawyers deal with his mess after he'd gone. And his letter to me? What the hell was that about? I don’t know what excuses he could possibly have for his behavior. Nothing he's said will make any difference. Adam Winston can’t buy my forgiveness with words or money.
A couple of days later, I'm still lost in my head and wander the streets for ages before making my way to The Hangout, where I arranged to meet my friends. I've known Matt Bannen since soon after I moved in with Mom, Dad, and Cait. Other than my sister, I’d say he’s my best friend. I’ll never forget how we met. I was the new kid at school—a skinny, insecure, runt, the perfect target for the bullies—some older guys who swaggered around like they owned the place. Out of sight of teachers, they picked on other kids and targeted me from day one. Mad as it made me, I ignored them, afraid that if I caused trouble, my new family would send me away. Then, one day, they demanded my lunch money. I may have been smaller, but there was no way I was handing it over. I’d never willingly go hungry again.
“You know you’re gonna have to,” the leader and the biggest stepped up, his chest touching mine. When I didn’t back down, he shoved me. I remember stumbling but quickly straightened up and firmly planted my feet.
“He’s asking for it now,” one of the punks sniggered.
I was about to punch Billy in the gut as hard as I could when someone spoke. “Want to make this a fair fight?” the voice said from behind me. I didn’t take my eyes off Billy as a huge kid stood beside me.
“It's nothing to do with you, Bannen.” Suddenly, Billy didn't sound so cocky.
“When you gang up on a kid, I make it my business.”
Together, Matt and I faced down Billy’s group. We all ended up in the principal’s office and then picking up garbage in the playground for two days, but it was worth it. I had a bloody nose, and Matt, a bruise on his chin, but the others were in worse shape. I’d barely turned eight, and Matt had been nine at the time. We’ve been best friends ever since. He introduced me to Ian and Alan, and we’ve been pretty tight since then.
“Bout time you got here,” Alan yells when I enter our local pool hall. It’s our regular meeting place. Barney, the owner, is a tough guy who takes no shit, but he’s used to us now, and we think he’s cool. We mess around a lot, but never at Barny's because the place has become our second home.
“You playing?” Ian taps his cue impatiently when Matt and I start talking.
“You ready to lose again?” I goad.
“Yeah, Ian, do you even have anything left to bet?” Matt snorts with laughter.
“You already had to hand over Platoon and Street Fighter,” Alan rubs it in.
“Maybe I’ll bet he can’t get to second base with a girl,” Ian counters.
Before I can lob back a smart comment, Mitch Jones, a kid who's had a couple of run-ins with Ian, cuts in. “How about Tess Williams? Everyone knows she’s up for it. Ask Pat Kelly.”
Ian has a thing for Tess. Jones knows this, and he’s lying about Kelly, but he also knows Ian will react. So Matt, Alan, and I get ready for the fallout.
“Say that again, and you’ll be spitting your teeth like melon seeds,” Ian threatens, tightening his grip on his cue. We move to his side, and Jones’ four friends line up beside him. And, just like that, we’re in a face-off.
Some shoving happens before Barney orders Jones’ gang to leave. They do, but Jones yells at Ian. “I bet she’ll give it up for me too!”
Matt holds Ian back, telling him to let it go. “There’s plenty of time to get even,” he says.
Passing a burger joint on our way home, Alan points out a blue car parked nearby. It's Jones' second-hand Chevy Cavalier. Everyone who knows this knows that he loves that thing. Ian smirks, telling Alan and me to keep watch while he and Matt creep up on the car. Minutes later, when we hear a shrill whistle, Alan and I sprint to catch up with them as they take off down the block.
Ian whoops with delight when we stop a safe distance away. He opens his coat and reveals two shiny hubcaps. Matt does the same, showing us the matching pair.
"Now you're even," he tells Ian.