“Could you repeat that?” Dad sounds faint through the whooshing in my head.
“Mr. Winston left his son, Adam Mannering, thirty million dollars,” Atkins repeats. “There are stipulations, of course, but essentially, the bequest is free of restrictions.”
“That’s what I thought you said,” Dad answers, sounding remarkably calm, He turns to me and, seeing my expression, frowns.
“Adam—Son?" he asks in concern.
My brain only kicks in when Dad touches my arm, and, as realization sets in, my anger and disgust at Winston return tenfold.
“I don’t want it!” I say, only just short of yelling. I stand, my chair nearly toppling over as I to race out. I pace the lobby near the elevators, trying to clear the red fog from my brain. I’m not sure how long it takes before Dad appears, 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, but let’s not discuss it until we get home. I want you to enjoy the rest of the day and take time to digest everything. I have the letters, which I think you should read, but I won’t rush you,” he says as we descend to ground level.
I nod, grateful that he’s not pushing me.
“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 no such thing. We’ll discuss this when you’ve calmed down and after your mom and I have had time to talk.”
Out on the street, Dad hails a cab, and we return to the hotel for a quick change of clothing before leaving again. We visit The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island first. 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 join a tour of the Yankees Stadium next, where I get Matt an official Rawlings Major League baseball. I admire it so much that Dad gets me one too.
We try to forget the morning’s events, but there are times when either Dad or I lapse into silence. I'm sure that, like me, he’s thinking about the meeting with Mr. Atkins. I have no idea what else Dad may have learned after I left the room, and right now, I honestly don’t care. I meant what I said about not wanting to know or have anything to do with the Winston family.
After wandering around and doing some shopping, mostly 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. So, I’m not surprised, when I ask, that Dad tells me Tiffany’s is a jewelry store and relates a long-winded description of a movie, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, apparently one of Mom's favorites. The store, he says, is an icon, and every discerning woman would love to receive a piece of jewelry from it.
“Remember that response when you meet a woman you love as much as I love your Mom, ” he chuckles in response to my look of ridicule.
“Not going to happen,” I mutter.
“What? You haven’t met someone who’s made your heart pound yet?” he jokes and, despite my best efforts not to react, my face heats.
I haven’t met anyone who’s made my heart pound, but other parts of my body have most definitely been affected by girls. Natalie Jones, especially.
I spend most of the flight home staring out into the night, thankful that it’ll be too late for 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 before going straight to bed.
“You can see Adam in the morning. He’s had a big day.” I hear Dad outside my door.
“I said tomorrow, Caitlin,” he says firmly, and I assume she’d argued because he hardly ever takes that tone with Cait— with either of us, in fact. I'm sure, though, that Dad won’t wait until the morning to fill Mom in.
Despite my dark mood, I smile when I hear Cait stomp off. She does like having the last word.
I wake with a start when a weight 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 made sure of that. I have no idea when she wrote it, but it must have been more than eight years ago because she’s been dead for that long. However long ago it was, he didn’t try to contact me. He’d clearly not wanted to because he instructed his lawyer to hold onto both letters until after he died. I also don’t know when he wrote whatever he did to me. But 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 pain in my shin brings me back to the present. I force my eyes open to glare at Cait.
“Well?” she demands, opening her arms expectantly.
“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 my back on her.
She pulls my pillow out, making my head hit the mattress with a thump, then pummels me with it until I struggle to sit up.
“Well?” she challenges.
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 brandishes the pillow aloft—my only one—and grins smugly.
“Tell me what happened,” she demands.
“Wait! This first—” she decides, flinging herself onto my bed before opening the box. She smiles at me, 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. “T-h-i-r-t-y,” I mouth at the same time.
“Fuck!” she says; eyes wide.
“No shit, Sherlock,” I return just as Mom passes my door.
“No swearing!” she admonishes me before her look turns to one of concern. “How are you feeling, 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 smile. 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 last night.
“Thanks, Mom,” I call out after her. I know she’s making that especially for me.
“Food will be on the table in half an hour. Make sure you dress before you come down,” Mom tells both of us.
“You’re rich. 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?” I jab my forefinger to my temple for emphasis.
“He knew about me. He deliberately waited until after he died to acknowledge my existence! Probably in some last-ditch attempt to save his soul or something. I don’t fucking want his money. 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 forward to give me a fierce hug. I wrap my arms around her shoulders and squeeze back before getting up and going to the bathroom.
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 he’d never even mentioned Eleanor or me to his family. What a fucking coward. He didn’t want to face them or us, so he left his lawyers to deal with things. 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 had to say will make any difference. Adam Winston can’t buy my forgiveness with words nor money.
A couple of days later, still lost in my head, I wander the streets for ages before, making my way to The Hangout, where I'd arranged to meet my friends. I've known Matt Bannen since shortly 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 our first meeting. I was the new kid at school—a skinny, insecure, runt, the perfect target for bullies.
Some older boys swaggered around like they owned the place, and, out of sight of teachers, picked on other kids. They 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. 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,” Billy Saunders, the leader and the biggest of the group, stepped forward, his chest touching mine. When I didn’t back down, he shoved me. I remember stumbling, but I planted my feet firmly. I didn’t care that they outnumbered me; I’d had enough of their threats.
“Ooh, he’s asking for it now,” one of the punks sniggered.
I was about to thump Billy in the gut as hard as I could when someone interrupted. “Want to make this a fair fight?” a voice said from behind me. I didn’t take my eyes off Billy as the kid stood beside me.
“This is nothing to do with you, Bannen.” Billy didn't sound as cocky as before.
“When you gang up on a kid, I make it my business.”
Together, Matt and I faced down Billy’s gang. 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 we were proud that 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 step into 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 all think he’s cool. We mess around a lot, but never here 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, how many times have you lost? 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 some 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. Matt, Alan, and I prepare for the fallout.
“Say that again, and you’ll be spitting out 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 takes before Barney orders Jones’ gang out. They leave, 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.
On our way home, we pass a burger joint, and Alan points out a blue car parked around the corner. Ian smirks because it’s Jones’ second-hand Chevy Cavalier. Everyone knows Jones loves that thing. Ian tells Alan and me to keep watch while he and Matt creep up on the car. Minutes later, we hear a shrill whistle, and Alan and I sprint to catch up with them as they take off down the block.
Ian whoops with delight when, a safe distance away, we stop. He opens his coat to reveal two hubcaps. Matt shows us the matching pair.
“Now you’re even.” He tells Ian.