Chapter Two

My favorite band's lyrics pound in my ears. The words speak of good news, but I’m sure as hell not feeling any joy.  What I feel is raging anger.

Adam Winston, only son of a stinking-rich New York family and, apparently, also my biological father, mentioned me in his will. Dad doesn’t know how much he left me, only that Charles Atkins, who he’s now spoken to, called it a ‘significant sum.' He gave only basic information, which included the fact that Edward Winston had been at Harvard when he met Elizabeth.  I feel sick at the realization that she almost certainly named me after him. 

He must've known she was pregnant, and he’d probably also known that she had no family or other support and would struggle after he left.  Eleanor Mannering's parents died in a boating accident when she was just a toddler. She’d lived with her only remaining relative, her maternal grandmother, who died from a stroke when she’d been barely eighteen. I know this because Eleanor told Mom during one of their conversations. She turned twenty-one just after I was born, so she’d been twenty and alone when Winston left her.

Now, decades later, he decides to include me in his will?  Well, fuck him. I don’t want his money, and I hope he rots in hell! The music stops suddenly, and I snap my eyes open to find Cait standing over me. “Turn it on, Caitlin,” I growl.

“What’s wrong?” she asks, even though she knows because, after our discussion, Dad updated her and Mom. I refused to be there, choosing to go straight to my room where I’ve spent most of the last two days.

I want to tell Cait to leave, but I can’t be mad at her when she looks at me like that. “There’s a lot of shit going on that I don’t understand, and I sure as hell don’t like it,” I mutter instead.

She crawls over me to lie against the wall.  “Tell me,” she mouths, and that simple invitation from her, like always, loosens the tightness in my chest.

“Why don’t you want to go?  Don’t you want to know more?” she asks when I’ve explained my feelings and confess that I have no intention of going to New York.

‘What difference will it make?  The fact is, he didn’t care. He never cared.”

“He cared enough to leave you something, Adam.”

“Money!” I scoff.

“Just go, or you’ll never know anything about him or why he left.”

Dad said pretty much the same thing. He said I’d regret it when I’m older, that I owed it to Eleanor and myself to go. I stormed out of his office when he insisted, but I know the conversation isn't over. And he’ll definitely be calling me out on my behavior because I was so confused and mad that I shoved some things off his desk on my way out.

I mean, what the hell?  When Eleanor said I only had her, I’d stupidly invented some perfect man, one who’d died doing something brave. In my childish imagination, he’d wanted us— me— but had no choice. I didn’t once consider that he chose to ignore me. For seventeen years. What if he’d lived another forty? Would he have acknowledged me in that time? Some fucking hero!

Cait scrambles over me to leave but turns back at the door. “I love you, big brother,” she signs. 

 “Love you too, Sis,” I say out loud.

The next morning, I tell Dad I’ll go to New York.

“Adam, are you okay?” Dad asks, placing his hand on my shoulder.  We’re in the offices of Babcock, Atkins, and Hanes.  All marble, glass, and lots of expensive-looking art, it’s clear this is a law firm for rich people.

“I’m fine,” I tell him, even though I’m not. 

“Don’t worry, Son; I’ll be right there with you,“ Dad assures me, and I return his smile gratefully.  No matter what I learn today, Callum Thorne is my father—my only father and a man to be proud of. 

Dad’s a good looking man, tall, and fit. He's an architect and owner of a construction company and has always been at ease in any situation, but there’s something different about him today. I’d been a bit shocked when he walked through our interconnecting doors this morning. He usually dresses in a pair of jeans and a button-down shirt when visiting sites, which happens often. In his office, he wears a pair of dress slacks and adds a tie and jacket for client meetings. I’ve never seen him look quite as businesslike as he does right now.

Yes, he looks even more impressive in the dark suit, white shirt, and red and gray striped tie, but it’s the resolve in his eyes and the set of his jaw that strikes me as unusual. If Charles Atkins thought he’d be dealing with a pushover, then he’s about to find out just how wrong he was. My dad looks like a man who won't take shit from anyone. My chest swells with love and pride when I realize that he’s here not only to learn about the contents of Adam Winston’s will and support me; he’s here to lay claim to me as his son.

Sitting in this slick foyer, I finally understand why, when he saw my expression this morning, Dad said, “appearances count, Adam. Remember that.” And, for the first time, I feel grateful that Mom insisted I pack the slacks, white shirt, tie, and blazer she bought me. I complained, practically whined, that teenagers don't wear stuff like that. "Well-dressed teenagers who are going to important meetings in New York do," she'd responded calmly as she folded the items.

As proud as I am of Dad, I want him to feel the same way about me, especially today.  I want Adam Winston’s lawyer and his family to know that from the moment I entered Callum and Emma Thorne's home, I didn’t need his money and that I sure as hell don’t need it now. I almost choke on the resentment I feel when comparing what I imagine his life must have been like to Eleanor's and mine. I can’t wait to tell his lawyer to stick whatever Winston left me and then get out of here.

Dad promised me a day of sightseeing after our meeting. Cait and Mom, of course, immediately suggested places to visit. Dad said no more than five, and so The Empire State building was included because Mom and Cait once watched and enjoyed some old movie. Times Square made the list because Cait and I loved staying up to watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve. Matt, when he learned about the trip, insisted on a visit to Yankee Stadium, and given that it was something I wanted to do, there was no way I was going to skip that. And finally, both Dad and I wanted to visit The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

“Mr. Thorne?” someone calls out, and Dad stands as a middle-aged woman approaches. I get to my feet as well. "Yes. I’m Callum Thorne, and this is my son, Adam,” he replies. 

“Mr. Atkins will see you now." She smiles politely before turning her gaze on me.  Her smile slips, and her eyes widen before she schools her expression into one of professional blandness.  Do I look like him? I wonder as she leads us down a hallway. The thought makes me feel ill. 

“Thank you for making the trip, Mr. Thorne, Adam,” Charles Atkins says as we settle into the leather chairs across from him. He didn’t have quite the same reaction as his secretary when seeing me, but I’ve sensed his eyes on me several times since greeting us. 

“Well, it seemed the only way to get the answers Adam needs,” Dad gets straight to the point.

“Yes, of course. Let’s get on with it, shall we.” Winston’s lawyer looks a bit uncomfortable, although I don’t know why. He’s not the one who left a pregnant woman to fend for herself and his bastard kid. 

He opens a brown leather folder and stares at it briefly before looking up at me. “Mr. Winston, your father, died in mid-February. He and his pilot were killed on what should have been a routine flight to Aspen to join his family for a weekend of skiing.” He pauses expectantly. I say nothing. If he expects me to show interest or sorrow, then he'll be waiting a hell of a long time. I’m not interested in learning about Adam Winston's life, his family, or how he died. I just want him to get to the part about the money, so I can tell him I don’t want it. 

“Mr. Atkins, something puzzles me. How did you trace Adam, and how can you be sure he’s Mr. Winston’s son?” Dad asks, and Atkins, who seems relieved at the intervention, retrieves something from the brown folder. He hands Dad a handwritten letter with a photograph clipped to one corner.  Dad stares at the photo, running his forefinger over it almost reverently before his mouth curves into a smile. I’m curious but try not to show it because I can sense Atkins watching me again. 

Dad reads the letter with his eyebrows drawn together and mouth stretched into a straight line. “Did he ever respond to this?” he asks, his voice tight.

“I’m afraid I don’t know. Mr. Winston did leave something for Adam, though. You may find answers in there.” Atkins extracts a sealed envelope from the folder and offers it to me. I shake my head, refusing to accept it.

“This is a stressful situation for my son, as I’m sure you’ll understand, Mr. Atkins. Adam didn’t want to attend this meeting, but my wife and I insisted—not because he needs anything from Adam Winston, but because he deserves it. My son hasn’t accepted that premise yet, so I’ll take that for safekeeping for whenever he feels ready to open it.” 

“Of course,” Atkins says, his tone apologetic.

“I’d also like his mother’s letter and that photograph, please,” Dad adds, and now I know it’s a letter from Eleanor, one, I assume she'd written to Winston. The photo, I can only assume, is of one of me. Which means he'd known about me and had chosen to ignore me.

Atkins nods. “I’ll have Diane make a copy for our files and include the originals with what Mr. Winston left for Adam.” 

“Thank you,” Dad responds before turning to me. “Son, do you have any questions?  Something you’d like to know about Adam Winston or his family?”

I’m glad he didn't call him my father. “Just one,” I say and turn to the lawyer. “Does he have other children?”

“He does,” Atkins says after a moment’s silence—a moment in which I curse myself for asking because I already knew the answer. Still, it doesn’t stop the fresh wave of betrayal and anger that rips through me.

I lower my chin to my chest and breathe deeply, fighting hard not to embarrass Dad or myself. When I look up, Atkins is nervously staring at Dad, but Dad’s attention on me. He smiles, his message clear, and the weight I felt pressing down on me is lifted. I’m his son.  Adam Winston may have donated his sperm, but Callum Thorne is my dad. 

“He has a son and two daughters, their names are….” Atkins continues, but I cut him off.

“I didn’t ask for their names, I asked if he had other children, and you’ve told me.”

“Of course, I’ll just get on with the legal proceedings,” he says after nervously clearing his throat.

“Your father, Adam Winston, has left you thirty million dollars.”