My sister, Meredith, and I wait in Mr. Caligney’s dark office for the reading of Dad’s will.
“What do you think the estate leaves us, little sister?” Meredith says.
She powders her nose and checks her lipstick, softly humming, while I cry like a baby.
“How are you so, so—”
“April, it is a lady’s job to always appear her best.” She looks down her nose at me. “But I can see you’ve chosen to ignore that lesson.”
“Dad’s dead. Don’t you care?”
She snaps her compact shut. “That fact means a great deal to me and I’m offended you’d even think otherwise.”
I wipe my dripping nose and wonder how it’s possible we’re related, much less identical twins.
Mr. Caligney throws open the office door and it hits the wall, bouncing back in his face. He yells, making me jump and spill the wadded tissues from my lap.
“I’m sorry I’m late, traffic, and red tape. The only things in life I can’t take,” he says, opening the door again.
Meredith stands, opening her arms. “It’s so wonderful to see you again. When was the last time, the Schuler’s Christmas party?”
Cleaning up my mess, I nod in greeting to him and he takes his seat behind the desk, smoothing his messy hair and straightening his tie.
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” he says after a moment.
Turning her lips down, Meredith takes the tissue he offers and dabs her dry eyes.
“Your father will be greatly missed.”
“Thank you,” I say. My nose stinging from more tears.
“As his lawyer,” he says, “I was privileged over the years to know him. He loved you both more than anything in this world. But, that being said, had his concerns over the division of his assets.”
“How much did he leave us?” Meredith says, trying to blow her nose.
“We’ll get to that in a moment, but first, there’s something he wanted you both to see.”
He takes a CD from his briefcase and calls for his secretary to bring in a TV and DVD player.
The air leaves my lungs when Dad’s face fills the screen.
“Hello, girls,” he says.
I lean forward and everything around me disappears. How long before he died could this have been done? His cheekbones stand out beneath his yellowed skin, his eyes sunken and circled in black. A month, maybe?
“I love you both so much, and I’m sorry I can’t be there to explain all of this in person, but please understand I’m doing what I feel is best for you. With your Mom passing away so long ago, I tried my best to raise you, but there are ways I failed each of you. Please know my will was written with your best interests in mind.”
His eyes water and I reach out and touch the screen.
“I’ll love you forever, not even death can change that. Do good things with your lives, and know how proud I am of you.”
With that, the screen goes black and it’s like he’s died again. I feel a hand on my shoulder and turn to find Mr. Caligney standing by me, his other hand on Meredith, her face blank.
“Your father’s estate, after taxes and charitable donations, is worth 2.5 billion.”
My stomach flips and she beams.
“Over a billion for each of us, although I expect I’ll be receiving a larger portion since I hired the nurse who cared for him in his last days,” Meredith says.
Mr. Caligney holds up his hand, returning to his seat. “It’s not as simple as all that.”
Glancing at each other, we both tilt our heads in question.
He pulls a folded paper from the pages of Dad’s will and clears his throat. “A letter from your father,” he says.
I’ve drafted this letter hundreds of times, and I hope I’ve come to the correct conclusion of exactly what needs to be said and done. Last week we learned I have a year left, and while I accept that, I worry for you both. The whole of what’s left of my estate is to be split evenly into two trusts. One for each of you.”
Meredith squeals with excitement.
“You will each be provided for from this money, a comfortable living, but first, you must prove, to Mr. Caligney’s satisfaction, you have matured enough to handle this wealth.” He pauses, looking over the paper at us and I realize my mouth is hanging open.
I pull my lips together.
He looks back to the letter. “Meredith, my darling little princess, you have a zest and love of life that I hope never leaves you. You find the excitement in every moment of the day, even if you must create it yourself.
April, my angel, you have the softest heart of anyone I’ve ever known. Never lose that. You always think of others first and will make this world a better place.
To each of you, I give this test and hope you will understand. To start, you will be provided with $10,000,000, a piece, from your individual trust and if you desire to continue to be provided for you must spend this money within three months—”
“That’ll be easy,” Meredith says.
“—in a way which will prove you can wisely handle the rest of your inheritance.
Meredith, for you this means donating to those who need it more than you do. And I don’t mean bribing the latest fashion designer to let you model their newest dress.
April, I want you to spend the money wisely, in ways that will benefit you. Too many times I’ve seen you hand money to people you thought were deserving, only to find out later you’d either been lied to, or you’ve given to the point of not being able to put food in your own mouth without my help.”
Folding the letter, Mr. Caligney places it aside and waits for us to respond.
…..To be Continued.
Thank you all so much for reading! Check back next week for Part II.