By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: The Inheritance: Two people are named jointly to receive an inheritance. One of them wants to keep it jointly, the other doesn’t.
Colleen looked in the direction of the voice and squinted in the evening sun. She couldn’t see the face that belonged to the speaker. After a moment she let go of her cardboard sign and tented her face. The mini shade helped a little but not much.
“Who’s askin’?” she said in the general direction of the voice.
A young man with dark brown hair and green eyes came closer. Despite his fancy-pants suit, he tugged at his collar. Two beads of sweat followed one another down the side of his face.
“Are you Colleen Jenkins?” he said. A waft of cologne came in her direction, and Colleen knew it was expensive.
“Depends,” she replied. “Who’s…askin’?”
“My name is Adam West,” he said. He tucked the manila envelope he held under an arm and held out his hand. Colleen eyed it but didn’t come forward.
“Whatcha want?” she asked.
Adam waited a beat longer for her to shake his hand; when she didn’t, he frowned and pulled his arm back.
“Do you know someone named Michael West?”
Just then a car passed them, and Colleen swore under breath.
“Dang it, they were lookin’ at me too!” she said in annoyance to Adam. “I coulda gotten enough to buy some food tonight. Now, thanks to you, I’m gonna be out here for another couple hours. Do you know how hard it is to convince people to give money to a panhandler?”
He tugged at his collar again. “That’s, um…that’s kind of what I’d like to, um…to talk to you about.”
Colleen put one hand on a hip and let her sign swing down. “What’s your problem, Mister A-dam West? Why you look like you’re gonna piss your pants?”
He swallowed hard, and Colleen knew she might have gone just a touch too far.
“No, I don’t know a Michael West. Who is he, your old man?”
The color drained from Adam’s face, and Colleen felt a fist grab her gut and twist a complete one-eighty.
“He was,” Adam said, his voice quiet. His tone told Colleen all she needed to know.
She looked away, choosing to watch the cars move through the Starbucks drive-through.
“Why you askin’ me if I knew your old man?”
“Because…because he died three weeks ago, and in his will he said he’s leaving half of his empire to you.”
“Why would he do that?”
“Because he’s…your father too.”
Colleen gasped. Nothing much surprised her these days, but this guy had just added his name to the short list of things that did. Her mind started racing. She thought of the last time she saw her mother—hung over, high, and talking about her beloved Michael.
Growing up, she’d heard the story so many times she felt the depth of its impact in her own heart. The story sounded like something Nicholas Sparks would have turned into one of his sappy bestsellers. As the daughter of a mid-level manager, her mother, Sharon, didn’t reach anywhere near the heady social heights of Michael’s family’s status. Yet, somehow, they’d found one another. With their families they used various high school functions as an excuse to meet, to do what Sharon thought was make love, and to draw in the air a future that held only the two of them. No harsh expectations from families to take over the family business. No wistful wishes of advancement in life. Just them.
Sharon insisted that last day that Michael meant what he said. He loved her and wanted her. When Sharon discovered her pregnancy, Michael blanched—probably like Adam just had—but he promised to take care of her. He didn’t know he was promising something that he didn’t have a right to promise.
“So?” Colleen asked. “So what if he’s my old man too? I don’t want nothin’ of his. My mamma gave me his mamma’s name, and that’s all I need. I don’t need nothin’ else.”
“But…don’t you need the money?”
“I don’t need his money,” Colleen said, hoping her ferocity showed on her face. “I got my own.”
“Right,” Adam said drily. “That’s why you’re waiting for handouts outside of Starbucks.”
“Hey, don’t judge me,” she said, stepping forward and jabbing Adam’s chest with her finger. “You don’t know nothin’ about my life. I don’t do drugs, I don’t get drunk, I’m not runnin’ around knocked up. I just do what I gotta do, you get me?”
Adam’s eyes got wide and he stepped back, hands held up in surrender. “I’m just trying to help, Colleen. My father named me in his will too, but he also left me instructions to do everything within my power to find you. He…he wrote a long letter to me about you.”
“Well, screw him!” Colleen said, turning away and snapping her sign back into place in front of her chest. “And screw his money too!”
“He spent a long time trying to find you, Colleen. Doesn’t that count for something? He had a hard time tracking you and your mom down because you moved around so much. By the time he did find you, he already knew he wasn’t going to…to live. But he still made sure to take care of you, Colleen. Shouldn’t that count?”
She turned her back on him, just like Michael had on Sharon so many years ago in favor of his parents’ militant social rules. He sighed behind her, and something burned at the corner of her eyes. But she couldn’t take anything from this man or anyone associated with Michael West.
“Look, I get it. You’re angry. But if you ever change your mind—if you ever decide you want your part of this—please, call me. Legally I can’t touch it, so it’s all yours. No matter how long you take to accept it. I’m leaving my card here on your bag.”
Colleen glanced over her shoulder, and she saw him lean down in slow movements and drop a business card on her knapsack. He straightened back up, still holding his hands in the air.
“It was, uh…nice to meet you, Colleen.”
That. Right there. When was the last time someone had spoken to her with any level of courtesy?
She heard footsteps retreating and turned around. The sun, a little lower in the sky, covered her vision yet again, but this time she didn’t need to see his face.
The footsteps stopped. “What?”
“How about a cup of coffee?”
He didn’t say anything for a moment, and she wondered whether she’d pushed him away. Others had offered her handouts and drawn them back when she hesitated. Would Adam be like them?
“Who’s buying?” he called in her direction. She could hear the smile in his voice, and she smiled back at the sun.