My dad lay dying, intermittently mumbling short bursts of information. Missing my mother. Lots about Jonathan, my older brother. The favorite with a tech start-up. His worry over the youngest, Claire. She’d been spoiled into addiction and until recently, was still getting payments from the Bank of Dad. I waited for my name to rally forth, but it never came. Like always. Growing up, I thought I was the family dog. There, under the table, listening, waiting for someone to say my name. Maybe I should’ve spoken up.
I absorbed Dad’s worry as my siblings texted me for updates. Should I come now? Do you know how long?
Jonathan searched for cheap flights. Got to find something affordable, sis.
Claire marshaled social media sympathy. Friends, this is SO hard.
I placed my phone near Dad’s ear so he could ease into the next plane listening to music. Suddenly, he clutched my hand.
“Did we do the right thing?” he asked.
“You, you more than anyone, you will understand, won’t you? You’ll help them now.”
“What do you mean?”
“The signed Stephen King. On the shelf. Find it. No one else knows.”
He settled back, slowly releasing his grip on my hand. He took his last breath as the sun rose.
Two weeks later, we gathered at Dad’s house. It should have been earlier, but Jonathan pushed the funeral back three days. It will be more convenient for me, Sis.
He’d found those cheap flights.
And Claire? At least 75 people were Facebook weeping over her loss.
I steeled myself for the day, hiding in the kitchen, binge-eating chips.
“You’re going to get fat. And the toilet roll in the bathroom is all wrong.” I looked up to see Claire.
“How’s that?” I asked.
“You’ve got it flipped the wrong way.”
“Did you fix it?”
“Well, no. Not my house.”
I carried a plate of sandwiches to the dining room.
“Everyone settle in,” Jonathan said. In all the rush, I’d forgotten Dad’s last words.
The signed Stephen King. Find it.
I slipped away and retrieved the book from the bookcase. Inside, there was an envelope from the state lottery commission. The shocking revelation might have caused the average person to show her hand. But not the loyal dog. My parents had won a thirty-five-million-dollar lottery. There were bank deposit slips and several transactions. From what I could tell, they’d given almost all of the money away.
The papers said it was a private account, accessible only through a specific attorney. All the details were there.
I stepped toward the dining room. There were cracks in the ceiling. Paneled walls from a bygone era. You’d never know they had great wealth. Dad said I would understand. I would help them.
No one else knows.
“Jonathan, you don’t get an equal share,” Claire spat. “You got an advance on your inheritance to buy your house.”
“That’s private!” Jonathan snapped.
Claire shrugged. “I guess not.”
“It says here divide equally among my children,” Jonathan waved a piece of paper. “Besides, you went through a lot of dough for bail money and then rehab. Twice.”
That had to sting.
“What do you think, Sis?” Claire asked.
“About what?” I asked.
“The distribution. Dad can’t have meant that the remainder of his estate is equal. You were with him. Did he clarify anything?”
They stared at me. The money debate might go on all night with drinking and shouting and me, alone in the kitchen washing dishes, putting away food. Taking care of everyone else’s mess.
I’d inherited a family secret. I could change their lives in an instant.
“Well, did he say anything because my livelihood is on the line,” Jonathan shouted.
“I need to know how much now!” Like always, Claire.
There are a lot of ways to die, I thought.
I’d experienced the death of a thousand slights.
But to deny someone? That’s another way to kill. Slowly.
“He said he wanted me to have the Stephen King.” I clapped the book shut.
The oldest got all the praise.
The youngest got all the attention.
But middle sister gets all the money.