When I wake up in the morning, I reach out to touch Conrad, but I am met with an empty bed. I look around the room, but it’s just as empty as the bed, so I decide that I had better get up as well. I check the time, and it’s quarter past eight. I almost forgot that Conrad’s dad’s lawyer was coming this morning, and I have a feeling it’s going to be a big deal.
I still can’t believe this is happening. As I dress, I think about how I had gotten to know John Riley over the last several months. Conrad and I would come here and spend the odd weekend just spending time with him. We were both surprised by how well he seemed, despite the grim prognosis. I enjoyed hanging out with John. We spent hours talking about anything and everything: life, school, and my plans for the future. Conrad, of course, was always a favorite topic of ours. Conrad would sit quietly, pretending to read or play guitar in the corner while I chatted his dad's ear off, but I knew he was listening by the way I’d catch him staring at us with a smile on his face.
One day, while Conrad was on a pizza run, John gave me a little more insight into him and Conrad’s complicated past. He told me about when Conrad left when he was so young and how much he regretted letting him go. John told me how much he had wanted to chase after his son, but his pride, ego, and stubbornness kept him from doing what he should have done. He said he always knew Conrad was amazingly talented and bright, and how John wished so much that he was more supportive of Conrad's dreams. It broke my heart to think about all of the time Conrad lost with his parents, and couldn’t imagine how it must have felt to know that it didn’t have to be that way. At least Conrad and John finally had their chance to reconnect before John died.
John tried to hide how sick he was, but we could see it in the way he was worn out so quickly, and his rapid weight loss. It was only in the last month or two that Conrad didn’t bring me out here with him as much because John’s condition became worse, and he was increasingly bed-ridden most of the time. Not wanting to die in a sterile hospital, John had the hospital equipment brought to the house and set up in one of the rooms downstairs. I wish I could have seen him one last time to say goodbye. Even though I only knew him a short time, I’ll miss him.
Once I’m presentable, I make my way downstairs and head towards the kitchen. I find both Doris and Conrad in the kitchen, Doris is at the stove, and I can smell bacon. Conrad is sitting at the breakfast bar, with a mug to his lips. He hears me enter and treats me to a lazy smile.
“Morning,” I say as I take the seat next to him.
“Good morning,” he says quietly, “coffee?”
I shake my head.
“No, thanks, but maybe some juice if there is any?”
Doris goes to the fridge and pulls out a large pitcher of orange juice and sets it in front of me along with a tall glass. She smiles, warmly at me, but her eyes look a bit sad, and she looks even more tired than Conrad. I’m sure this is all hard on her, too, since Doris was head of John’s staff and his primary caretaker. I wonder what she will do now. I look around the massive kitchen we’re sitting in and wonder what’s going to happen to it all.
“Are you hungry, Sydney?” she asks, pulling me from my thoughts.
“Yes, ma’am,” I reply, “whatever you’re cooking there smells delicious.”
“It’s Conrad’s favorite. Bacon, eggs on toast and hash browns,” she tells me.
“Sounds delicious,” I say.
Doris nods and heads back over to the stove. I watch as she dishes out a big plate for Conrad and a plate for me. She brings them over and sets them down in front of us.
“Aren’t you going to eat Dor?” Conrad asks her.
“I already ate, sweetie,” she tells him, “I’ve been up since five-thirty.
“Too early for me,” Conrad shakes his head.
We sit quietly and eat. I’m not sure what to talk about as Doris cleans up and then disappears from the room.
“What’s going to happen to Doris?” I ask quietly.
“She’ll move on, I suppose, as will the rest of the staff, I assume. She’s the only one who lives here, the rest are mostly grounds crew and cleaning staff,” Conrad tells me.
“What time is the lawyer coming?” I then ask.
Conrad looks at the clock on the wall.
“In about twenty minutes.”
“Okay. I think I’ll raid your bookshelves again while he’s here. I need a few new books to last me for the summer,” I tell him.
“Really? You’re going to spend your summer reading?” he smirks.
“It used to be my favorite pastime, but I’ve fallen behind since I met you,” I say and bop him on the shoulder.
“You should go have some fun with Desiree or something. Don’t hole yourself up with a book. Let loose, go a little crazy.”
“Go a little crazy?” I repeat dubiously.
“Sure, why not? It’s your last summer before you’re off to college. Make the most of it before you’re too busy with schoolwork to do anything else.”
“I’ll consider it, but I’m not making any promises. Besides, I think Desiree is off to Thailand for a month after you guys leave. She said she needs a distraction to keep her mind off of missing Harrison.”
“Sounds like she’s got the right idea. Traveling is a great way to spend your time.”
“Yeah, when you have the means to. Her dad is paying for the whole thing, putting her up in fancy resorts because he said he doesn’t want her staying in hostels. She told me I should go with her, but I can’t justify spending a chunk of my already stretched college fund. I’ll have to settle for somewhere a little closer to home.”
“I suppose you have a point there. Anyway, I was hoping you would sit with me when the lawyer comes. I feel like your presence next to me will keep my nerves in check. I’m not looking forward to hearing the breakdown of everything my father built, being turned into nothing more than dollars and cents, this and that.”
“Are you sure? It seems like it’d be a private thing.”
“I’m sure. I’m not worried about you hearing anything the lawyer has to tell me.”
“Okay. Whatever you need, Conrad. Like I said, I’m here for whatever you need me for.”
Just before the lawyer arrives, Conrad runs upstairs to change into something other than his sweats and t-shirt. He’s still up there when I hear the doorbell. Since I’m nearby, I go to open the door. When I do, the man I assume is John’s lawyer stands before me. He’s tall, slim and exceptionally groomed. He’s got white hair, with what looks like an expensive haircut, and a neatly trimmed beard. He’s wearing a crisp, dark blue suit and a black tie, and is carrying a black leather briefcase. He gives me a reserved smile and extends his hand to me.
“Hello. I’m Jerry Shepherd,” he greets me as I take his proffered hand and give it a small shake.
“Hi, I’m Sydney. Conrad should be down in a second,” I tell him and step aside.
“Are you a relative?” he asks me, just as Conrad appears.
He rushes over and extends his hand to Jerry, and they make their introductions.
Conrad leads Jerry to the study, and I follow behind, staying quiet as they make small talk. Once in the study, Conrad offers Jerry the seat behind the desk, and we sit on two chairs across from him. Jerry opens his briefcase, pulls out some stacks of paper, and sets them aside. Conrad reaches for my hand and squeezes it. Jerry closes his case and moves it before setting his sharp gaze on Conrad and me.
“Before we start, let me extend my condolences, Mr. Riley. Your father has been one of my clients for nearly twenty years, and I would consider him a friend. He was a good man, with a wicked tennis serve,” Jerry says with fondness in his voice.
“My father was a man with many talents,” Conrad replies, but his voice is tight.
“Yes, well, how about we just get to it, shall we?”
“Yes, sir,” Conrad nods once.
Jerry clears his throat and looks through his papers.
“Had John told you about his wishes in accordance with his Will?” Jerry asks, glancing briefly at Conrad.
Jerry raises his eyebrows, looking surprised.
“Really? I would have thought…”
“He tried to bring it up once, but I didn’t want to talk about it,” Conrad reveals.
Jerry folds his hands in front of him and leans forward.
“Son, your father’s net worth exceeds one hundred million dollars, and you weren’t interested in hearing how he wished to leave it?”
“One hundred million?” Conrad gasps.
“Yes. You didn’t know?”
“No. I knew he was wealthy, but not to that extent.”
“Well, as it was, your mother left everything to him when she passed, and she was already wealthy in her own right. So that, plus everything your father had, increased by some prudent investments, made your father an incredibly rich man.”
“Holy shit,” Conrad says under his breath.
“Precisely. Anyway, your father has left the majority of it to you, Conrad, aside from ten million dollars to the Cancer Research Facility, five million dollars to a Mrs Doris Jansen, and five hundred thousand to a Miss Sydney Chase.”
I gasp loudly then.
“What? Why’d he do that?” I ask.
“Ah, yes, so you must be Miss Chase then,” Jerry says to me, and I nod. Jerry then hands me a sealed envelope with my name on it.
“It’s a letter,” he tells me, “it explains everything.”
Conrad looks at me then.
“Well, I suppose that means you don’t have to worry about your tuition anymore, Syd. Now you have more than enough to go on that vacation with Desiree.”
“I just don’t understand what I did to deserve this,” I murmur, flipping the envelope around in my hand, and feel the tears start to run down my face.
“So that leaves you, Conrad, with a new net worth of approximately eighty-five million dollars. This includes the estate and everything in it. The house has been transferred to your name,” Jerry continues, all business.
Conrad’s hands find their way into his hair, and he starts tugging through it nervously.
“Fuck…I mean… fuck,” Conrad stutters, obviously at a loss for words.
“I suppose this news comes as a great surprise to you?” Jerry guesses.
“You realy had no idea?”
“No. I mean, I figured I’d be left with something, but I didn’t realize it’d be to this extent. I thought he would have spread it out more, willed more to family.”
“Conrad, your father told me when he drew this up that he could think of nobody else who deserved what he worked his whole life for. You were John's only child and you had made your own way, but he wanted to take care of you and your future for the rest of your life because you deserve it.”
“I don’t know if I deserve this,” Conrad shakes his head.
“Well it’s all yours now, so you decide what you want to do with it. If you like, I can advise you in whatever you need.”
“It seems like my father trusted you, so I think I can trust you too. I think I’m going to need all the help I can get because I don’t even know what the hell to do with myself, where to even start.”
“Oh, and here’s this,” Jerry hands Conrad another envelope, “he wrote this for you.”
Conrad takes the envelope from Jerry and stares at it, then up at the ceiling.
“A little warning would have been great, dad.”
After Jerry leaves a few hours later, Conrad and I go into the kitchen, still in a daze.
“What just happened?” Conrad finally says, “One minute I’m just your average guy, and now suddenly I’m a multi-millionaire? I need a drink, and a strong one at that.”
I watch as Conrad opens a cupboard and pulls out a large bottle of liquor and two glasses. He brings them over to the table where I sit, staring at the sealed envelope.
“This was extremely generous,” I say.
“He was fond of you Syd, and he had the means to help you out, so you don’t have to struggle to pay for school. You can call it the John Riley Scholarship.”
“It's an incredible gift. I wish I could tell him how much this means.”
“Tell him by exceeding in school and doing exactly what I know you can do. You have a bright future ahead, and obviously my father picked up on that too,” Conrad says before handing me a glass with a shot worth of liquor in it.
I look at him in question.
“It’s a top-shelf Scotch. A toast to our new futures,” he says, holding up his glass to mine.
Later on, Conrad and I decided to open our letters. We both sit on his bed and prepare ourselves for what John’s last words to us were. I unfold the paper and read.
Thank you so much for making my son so happy. Before you, he always seemed like he was missing something, and now I realize what it was. I’ve never seen him smile the way he does when he talks about you. Even though your relationship may seem unconventional, don’t ever let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t be together. Age is just a number, and in a few years, it won’t even matter anymore.
On that same note, you are a young girl with a big future. I remember when we had that conversation about your college prospects. I understand that your dream school is Princeton, so I got into contact with some old friends and made sure you would have the opportunity to attend there. I genuinely hope you make the most out of your time there, and that is why I left you this money. I wanted to ensure that you don’t ever have to worry about where the next tuition payment comes from. Too many kids are stuck in the never-ending web of student debt, and I don’t want that hanging over your head. This should give you that head-start in life that not too many people receive. Conrad always tells me how gifted you are, and I believe him to be correct in that.
I know you and Conrad are about to enter a new phase in each of your lives, with you off to school, and him off to pursue his music, and I know that this will bring along with it a lot of new challenges for you both as individuals and as a couple. Being apart from one another is going to prove to be a real test for you two. My wish is that you can persevere and make it out on the other side of it together. And now, with Conrad’s new financial status, he’s going to need a good girl who he can trust and loves him for all the right reasons.
If, at some point, life takes you in different directions, I hope that you will be able to find your way back to each other, because I truly believe you and Conrad are meant to be together. So go, live your lives to the fullest. Travel and explore what the world has to offer. Make love. Make a life, but do it together.
All my very highest wishes and love,