“You selfish bastard,” I muttered, skimming over the copy of my father’s will in front of me on the table.
“What are we supposed to do with it?” Kinley asked. “I live in Rochester and he lives in New York.”
“That’s entirely up to the three of you. You could use it as a summer house, I suppose.”
“Can we rent it out?”
I rolled my eyes at Kinley’s incredibly stupid question. “It’s thirty thousand square feet on two thousand acres. Who the fuck is going to rent that?”
“I don’t know,” she snapped. “You don’t have to be so rude.”
“You get what you give, sweetheart.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Would you rather me call you fire crotch?”
“Grow up, Harland.”
The scowly-faced bitch at the end of the table had been silent up until that point. She clapped her hands forcefully. “Enough,” she ordered. “There’s a child in the next room, waiting to meet the siblings chosen to be her legal guardians by her parents.”
“You’ve never met our sister?” Kinley gasped, turning to glare at me, those emerald eyes shooting daggers of contempt my way. Why did she hate me so much? I treated her like shit when we were kids, but that was ancient history.
“Neither have you,” I threw back.
“I didn’t know she existed!”
“Mr. Hollingbrook, Miss Davenport,” the woman said with a frustrated sigh. “Please focus.”
“Who are you?” I demanded. “You didn’t introduce yourself. Why are you in this meeting?”
“I’m the social worker from Children and Family Services assigned to your sister. Your father may have given joint custody to the two of you, but you still have to undergo an evaluation by the court before legal custody is granted.”
I turned back to the lawyers. “Is this true?”
“Yes. We were getting to that before you started sparring with Miss Davenport.”
“How are we supposed to share custody when we live in different states?” Kinley asked.
“I suppose the same way divorced parents do it. You will have to come to an agreement about where the child will live, and make arrangements for her to travel back and forth.”
“The child can’t leave the state until the court has assigned legal guardianship,” the social worker explained. “That could take anywhere from three to six months.”
“What?!” I bellowed. “I have to get back to New York!”
“Are you able to remain in the state and care for the child, Miss Davenport?”
“Yes,” Kinley declared. “I will do whatever is in the best interests of my sister.”
“I’ll stay, too,” I announced. “I can work remotely.”
“I thought you said you had to get back to New York?” Kinley scoffed.
“I want to do what’s best for my sister.”
“Then you should go back to New York.”
“And leave her with you? Not a fucking chance.”
“I’m quite capable of looking after a twelve-year-old, Harland.”
“I’m not going anywhere, Kinley.”
“Whatever,” I mimicked in a high-pitched voice.
“Very mature,” she muttered.
“If the two of you are finished, I’d like to bring the child in,” the social worker said.
“We’re ready,” I said, sounding more confident than I felt. I didn’t know anything about kids. Especially twelve-year-old girls. Truth be told, I was terrified. But I’d never admit that to Kinley.
The social worker rose from her seat and left the room, returning a moment later with a tall, gangly blonde girl with her hair pinned up neatly in a bun. The hair colour was wrong, but aside from that it was like someone inputted a photo of me and Kinley into one of those apps to see what our future children would look like. She had my nose and chin, and Kinley’s emerald eyes. If you put a red wig on her, she could pass for a twelve-year-old Kinley.
Kinley pushed back her chair, standing to greet our little sister. I followed suit, hanging back a few steps while the girl pinned me with a stare that reminded me so much of my old man, I actually shivered.
“I’m Eloise Hollingbrook,” she announced, her voice strong and confident despite being in a room full of adult strangers. “But I prefer to be called Ellie.”
“It’s very nice to meet you, Ellie,” Kinley said softly. “I’m Kinley Davenport, your half-sister.”
“I know who you are,” she stated very matter-of-factly. “I’ve observed photographs.”
“I wish I could say the same,” Kinley replied. “I had no idea I had a sister. If I did, I would’ve contacted you.”
“Don’t aggrieve yourself, Kinley,” Eloise said, her voice softening as she studied her sister. “I understand. You’re here now. And that’s what matters.”
Was that pity I saw in her eyes? Why would she have sympathy for Kinley? She chose to run away and cut all ties with her mother. And why was a twelve-year-old using a word like aggrieve?
“I’m Harland,” I announced, stepping in front of Kinley. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”
“Yes. Father advised you were too engaged in your life in New York to return to Maine for a visit. For twelve years.”
“I’m really sorry, Ellie,” I said. “But I promise I’m going to make it up to you. You can count on me.”
“I’m going to be here too,” Kinley said, stepping back in front of me.
“Ow!” I yelped when the spike of her heel drove into the top of my foot.
“Oh my God,” Kinley gasped. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you there.”
“Like hell, you didn’t!”
“You honestly think I would step on your foot on purpose?”
“I don’t enjoy profanity,” Ellie stated, her eyes darting back and forth between us.
“Sorry,” I said. “The last thing I want to do is upset you, Ellie. You’ve been through a lot.”
“I most certainly have,” she snapped. “They made me stay in a foster home for two nights.”
“What?” I barked, turning to rip the social worker a new one. “That’s unacceptable. Why wasn’t she left at the estate with the staff?”
“There’s rules that have to be followed, Mr. Hollingbrook.”
“Someone should’ve told me. I would’ve come sooner.”
“I don’t have a private jet,” Kinley said. “Or I would’ve flown here immediately upon hearing the news.”
“I had to make arrangements for my absence,” I explained. “When you run a multi billion dollar investment firm, it requires a bit more thought than who will pick out the curtains and throw pillows while you’re gone.”
“I do a lot more than that,” she snapped.
“I’m sure you do, sweetheart,” I agreed with a derisive snort.
“Excuse me, sir?” Ellie asked, addressing Mr. File.
“Yes, Miss Hollingbrook?”
“Are you sure my father’s will doesn’t express that I’m to have custody of them?”
Everyone in the room laughed. Except Kinley. And me, of course. We were going to have our hands full with this little smart ass.
“Your brother and sister are gonna have to bury the hatchet if they’re planning to share custody of you.” The social worker glared at us, her message loud and clear. If we wanted permanent legal custody, we better grow up and get our act together.
“There are many other matters to discuss,” Mr. File advised. “However, they can wait. Take a few days to get settled. We can talk more after the service on Saturday.”
“Thank you for arranging that,” Kinley said.
“Orland already had his funeral planned. We just had to make a few changes to include your mother.”
“I’m sure it will be lovely,” she said, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue she pulled from her purse. It was the first emotion I’d seen from her in relation to her mother’s death. They hadn’t spoken in sixteen years, but Susan was still her mother.
“You can ride with me, Ellie,” I suggested.
“Maybe she wants to ride with me,” Kinley snapped.
“I know how to settle this,” Ellie said. “Whichever one of you can correctly conjecture my middle denomination, shall be bestowed the privilege of driving me home.”
“Margaret,” Kinley guessed. “That was Mom’s middle name.”
As if my dad would let Susan name their child.
My eyes landed on the purple notebook in her hand, E.E.H., written on the front in neat cursive. “Estelle,” I guessed.
“You already knew!” Kinley cried. “That’s cheating.”
“I did not cheat.”
“How did you guess it right on the first try then?”
“I saw her initials on her notebook. My grandmother’s name was Estelle.”
“Sorry, Kinley,” Ellie said, smiling sadly.
“If you’re more comfortable riding with Kinley, I’m fine with that.”
“Oh no,” Kinley said. “You won, fair and square.”
“I concur,” Ellie said. “Let’s hit the road, big brother.”
“Do you remember how to get there, Kinley?” I asked.
“Okie dokie, then. See you in three hours.”
“I’m so looking forward to it,” she muttered under her breath.
“I heard that, fire crotch,” I whispered, chuckling when her porcelain skin turned bright red. I’d give her a week, maybe two at the most, and she’d hightail it back to Rochester. She ran away once before. I felt certain I could drive her to do it again.