“The family wants us to sort this out—”
“Stop speaking in the collective. You want to sort this out,” she spat.
“Of course I do,” he said sharply. He took a breath and exhaled dramatically, looking at his younger sister. Her jaw set. Eyes ablaze. This was never going to be easy. “Look, it’s not my fault dad named me the executor of his will.”
“Who else would he name,” she replied, dry as vermouth.
She had a point.
“Dad didn’t leave a lot of instructions,” he muttered. “Typical.”
“What did you expect,” she said, waving off his whining with an open hand. “It’s not hard to divide up the money now. His assets have been divested. Take the total. Divide by four. Cut the checks.”
He frowned at her. As if it were that easy.
“It’s not that cut-and-dried,” he said lamely. “There are things you don’t know about.”
“There are things that I don’t give a shit about.”
“I think you would . . . if you knew,” he said, almost mysteriously.
She wasn’t buying it.
“Why are you making this more complicated than it needs to be? So typical of you. Martyr. Nailing yourself to the family crucifix.”
“Stop what?!” she snapped.
“You don’t need to be blasphemous.”
“You don’t need to fake being religious. Both of our parents are dead. Now you can quit being so superstitious. And you can quit being so sanctimonious while you are at it. It’s just us. And I know where most of the proverbial bodies are buried. So knock it off.”
He wondered what she meant but was too afraid to ask. Who knows what younger siblings remember, watching their older brothers and sisters cope with the landmines of adolescence and adolescent feelings? What other recourse do younger siblings have than weaponizing long, forgotten secrets?
“I’m devising a formula to ensure—”
“You don’t need a formula.”
“We need a plan,” he said, gritting his teeth. “A fair plan.”
“Nothing is fair, especially in families,” she replied, eyes glistening. He didn’t know if her unshed tears were from anger or sorrow. Either way, she blinked them back.
“I have carefully worked out—”
“Carefully. Care. When did you ever care,” she muttered, muttered just like him. A family trait.
“There is a considerable sum—”
“Let me just stop you there. I assume you still have friends in your life, right? Even after your second divorce, you must have at least one or two people who still talk to you,” she smirked. “So imagine you are going out to dinner with friends rather than having lunch with all of those depressing attorneys you work with. When have you ever nickel-and-dimed a dinner out with friends? Order what you want. The check comes. Round up for a tip. Divide by the number of friends. Boom. Done,” she mimed washing her hands.
“It just isn’t that simple,” he said.
“It just isn’t that hard. Seriously? Distributing dad’s wealth isn’t rocket science. You’ve been a lawyer for too long. I get it—we are family and not friends. But it’s the same principle. Just subtract whatever bullshit fees you think you are owed for your time and divide by four. Cut the checks. We never have to even talk to each other again.”
“God, you are naïve! As executor, I had to sell off dad’s properties. I made sure we received a fair market value—”
“Fair market value. You mean top dollar. Why not just give someone a great deal who is starting out? Why squeeze every last penny from every transaction?”
“IT’S WHAT DAD WOULD HAVE WANTED,” he yelled.
“Dad is dead. He doesn’t want anything right now.”
“So easy for you to be glib and stupid about the whole thing,” he said, standing up and walking around the conference room table. He poured himself another cup of coffee. He offered her none. Why did he ever invite her into his office? He was sure the gossipy secretaries were secretly listening, judging his sister for wearing too much makeup and too short of a skirt for a woman of her age.
Silence. Since childhood, it had been their favorite weapon to use against each other.
“I had to sell dad’s properties, pay off all the bills, figure out the taxes, and deal with other issues.”
“Fine. Spill it. What are the other issues?” she asked.
Finally, he spoke. “How much do you want to know?”
She pursed her mouth, considering the question. “Just the highlights.”
“Our other siblings borrowed from dad. A lot. Some of our nephews and nieces, too.”
“What are you talking about,” she said. It wasn’t a question.
“Apparently dad paid off both of their mortgages,” he said, rubbing his hands through his hair, as if to prevent a migraine that was threatening.
“Why would he do that. Why give them so much the advantage,” she said, gobsmacked.
“Yes. A significant advantage. But why,” he asked disingenuously, leveling his gaze.
They both knew why.
“You and I didn’t have any children,” she thought aloud. It rang true. “Dad was resentful that we didn’t give him any precious grandchildren to dote on.” She gave a bitter laugh. “Of course.”
“I don’t know what dad was thinking.”
“I think you know exactly what dad was thinking,” she countered.
“He didn’t appreciate your living with various significant others,” he confessed, almost gleefully. “You knew how he felt about marriage.”
“Yes, I knew. For fifty years, Mom and he were. just. so. happy.” Her sarcasm dripped from each syllable.
“So that bothered him,” he said.
“Did it bother him as much as your two divorces? With a third one on the way? Tell me, do you marry all your executive assistants? How does your law firm let you hire your future ex-wives? That just seems like a class action lawsuit waiting to happen.”
Their stony silence returned.
He sipped his lukewarm coffee and felt the migraine’s tentacles wrap around his skull.
She smoldered, letting the sting of her words die down.
Barren, childless fools, both of them. Trying to divide up a pot of money between their more blessed siblings who appeared to have it all: long marriages, white picket fences, Volvo station wagons, soccer games on Saturdays. And apparently, their mortgages paid off, courtesy of their dearly departed father.
“So what’s the plan, executor?” she asked.
Her brother looked across the table and folded his hands as if to pray. He said slowly, “We’re going to treat this disbursement like a lunch with work colleagues, not dinner with friends.”
“Nickel-and-dime them? Take some of those large payments off the top?”
“Seems fair to me,” he said.
“Well, who am I to question your legal expertise,” she said getting up. “I will consider this matter handled just as fairly as dad would have done himself.”