“It must be nice…having your own office and all,” Aubrey taunted.
“Are you still on that? This isn’t my office!”
“What’s it like being daddy’s favorite?” she asked in faux innocent voice.
“Daddy doesn’t have favorites! Why are you being so weird?”
Jonathan poked his head in. “Can I see both of you?”
He waited for them in the living room. His tone and word choice probably alarmed them, and he didn’t mean to, but he was so nervous. He spent the last two days psyching himself up to share the Pruett Family Legacy with them at last.
The two girls emerged from the office with sad puppy faces; they thought they were in trouble.
He smiled warmly. “Do you have plans tonight?”
They shook their heads.
“Would you mind hanging out with me? I have something I need to show you.”
“Sure,” Maya said.
Aubrey simply grinned.
Earlier in the day, he told Skyla his plans for that evening. She offered to go with him for support, but he declined and said he needed to do it alone. Being the loving, supportive wife she was, she gave him the encouragement he needed to go through with it and wished him luck.
The girls were not familiar with Willow Creek and were silent on the way to their destination. He knew they were curious about where they were going but was glad they kept their questions to themselves. When they finally arrived, the girls were even more confused. Though he was still nervous, their confusion and anxiety made him laugh and eased his own anxiety just a bit.
It felt like a million years since he stepped a foot on the property. The paint had worn off leaving the dry wall exposed, but apart from that, the house didn’t look as bad as he thought it would. He half expected yellow caution tape around a seriously dilapidated building he barely recognized.
“Daddy?” Aubrey said.
The butterflies in his stomach began flitting around quite rapidly. “Yes, honey?”
“Whose house is this?”
He turned to them, bouncing his eyes between both of theirs. “This is our house…”
“Yes…our house.” He turned toward the house and extended his hand. “This is where I grew up.” He heard two pairs of gasps behind him. “This is the Pruett Estate.”
He turned back to them and was met with befuddled looks. He smiled again and began walking the property. They followed him. So many awesome memories came to mind with every step he took. He recalled his dead grandfather joining them for breakfast from time to time. He remembered his grandma waiting for them with all kinds of baked goodies when they returned from visiting their other grandmother. He almost laughed when he remembered that drunken night out with Meatball and Wooly Mammoth. It was a school night, and he got home at some crazy hour of the morning with both parents waiting up for him; it wasn’t pretty. The first time he ever saw Skyla was right on the front porch that didn’t even exist anymore. Why was he so adamant about remodeling the place anyway?
Jonathan stopped in front of a small graveyard and looked over all the tombstones. “My parents…grandparents, aunts, uncles, past generations…they’re all here.”
The house used to have so much character, but without the landscaping and with the worn paint, it looked so plain. The Pruett Estate didn’t look nearly as grand as it used to. After having a brief moment at the cemetery, he walked over to the pool and sat at the table. The girls wanted answers, and they didn’t even need to ask for them.
He thought for sure he would lose his nerve and decided to stand before them. Perhaps the energy it took to keep him standing would absorb some of the nervous energy.
He cleared his throat. “Before I explain what all of this means, I need to apologize.”
As if he hadn’t confused them enough for one day. They were beside themselves.
“You’ve probably noticed that I don’t talk about my childhood or even life before you were born. There’s a reason for that which is why I brought you here. But, it wasn’t right for me to keep our family history from you…especially because of selfish reasons.”
He could see the wheels turning in their heads, but they remained silent.
“Can you forgive me for that?”
Their heads bobbed up and down slowly, and their eyes were so squinted. He wasn’t intentionally trying to stall, but he needed to say something fast.
“Thank you.” He took a deep breath. “Our family is special. We’re what’s called a legacy family. Do you know what that is?”
They shook their heads. He didn’t expect an answer. The only reason he knew another legacy family was because his Aunt Sasha just happened to marry into one.
“Legacy families begin with one person who decides how the family should continue and what gets passed from generation to generation.” He paused to make sure they were following him.
“The person who started our family was a man named Xavier Pruett. He decided the first sons should be the one to continue the family. The first sons are called heirs. Any other sons were called spares and could become the heir if something happened to the first son.”
Aubrey snorted. “Spares? That sounds so…so I don’t know…. Like, they didn’t matter or something.”
“Yeah, like they were expendable,” Maya chimed in.
“I know. I used to struggle with this stuff too. I still kinda do…which is why we’re here…. So, the first-born son is the heir, and he inherited everything and would pass it onto his son when he died. This has been done for nine generations.”
“Wooooow,” Maya said.
“What did they inherit?”
“This house and the money. There used to be a garden of lilies, but one of the heirs–my great-uncle–destroyed it. They were planted by Xavier and survived all the way until then.”
“Whoa,” Aubrey said. “They must have been pretty valuable!”
“Oh yes. The flowers afforded us a very luxurious lifestyle,” he gestured toward the estate. “Would you believe this house was once a one room shack?
“It’s evolved many times over the years. Anyway, I am the heir for the ninth generation. You are the tenth generation. If we were still living this way, Oliver would be the heir.”
“So…what would happen to us?” Maya asked. “If Oliver would get all the money, what would we get?”
Jonathan sighed. “Well…technically you wouldn’t get anything. But, I would have made sure you were taken care of before I died or when you moved out. I wouldn’t dare send you away empty-handed and force you to start from the bottom. Most heirs took care of their daughters that way.”
He took a moment to recognize how surprisingly easy it was to talk about it with them. He also loved how relatively receptive they were. At least he appreciated their listening ears.
She shifted in her seat and looked at Maya like she needed help. “Is it ok to ask…how much money we had?”
He felt like he was going to be sick. Whether or not it was appropriate for her to know, admitting a figure to her would further reinforce in his mind how much of a failure he was, and his daughters would know it too. But, he didn’t come out there to clam up. He came to purge and get everything out even if it cost him their respect.
He swallowed a golf ball sized lump in his throat. “Ummm…. With the value of this house and the money in our accounts…we…we were millionaires.”
He wanted to turn around, run away, and never return. They didn’t know the full story yet, but they grew up in a trailer and probably figured out something happened and he was the cause of it. Their eyes were as big as saucers, and their jaws dropped toward the floor.
“What happened to all that money?” Maya asked. “Why don’t we live here anymore?”
He hung his head and let all the air out of his lungs. “That’s what I brought you here to say.”
If he didn’t get on with the story soon, he knew there would be a riot.
“Everybody knows us. We’re kinda on celebrity status. Well, not so much anymore, but we were. Your mother and I met in high school. It was seriously love at first sight.” He smirked. “Your mom knew who I was, and she was afraid I wouldn’t like her anymore if I found out where she lived and that she was poor.”
“Where did she live?” Aubrey asked.
He chuckled nervously. “Our old house.”
“That was mom’s house?” Maya asked.
She was trying so hard to put all the pieces together. He could see it all over her anxious face.
“Yes. Mom grew up in our old house. I didn’t care where she lived or what she didn’t have. I was so in love with her. We began officially dating, and the night of my young adult birthday, I gave her a promise ring.”
Aubrey grinned. “Did you make a big speech?”
“He always makes big speeches.”
He didn’t know what was so funny but appreciated the comic relief. “Well, anyway, when her birthday finally came around, I went to her house and asked her dad for her hand officially.”
“Awwww,” the girls said.
“I also asked if she could move in with me.”
Aubrey gasped. “Daddy!”
Maya simply smiled.
“What? She used to be a lot younger than me. I had to wait a long time!”
“Used to be?”
“Yeah…we took youth potion right before you were born, but I’ll get to that later. Anyway, he agreed she could move in. But then my dad died, and I was a total mess. It was so good she was already living there because my sisters had moved out, and I was gonna be all alone in this big house. Her dad was getting old by then too, so she invited him to live with us. We got married, I started my first restaurant–”
“You had another restaurant?” Aubrey asked. “Where was it?”
Their eyes began to wander. They were probably trying to figure out if they knew where it was.
“I had my restaurant, and your mother had the renovation project. I knew she always wanted to live in a large house, but I wanted her to put her mark on the Pruett Estate so I made her renovate the house.”
“Made her?” Maya asked.
“Yeah. It seems so silly to me now, but I insisted even though she didn’t want to do it. It was important to me, but she didn’t care. She didn’t adjust well to living here, and I wanted to make sure she felt comfortable. I thought the only way she could do that was the remodel the house how she wanted so it felt like hers.” He shook his head. “I should have listened to her. We probably would have never…”
He was getting ahead of himself. “So she was remodeling the house as well as taking care of her father. He was sick all the time. It caused her a great deal of stress. Then we started trying for a baby. It stressed her out even more that we weren’t getting pregnant.”
Their faces melted upon hearing about their mother’s struggles.
“She got really depressed. Like, really depressed. I was so worried about her all the time. I had to be with her. I needed help at the restaurant because my staff was so young at the time. None of them were prepared for management, so I…so I…”
Maya and Aubrey were on the edge of their seats.
His voice got coarse, and he cleared his throat again. “So I called my best friend to help me. We agreed long before then that he would work with me, but I wanted to try it on my own first. At first, I’d only call him when I needed the help. But, your mom kept getting worse. It got to the point where I was having him open several days in a row. He was glad to do it, of course, but that just was not what I had in mind for how I wanted my restaurant to be.”
Jonathan took a few moments to gather himself before he got to the next part of the story. It was the cornerstone. The reason for everything. He couldn’t break down or get mad. He needed to hold it together.
“Your grandfather eventually died, and your mom was devastated. By then I had already asked my friend to run the restaurant full-time for a while, so I was already at home and prepared to care for her. Eventually, when the worst of her grief was over, we went to a fertility specialist to see if there was a reason she wasn’t getting pregnant.”
The girls hung onto every word that fell from his lips.
“She was perfectly healthy, thank The Watcher. The doctor said she was under too much stress. If she could relax and de-stress, she would probably get pregnant. So, we decided to spend some time traveling. I knew we would be away for a long time, so I needed someone to take care of things at home. I…”
That was the moment. All of it was building up to his next words. He was so afraid they wouldn’t react well. “I thought because Meatball was already taking care of the restaurant, he could take care of the house too. S-so I…I gave him power of attorney…”
“Why would you do that?”
“Wait,” Aubrey said, “what does that mean?”
Jonathan closed his eyes and let out a long sigh. “It means…”
“It means his friend had the legal right to make decisions without his permission because the friend had the same legal privileges. Why didn’t you just have one of your sisters check in every once in a while?”
He shrugged. “I was young and stupid. He and I grew up together. We were like brothers! I trusted him completely. I had no reason to think he was going to screw me.”
Aubrey’s eyes began to water. “Daddy?”
He could tell she figured it out.
“Is Meatball…Mr. Corleonesi?”
The answer would break her heart, and he didn’t want to do that.
“He is, isn’t he? Julio’s dad? He took all of this from you?”
The tears were already streaming. He couldn’t do it. She already knew the truth. Why did he need to stay it?
“Was it him?”
Previously, he was ready to bear his soul and expose every hidden, ugly thing. Standing there, looking into his daughter’s desperate eyes knowing she had her most treasured friendship hanging in the balance, he couldn’t do it. He didn’t want to be the one to crush her. But, just as he thought, she already knew.
She began sobbing and ran away.