I arrived at my father’s attorney’s office expecting to sit in front of his desk and listen to him expound upon what my mother would only discuss vaguely. Instead, he led me into a conference room and handed me a sealed envelope, the outside of which had my name scrawled in my father’s handwriting.
“Take as much time as you need.” He left me alone, closing the door behind him.
I wasn’t sure if my fear of opening the envelope was because I was afraid of yet another life-altering revelation or because I knew that once I read its contents, my father would have no more words for me. I sat there and stared at it until my need for any communication from my father eclipsed everything else.
Writing this is by far the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. As your father, my sole purpose is on this earth is to take care of you. If this letter ever comes into your possession, it will be because for whatever reason, I’m no longer with you. As much as I hate to think that such a day will come, it’s not because you I believe you still need me. I have no doubt that you are strong and capable—after all, your mother and I raised you.
As close as we are, there are many things I’ve kept from you. I expect you to feel betrayed by what I’m about to disclose, mostly because I told you I’d always be honest with you. I also expect that once you have a chance to process everything, you’ll understand why I made the decision I did.
Wealth and privilege are synonymous for a reason, and more often than not, individuals who grow up in that world work for nothing and take everything for granted. I became the person you know not because of my upbringing but in spite of it, largely to your mother’s credit. Before meeting her, it didn’t occur to me that someone could want me for who I was, not what I could do for her, nor did I appreciate the satisfaction I would gain from making my way through hard work rather than my birthright.
On your twenty-fifth birthday, what was mine will become yours. I’m not naïve enough to think it won’t change your life, but I don’t believe for a second it will change you. I don’t know when or under what circumstances this letter will come into your possession, but I do know that I would have given every penny of my fortune for another day with you and your mother.
I love you, and I’m proud of you. Nothing will ever change that.
I wasn’t sure when I started crying, only what I was mourning—my father, best friend, my childhood, my life as I knew it. Just when I was about to start breaking the furniture, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket.
I answered in a panic. “Is everything okay?”
“It’s fine. It’s just that I’m at your house, and I think your mom’s feeling like a widow.”
“She is a widow.”
“I’m aware of that, but it’s not all she is. I want to take her to Art After 5 and McGillin’s—get her out of the house for a bit. I was wondering if you were willing to drive us? I want her to have a good time, and I know she won’t if she’s the only person drinking.”
“I’ll meet you at the Art Museum.”
“Great. Thanks, Edward. I really appreciate it.”
“No, thank you. You’ve gone above and beyond this week–”
“I haven’t done anything I didn’t want to do.”
“I know. That’s why it means so much to me.”
“I’m just glad to help. Well, I should get going. I’ll see you in a bit.”
She ended the call, and I sank back into my seat, staring at my father’s letter. His legacy to me wasn’t his wealth—it was what he gave me when he was alive. Because of him, I knew how to trust, how to love, and how to live. For the second time that afternoon I broke down, but this time it was from gratitude. After I composed myself, I opened the conference room door and found Dad’s lawyer waiting for me, files in hand.
“I’m ready, ” I said.
An hour and a half later, I was wandered through the European wing of the Art Museum, looking for my mother and Bella. I found them at the very end of the modern gallery, right in front of the entrance to Etant Donnes.
“There you are.” I went right to my mother and kissed her cheek, having more respect for her now than ever.
“Are you all right?” she whispered, fully aware of where I was when Bella called me.
Her face told me she didn’t believe me.
“Nothing he said changes anything.” I spoke softly enough that Bella wouldn’t hear, not wanting to have that conversation with her on an evening that wasn’t about me. I turned and smiled at Bella, whose face was unnaturally pink. I placed the back of my hand against her cheek. “Are you feeling okay? You look a little flushed.”
“She’s fine,” my mom assured me. “Just a little embarrassed.”
I looked at Bella in disbelief. “You’re blushing?”
When she confirmed this with a nod, and I pulled her against me, laughing. “I didn’t know you could blush. Here all it took was showing my mom the mixed media I used to seduce you.”
My mom raised an eyebrow. “What?”
“Wait, Bella didn’t tell you? I assumed that was the cause of her apparent mortification.”
My mom shook her head before disappearing behind the wall.
Moments later, we heard her muffled cry. “Oh, my god.”
Bella giggled. “I guess she found the peepholes.”
I kissed her—not because her embarrassment was endearing (though it was) or because her touch would bring me much-needed comfort (though it would). I kissed her because I loved her, and I didn’t want to waste any more time.
She seemed to understand. Her arms went around my neck and she pressed her body against mine before quickly pushing me away.
“I can’t believe I just mounted you with your mother thirty feet away,” she whispered.
I shrugged. “I’ve walked in on my parents doing a lot more than we just were more times than I can count. Turnabout is fair play.”
Bella smacked my shoulder as my mother reappeared.
“Okay.” My mom looked traumatized. “I’m kind of feeling like a failure as a parent right now. In what alternate universe is it acceptable for a sixteen-year-old boy to show something like that to one of his teachers?”
“For the record, I was seventeen, and I had graduated.”
She rolled her eyes. “What, like twelve hours prior?”
I laughed. “Something like that.”
“How did you even know that was back there?” she asked. “I’ve been here more times than I can count, and I’ve never seen it.”
“Dad,” I said, shrugging.
“Why am I not surprised?” My mom shook her head. “So, did he show this to you before or after he bought you the porn stash?”
“After.” I cleared my throat before adding in a whisper, “I didn’t know you knew about that–”
“I didn’t know about that,” Bella said to my mom. “But it sounds like a great story.”
“There is no story,” I insisted.
“But your father bought you porn.” Bella seemed unable to wrap her mind around the concept. “That’s epic.”
“Fine. Here’s the story. Once upon a time, my father bought me porn. The end. Who would like a glass of wine? They were about to start serving when I came in.”
Bella turned to my mom. “You’ve more than earned it, but we only have time for one. We have to make it to McGillin’s before the bouncer gets there. After a certain point, they start to card at the door. Edward has graciously agreed to be our designated driver, so just kick back and have fun.”
My mother clasped Bella’s hand before reaching for one of mine. “In case I forget to tell you later, thank you. I truly appreciate what you’re trying to do for me. Both of you.”
We wound our way to the Great Stair Hall and found a table. When it was time to pay the tab, my mother reached for her wallet.
“No, Esme.” Bella snatched the check out of her hands. “I told you this was my treat. You may have donated so much to the museum that you get your own docent, but at this table, your money’s no good.”
My mother acquiesced, and Bella retrieved a twenty dollar bill from her wallet and placed it the holder before gesturing for the waitress to come get it. As my mom put her wallet away, Bella winked at me. She was so proud; I knew she’d never stand for my mom to put a cent toward their night out, even if my mother was in a far better position to foot the bill.
Bella didn’t know the half of it.
I smiled at her, a silent acknowledgment of her generosity. I’d have to tell her eventually—about the letter from my father, my inheritance, how he felt the greatest gift he could give me was self-sufficiency and the knowledge that the individuals in my life were there because of who I was, not what I had. He couldn’t have known how that would backfire, that I’d fall in love with someone so fiercely independent, my wealth would be more of a con than a pro. I was finally starting to feel as if Bella and I were on equal footing, and now this. Would it never end?
When Bella announced it was time to head over to McGillin’s, I was grateful for the distraction of driving across town. After parking at the Wanamaker building, Bella led the way to one of those narrow Philadelphia alleys that was built to accommodate horses and buggies, not cars.
“I haven’t been here in years,” my mother said as we approached the entrance to McGillin’s. “When I was living in University City, sometimes Maggie and I would meet Nana—er, Edward’s grandmother—for lunch.”
I opened the door for them and stood back, studying my mother as she followed Bella inside. Though I knew my mother better than I knew any other living person, I was continually learning new things about her. I’ve always known that my dad had a huge personality, but it never occurred to me that my mother might have as well. I only ever thought of her as my mom—not an entity outside of my father and me with her own wants and heartbreaks who worked her ass off to make something of herself only to marry into a family who hated her anyway.
I followed my mom and Bella over to a table in the back where Alice and Jasper were waiting.
Jasper stood and extended his hand to my mom. “Nice to see you again, Dr. Masen.”
“Please, call me Esme. I feel old enough being out with you guys as it is.”
My mom slid into the booth next to Alice, and as Bella and I sat down opposite them, a waitress appeared with a pitcher of beer.
“Bella! I haven’t seen you in a while.”
“I know; I haven’t been out much,” Bella explained. “Heidi, I’d like to introduce you to my friends, Edward and Esme.”
Her friend? Surely she could do better than that.
“Nice meeting you.” Heidi smiled at my mom and me. “Are all of you drinking?”
“No, just Esme and me,” Bella clarified. “Edward’s driving.”
“Good deal.” Heidi turned to my mom. “I’m going to need to see some ID.”
Bella and Alice cheered as my mother produced her driver’s license.
Heidi looked shocked when she saw my my mom’s date of birth. “Damn, girl.” She handed the license back to my mom. “So what’ll it be?”
While everyone placed their food orders, I poked Bella’s side.
“What?” she whispered.
“Now I’m your friend?”
“That’s what you said you wanted to be,” she said, shrugging.
“I said that months ago; is that how you still think of me? I suppose it’s an improvement over lover, though I wouldn’t mind being both.” Under the table, I slowly dragged my hand up her inner thigh. “As well as a few other things.”
Bella’s sharp intake of breath encouraged me. I was about to move my hand to her crotch, when Heidi busted me.
“Do you two need to get a room? Because there’s no private party going on upstairs right now.” Heidi gestured to the steps behind her. “If you’re quick, no one will notice.”
“I think we can restrain ourselves, though it seems I misspoke earlier,” Bella explained, squeezing my hand under the table. “Esme is family, and Edward is the love of my life. Meanwhile, I’d like onion rings and a tequila shot. I’m going to need all the liquid courage I can get if I’m going to get up and sing later.”
My mom looked at Bella in shock. “You brought me to karaoke?”
Bella nodded, laughing.
“Make that two tequila shots,” my mom said to Heidi.
“Are you planning on singing?” I asked.
My mother smiled. “Let’s just say I’m keeping my options open.”
As the night wore on, my mom didn’t get up to sing, but she seemed to have a good time regardless. Though Bella’s public declaration made me want nothing more than to announce we were proceeding to the nearest hotel room, I somehow managed to restrain myself. I knew that the evening was something Bella wanted to give my mother, but as I walked Bella to her door I couldn’t help but feel that she’d given me far more.
After she unlocked her front door, I followed her inside her living room.
“I’ve never wanted anything more than I want to come back to you after I bring my mother home; I’m just not comfortable leaving her alone overnight yet. I hope you understand.”
“I’m not in a hurry.”
“Did you mean what you said earlier, when you clarified my significance to you?”
“Absolutely,” she said, smiling. “If I learned anything today, it’s that your mother is indeed my family.”
I shook my head, groaning.
“Oh, you mean what I said about you?” She put her arms around my neck and pressed her body against mine. As if that wasn’t torture enough, she then rested her head on my shoulder and she licked my throat.
As amazing as it felt to have her tongue on me, I needed to know that this wasn’t her usual game—that she wasn’t merely trying to distract me.
“Yes.” I tried to stay focused. “You said I was the love of your life.”
She lifted her head off my shoulder and ground her hips into mine. “I did?”
“Yes, you did.”
After raising herself onto her toes, she caught my earlobe between her teeth. Upon releasing it, she traced it with her tongue before speaking directly into my ear, “I meant that, too.”
Thank you, god.
I grabbed the backs of her thighs and lifted her so she could feel my erection with her hips. She wrapped her legs around my waist, and I cupped her face, kissing her with everything I had, hoping to convey the depth of my emotion. I turned and took a few steps forward, pressing her back against the wall. As I licked and nipped at her mouth, I slid one of my hands down her chest and squeezed her breast over her shirt.
“Oh, baby,” she moaned as she pushed her pelvis into my hard-on. “I don’t want to stop…”
“Then don’t.” I squeezed her nipple with my thumb and forefinger.
“But your mother is waiting outside.”
Shit. How could I have forgotten?
I took a step back, and Bella placed her feet back on the floor.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
I hugged her tightly, sighing. “Thank you, Bella. For everything.”
“You’re always welcome.”
I studied her face as I stepped away. There was obvious arousal and lust, but there was something else I couldn’t quite identify.
“I’m starting to believe that.” I opened the door and stepped out onto her porch. “Good night. I’ll call you when I wake up.”
When I got back in the car, my mom was smirking at me.
“What?” I asked.
“Nothing,” she said.
“I just wanted to say goodnight to her,” I insisted.
“Right. By the way, your fly is down.”
Panicked, I looked at my lap at which point my mother began to laugh hysterically.
“Made you look!” she said, clapping her hands.
Two weeks ago, I would have been mortified. Instead, I found myself smiling. As I drove home with my mother, I knew getting on with our lives wasn’t going to be easy. Somehow, though, I was starting to believe that we could do it.