When the calls started up again, Alana ignored them. Ditto the texts and emails, including ones with red exclamation points attached. She had a part-time job that felt full-time and a daughter who required around-the-clock care. She had neither the hours nor the inclination to delve into family drama. And she already knew why her brothers were so desperate to reach her. The younger of the two, Martin, had been messaging sporadically for months about the “skank” their father had taken up with—a nurse, hired by the eldest, Teddy, to tend to the old man’s needs as he grew increasingly infirm and cranky. Nurse Kelly, a woman forty-eight years their father’s junior, a gold digger, obviously, and a clever one according to Martin. Pretty sure she had him at the first sponge bath. Alana was more amused than disturbed. She told her brothers she couldn’t care less. She had more important things to worry about. Eventually, they stopped contacting her.
Then a few weeks ago an oversize envelope had arrived in Alana’s mailbox. Thick creamy paper, her name embossed in swirling gold script—an invitation to the wedding of Edward Shropshire Sr. and Kelly McNutt. Ha! Clever indeed. She felt a fizz of satisfaction, even as she braced for the onslaught from her siblings, who would be outraged at the prospect of losing any portion of their massive inheritance. Alana hated her father and felt nothing but disdain for her brothers. She had no interest in “protecting the family investments” or “presenting a united front” or “having Dad’s back” or any of the increasingly urgent drivel that trickled in from her greedy siblings. She had been estranged from her father for decades and had no stake in this game. It was frankly a shock that she had been invited to the wedding. It must have been Kelly McNutt who insisted on that. The calls, texts and emails started up again with renewed fervor. When Alana finally concluded that her brothers would not leave her in peace until she responded, she composed a simple three-word text, not exactly a family joke, but something they would recognize and understand: BEYOND OUR CONTROL. She added a laughing-so-hard-I’m-crying emoji and sent it to Teddy and Martin.
She stopped hearing from them after that.
It was a rough night. Lily’s BiPAP alarm had gone off twice. She could breathe without the machine, but not as well, and Alana was programmed to leap into action from the deepest slumber. The first time it sounded, around 1:00 a.m., it was a mask-fit alarm. A quick adjustment and back
to bed. The second was more annoying: a leak alarm at 4:28 that took forever to rectify—no matter how much she fiddled, the alarm kept sounding. She finally got it fixed and Lily was able to get back to sleep, but Alana couldn’t. She lay in bed, her brain churning. At 5:40 she got up, made coffee, and bolted two cinnamon buns in quick succession, an act she immediately regretted, even as she was scraping the last bits of hard white icing from the aluminum pan into her mouth.
It was a workday, so she woke Lily early, helped her dress, and did her hair in French braids. Ramona was coming for the day and Lily liked to look nice for her favorite support worker. Unlike Alana, Ramona was big into girlie stuff: hair, nails, fashion. She would give Lily mani-pedis, and they would flip through Harper’s Bazaar and Teen Vogue and critique the outfits. Ramona had been with them since Lily was three years old, and Alana trusted her completely. She was hugely competent and a ton of fun. Lily was an earnest child, but when Ramona was around, she let herself be silly and boisterous. It would not be unusual for Alana to come home and find them both with teased-up hair and full-on glitter makeup, binge-watching RuPaul’s Drag Race. Ramona was what Lily called “chill.” Pretty much the opposite of Alana, who was always stressed out and exhausted.
“What time will you be home?” Lily asked.
“If all goes well, five thirty.”
“When does all ever go well?”
Alana laughed. “It’s rare, but it has been known to happen. I was home on time twice last week.”
“And you have Ramona.”
“OK. But try.”
“I always try, lovey. But if someone shows up out of the blue at four thirty, I can’t just leave. I have to help them.”
Alana worked part-time at the RedTree Shelter, which offered emergency housing for victims of domestic abuse. It was a foolish job for her to have: low-paying and high stress. Not what she needed in practically her only hours away from managing Lily’s health. She should have taken employment that was easy on the soul, like flower arranging—some vaguely pleasant, not overly cerebral activity that would give her time to refresh and restore. She often fantasized about becoming a professional dog walker or making perfect heart shapes in foamy coffees all day, but she stayed with RedTree. It was important work that made her feel a little better about herself. She sometimes wondered if her motivations were selfish at root.
When Ramona arrived, Alana kissed Lily goodbye and left for work. On her third try she managed to get her Stone Age Honda Odyssey to start and was backing out of the drive when a Lexus pulled in behind her, blocking her way. She tapped the horn—a polite “I’m actually leaving here” signal. Nothing. The car just sat there. She honked again, harder, wondering why it always seemed to be a Lexus or a Mercedes or a BMW that cut her off in traffic, or jumped its turn at a four-way stop, or blocked her driveway when she was trying to get to work, for fuck’s sake. She curbed an impulse to ram her SUV into the shiny roadster, and instead left the Honda running while she strode toward the offending vehicle, getting ready to unleash years of pent-up luxury-car-inspired fury on the entitled asshole behind the wheel. But before she could bang her fist on the tinted window, it slid down smoothly, revealing her brother Martin talking on a cell phone. He had it resting flat on an upturned palm held in front of his face. “OK,” he said. “I know. I’ll take care of it.”
“What the hell, Martin? I have to go to work.” It had been years since she had seen him, but he looked pretty much the same—a slightly higher hairline, maybe a few extra pounds. He was still conventionally handsome, fair and blue-eyed with their father’s chiseled chin, but he now had the slightly puffy face of a drinker, the lightning-bolt blood vessels on the side of his nose. He smelled faintly of good cologne with a top note of leather from the luxury rental car’s seats.
He gave Alana the “I’ll-just-be-one-second” finger. “Listen, Damian, I gotta go. I’ll call you in an hour.” Martin pocketed the phone and smiled at his sister. “Sorry about that.”
“What are you doing here?”
“You didn’t get my texts? I need to speak to you. You have a minute?”
“Not at the moment, no.”
“I flew across the country to talk to you. You can’t give me two minutes of your time?”
“I have to go to work, Martin. If you want to ride with me, you’re welcome to. Just let me out, then you can park in the drive and Uber back.”
Martin eyed the dented Odyssey that was belching out exhaust. “Why don’t I drive you and give you cash to cab home?”
He smiled tightly. “Fine.”
Alana returned to the SUV to wait for her brother. When Martin climbed in, he was carrying a stiff white envelope with a button-and-string closure and an airport gift-shop bag.
“Here, I got this for…your daughter.”
“Her name is Lily.”
“I know that. Of course…you named her after Lillian.”
A demented-looking doll with stiff blond ringlets stuck out of the tissue paper.
“Thanks,” said Alana. “She’s a little old for dolls though.”
“Oh. How old is she now?”
“Wow. Time flies. But I thought…”
“You know… I figured she’d still be into dolls.”
“She’s not slow, Martin. Her brain is fine.”
“She has a rare form of muscular dystrophy. Well, rare for girls, common for boys.”
“She’s inside, by the way. You want to meet your niece?”
Her brother looked confused and pained, as if she’d asked if he wanted to donate a kidney or breastfeed a cat. “I thought you were in a hurry?”
“I am. I’m just messing with you.” Alana eased the Odyssey out of the driveway. She knew Martin wouldn’t want to meet Lily. And she didn’t want Martin to meet Lily.
“Can you turn the AC on?” Martin fanned himself with the white envelope. “It’s so freaking humid in this city.”
“Sorry, it’s busted.” Alana opened the rear windows to
let in more air but felt a perverse pleasure in depriving her brother of climate control.
“So, look, I understand you don’t care about Dad’s wedding—”
“I really don’t and I’m not going.”
“I don’t give a shit if you go or don’t go, but I’m here to tell you that you should care, actually.”
“And why is that?”
“Because this Kelly woman is seriously messing with Dad’s head.”
“His head or his assets?”
“Both. She’s got him wound around her finger. They’re in the process of setting up a charitable foundation.”
“And that’s a bad thing because…?”
“Because guess who’s going to run it and have access to three hundred million dollars?”
“Yes, Kelly McFucking Nutt. It’s a problem. This girl is dangerous.” A harp gliss sounded from Martin’s pocket. He switched his phone to silent mode.
“Well, it’s not my problem. And anyway, how do you know she won’t use the funds charitably and wisely?”
“The same way I know that a twenty-eight-year-old nurse doesn’t fall madly in love with her seventy-six-year-old patient.”
Alana shrugged. “Unlikely, but you never know. I saw his picture in Forbes a few weeks ago. He still looks like Charlton Heston on steroids. Maybe she has daddy issues.”
“It would have to be more like granddaddy issues. I doubt she gets off on adult diapers.”
“He wears diapers?”
“He’s been incontinent for years.”
“You must have seen a pre-stroke picture in Forbes.”
“Dad had a stroke?”
“Yes. I told you that last year, Alana.”
“Jesus. Don’t you read your emails?”
“Sometimes the family stuff slips through.”
“Anyway, between that and the prostate surgery, I doubt he can even get it up for Miss McNutt.”
“OK, you know what? I don’t want to talk about this. I’m sorry you and Teddy are going to lose a chunk of your inheritance. But I’m sure there’s more than enough to go around.”
“Yeah, in a perfect world, we’d all be satisfied with our piece of the pie. He’s had playthings before, right? And wasted money on them. But this is different. This one is setting off alarm bells. She isn’t satisfied with having the run of the house and getting a Ferrari and—”
“He bought her a Ferrari?” Alana laughed.
“An 812 GTS. I don’t even want to tell you what that costs.”
“Like how much?”
“Like a hundred Gs?”
“Try four times that.”
“Yeah. You think she’d be happy with the lifestyle, right? And some agreed-upon sum in a prenup that would effectively let her retire in high style eight years out of college. But no. Apparently, there isn’t going to be a prenup because he trusts her.”
“Really? That’s surprising.”
“I know. This is what I’m saying. Because she makes him exercise and eat his greens, he actually believes she has his best interests at heart. The woman is very savvy, and basically on a mission to alienate us from Dad. She’s been trying to discredit us from the beginning. And she’s subtle about it. She’s supersmart. He’s already given her power of attorney for personal care. How long before she’s in charge of his property too?”