Authors: Lindsey Leavitt
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Love & Romance, #Humorous Stories, #Social Themes, #Friendship, #General, #Social Issues
Have you heard this one? An editor and an author
walk into a wedding chapel and …
Inheritance. I hate that word. Translation: Sorry someone you loved kicked the bucket; now here’s your present. It’s like getting hit by a car, only to make a fortune in the lawsuit. People constantly remind you what a financial
that accident was, such a sweet silver lining, when the truth is, you still got hit by a car.
I couldn’t possibly find good in a reality so wrong. Grandpa Jim was gone—passed away, no longer with us … dead. Grandpa Jim, the person I shared my good news with before anyone else, who used to send greeting cards or even singing telegrams for the most ridiculous holidays, like an oversized paper card on Arbor Day. Made me wonder what he would send now—maybe a condolence card that played music when opened. I would guess “Celebration,” with the inscription, “Just because I’m dead doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate good times!”
Anything would have been better than the
. Capitalized. Grandpa planned his will reading two years before his passing, after he’d watched a
special on celebrity funerals.
Why should celebrities get all the pomp and circumstance?
he’d asked. The next day he’d bought a faux gold casket. We thought he’d live until a hundred, but he didn’t even clear seventy.
I was told to wear something “chipper,” which ended up being a yellow Little Bo Peep–gone–streetwalker tragedy that Mom found at Goodwill. Here are more of Grandpa’s strange Instructions:
1. No tears or tissues.
2. Brass band in the front. Make sure the trumpet wails.
3. The lawyer should wear a three-piece suit. Navy, with pinstripe.
4. Be ready for a surprise.
Our family wasn’t told to meet in the lawyer’s office, where normal families read normal grandfathers’ wills. No, the Nolan family met at four p.m. on a crisp November Friday inside the Rose of Sharon Wedding Chapel. My grandpa Jim’s wedding chapel.
I tugged down on my dress as I followed my mom over the bridal bridge, counting the thirty-two steps it took me to get to the chapel. My little brother, James, glanced back to flash another Look of Death. At thirteen, James’s angst had the pubescent power to crack the bridge in half. Not that we would drown—the only thing under the bridge was concrete.
I picked up my pace, reaching the chapel door the same time as James.
“That dress looks like you stole it from a child beauty pageant loser,” he said.
That face looks like you stole it from a serial killer
. I elbowed him in the ribs and made it to the front pew first. Today I would not let him win. I hoped Grandpa Jim left him that bridge and maybe a gold-spray-painted urinal for good measure.
“Did you just elbow your brother?” My mom leaned over her seat, her high black ponytail swishing from one shoulder to the other. Our older sister, Lenore, sat by Mom, sketching another possible tattoo design onto her wrist. “LOVER” inside a goldfish.
“I’m sorry. It was an accident.”
“Holly broke my rib,” James said. “When did she turn abusive?”
“Your sister wouldn’t hurt a flea.”
“I don’t care about fleas, I’m talking about my ribs,” James said.
Mom glanced down at her cell phone. “I’m just going to call your father and see where he is. Be nice to each other.”
nice,” I said, more to myself, as Mom scooted to the end of the pew and covered her ear with her finger.
James scowled. “You’re a retar—”
“Don’t say it,” I said.
Lenore didn’t look up from her pen tattoo, just sighed louder than a feminist during the last song of
. “Do you know how
that word is?”
“Do you know how offensive that word is?” James mimicked.
“What you say is a reflection of who you are. Are you even aware of the full historical context of that word?”
Oh, and Lenore was in a linguistics class at her Liberal Arts College You’ve Never Heard Of. In case you couldn’t tell.
“Shut up, Lenore,” James said. “I’m sick of your face.”
Lenore aimed her pen at James’s chest. There was a nine-year age difference between them, but they both defaulted to five-year-olds during conflict.
I stuck my arms out between them, annoyed that I’d already lost ownership of one of the few fights I’d started. “You guys, come on. This is serious.”
The brass band started up right then, which didn’t do much to prove my point.
Mom slid back down the bench and bumped her knee against mine. “Are we getting along better now?”
“No,” James said. “Lenore is trying to act like everything is all Skittles and ballerinas.”
“Have I ever acted like anything is Skittles and ballerinas?” Lenore asked. “What TV show did you get that from?”
“I do other things besides watch TV.”
“Your school suspension record could attest to that.” Lenore sniffed.
“Listen.” Mom wrapped her arm around James’s shoulder. “It’s going to be okay.”
James actually leaned into her, which had to be a first in years. It might have been a sweet moment if the band hadn’t burst into another loud number. I needed to have a serious discussion with Grandpa about his musical choices.
But … no. There would be no discussion about music anymore. There would be … nothing. Just last week we got in an argument over brands of hot dogs—seriously,
—and then came the heart attack and the quadruple-bypass surgery, which obviously didn’t go as we’d hoped. There’s hearing that someone’s dead, and then there’s that gut-shredding moment when their death becomes real.
“I still expect him to jump out any minute,” Lenore finally said.
James bowed his head, covering his face with stringy hair. “He shouldn’t have left like this.”
James was right. You expect ordinary people to die in ordinary ways. People who have regular nine-to-five jobs leave wills that don’t have Instructions or mysterious surprises. Grandpa deserved a great tragedy to end his life, like an attempt to stop a burglary or a skydiving incident, not a sterile hospital room with a few get-well cards and half a dozen sagging balloons.
As if on cue, the band switched to a somber minor key, not the kind of music usually filling this room. Since 1987, the Rose of Sharon Wedding Chapel was, hands down, the most delightful and tasteful chapel on Las Vegas Boulevard. No pink Styrofoam angels or Elvis impersonators entered this building. In fact, Grandpa Jim issued a strict ban on anything Elvis nine years ago when a groom showed up drunk in a glittery seventies jumpsuit and threw up on the marble floor.
The interior was designed after an Irish Cathedral—columns, arched doorways, a gilded ceiling, frescoes, and a small but brilliant stained-glass window. Unlike some of the more
stereotypical chapels, in ours Grandpa Jim insisted on using fresh flower sprays, and he redesigned the marble entry himself. TV shows were filmed here.
magazine named us “a charming oasis amongst the sea of Strip tackiness.” We’d had people from around the world say “I do” in front of the antique candelabra.
The band stopped and the lawyer cleared his throat. His face was plump and pocked like an orange, the roundness expanding even more when he drew in a breath to start. “I’ve practiced law for twenty-six years in this town. I thought I’d seen everything. And then Jim gave me these Instructions.” He held up the stapled sheets of paper. “A lot of hoopla. He was planning on having a funeral too, right?”
The chapel doors burst open, and Dad sailed in, his cologne reaching us first. “The funeral has a script. Seventeen pages. I think he has me break dancing at some point.”
Lenore gave Dad a nod. “Andrew, so nice of you to join us.”
“It’s Dad, Lenore.”
“Well, biologically, no.”
“Legally, yes,” Dad said.
Lenore’s biological father was Nigerian and came to see her every few years. My dad—our dad—adopted her when she was four.
Lenore flipped her braids. “I just think now that I’m an adult, I should use your Christian name.”
Dad ignored Lenore. “Hey, kids. Lana, good to see you.”
Mom flicked on a smile, the kind you flash to people on an
elevator. Or ex-husbands. “You too. I’m so sorry about your father.”
“I appreciate that.” Dad patted her shoulder. “How are you doing?”
“Oh, don’t worry about me. I’m more concerned about your family.”
“Did you cut your hair?” he asked. “It’s nice.”
“I did. Thanks for noticing.”
“You’re late,” Lenore said.
“Something my dad taught me. Make an entrance.” Dad stuck his hands on his hips, his legs far apart in his signature pose. He wore his usual uniform: faded jeans, untucked dress shirt, and scuffed shoes that matched his disheveled hair. Yet those clothes hung on him, his smile hung on him, like he was just an impersonator from a Vegas show headlining as my father.
The lawyer rattled his pages. “So … everyone’s here now?”
“Donna, Dad’s … secretary, just couldn’t come. She raises alpacas, one was sick—”
“Which one?” James asked. “Not Daryl, right?”
Dad gave James an odd look. “She named an alpaca Daryl?” Dad shook his head. “Never mind. And my mom said Dad wasn’t worth the drive from Mesquite.” Dad flopped into his seat. “Trust me. Her absence is a courtesy to us all.”
“Well, your mom was the first on the list,” the lawyer said. “And it is probably best she isn’t here. Your father asked … please excuse me, I’m just reading his wishes, but he wanted me to offer a rude gesture to his ex-wife and say … some unkind
words.” The lawyer unbuttoned his suit coat and fanned himself with the will. “Is everyone fine if we skip that part?”
Dad barked a laugh. “Jim Nolan. Son of a gun.”
The lawyer barreled through the rest.
Lenore: A $500 savings bond
James: A leather bomber jacket
Mom: An antique writing desk
Secretary Donna: An heirloom watch
Minister Dan: Grandpa’s saxophone
Dad: Grandpa’s decked-out golf cart
“Whatever isn’t in here, Donna can sell. Money goes to my trust. And trust all goes back to the chapel.” The lawyer looked up at us. “That’s it. The band is supposed to play now.”
No mention of my name. Was that the big surprise? It made no sense; I’d always been the favorite. Maybe he gave me nothing because he knew I wouldn’t want anything.
would just be a reminder he was gone, and besides, I had my greeting cards.
“Oh, wait!” The lawyer set down the Instructions and retrieved a padded mailer from his briefcase. “There is one more page. But before I read, he left Holly this envelope. There’s nothing about it in the will, but he gave it to a hospital nurse. Open it alone.”