Arranged

By: Sara Wolf



I pull off my black dress and put on a blouse and jeans. My old car – Dad’s volvo – sits in the garage, keys in the tray by the door where he always leaves them. I bundle up in my thickest coat against the night cold and back the car out. Gerard’s is a fancy Italian restaurant in town, just across from the bookstore. The parking lot’s nearly empty, and the restaurant itself is all red carpet and dark wood tables and low, flickering candles. The hostess flashes me a smile.

“You must be Rose. This way, please.”

I nervously follow her to the back, where Farlon and his lawyer sit in a booth, sipping wine. Brett, a bespectacled younger man and Grandpa’s lawyer, sits across from them. They talk in low, serious voices. The last guy at the table is familiar, almost too familiar. My eyes widen - Lee. He’s in a suit, tie loose and two buttons undone from the top of his shirt. His face is set and serious. I almost turn around and leave, but Farlon smiles brightly.

“Rose! Please, do sit by Mr. Gregory, here.”

I sit by Brett, who flashes me a strained grin. “Hi. Long time no see. I’m your grandfather’s lawyer, Brett –”

“I know. I remember you from when I was younger,” I murmur. “Nice to see you.”

Lee’s looking at me, hazel eyes glowing gold in the candlelight. His dark hair isn’t messy, back isn’t slouched, and there’s no hint of that signature easy smile. It’s like he’s a completely different person.

“Please, take off your jacket, get comfortable,” Farlon insists. “You are too young to drink, yes? But you can have anything you like on the menu. You must be starving.”

I shoot a look at Lee. “I’m fine, thanks. I’m just confused, why is -”

“My son here?” Farlon finishes for me.

“Your son,” I repeat, my fingertips slowly going cold.

“Mr. Gregory, if you please.” Farlon waves his hand. “Explain things to her.”

Brett pulls out papers from his briefcase and nods. “Right. Rose, your grandfather left you a good sum of money in his will.”

My eyes widen at the figure on the paper. Three hundred thousand dollars.

“W-Where did he get that?”

“He might not have looked it, but James was an avid stock market enthusiast. He and his friend Carlos made it together. They made most of it when you were born and then put it in an IRA, to be released to you when they both died.”

“But the money doesn’t go to my Mom?” I squirm under Lee’s hard gaze. Why is he so serious? Where’s his light, easy smile?

“He left your mother the house.”

“Houses take a long time to sell,” I sigh. I hear people talk about the housing market all the time – it’s in the pits. The chance Mom and Dad will be able to sell it quickly and get the money for the company is slim.

“What was that?”

“N-Nothing.” I shake my head. Farlon and his lawyer are conversing in low, rapid Spanish.

“There’s a letter here, for you. Your grandfather wrote it when he drafted the will a year ago.” Brett hands me it. I open it and read.

Dearest Rose,

If you’re reading this, it means I kicked the bucket. Hah! Don’t be sad, sugarplum. Wherever I am, I’m fine. I want you to be fine, too. That’s why I’ve drafted this new will and given Brett this letter.

I should probably say I love you and Riley equally, and that’s true, but I know you’ll do bigger things with the money than he will. Besides, most of the money was made that March week when you were born, so I kinda see you as the lucky charm that made it all happen. You’re at UCLA now, a freshmen, and goddamn if you aren’t going places. I always knew you would, and I hope this money will help you do the things you want to with your life. Use it for your college, for yourself. Don’t blow it on boys and booze. Hah!

Brett’ll give you the details, but here’s the lowdown – I want you to have the money. I really do. But see, me and an old friend of mine made a bet a long time ago, when we served in the war together. We promised if we got through it alive, we’d link our families up. Your Mom was already head-over-heels for your Dad (in seventh grade, bleck) -

I smile, my eyes watering, but quickly muffle it in my sleeve and go back to reading.

- so we decided to go to our grandchildren. You were five, and Carlos just happened to have a grandson who was your age. You might not remember it, but Carlos brought him over during the summers.

I don’t remember any of that, and I don’t like where this is going.

It was a drunk, stupid bet, Rose. But it’s a bet between gentlemen, between lifelong friends. Carlos never thought a smart girl like you’d ever stay with a rambunctious kid like his grandson. I said you would. I saw the good in him. He might be wild, but he’s grown up honest and kind, and that’s more you can say of most men.

Look, the point is, this is a dying man’s wish. Me and Carlos’ wish. If you want the money, you’ll have to marry Lee. Stay together for at least three months. At the end of ninety days, half the three hundred thousand is yours. Lee gets the other half, and you two are free to divorce after that if you really can’t stand him. But give him a chance. I’m sure he’ll see just how wonderful and amazing you are. And if you two don’t get along, fine. I lost the bet, but I’ve got no regrets. You’ve got the money to do what you want with at the end either way, and that’s what makes me happiest.

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