* * * * * * *
"Congratulations, Son," my father grinned at me. I had already suffered through about a hundred photographs, it was hot, and I wanted to go home.
"Thanks," I said, embarrassed like I was any time the attention was on me.
"Go, can I speak to you for a moment?" my mother asked. We had never been particularly close but I knew that she loved me, although I could see the disappointment in her eyes every time I looked at her. I had always wondered if she secretly resented me for grinding her successful career to a screeching halt. Especially because I wasn't exactly Asher Horowitz or Siddhartha Jones. She surely regretted that decision now.
"I just wanted to tell you that I'm proud of you." She enveloped me in a hug, holding me close, for everyone to see. "I love you darling," she whispered into my ear, squeezing me hard.
"Love you too, Mom," I replied, rigid in her arms.
It was Isabelle. However Mom felt about Isabelle's mother, Veronica, she had never held it against my one and only friend. I believe it was her secret hope that one day we would make a match. My feelings for Penelope aside, it wasn't an option.
"Listen, I gotta do the fam thing for a bit but let's hang out later," she said.
I nodded. We made plans to meet at the Watering Hole Saloon.
* * * * * * *
We grabbed a couple of drinks and stood around making small talk. Although she was smiling, I could tell that something was on her mind. Did I mention that she was my only friend? Having one friend made it easy to decipher their moods. It took awhile but a couple of drinks later, she turned to face me.
"Go, do you remember when we started hanging out?" she asked hesitantly.
"Of course," I answered quickly. Whatever she had to tell me, I had a feeling I wasn't going to like it. "It was your mother's idea."
"You never wondered why?" Isabelle exclaimed.
"Honestly, Izzy, I was just happy to have the company." There were a couple of times that it had crossed my mind, sure, but I had someone to hang out with who wasn't Savannah Chandler. That was the only thing that mattered to me.
"Old Mr. Pomeroy owned the Theatre in Hidden Springs until he died a couple of years ago. Then his son, Carter took over. Carter is Penelope's father."
"Okay..." How did the Pomeroy family have anything to do with me?
"My mother tried to buy it from Carter after the old man passed but Carter refused to sell. His family has had that theatre for generations. Everyone knows how my mom has to have a finger in every pie and that is the one property in Hidden Springs that is completely independent of the Rhodes name. Mother was desperate to try her hand at the music business."
My brain struggled to keep up but I still had no idea where I came in. Sensing my confusion, Isabelle tried to spell it out. "Your grandparents bought one in Bridgeport several years ago. Your father was supposed to run it, but he declined. I was to spend time with you and become your friend so you would convince your parents to sell. Mother went as far as to withhold my trust from me if I refused her. She reasoned that if Carter would not cooperate, she could buy your family's theatre and make it big enough that people would travel all the way to Bridgeport and completely shut out the Pomeroys."
The pieces were slowly coming together but I failed to make the final connection. My grandfather had died ages ago. My parents had gone to the funeral without Lilly and I. I vaguely recalled the last and only time my grandmother ever visited. It was my birthday and I had just gotten my easel. She was old and smelled like Vick's Vapo-Rub but that was the only impression she had left me with. I didn't know she owned a theatre. However, I knew the Pomeroys, who also owned a theatre, all attended Smugglesworth Prep, drove sports cars and wore designer clothes.
I bit down on my lip hard. "So that makes me..."
"Yes, Go. That makes you rich."
* * * * * * *
"So when were you planning on telling me that I was worth $200,000,000?" I demanded.
My parents, who moments before were snuggling on the couch, sat in shock as I continued to rage.
"I went to public school, we've never had a maid, you drive a Prius for chrissakes and all this time, the fact that we're fucking loaded completely slipped your mind?" My face was white with anger. "But it all makes sense now," I continued. "Neither of you have worked since Lilly was born even though you claim that we've been living off of Dad's album sales and royalty checks from Mom's musical scores."
My mother gasped. "Go, where did you hear that from?" She absolutely hated profanity and never let us speak that way when we were growing up. My father, on the other hand, was less shocked.
"We always meant to tell you," he said quietly. He wasn't mad or hurt. He even looked like he might understand.
We sat down on the couch and I let both of them tell the story. How my mother's father was a shithead and how she was forced to declare bankruptcy. How my father had left Bridgeport for a simpler life. How they had met and fallen in love despite her poverty and his lies. How they had both been successful at their jobs but wanted a family. And finally, how they loved Lilly and I more than anything.
"Go, please forgive us," my mother sniffled helplessly, the way she always did when she was upset.
"Fine, but you get to tell Lilly," I said, awkwardly patting her back. I had always suspected that my father wasn't that good of a musician to make enough money to support us for all of these years.
* * * * * * *
My grandparents had set aside trusts for Lilly and I when we were born and they were now ours to claim. Although Mom and Dad were concerned that we didn't know what we were getting into, two weeks later, my sister and I made the six hour drive to Bridgeport.
The city was very grand and beautiful but it had a coldness to it that made me shiver, despite the warm summer air. We stood outside of my grandmother's penthouse in nervous anticipation.
I called the number my father had given me and Grandmother answered on the first ring. "Yes, Gabriel?" she trilled.
"I'll be right down."
After getting re-acquainted, she invited us inside to get freshened up. We had brought our formal clothes but had left them in the car, which was now in the parking garage.
"Oh no," she waved her hand. "Don't you worry about that. I'll have Charles get them for you." Charles was her butler.
We had been in Bridgeport for less than an hour and I already wanted to go home. Butlers? Valets? Doormen? Lilly, on the other hand, was loving it. She had pointed and oohed and aahed the entire limo ride to the bar we were going to. Yes, I said 'limo'.
"The Marquee?" she squealed. "It sounds so fancy!" Indeed it was.
It wasn't five minutes at the place that my grandmother started asking us about our plans for the future. My father had warned me that she would get like this but my temper got the best of me and I stomped off in a huff.
"Excuse me, Lilly, while I go talk to your brother," Grandmother murmured to my sister.
She stood there, studying me, her eyes asking unspoken questions. Grandmother was very old but still quite fierce. I could tell she hadn't gotten that far in life without stepping on a few throats.
"Grandmother, I don't want to own a Theatre. Father ran away from this life and I understand why. I want to be a painter, like who I was named for. Vincent van Gogh. Not Gabriel Bergdorf. I don't want to be a mogul or have a butler or ride in a limo. I'm sorry."
Several emotions flashed across her face, but not one of them was anger, as I had expected.
"Oh," she faltered. Then, giving me a long, measured look, she said, "you sound exactly like your father did when he was your age." There was a hint of regret in her voice.
"As much as I would like you to carry on the family name, I want nothing less than happiness for you. You're my only grandson! I can see that at just eighteen, you are already deeply troubled. Forcing you into the family business would only compound that misery. Am I right?"
I nodded numbly.
"I want you to go home and find it," she instructed. "Find whatever makes you happy and go after it! Money doesn't solve everything but now you have more than enough to fund anything that you would like."
Grandmother pulled me into a hug, suddenly looking older than her eighty years. "Take it from someone who knows, kid. All the money in the world isn't enough of a reason to get out of bed in the morning. There's more to life than that. It might be too late for me, but you're young yet. It's not too late for you."
Before getting into the waiting limo, I stood on the hillside, taking in the Bridgeport skyline. Here, in this city, my family was royalty. I had finally achieved what I had envied of Asher Horowitz, the Pomeroys, and even Isabelle.
I was a Bergdorf. I was a somebody. So why, on a beautiful August evening, in a city where I had the opportunity to rule as king, did I still feel as lost as ever?