I understood why she ordered a Virgin Mary, but it still surprised me. She languidly stirred the blood-red mixture, absent-mindedly licking the celery every so often. This had been the first non-alcoholic drink I ever had seen her order, but it would not be her last.
“You never mentioned a brother,” she said.
I shrugged and added a careless wave. She glanced in the direction of the gesture, but saw only the posh gentleman’s club. We had our own private dining room, an enclosed space with windows and a pair of French doors overlooking the main dining area.
“In fact, you never talked about your family at all.”
I shook my head, staring at the tablecloth, studying the fabric’s weave as if it might reveal life’s secrets.
She reached over and placed her hand on mine. “Stop clenching. It’ll be all right.”
I took a deep breath and exhaled. For the tenth time I flicked my eyes toward the entrance. The Maître d’ stood wooden-Indian straight by his podium, surveying the room with haughty eyes. He ignored us, I guessed because of Amanda’s presence. The club had relaxed its men-only policy only a month ago.
“Did he say what he wanted?” she asked.
“Just that it was family business.”
“What kind of business?”
I didn’t respond.
“Well, I’m glad you asked me to come,” she said, “at least so I can meet him.”
I lifted her hand and caressed it, her diamond ring sparkling. I still couldn’t believe she’d said ‘yes.’ We were so much alike, yet different. She teased me about her being older and wiser, having been born one day earlier.
“Not that much older,” I would counter, “I was born just after midnight.”
A tall man approached the podium and spoke to the Maître d’. The headwaiter pointed our way, and the lanky figure headed toward us, gliding through the tables. He projected a dashing image in stylish business casual, an apparition right out of a Ralph Lauren catalogue.
“You’re early,” he said to me, as he stood and towered over us. “And you brought a friend.”
I motioned toward our visitor. “Amanda, this is my brother Robert. Robert—Amanda LeBlanc.”
Robert gave her a curt nod. “Pleased to meet you, Amanda.” His smile faded as he turned to me, “You’re looking well, William.” He unceremoniously pulled out a chair and sat.
An uncomfortable silence followed.
Amanda broke the ice. “So…not ‘Rob’ or ‘Bob,’” she said to Robert, and turning to me, “and not ‘Will’ or ‘Bill’ for you, William. Pretty formal for a pair of brothers.” Her mocking tone reminded me why I loved her. I loved her even before she told me the news. Our joyous news.
The waiter’s arrival spared us the need to reply. He refreshed our wine and took Robert’s order for a Dark and Stormy. My older brother had always been suave.
“We missed you at the funeral…” he started.
“I had no intention of going.”
“Mother was disappointed.”
“She’s not my mother,” I said.
Robert scowled and fiddled with his silverware. Amanda’s almond eyes followed the conversation like a tennis match.
“What’s so important you needed to see me?” I asked.
“It’s Dad’s estate.”
“I don’t want anything from him.”
“You can decide that later. His attorney’s coming here to discuss it.”
“Here? At the club?”
It was Robert’s turn to shrug.
“Look, I know you two didn’t get along,” he said, “but he’s dead now.”
“Didn’t get along? He hated me—and I hated him. For what he did to Mom.”
“How would you know? You were, what—two when she left?”
“I found the contract, remember? He paid her to leave, to divorce him, so he could marry that bimbo what’s-her-name.”
“Marilyn. And Mother’s not a bimbo.”
“She’s not your mother! He made our mother move away and promise to never contact us. What kind of man does that?”
“You don’t understand…”
“You always took his side,” I said accusingly. “Why is that?”
We stopped when a short gentleman in a three-piece suit entered and spoke to the Maître d’. His large, round-topped briefcase shouted, “lawyer.” He walked like he carried a bag of rocks as he made his way to our table.
“How do you do?” He bowed stiffly, placing his case on the floor. “I’m Peter Cohen.” He handed out business cards. “May I sit down?” Without waiting for permission, he took the remaining chair and sat. Our waiter hovered, but Cohen waved him off and told him to close the doors.
The lawyer dove right in. “I’m here concerning the estate of Joseph Castle.”
“I’m not interested,” I said.
“You’re free to leave,” he answered, “but I urge you to hear me out.”
Amanda squeezed my hand in encouragement. I looked at her, and begrudgingly nodded.
Cohen opened his briefcase. He reached inside, and with one hand extracted a bulging red velvet bag. His arm quivered slightly as he placed the bag carefully on the table, its golden drawstrings shining in the subdued light. He proceeded to remove two more bags identical to the first and placed them on the table, each landing with a thump. He then drew out a thick file folder.
Cohen spoke. “I am led to believe that the individuals present are Robert Castle…” He paused and looked up. Robert nodded slightly in assent. “William Castle…” I gave a non-committal wave. “And Amanda LeBlanc.”
Amanda straightened and widened her eyes.
“I guess that’s me?” she raised her voice as if she wasn’t sure.
“Wait,” I said. “We’re not married yet. Why would his will mention her?”
“Let me finish,” he said, in a way that indicated he didn’t like interruptions. “Each of these bags contains one hundred Troy ounces of gold bullion in South African Krugerrands. Each bag weighs six-point-eight-five pounds, which in today’s market has an approximate value of one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars U.S.”
All eyes stared at the red velvet bags with the golden drawstrings.
“I won’t accept it,” I said.
“That is your choice,” Cohen answered. “In the event an individual declines his bequest, his coins are to be distributed between the remaining heirs.”
I started to say more, but he held up his hand in a ‘stop’ sign.
“I also have these,” he said, as he withdrew three large Manilla envelopes from the file folder. He handed one to each of us.
Robert worked the metal clasp on his envelope and opened it. He slid out a cream-colored certificate with a gold-embossed seal.
“It’s my birth certificate,” he said. “No surprises here.”
Opening my envelope I removed the enclosed certificate. In a sing-song voice I read out loud, “I, Clerk of blah, blah, blah, do hereby attest that William Castle was born on September fifth, nineteen ninety-three, to Mary MacDonald and Joseph Castle.” Like Robert had said, there were no surprises.
Amanda’s envelope was thicker than ours. She opened it to reveal several documents.
“Here’s my birth certificate,” she said. “Yadda, yadda, yadda, Amanda LeBlanc was born on September fourth, nineteen ninety-three, to Barbara Whittaker and Francis LeBlanc.” She looked up. “See? I am older than you!” She grinned triumphantly.
“What are the other documents?” I asked.
She unfolded several sheets of legal-size paper. She puzzled over them for a minute, a frown developing on her face.
“Oh, my God!” she said. “I’m adopted! Like, when I was three! I had no idea.”
“An adoption generates a new birth certificate,” Cohen said.
She rapidly flipped through the papers and wrinkled her eyebrows.
“I think they made a mistake—this must be for you, William, or your brother…” Amanda was about to hand me the sheet when she saw the one underneath. She studied the first one, then the second, and then back and forth between them. She shrieked, “No!” and stared at me, a look between horror and disgust twisting her face. She wailed something unintelligible and jumped from the table, knocking over her chair. She burst through the doors and stumbled toward the restrooms, hand over her mouth, sobbing loudly.
“Amanda!” I cried, and rose to follow her.
“William—wait.” Robert grabbed my arm. He glared at the papers clutched in his hand, the papers Amanda had dropped in her haste. “You need to read this.” He shoved them at me.
The first was a newspaper article from 1995 describing an auto crash in Oklahoma. Twenty-eight-year-old Mary MacDonald had died in a freak accident on I-40. A toddler had survived the wreck, a young girl.
The second was a birth certificate for Amanda Castle dated September fourth, nineteen ninety-three, born to Mary MacDonald and Joseph Castle. The time of birth was 11:45 p.m. A handwritten note at the bottom said, “with twin boy.”
My stomach wrenched in a painful knot as I staggered from the table. I needed to find Amanda. I needed to find the mother of my child. I needed to find my sister.
Writers’ workshop and writing group