The news arrived to them in various ways, each carefully selected by a combination of inside jokes and inside knowledge. A phone call for Delores. An email to the twins, Harold and Carol. A hired courier for Millicent. Phone calls for Trevor, Trey, and Trenton. An old fashioned telegram for Angus. And a snail mail letter for Scarlett.
No matter the method, they all bore the same message: William Winthrop—Dad, Grandpa, Brother, Best Friend, Husband, Uncle, One Who Got Away—was dying and needed to speak with them. The first reaction was disbelief in many forms, mumbling, yelling, stark quietness.
The muscles he had built from carrying rods of iron for decades had atrophied to the point he could only travel with the help of a walker. His face, pocked with acne in his youth, was now marked by wrinkles and liver spots. Yes, the signs were there that the clock was running down but they hadn’t realized how close he was to the final buzzer.
The fear stunned, the tears seeped, the sobs choked, the questions ran wild: Was he sick? How long had he been? Why didn’t he say anything? And what could he have to say to them?
Phones buzzed as they made calls and texts to William’s other friends and family, wondering if everyone had received the message. It didn’t take long to realize that while the invitations were not singular, they were relatively unique. Of William’s 33 family members and long list of friends and acquaintances, all had learned that he was dying, but only nine had received the additional note: He needed to tell them something, that for whatever reason he could not disclose in print.
From across the country, the nine came, with backpacks stuffed with balled-up tees and carefully-folded blouses and button-downs arranged in shiny carry-ons. They checked into hotels, and childhood bedrooms, and through restless sleeps, and anxious minds, waited for the clock to tick to the time marked on the message: 9:00 A.M., Saturday, September 14th.
When the morning arrived and the nine filed into the foyer of William’s stately stone home, an outside observer would’ve had a difficult time deciphering just how and why this crowd came together. They were human clashing patterns, a group as eclectic as the home of a boho queen and pop culture fiend. Angus was solemn in a tattered jacket the same color gray as his hair and a pair of dark jeans padded with dust; while Millicent modeled the newest fashions from Dolce & Gabbana; and Trevor, Trey, and Trenton wore variations of the same Nike workout gear-sweatshirts, and t-shirts, and short shorts and windbreaker pants, all marked with its swoosh. Harold and Carol wore a suit and knee-length dress respectively, in varying shades of blue. On Delores was her trademark white, wide-brimmed church hat, and on Scarlett was a cardigan and gauchos. Only the pinpricks of polkadots on her t-shirt bore the same color as her namesake.
They eyed each other carefully, trying to understand why they were here, and what someone like Trevor could have in common with someone like Scarlett, other than the obvious fact of whom brought them there.
“Yeah, if there were weapons,” Harold mumbled but not quiet enough to keep it out of eavesdropping ears. Beside them, Trent grabbed the thick base of a bronze candlestick, and whipped it out like he was drawing a sword.
“Maybe that’s why we’re all here.” Trent jumped in his spot to rotate 180 degrees towards his brother, Trey, the candlestick still outstretched and ready for a duel. “Because he wants to fake his own death and blame it on one of us.” From a slate vase near the front door, Trey pulled an umbrella, clanking the tip against the candlestick.
“Can we please be respectful?” The words themselves were polite, but the tone was sharp and reprimanding. Eight looked to its source, who waited along the edge of the room, her finger tracing the swirls carved into the side of a decorative table: Scarlett.
Trey side-shuffled back to the vase, sliding the umbrella back in its home and his feet over to Trent. “Did you realize she spoke?” he said.
“Nope.” Based on the blank-to-surprised expressions in the room, the brothers weren’t alone in their thought. Except for Millicent, who nodded in agreement.
“Yes, exactly. Someone is dying. Let’s be dignified,” she said, with a tug to the bottom of her blazer, as if that could unwrinkle the minor crease near the pocket.
At the front of the room, one of the heavy chestnut doors leading into the study opened. From the small crack, a woman appeared, her hand staying wrapped around the gold handle. “Hello, sorry about the wait,” she started. She wore a pair of cigarette pants, and a short-sleeved orange sweater, her hair pulled into a low-ponytail, her makeup smudged around her eyes from what may have been tears or tiredness. Waves of recognition flowed through the group as they placed her as William’s once-assistant: Mackenzie, McKayla, McCallum?
“McKenna,” Angus said, stepping into the middle of the circle they had unintentionally formed. “Is everything okay? What’s been taking so long?”
“It takes him a while to get his bearings with the medications,” McKenna said before pressing her back against the door, the entrance widening. “He can see you now.”
Bookshelves covered the walls, tomes in dark brown leather mixed with those of fluorescent covers. Typically when coming into the room, they’d find William at his redwood desk, reading or scrawling out letters from the light filtered through tall windows at his back. Now, he was in his same place, but the desk had been replaced by a small twin bed, surrounded by whirling machines and the metronome of the heart monitor, and the William they knew with a wizened man, looking a decade beyond his 71 years. This was no longer a place of education and imagination. It was a hospice.
“Hello everyone. Thanks for coming,” he said, his voice matching his look: frail and failing. Without a reminder or reprimand, it silenced even Trey, Trent, and Trevor.
Delores was the first to his side, groping immediately for his hand covered with medical tape and IVs. “Will,” she said, tears creeping into her voice and her eyes. “I-I don’t even know what to say. When did this happen?”
“Yeah, Grandpa, why didn’t you tell us you were sick?” Harold said, his approach coming in slow feet rather than fast yards, and stopping inches away from the foot of the bed.
“I did. You’re here aren’t you?” Will cracked, his mouth twisting into a wry smile. When it wasn’t returned, it slackened, a sigh escaping from it. “I got the diagnosis four months ago. The timeline has, well… has sped up.”
Millicent gently set her purse on the Persian rug. “How fast? How fast has it sped up?”
“It tooks me from months to live to weeks. Maybe days,” he said, and from the edge of the room came a burst of crying. Immediately, eyes turned again to Scarlett, but instead found Trevor with a hand to his mouth, turning into a stack of books and away from the group. A look went between his brothers, punctuated by a shrug from Trent. Whatever, Trevor.
“That’s why I’ve all called you here. Over the past few months, I’ve had time to look back on my life, what I’ve done right. What I’ve done wrong, and I need…” his breath rattled, his entire body seeming to convulse with it. “I need to set some things straight. Own up, I guess. And you.” His gaze swept around the room, taking them all in. “You’re my ‘my bads.’”
“Excuse me?” Angus said, caught between offended and confused.
“You’re my ‘my bads,’” William said. “You know, the things I haven’t handled correctly. That’s what the kids call them.”
Trey shook his head. “Um, no, it’s not.”
“Not since the 90s,” Carol said.
“So be it. That’s what I’m calling them. I want to make amends,” he said. Looks flicked between members of the group. They knew the reason behind why they were there, but now they couldn’t deny their curiosity of why each of them was there. “Like you, Angus. I should’ve never told Denise to leave you.”
Angus took one step back, then another. “You told my wife to leave me?” Gone was the confusion, the irritation building and accompanied by a roaring rage.
“You were being an ass to her. I think you can admit that. Far too much drinking of that vodka you distilled. I didn’t think she would actually do it, but I’m sorry nevertheless, dear friend. My bad,” William said, speaking quickly for someone who could take so little air into his lungs. But he wanted to make each confession like he was ripping off a Band Aid: fast, and without lingering much on the pain that was to come. The group felt the confession like a dropped bomb, blown back by the impact, shocked by the damage, and bracing in fear of more. “Millicent.”
“Yes?” She replied to her cousin, confidence lost in a quiet squeak.
“Your 18th birthday, remember when someone destroyed your cake?”
Her body went rigid, her lips pursing and drawing into a tight bow. “You mean when someone cut my birthday cake that costs hundreds of dollars into a sexually suggestive shape? Yes, I’ll never forget my mother’s shrill screams.”
“Yes. That was me. Peter, Lewis. And Angus. My一well our一bad.”
Angus threw his hands up in the air, looking like he would smack the air一and William一if he could. “What the hell, Will?”
From her spot ten feet away, Millicent rounded towards Angus. “You pieces of shit. What the hell is wrong with you?”
As Angus moved his feet and mouth to defend himself, William’s gaze landed on his next case for amends. “Harold and Carol.” William tsk’d himself, shaking his head. “I know, when you were younger, I always told you that I couldn’t spend time with you because I was busy.”
“You had a lot of business trips,” Carol started, but William cut her off.
“Not that many, honey. I hate to say it, but when you were younger, you were very, very annoying children and I just didn’t want to deal with it,” he said, and in the near perfect unison they had nearly perfected, Carol and Harold’s mouths dropped open, and red colored their cheeks. “You’ve certainly grown out of it, but then. Sheesh. Terrible.” Once again, William shook his head. “Anyways, my bad.”
“We were annoying?” Harold asked, a tremble to his words, and Carol shrugged, at a loss for her own. William looked at them with sympathy. He didn’t want to hurt them. If he had, he would’ve told them right when each incident happened, but the stench of lies had to meet the fresh air of truth at some point, and he had to throw up the window while he still had the strength.
“And-and Delores. My sister,” he said. Sometime during his confessions, Delores had released his hand, and stepped backward until her spine met those of the books on the shelves, hoping that she could disappear into them like her mind had so many times over her life. Her hopes were dashed when William turned his head towards her. “It was me that called your husband a trash bag of a human, not Damian.”
“Damian was my best friend. We never spoke after that because I believed you over him.”
William nodded, an intake of breath setting off a string of coughs that racked his chest. “I know. My bad.”
Delores propelled herself from the wall, taking swift strides back to William. “No, no, no. That’s not en-“
But William had gotten his apology out. His plan wasn’t to expound on them further – only to admit to them fully. “Trent, Trevor, and Trey.”
“Uh, you know what Uncle William, we’re good,” Trey said, clearly fearful of what would be said next.
Trevor lifted his hands into two thumbs up, and smiled an uneasy smile. “Yeah, consider it forgiven.”
“I can’t do that, boys. You need to know this,” their uncle began. “I know that I promised you that you would be receiving a considerable inheritance from me once I pass on. Told you you could depend on it.” As soon as William uttered the word “inheritance,” the trio looked as if they had caught the stomach flu, but had no buckets in sight in which to retch. “But due to circumstances, I’ve made changes to my estate, and while you will still get something, it will not be what you expected. My bad.”
The tears they had mocked in their brother flowed from Trent and Trey’s eyes as well, as they oscillated between swearing, hyperventilating, and sobbing. Trevor’s statement of “screw you, old man,” was all but lost in his blubbering.
“That leaves one left.” William’s eyes settled far across the room on Scarlett. She had folded her hands around her elbows, her bony shoulders making her petite form seem boxy. “Scarlett. My Scarlett.”
“Yes, William?” she said softly, shuffling closer. The two hadn’t been in the same room in years. It had been too difficult after all they had been through, and all that lingered between.
“I think about those three beautiful years we shared together each and every day. I should’ve never left you, and not the way I did,” he told her, and for the first time, amidst all the tears that he had caused, his own began to run. “It has always been you, and I love you dearly, and I’m sorry I didn’t tell you that until today. That is my ultimate ‘my bad,’ and I’d like to leave you almost everything I have. I trust your judgment to figure out what to do with it. You always knew me best.”
Taking the hand Delores had discarded, Scarlett wove her fingers through William’s. “I love you, too.”
“Are you kidding me?” Angus charged towards the bed. “You broke up my marriage, and hers is what you consider the worst?” Following Angus’s lead, the rest of the group began to encircle the old man, hurling questions at William and at each other一until, with one glance from William, his assistant, McKenna, clapped her hands.
“Okay, that’s it everyone. William really appreciates you coming, but he’s very weak right now and needs you all to leave.”
The protests became louder. Insults bombarded William, with calls for him to explain, to pay recompense, to burn in hell, but he gave them no mind. He watched McKenna and his other workers shoo all of his guests out of his room, except for Scarlett, and listened as their yells dulled with the closing of the thick door.
Resting his head back on his pillow, his pupils disappeared as his lids drew close. “Ah, that’s what they call all my good,” he breathed.