I took one last drink of water and another deep breath and I started the car. I was still practicing the self-talk as I drove home. I was intelligent and capable; I graduated from my MBA program at the top of my class. I’d excelled at practically everything I’ve ever done in my life. When I put my mind to it, I can do anything; I will excel at this as well. I talked to myself like that from the parking garage at Hunter Corp into the parking stall in front of my apartment just outside of the city.
I walked into my apartment with a great feeling and my head once again held high. I’d taken some time off that I had coming from Lyon’s. I felt bad about job shopping, or even thinking about it when I was on the clock there so I’d cashed in on two weeks of vacation. It was only a portion of what I had coming. I didn’t take sick days, I didn’t take days off, and since I was thirteen years old, I hadn’t been on a vacation. I’d thought it was a good idea at the time, but after being home for five minutes the wheels in my head were turning again and I realized that I probably would have been much better off if I had something more productive to keep my mind on while I waited for Seth’s call. Seth Hunter, the man who sat in the chair that I should be sitting in and looked so comfortable doing it. That thought caused another surge of anger to boil its way to the surface. As I walked around the apartment fluffing pillows and straightening pictures on the walls I could actually feel my blood pressure rising at the thought.
I was suddenly that little girl again. I could see my thirteen year old self. I was privileged, raised by two loving parents in a wealthy home in a part of upstate New York that was completely untouched by the grime, pollution and crime of the city. I was over-indulged at times, but not spoiled rotten. My parents taught me the value of hard work, honesty and integrity. I was happy… and I was naïve. I had no idea how fast a person’s life could change. In the blink of an eye that day, I had gone from someone’s much-loved child to an orphan.
Louisa Romano was my mother’s housekeeper. She was an amazing, fun, vivacious, loud Italian lady in her fifties and I loved her. She was at our home more than my parents were sometimes because of their hectic schedules. She had morphed from a housekeeper into a cook and a babysitter and a best friend. It was poor Louisa, who was saddled with the task of telling me that there had been an accident that day,
“Honey…” She was late and I had been worried she wasn’t coming that day.
“Louisa!” I ran into her arms and after a few seconds I realized that she wasn’t letting me go. Louisa wasn’t a small woman and she was holding me too tight. When I wriggled free at last, I realized that her pretty red cheeks were covered with tears. “Louisa, what’s wrong? Why are you crying?”
She took my face in her hands and said something in Italian. It was something I since learned meant, “Poor baby girl.”
“You’re scaring me,” I told her.
“I’m sorry, baby. It’s terrible news… Your parents, they were in an accident.”
“Oh my God! Where are they, Louisa? Will you take me to them?”
She collapsed in a torrent of tears then and I knew before she pulled up her tear-stained face and looked at me again that I was never going to see them again. The next few weeks were the worst of my life. First there were the funerals and the wakes. My parents knew a lot of people, so the house was never empty. Then came the trip to the lawyer’s offices. Louisa would go with me and I was so numb at the time I didn’t realize that they were searching for other relatives as far away as Ireland. They finally found some cousins of my mother’s in Belfast who said they would take me.
“Louisa no! Please don’t let them take me!” I begged her, clutching onto her dress and refusing to be torn away.
Louisa ran her hand soothingly along my long curls and said, “Don’t cry baby. No one is taking you.” She filed a petition for custody and because I was a teenager and Louisa had a sterling reputation in her own neighborhood, it was approved. In my thirteen year old mind, Louisa would live in the big house with me until I was old enough to make it on my own…
Two weeks after that we were called back to see the lawyers. They were different ones this time and Louisa told me that it was about my inheritance. I sat and listened as they talked about my father’s business and how he supposedly owed so much money against it that even selling the house and all the furnishings wouldn’t save it. That was the first time I heard James Hunter’s name. His lawyer was there, and he said that James could pay the debt and in doing so, the company would revert to him. They talked in a lot of big terms that my young mind didn’t understand, but when the day was over I understood two things: I was losing the only home I had ever known, and I was losing my father’s legacy.