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Sands of Time
D. A. Ratliff
The orange and white barrier stood like a sentinel across the asphalt, taunting her. The project was supposed to be hers, but her brother had tried to weasel his way into taking over. Asha Elliot Patterson couldn’t help the delays brought on by two hurricanes within six weeks, or Martin having to travel to Australia because his mother was ill. She shuddered. That was enough, and now this.
A strong breeze off the Gulf of Mexico blew the pristine white sand across the road and her face. Tiny shards stung her skin. She took a last look at the dunes before returning to the rental car.
Time to deal with the reason she was here.
She hated funerals.
Funerals should honor the dead, but that was not her experience. Every funeral she had attended concerned the living. Giving the living closure, her mother always said. Well, no closure possible for this dead man—not for her father.
The service concluded, Minister Andrew DeLong, a long-time friend of the family, escorted the family from the Mount James Presbyterian Church to wait by the hearse. As she watched the good reverend fawn all over the widow, her father’s third wife, Asha suspected he along with half the men in Palm Marsh would be calling to offer their condolences.
After the pallbearer loaded the casket, she followed her mother, brother, his wife, and stepsister to a waiting limo. They were the last people she wanted to ride with, preferring to ride with her mother alone.
She hooked her seatbelt and counted the seconds until her brother opened his mouth. She got to five.
“I know why you are here.”
She glared at them. “Oh, do tell. I thought I was here for Dad’s funeral.”
Michael Elliot’s nostrils flared. “You’re here for the will.” He sat back and laughed. “Nothing to worry about here. You get nothing.”
Asha clenched her hands, her short, manicured nails digging into her palms. “Not the appropriate place to discuss this.”
Her mother, Marjorie, snapped at him. “Be quiet, Michael. We do not need to hear your mouth right now.”
“I have every right to say what I think. Might as well face it, Asha. He knew I was the best person to run the project. He was just toying with you to keep you happy.”
Michael’s wife, Chandra, grabbed his forearm. “Michael, stop. Asha is right. This is not the place.”
Asha’s lips curled ever so slightly at the angry glance her brother gave his wife. Her brother didn’t like anyone to talk back to him. She expected Chandra would receive his wrath later.
She glanced at her stepsister, Leah, wondering what was going on in the younger gal’s head. She sat quietly, her eyes closed, earbuds in her ears as a faint echo of music drifted through the car. A junior in college, she was rarely home. Her mother, who was her father’s second wife, had died unexpectedly from cancer. They were close when Leah was young but grew apart after Leah’s mother’s death, and their dad remarried for the third time.
The cemetery was a short drive from the church, and thankfully, the graveside service was brief. After returning to the house, Asha hurried upstairs to avoid the crush of people coming by to offer condolences and eat free food and drink free booze. Not her idea of a good time.
She kicked off her heels and dropped across the bed, her head spinning. There was something to Michael’s snarky comment that she was only here for the will. She would admit that the contents of the will held her interest, but she genuinely loved her father and was devastated by his death.
The call played over and over in her head. Her mother broke the news. “Asha, so sorry to have to tell you, but your father is gone. He was playing tennis with Jasper and keeled over with a heart attack.”
As her mother spoke, she remained in control but collapsed onto the floor, sobbing after her mother hung up. When she composed herself and rose from the floor, she vowed no more tears. There was work to do.
A knock on the door startled her. She yelled, come in, and her mother entered.
“I thought you might be hiding. It would help if you came down. People are asking about you.”
Asha swung her legs over the bedside. “I know, just wanted a moment to think.”
“I figured you were hiding. You never did like big gatherings. But I need you. Michael is acting like a jerk.”
Asha’s tone was sharp. “When isn’t he?”
A deep sigh came from her mother. “I know, never understood him. I was just talking to him about the condo, asking if he thought your dad had made provisions to pay it off. He just wandered away, no interest at all in anything about me.”
Asha retrieved her shoes and slipped them on. “Since when did that self-centered jerk care about anything but himself?”
“Sad to say, but never.”
“Exactly. Let’s get this over with.”
People crowded the main floor, spilling out onto the large patio that led to the pool. Asha knew most of them and didn’t care for most of them. Society and yacht club members were competing for the spotlight. It was comical, and right in the center vying for the most attention was her brother.
“I am telling you. You need to invest in the project. It’s going to be a moneymaker.”
Asha recognized the man Michael was talking to, Dan Colton, a banker. Colton seemed unconvinced. “What makes you so certain that your father is leaving control of the project to you?”
“Because he knows I’ll make a success of it.”
“But you’re in insurance, granted, quite successful, but what do you know about developing a project as large as this. This is practically a mini-city on the barrier island. Isn’t your sister a developer? Partnered with her husband?”
Asha watched her brother’s rage rise. He attempted to tamp his anger down, but it was evident in his pinched face. “That bastard isn’t even here. Besides, they only have a couple of projects in Europe. What would he know about Florida?”
“A lot more than you.”
Michael whirled at his sister’s voice. “You still think Dad is going to hand you the project, don’t you?”
Colton nodded to her behind her brother’s back and walked away. She shook her head. “I don’t know what Dad is planning on doing, but I will tell you this. If the family company is going to succeed, it won’t be with you.”
“I know more about business than you will ever know.”
“Yeah, keep telling yourself that. You’re lucky your partner in the insurance company is the hard worker. He used the money granddad left you to make money for both of you.”
He leaned toward her, eyes blazing. “You are a bitch. You know that.”
“And you are a self-centered fool.” She spun away from him as he muttered an insult. She ignored it. That always made him angry.
She entered Jasper L. Worthington’s law office, located on the twentieth floor of the tallest building in Palm Marsh, Florida. Her father’s attorney since their twenties, Jasper was also his best friend. Asha walked into the firm’s lobby to find she was the first to arrive for the reading of the will. The receptionist told her that Worthington was waiting for her.
Jasper, trim, vigorous, and looking twenty years younger than he was, rose and rushed to greet her. “You look wonderful—more beautiful than the last time I saw you.”
I am so sorry about your dad’s death. Daniel Elliot was my oldest friend.”
“Thank you. I’m glad you were with him.”
“Have a seat. Tell me, how is Martin? I was surprised he wasn’t with you.”
“He had just flown home to Melbourne a day before the call came. We—no, I decided that he needed to stay, just too far to come, and his mother is having surgery tomorrow. Best that he stayed put.”
“I understand. Hope to get to see him next time you are here.” He motioned for her to sit as he returned to his chair.
“Asha, I want to tell you something. I am overstepping my bounds here, but your father changed his will from what I feel you might be expecting. I wanted you to be aware before I reveal the contents.”
“Are you saying he left me out?”
“No, not at all, but well, I shouldn’t say more, so I won’t.”
His phone buzzed, and his assistant announced, “The rest of the family has arrived.”
He rose again. “Let’s go.”
As they walked into the large conference room, Asha was aware of the daggers thrown at her from Michael’s eyes. She took a seat next to her mother.
Jasper read through the first part of the will dealing with cash settlements. Asha was pleased that the new widow was getting nothing beyond the pre-nuptial agreement she had signed and no one else knew existed.
What came next shocked them all.
Jasper raised his eyes, glancing at them, then read a handwritten part of the will.
“My death was inevitable. No, not because everyone dies, but because six months ago, my doctor informed me that I had irreparable heart damage and had only a few months to live. I chose to live life fully and not look back. However, I have learned some lessons in life over the years, and I need to rectify my mistakes.
Therefore, I instructed my attorney, Jasper L. Worthington, to update my will. I have done so because I am unhappy with the way things are within the family, and I want to correct my errors in judgment.
To my first wife, Marjorie Stone Elliot, I leave my apologies. I was young, foolish, and far too immature, and I was not the husband you deserved. I loved you, but I wasn’t good enough for you. I divorced you, threw money at you, and left you to raise our children with little help from me. That Asha seems to love me is a miracle that I treasure.
I would like to make that up to you by leaving the house and estate to you. I have set up a trust to pay all taxes and the staff for the length of your life. Any monies left will go to Michael, Asha, and Leah equally.
Marjorie gasped and grabbed Asha’s hand.
The only stipulation is that Leah remains living in the house, or the guest house if she prefers, until she chooses to leave.
Michael and Asha. I know there is considerable strife between you, and frankly, I understand. Michael is a disappointment. However, he is an adequate businessman, and Asha, you have shown an aptitude for the business that made millions of dollars for me.
Therefore, as I have held one hundred percent of the stock in Elliot Development, the company stock distribution is as follows:
Michael Daniel Elliot Thirty-five shares
Asha Elliot Patterson Thirty-five shares
Marjorie Stone Elliot Ten shares
Leah Alexandria Elliot Ten shares
Chandra Martin Elliot Ten shares
Asha glanced at her brother, who was grinning from ear to ear and staring at her. No doubt he thought his wife and their mother would support him. And she had no doubt he was right.
As Elliot Development’s counsel, Jasper Worthington has ordered the Board of Directors to convene in two weeks. He will call for a vote to place control of Elliot Development in the highest stockholder’s hands. Choose wisely.
One more thing. Leah, I did love your mother, and her death was a loss to me. You mean as much to me as Asha and Michael. Please do not ever forget that.
Lastly, take care of my business. I tried to be a fair man. I hope you will remember me that way.
As Jasper folded the will and returned it to the envelope, Michael stood up.
“Ah… Asha… just a formality. I expect you to hand over your shares to me. You have lost. Mom and Chandra will follow me, and Leah knows who will be here for her, and it won’t be you.”
Marjorie rose from her chair. “Michael, do not taunt your sister with such nonsense. You have a lot to prove to me that you can run this business, and at the moment, I doubt you can.”
Her son stepped toward her. “Who was here when you needed something, me? Not Asha, she was running around Europe with that no-good foreigner, playing at putting up chalets in Switzerland. What crap.”
Asha stepped between her mother and brother. “You will not talk to Mom this way, and you will not talk about my husband that way. He has nothing to prove to you. You have been and always will be a self-centered idiot. All you care about is yourself and what others think of you. I’m done with you. Whatever happens, this company better be in my hands because you are shallow, useless, and always looking for attention. You will get none from me.”
Michael’s face reddened, and he grabbed Chandra’s hand and stalked out the door, tugging her along. As she left, Chandra looked over her shoulder at Asha, a pained look in her eyes.
Asha spent most of the two weeks before the board meeting tying up loose ends on the Switzerland project while her husband continued to stay with his ill mother. Once again, on her way to the house, she stopped at the development entrance.
As she leaned on the road-closed barrier, she realized her father had purposely slowed work down on his dream because he knew he was dying. But why? Did he want her to take the reins or for Michael to run the company, and why set up a boardroom fight between them? She supposed she would never know, but she would be incredibly surprised if she gained control of the company. Michael was right. Chandra would side with her husband, and she wasn’t sure about her mother. He was also right that he had stayed in Palm Marsh while she followed Martin to his latest project in Europe. And Leah? No idea what she would do. So, a crapshoot and not going to win this one.
Arriving at the house, only the staff met her at the door, telling her dinner would be at seven p.m. She had stretched out on the bed, trying to relax when a soft knock on her door roused her. Opening the door, she found her mother, Chandra, and Leah.
Her mother smiled. “May we come in, Asha? We need to talk.”
Asha entered the boardroom with her mother and Leah. Chandra had arrived with Michael. Jasper, who was counsel to the Board of Directors, addressed the group.
“As you know, this board meeting has been called to determine who will replace Daniel Elliot as Chairman of the Board. Those of you currently sitting on the Board have received the directive that Mr. Elliot left requesting the Board to approve the highest stockholder in the company to become the CEO and Chairman of the Board. Are there any questions regarding this procedure?”
No one spoke, and Jasper directed the Board Secretary to call for stock pledges.
A thin, bespectacled man rose and began to call their names. First, Michael responded, retaining his shares. The secretary turned to Asha and she kept her thirty-five shares. Then all eyes turned to the three women who held the other shares.
The secretary spoke.
“Marjorie Stone Elliot, how do you pledge your stock.”
“I pledge my ten shares to,” she paused, her eyes on her son, “my daughter, Asha Patterson.”
Michael’s reaction was visceral. His eyes narrowed, and his fists, resting on the table, clenched.
The secretary asked again.
“Leah Alexandria Elliot, how do you pledge your ten shares?”
Leah was stoic as she replied. “I pledge my ten shares to my sister, Asha Peterson.”
Michael rose so quickly, the heavy leather chair rocked. “Well, I see where your loyalty lies. Did my dear sister bribe you? Why else would you turn on me?”
Jasper ordered Michael to be quiet, and the secretary to continue. He asked Chandra the same question.
Chandra stood. Her eyes bored into her husband’s. “You have controlled our lives too long. We have had enough of your bullying and your lies and your self-centered attitude.” She slipped an envelope from her purse and placed it in front of him. “Those are divorce papers.” She turned to the secretary. “I pledge my ten shares to Asha Peterson.”
Asha opened the letter Jasper had given her right after the board meeting adjourned and the screaming fit from her brother ended. She had read it a thousand times in the month since the meeting, but never tired of hearing her father’s word echo in her mind.
My dearest Asha,
Forgive me for putting you through this. I had seen the damage Michael had done to his relationships. Chandra confided in me that she wanted to leave him. He and Leah never got along, and your mother always felt estranged from him. She once told me that he looked too much like me for her to feel empathy for him. The fact is Michael is not suited to lead, as his partner will tell you.
I suspected that when given the opportunity these women would stand with you. If you are reading this, I was correct. This is your project now, and with Martin at your side, it will be a success. Think about me as you make my dream come true.
Brushing tears from her eyes, she looked at Martin and nodded. He pulled the road-closed barriers aside and waved the convoy of graders and trucks through.
The road was open.
Please visit Deborah on her blog: https://thecoastalquill.wordpress.com/