Author's Note: This is a collab with the amazing author Nainika Gupta, credit to her for the dialogue between siblings as well as the title. I will put a link to her part (Leo's POV) and her page in the comments below. Enjoy! :)
I was sitting outside my favorite cafe in Paris when I got the call. The waiter here always seats me outside, knowing while I sip my drink I love to gaze out at the city as it falls asleep. Hues of a myriad of colors, reds, pinks, oranges, and yellows, are painted across their canvas, the sky. I always loved painting the sunset, loved the way the bright watercolors mixed as my art took form.
My phone screen is illuminated with the alert of an incoming call. Glancing at the unknown number, I swipe the screen and hesitantly pick it up.
“Hello? This is Maelle Rivera,” I say, patiently waiting for an answer.
“Hello, Maelle. I’m Olivia Banks, your sister, Victoria Alle Rivera’s lawyer,”
“Can I help you?” I ask, my voice refined. Even after I left boarding school that seemed to have stuck with me, the perfect manners we practiced. There is only silence in return.
“Did something happen? Is Victoria alright?” I ask, a hint of panic in my voice.
“I’m sorry to be the first to tell you, Maelle. There are probably better people for you to hear from,” She replies, her voice tinged with sadness.
“Please tell me,” I plead, getting slightly impatient and worried.
“Your sister was found dead. Suicide. I’m so sorry, Maelle,” She says, although I can’t hear her last words clearly as a ringing fills my head.
My vision blurs as I dizzily stumble up from my seat. The decorative metal railing is the only thing keeping me from tumbling off the rooftop balcony. People enjoying candlelit dinners at the adjacent tables worriedly watch me break down sobbing.
I slowly pull myself off the ground, falling back into my seat. I bury my head in my hands, letting my caramel-colored hair form curtains over my tear-stained eyes. They should know it's rude to stare at a time like this. I stay that way for a while, not finding the energy to get up from my seat. I only slightly register the waiter bringing me a mug of spiced golden milk.
“It’s soothing,” he tells me, “It’ll help.” He also doesn't hand me my check, which I gratefully accept, knowing he’s letting me have my drink on the house. I don’t think I could muster enough energy to focus on paying.
I don’t touch the drink, however, instead, staying collapsed on the tabletop for a long while. I’m not usually like this, breaking down around others. At least my tears are silent. After an hour goes by I’m able to gather the strength in my dazed state to take refuge back home in my flat overlooking the Seine and the Eiffel Tower. I study the only pictures to cover my walls, pictures of my five other siblings, four now, and both my birth and adopted parents. I stop in front of one with all eight of us, one of our holiday cards from more than five years ago.
My brothers, Leo, Kendi, and Sumer, and my sisters, Vicky, Chiamara, and I stand around my aged parents, bright smiles on our faces. I gently run my finger down Vicky’s smiling face, tears welling up in my eyes once more.
As I pull my blankets up to my chin, burying my face in pillows, only one thought is stuck in my head.
I didn’t even get to say goodbye.
The next week isn’t the best. Well, who am I kidding, it’s honestly dreadful. I’ll admit, I spent the majority of the days in my bed. Drearily watching movies on the small television that I would never have given a second glance in different circumstances.
I stay in my flannel pajamas, never getting dressed in the morning. Not that it matters when I’m not even leaving my bedroom. I need to do this, just completely ignore the world, even if it’s only for a bit.
Olivia sent me the date for the funeral and the reading of Vicky’s will, both of which I will be expected to attend. To pretend I’m fine along with the rest of my siblings. I’ll have to be strong, for them.
For my eldest brother, Sumer, who always used to yell at the older kids at school when they made fun of me, the new orphan girl. For Chinami, my older sister, who always shook some sense into me whenever I tried to achieve anything less than my greatest artistic dreams. For Kendi, who held me as I cried after we were both told mom passed peacefully in her sleep the night before. For Leo, my younger brother, who would play soccer with me on our parent’s vast front lawn when we were younger.
They aren’t my siblings by blood, but that never mattered to us. Both my birth parents died in a car crash when I was young, leaving me to fend for myself in boarding school for a few years. When the school was shut down, my adoptive parents generously took me in, giving me all the opportunities I ever could have dreamed of. Vicky was their only child by birth, the other five of us were adopted.
A new text pops up on my phone and I open the group chat with my siblings. The one that has been dormant for years, the one most of us forgot even existed.
Chiamara: It’s going to be so good to see you guys again. Even if it’s for this reason…
Kendi: I know. We’ve drifted apart these past five or so years.
Maelle: We’ve grown apart, you guys…and we didn’t even realize it.
It wasn’t a sudden separation, rather a gradual one. We drifted apart so slowly none of us realized what happened until we had stopped speaking to each other altogether.
Sumer: It was our fault, though. We could have stayed in touch.
Kendi: Well, it wasn’t our fault. People change.
Chiamara: NOT US. We should have been there for each other. Then maybe Victoria wouldn’t have, you know…
My sister never did know when to speak and when to stay silent. We were always planning on telling Leo at some point, at the right time, definitely not now. I hope he understands why we didn’t tell him. That we were trying to protect him.
Leo: Wait, what do you mean, you know?
Sumer: You didn’t know?
Leo: KNOW WHAT?
Maelle: Leo…Victoria killed herself.
I was planning on telling him at a different time, and a different place. Not telling him over text that his beloved sister took her own life. He shouldn’t have found out this way.
Leo: And you guys couldn’t even tell me. When were you going to tell me? At the will reading? Or, even, never?
Sumer: Leo…we were going to tell you…
Maelle: Just not right away.
I’m praying Leo won’t stay mad at us, this is our first conversation in years. Is it too much to ask for it to end on a better note?
Leo: So it’s up to you guys to talk amongst yourselves about whether or not to include ‘poor little Leo’ in our sister’s death? I thought you guys were better than that.
Kendi: Leo, we thought it would be best, considering how your mother died.
No one should even have to go through one loved one committing suicide, let alone two.
Leo: Well, thanks for being the older siblings, guys. See you this weekend.
Kendi: That’s what we’re here for, bro.
Chiamara: We love you, Leo.
Maelle: See you soon, little dude!
Sumer: Bye, Leo.
Am I being overly optimistic by saying that went well? To be honest, I was expecting worse, so I’ll take that as a success. I check off one box on my mental list, but there is still so much more ahead. At least one step forward is better than none.
I keep my nose buried in a book the whole plane ride to Los Angeles, California, another one of my favorite ways to tune out the world. No one else on the plane pays me any mind and I ignore them in return, I prefer it this way.
As I step off the plane, arriving at the airport where my siblings and I are gathering, I wrinkle my nose at the smell of the crowded airport. The people here shove into each other, all impatiently rushing to get to their various destinations on time. They run the plastic wheels of their suitcases run over other’s feet, never caring.
I could never understand Americans very well.
When I catch sight of Kendi, Chiamara, and Leo guarding their luggage in the distance, my regret at staying apart so long comes rushing back. But more than anything, I’m just glad to finally be able to see them again.
“The Rivera clan is coming together!” I call as I come running toward them, my superfluous jacket fluttering behind me. They turn toward me and my usually severe sister runs over to meet me.
“Heya, guys!” I say, though a huge smile. It’s nice to see everyone’s faces again, especially after the loss of Vicky. It reminds me that at least we still have each other.
“Ma grande sœur tu m’as tellement manqué!” I say in French, as Chiamara engulfs me in a hug. I prefer the taste of those words on my lips, there was always a certain beauty to my first language.
“Ken, oh, tu es magnifique!” I tell my brother, taking in his rich chocolate-brown skin and his eyes with the appearance of melted gold.
“Et vous? Absolument jolie,” he says softly as I reach up to wrap my arms around his neck. My eyes starting to well up at the feeling of his familiar embrace.
“Leo, I’m so sorry for not telling you about Vicky. I couldn’t bear it if you were mad at me.” I say, pulling away to face my littlest brother. I’ve revisited our conversation earlier more times than I should have, the chance that he was hurt nagging away at me.
“Ah, Maelle, I couldn’t stay mad at you,” Leo tells me as I run into his arms, lightly sobbing into his shoulder. He’s right, I can’t remember a time he stayed angry with me for any longer than a few hours at a time.
“Now we’re just waiting for...” Kendi starts to say before the arrival of our last sibling cuts him off.
“Waiting for moi,” we all spin around at the sound of Sumer’s voice, seeing him jogging toward us.
“Sumer!” I squeal, grabbing his hand and pulling him toward us. I blink away tears from my eyes, not wanting to miss a second of this moment. I never realized how much I missed them until now.
“We suck,” Chiamara scolds us, wiping tears out of her eyes, “We let ourselves drift apart and it took Vicky dying to bring us back.”
She’s right, we should have gotten together sooner, and under different circumstances.
“We do suck,” Leo starts, glancing between all our tearful expressions, “And whatever happens with Vicky’s will, know this, you guys. From now on, we aren’t going to let ourselves drift apart. We have to stick together. It’s only us now.”
We wrap our arms around each other again, forming an unbreakable circle.
“Agreed,” Kendi promises.
“Absolument,” I say, speaking in French once again.
“Yes,” Sumer chimes in.
“Always,” Chiamara says, furiously rubbing at her face.
“Shall we?” Leo asks, leading us toward his truck. I grab ahold of his hand as we walk, like Vicky used to tell us to do when we were younger and crossing the street. However this might go, we’ll always have each other.
The funeral is sad, that’s to be expected, but it’s a beautiful kind of sorrow. The five of us stand side by side through it all. Together when we could not be. The last hurrah, if you will.
My former Matrôn would tell me to ‘garde la tête haute et ton cœur stable’. I do so now.
I hand Chiamara a handkerchief embroidered with flowers as people each stand up to say a few kind words about Vicky, to say she will be missed. She thanks me, softly dabbing at the tears dripping down her rosy cheeks.
I lean against Kendi, weeping as they lower the casket into the ground, locking Vicky underground forever. He drapes an arm around my shoulders, pulling me to his side as his silent tears drip onto my braided hair.
Sumer and I place daffodils on the casket together, they were Vicky’s favorite flower. She said the bright yellow petals reminded her of the sun on a summer day, cool lemonade, goldfinches, and sweet honey. Vicky loved the color yellow.
When people ask Leo how he’s doing and he can’t seem to muster the energy to respond, I jump in, thanking them for attending Vicky’s funeral. Then they tell us they are sorry for our loss.
All five of us make it through the funeral in one piece. Our bond is the only constant in any of our lives. Although, it wasn’t enough for Vicky.
After the funeral, Olivia has asked us to gather at Leo’s house for the reading of Vicky’s will. Olivia sitting on an armchair by the fireplace and the other five of us huddled together on the couch across from her.
Olivia speaks in a refined voice, politely asking us to take a seat before opening the large envelope and flourishing the paper in her hands. Her pale hands clamp down on the stack of papers, putting on her reading glasses and holding them in her line of sight.
“Now that we are all here, let us get started,” she tells us, getting down to business. We grab each other’s clammy hands, sitting on the edge of our seats as the reading begins.
“You are all here to hear the last will and testament of Victoria Alle Rivera. Ms. Rivera stipulated that the following individuals be physically present for the reading of her will: Chinami Kinotsu Rivera, Maelle Abbè Rivera, Kendi Kwame Rivera, Leopold Rivera, and Sumer Jai Rivera.”
“Since you are all here, we shall begin.” I pull another handkerchief out of the pocket of my dress, this one light pink. We all lean forward, attentively waiting to hear the last thing Vicky wanted us to hear from her.
“To Ms. Maelle Abbè Rivera, for being the kindest and most loving sister one could dream for, I bequeath a sum of ten billion dollars.” I inhale sharply, my mouth falling open slightly. We all knew Vicky had been wealthy, but $52.5 billion, that had come as a surprise to all of us.
To the artistic community, who’s always in need of funding, that large of an amount of money would make all the difference.
“To Ms. Chiamara Kinotsu Rivera, for being the fiercest and most loyal sister one could be privileged to have, I bequeath a sum of ten billion dollars.” Olivia states. My older sister’s eyebrows shoot up. She was never one to be surprised at much, but at the moment, she looks shocked.
“To Mr. Kendi Kwame Rivera, for being the most steadfast and protective brother one could deserve, I bequeath a sum of ten billion dollars.” Kendi beams hearing this, no doubt thinking of all the good the money will do to the elephant sanctuary he supports that his birth parents died for.
“To Mr. Leopold Rivera, for being the most spunky, loud, and hilarious younger brother one could love, I bequeath a sum of ten billion dollars.” Leo gasps a little, holding on to the armrest of the couch to stable himself.
“And finally, to Sumer Jai Rivera, for being the geekiest, loving, and heartfelt brother one could ever hope to live with, I bequeath a sum of ten billion dollars.” My eldest brother is more unreadable than the rest of us, but I can tell that even he is surprised.
Now having read what Vicky left each of us, Olivia moves on to the last part of her will.
“I know you are wondering why I only gave you ten billion when my net worth is $52.5 billion. It’s because of you. I know we drifted apart after our parents died, and I know we lost touch. But all of you never forgot our parents and all of you never forgot to honor them, which made me love all of you even more. So to all of your charities, hospitals, schools, and sanctuaries, I bequeath to them all of my remaining assets and liquidation to be distributed in further detail later on. My only remark is to never forget. I know my death will be a shock to you all, but I couldn’t let my ‘found’ family drift apart. And with that, I say goodbye, my siblings. You were the bright sparks in my life, the best thing my parents ever did, and for that, I thank you.”
Even stoic Olivia’s eyes look a little shiny as she finishes reading. I glance around at my sibling’s damp faces, hearing their light sniffling.
It took as much as Vicky’s death to bring us back together. I am not letting us drift apart again. When we have nothing else to count on, we will always have each other.