Twin prologues from Jukebox…
As Harper Alessi walked the dark stairs, crimson blood dotted each step. The rag, wrapped tightly around her hand, was saturated.
Howling gusts rattled the old windowpanes as she entered the bathroom. The lights flickered. At the pedestal sink, she cleaned the cut and used a tourniquet on her finger, which hadn’t stopped bleeding since she sliced it open. Her wavy chestnut hair, twisted into a clip, was a mess, halfway fallen, and she couldn’t have cared less.
Before leaving the safe confines of the washroom, Harper turned off the light. Alone, she stood in the dark and let herself cry. And it wasn’t about the wound. Slouched over against the linen cabinet, she couldn’t hold it any longer; the ripping and tearing in her chest made it difficult to breathe.
She took one final breath before entering her bedroom again, knowing the attic door was still wide open.
So was her hope chest inside. And all the secrets it held.
Sprinkled like blue confetti, broken glass littered the rough floor panels of the low-ceiling attic. Woolly insulation, folded like heaps of cotton candy, still partially encircled the chest even though it had been pushed aside by the intruder, who’d clearly known what they were after.
Amidst the debris, items from Harper’s past were strewn about, in piles here and there—a teetering stack of 45s was covered in bits of torn photos like fallen cherry blossoms.
A solitary utility light swung as a beacon above as she approached the trunk, careful where she stepped.
The ornamental cedar chest had been in her family for three generations. It was her grandmother’s and had crossed the Pond by boat in 1952, when she arrived from Italy.
Tentatively, Harper knelt down beside it.
As she surveyed what was left behind, her grief slowly galvanized into anger.
A strand of pearls, given to Harper the night of her debutante ball, was curved like a millipede on the floor. Beside it were several worn cassette tapes with handwritten song titles. Letters Harper collected that European summer, partially bound in string, were picked apart.
All that was left of the antique pickling jar from Uncle Alvaro was the rusted handle and mouth. The rest was scattered like a booby trap now, shards misted with blood. For Harper, the most alarming discovery was under one of her sorority sweatshirts, open and face down. The stained and ragged journal from her night of revelation on the mountain. She closed her eyes and took in its familiar scent. The smell—her body’s most acute sense—gently opened up cavities in Harper’s soul, ones better left sealed. She hadn’t touched it in twelve years. Hadn’t wanted to. Hadn’t been ready.
There were thousands of places Grace Dunlop would’ve rather been than in Jack Stowe’s office.
There was one in particular and it had her on the edge of a panic attack. Even before Stowe began reading her great grandfather’s will, Grace was already staring at the ceiling, worlds away from his downtown Phoenix law office.
Grace’s mom, Cilla, sat to her left. They were the spitting image of each other, she and Grace—the same flushed apple cheeks, loose blond curls and a delicately feminine body despite the hours spent at the gym.
Other Dunlop heirs were seated around the expansive conference room table, which had a silver bowl of Granny Smith apples at its center. Stowe was at the head.
Grace’s foot tapped steadily as Stowe, the decrepit lawyer who’d been the executor of James Warden Dunlop’s will since he died, cleared his throat.
“All right, let’s get started,” Stowe said, adjusting his western belt buckle. He nodded to one of his assistants, who fiddled with a tape recorder before he began.
Grace had never met her great-grandfather, JW, as he was known to his inner circle, but he was a man whom Grace had been—along with the rest of the family—living her life for since she was eighteen, the age each heir was brought into the abundant Dunlop Trust.
Grace never looked at Stowe when he read the will, which happened every August. Per JW’s wishes, each year they’d gathered as a family, put their hands on a King James Bible and sworn their lives away.
Stowe started reading: “This is the last will and testament of me, James Warden Dunlop, of sound mind”—Grace let out a caustic laugh—“and body.” Cilla shot her a look, as she always did. It was like clockwork.
Stowe sped up when he got to the next section, since they’d all heard it so many times.
“I hereby revoke all wills and testamentary dispositions of every nature and kind whatsoever by me hereto before made…”
Rubbing her temples, Grace tried to tune out Stowe, a man she’d hated her entire adult life. The only man she loathed more than JW. They were cut from the same cloth, Stowe and her great-granddaddy.
JW had unabashedly controlled every member of the Dunlop clan since the day he made his first million. The hundreds of millions that followed only dug the claws deeper.
“I give, devise and bequeath annual installments to all heirs, beginning at their eighteenth birthday, the dividends and interest accrued in the established trust split equally among able beneficiaries who meet these set forth conditions.” Stowe pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and coughed out a lung into it.
Grace cringed. She hated this part the most, the list. She took a deep breath, fighting back tears, as Stowe continued.
“All heirs to retain family name, regardless of sex. All heirs to marry white-skinned persons of European descent,” Stowe said. “All heirs to be circumcised at birth.”
Sitting in the leather swivel chair, Grace closed her eyes and shut out the rest of the list; she couldn’t hear the most painful parts again. Instead, she floated off to her favorite place—the Italian countryside, where she chased fireflies through a maze of grapevines. Distant laughter. Booming beats of thunder. The night sky veined with lightning.
“Grace?” Stowe barked.
Despite being startled, Grace slowly opened her eyes.
“Do you comply?” Stowe asked.
Hesitating, Grace took a long hard look at Cilla before answering.
Grace’s glare moved to Stowe as she put her hand on the Bible.