Eli pushed open the door to his family’s house and reluctantly stepped inside. Gladys was there to greet him as he knew she would be.
“You best be getting into the dining room,” she said to him as she hurried him along. “Everyone else is waiting on you.”
It wasn’t like he hadn’t called ahead to let them know he was caught up in traffic and would be late. “Thanks,” he said and made his way into the dining room.
Just as Gladys had said, he found his entire family already inside sitting around the table waiting for him. His father sat at the head of the table, his mother to his right and Russ to his left. No one was speaking when he walked in. He wondered how long they had all been sitting there in silence before Eli had arrived. There was no sense in asking. Eli took his seat beside Russ and was served a glass of wine.
“We are honored that you could accommodate us with you having such a busy schedule,” Russell Walker stated, eyeing his eldest son.
“Father, he told us he was running late.”
Eli put his hand on Russ’ shoulder to stop him talking. “It’s alright,” he told his brother. “I do what I can to accommodate this family. I always have. Even when it means leaving an important meeting early to try and beat traffic to make dinner.” He could tell his father didn’t appreciate the comment.
His mother, on the other hand, seemed genuinely concerned. “Is it going to affect your business, you leaving to come here? We could have postponed if it was important.”
Eli flashed his mother a smile, trying to convince her not to worry. “It’s not a problem,” he assured her. In actuality, it was a problem—a big problem. He and Ken had been meeting with their lawyer regarding the copyright lawsuit that had been brought against them earlier in the year. Apparently the problem wasn’t going to go away as easily as they had hoped. Eli had felt horrible leaving the meeting early; it didn’t really help his appearance as someone who cared about his business. But he had told the lawyer that it was a family emergency, and he knew Ken was capable of finishing up the meeting on his own.
“Now that we’re all finally here, I have an announcement to make,” Russell stated from the head of the table. “As you all know, the time for my retirement is fast approaching. It has come time for me to publically name my successor.”
Eli could feel an insult coming, and took a gulp of his wine to calm himself.
“I had initially intended to hand this company over to Eli when the time was right, but as you are all well aware, he has chosen to go another route in life and abandon this family’s legacy and his inheritance.”
Eli held his tongue, but it took all his effort to do so.
“Therefore, I have decided to name Russ my successor instead.”
Russ sputtered beside Eli, the wine he was drinking spraying everywhere. Eli took his glass from him while Russ coughed a few times, trying to regain his composure after their father’s unexpected announcement.
Their mother spoke first. “Russell, are you sure—“
But Russ cut her off before she could finish. “You can’t name me your successor. I don’t know the first thing about business. I’m majoring in theatre if you’ve forgotten.”
“That will have to be fixed,” he father said in response. “Tomorrow when you return to school, you will apply for a change in major to business management. The college is not far from my office. After your classes each evening, you will come to the office and start interning with me so that you can learn the ropes. With any luck, you will be more than fit to take over by time you graduate in two years.”
“You have got to be kidding me,” Russ muttered as he sunk into his chair.
Eli couldn’t stand to see his brother’s usual flair so flattened. “Father, don’t make Russ do this. You know it’s not his style.”
Russell Walker flared. “You lost your say in what I do with this company when you walked out on us two years ago.”
Now Eli couldn’t hold it back. “Who walked out?” he demanded. “Am I not sitting right here?”
“Boys, please…” his mother’s plea was soft, pained.
“Can I be excused?” Russ asked. Eli couldn’t help but notice how much he looked like a dejected child.
“Of course,” his mother said.
Russ got up and left the room. Eli also stood up.
“Where do you think you’re going?” his father asked.
“I also would like to be excused,” Eli said with the best fake smile he could muster. He walked out of the room before giving his parents the time to reply.
Eli found Russ on the back porch, leaning against the rail with his head down. “Are you OK?” he asked.
“Not really,” Russ said without lifting his head.
“I’m sorry,” Eli said.
Russ looked up at him. His eyes were wet. Eli wondered if he had been crying. “Can’t you just make up with Father and do what he wants. Running his business wouldn’t be that different than running your own. Why couldn’t you have just done what he wanted?”
Eli sympathized with his brother’s pain, but it wasn’t that simple. “I can’t go work for Father,” he informed Russ. What he wants for me isn’t what I want for myself, and I refuse to let him dictate my life for me. The only way to face Father is to tell him no. Don’t let him push you around. I won’t let Father do that to you. Just give me some time to figure this out.”
Russ snorted contemptuously. “That’s easy for you to say, but some of us don’t want to get disinherited.”
Eli chuckled. Leave it to Russ to put his lifestyle before his life goals. “It’s going to be OK,” Eli assured him. “We’ll figure out how to get around this. I promise. There’s no reason for your life to be ruined because of my decisions.”