Death brings out the best and worst in people, especially when the death is in the family.
I met my husband's siblings when we all sat down in the attorney's office to discuss the dispostion of Nick's father's will. I already knew Larry; he and I were very close and had been since the moment we met. The rest of Nick's siblings -- Julie, Thom, and Maggie -- I knew by reputation and had a pretty good idea what they were about. I couldn't have been more wrong.
When I met Nick's father, his dad told me that I was marrying the wrong son. He was right, of course, but then he didn't know that Larry was gay either. That would have shocked the old man down to his cradle Catholic soul, especially since his wife Esther knew Larry was gay and knew how her husband would react. No amount of pepper in his food would change his attitude or Mr. Sherwood's mind about his queer son -- or his lesbian daughter come to that. Out of five children, the Sherwoods gave birth to one lesbian and one very gay Larry. In spite of Mr. Sherwood's beliefs, he was a good man and he would have come around in time, without the pepper in his food which was Esther's way of getting her own back when they fought.
I never met Esther, but I heard a lot about her from Mr. Sherwood, Nick, and Larry. I think I would've liked her even if she was a zealot, as are most converts to a religion. At least she loved all her children, if not equally, at least well.
I knew Mr. Sherwood a few months when he sent his children out of his hospital room and asked me to stay. I had no idea what he wanted, but he wasn't long in producing a small metal file box filled with 3 x 5 cards that were filled with names and numbers. Some of the cards were stapled together. The file box contained the details of how much each of his children owed on their inheritance, money Mr. Sherwood had advanced them for various reasons, from a down payment on a house to tuition and more, much more. Nick was the only one who had not borrowed on his inheritance and, according to Mr. Sherwood, was the one who would benefit most from his death. Mr. Sherwood quickly hushed me when I said he wouldn't die any time soon and he fixed me with a no nonsense stare.
"I know I'm going to die soon, and it can't come soon enough. I miss Esther and want to be with her."
What could I say? "I understand how much you miss her."
"Enough of that. Will you do it?" He pointed to the file box. "Will you stand up for me with the lawyer and make sure everything is done according to my wishes?"
"Of course, but shouldn't you get one of your children or your lawyer to handle this?"
There was that look again, the no nonsense stare.
"I have told the lawyer but I don't have the time to do everything that needs to be done. I want you to do it. If you're willing."
"Yes, I'll do what I can."
"Put that in your purse before they all come back. You'll have to fight them all to make sure Nick gets his fair share. They won't give in."
As much as I wanted to help, the idea of getting off on the wrong foot with my almost in-laws did not make me happy. I wasn't afraid of them, but I did want them to like me. It would be an uphill battle no matter what. I'd seen them going through Mr. Sherwood's home with stacks of cards filled with colored dots, a different color for each, parceling out his possessions and he wasn't even dead yet. A plague of locusts intent on getting every bit before they moved on.
Mr. Sherwood grabbed my hand, his thumb making soft lazy circles that sent shivers all through me. "Yes, I'll fight them for you."
"I still think you're marrying the wrong Sherwood. It's your choice, but I wish you'd take some time and think it over. You and Larry are perfect for each other."
I blushed, something I seldom did. "I love Nick."
"You love Larry, too. I know he loves you."
I smiled through the gathering tears and nodded. "It just wouldn't work out."
"Your choice," he said, pulling me down to kiss my cheek. "I wish I could stick around. I'd like to get to know you better."
Nick and his siblings came back into the room, but Mr. Sherwood kept hold of my hand. "I want you all to promise right now to abide by my wishes." All five of them nodded, murmuring yes. Nick was the only one who said loudly, "I promise, Dad." I didn't know that was the way it would always be -- and had always been.
Mr. Sherwood outlined what he wanted in his funeral and what he wanted done about his possessions and the will. Possessions they had already tagged with their big colored dots, none of which belonged to Nick.
Four of the Sherwoods groaned when Mr. Sherwood said Nick got the house free and clear and that the money they owed him from loans would also go to Nick. I didn't miss the daggers Maggie, Julie, and Thom sent Nick's way. Nick was oblivious, tears streaking his face and he stared down at his father's left foot where it stuck out from the covers. He reached down, his fingers brushing the side of his father's foot, a red blush creeping up his neck and flaming his cheeks.
Larry nodded immediately, but it took much longer for Maggie, Thom, and Julie to promise their father they agreed with his terms. I knew at that moment they would never follow through and the only ammunition available was in my bag, the truth that would force them to honor their promises. I didn't know how wrong I was or to what lengths the other four Sherwoods would go to stick it to Nick who, they felt, had had more than his share since he fell ill with spinal meningitis when he was still a child. I didn't know any of it at that time, but I soon found out the buzzards didn't only migrate to Hinckley, Ohio. A small family of those buzzards had descended to pick over Mr. Sherwood's carcass while it was still alive. They began at his home and soon moved to the rest of his life as it trickled away. They didn't mind waiting a few months. Those buzzards had caught the scent of death and waited patiently for the end.