“What?” The word came out harsher than I’d intended, and his eyebrows rose in a challenge.
“It’s my money that has allowed you to live this way.” His hand swiped over the photo again. Unable to stare at it any longer, I ripped it off the desk and crumbled it up before tossing it on the ground.
“What am I supposed to do?” Panic changed the tone of my voice to a pitch similar to a whining five-year-old. “Please don’t do this. Don’t sell the company. Don’t cut me off. Just give me a chance to prove it to you. Please, Grandpa.” I was begging now, but I didn’t care. The darkness had stripped me of my desire to go after my dreams these past two years since my parents died, but knowing they were being ripped away had me grasping the air desperate to get them back.
“It’s too late, Cassandra. I’ve lost faith in you. You’re not capable.”
“I am, Grandpa! I swear I’m capable!” Sucking back the tears I straightened back up. “I got off track. Yes, I admit it. But you taught my father everything you know, and he taught me everything he knows. I’m the best of both of you. Just let me prove it. Please don’t do this.”
He sucked his cheek between his teeth like he did often when giving a thought careful consideration. Sitting back in his chair, he rubbed a hand across his bald head. “You think you have what it takes?”
“I know I do.” Raising my chin, I gave him my most confident stare, wishing there wasn’t mascara dripping down my face and snarls in my hair to destroy the appearance of a woman capable of taking the reins of a billion-dollar company.
“Then you must prove it.”
“Anything. I will do anything, Grandpa.”
While he stroked his face, I stroked my dog, waiting for his decision. A decision that would alter my entire life.
“If you want to prove to me you have what it takes, then I want to see you out in the world on your own two feet. I want to see you succeed without your name or my money. I want you to get your hands dirty and rise from the ground like I did. To understand the strife of the people you consider below you… the type of people who will one day be your employees and count on you to make decisions that secure their jobs and their income. Their very livelihoods. I want you to live like the other half.”
“Anything, Grandpa. Just tell me what to do.”
Silence settled over us while I struggled to control my breathing and the minutes ticked by. Just when I couldn’t take the suspense any longer, I saw a flash in his eyes and a smile lifted one corner of his lip.
“I know how you can prove it to me.”
“You are going to leave New York City and travel to a place where I’m certain no one will know you. You will find a job, pay your bills, and live with people who don’t own private jets and travel in limos. You’ll live amongst good people and hopefully you will come back here with an understanding of how the world really works and with a new appreciation for the life you can have. Should you choose to work for it instead of having it handed to you on a silver platter.”
“I can do that, Grandpa! I swear I can!”
“Good. Then I will make arrangements and you can prove to me you have what it takes, and you aren’t just a spoiled Park Avenue Princess.”
I put my hand up as if taking an oath. “I will. I promise.”
His eyes, a mirror of my own, narrowed into slits. “There will be rules.”
“What kind of rules?”
“You can tell no one who you are.” Leaning forward, he pressed his elbows into the desk and steepled his fingers. “No one. You will not use your name to get any favors. If I find out you told people your name to pave your own way and make things easier, the deal is off.”
“Okay. I can do that.”
“You will not tell your friends where you are and get them to help you. The only money you get is the money you earn on your own.”
“Ok. Fine. No friends. No outside money.”
“I mean it, Cassandra. I want you to live like the common man and woman so you might appreciate them more. Don’t think Eleanor didn’t tell me how you treated her. I won’t have you treating people you feel are inferior to you that way again. No one is inferior to you. No one.”
Cringing, I nodded.
“Do you agree to my terms?”
“I’ll be keeping tabs on you. If you so much as take a penny from someone to pay a bill, or call those wretched friends of yours, I’ll know. Then the deal is off, and the company will be sold before you can come crying back with your latest sob story. And you will be cut off completely until you get your parent’s trust when you turn thirty.”
“It won’t come to any of that. I promise I’ll do better, Grandpa. I can do this.”