When the Johnson's family head, Nana, dies mysteriously, it's only fair she be replaced but when a strange lawyer shows up with her supposedly hand written will, the family is thrown into chaos. Blood ties are broken and the strength of togetherness and family are put to the test when the battle over who inherits the multi-billion dollar family business commences.
“Oh my God, it’s hot as balls!” I exclaimed and my friend, Kashma, giggled madly.
We were trying our best to quickly cross from our dorm, Milner Hall, to the JFK Auditorium for our 1 o’clock Psychology lecture and unfortunately, it was on the other side of the UWI St Augustine Campus. I groaned angry as the heat slowly got to me despite my choice of clothing which consisted of acid treated denim shorts and a puffy floral pattern cuff sleeved shirt and sneakers. It didn’t matter what one wore when the notorious Trinidadian heat struck.
“We’re almost there,” my friend assured me with her big toothy grin and I rolled my eyes.
I knew she was teasing me. Although I had lived in Trinidad and Tobago for two years, I had never gotten accustomed to bipolar weather that came in one of two ways. Hell escaped onto earth or I-should-probably-invest-in-a-boat-so-I-could-sail-through-these-flood-waters-to-go-to-class.
Soon enough, we got to the auditorium and took seats at the second to last row like we usually did so we could gossip or text on our phones. The hall was already filled when we entered but luckily, the lecturer had not commenced his topic for the day or he would have given us crap for being late. He was one of those old lecturers who were unnecessarily strict and liked putting students on spot. While I pretended to not be afraid of him, I still made sure I made it early to his classes to avoid his sharp tongue.
While the lecturer stood at the front of the auditorium fixing his wired mic, Kashma and I gossiped random topics like that guy from the all-boys dorm, Canada Hall, that she had a massive crush on but my mind was far from talking about cute boys.
It had been two years since I was sent to Trinidad and Tobago by my grandmother and family head, Nana. It was right after my twin sister, Amora drowned. I had not taken the news well and went on a downward spiral. In attempt to ‘save’ me, more like she wanted me and my antics out of the public eye, she sent me to live with my deceased mother’s relatives in the sister isle, Tobago. I did not want to just sit and waste my life away, which was exactly what was happening because no one from home returned for me nor called, so I applied to The University of the West Indies (UWI) to study for a degree in Psychology where I was currently a first year student. I missed my home in New York and I knew if it were up to my father, he would not have sent me away for so long but we all knew that Nana called the shots.
“Miss Johnson, someone is here to you.”
I jumped when I noticed the lecturer was talking to me. I sat up and glanced at my friend quizzically before slowly gathering my things and packing them into my purple Jansport backpack and heading toward the nearest exit so I could avoid the bold stares of my fellow classmates. While I was thrilled to be out of class, nothing fun was happening anyway, I could barely contain my slamming heart as I tried to guess the identity of my visitor. Had my father finally come to visit?
When I turned the corner, who I saw, I was definitely not prepared to and I could have sworn that it was all a dream. Before me, stood the last person I ever expected to leave New York to come see me.
“Alex!” I nearly shouted his name as I hurried to close the distance between us.
He slowly turned to face me and my heart flew up to my throat. I was still anxious around him because the last time we spoke, he made it as clear as day that he did not want to lay his eyes upon me ever again. He was probably the one who convinced Nana to send me away too. It was no secret that he was her favourite and of course his older siblings weren’t too pleased by that.
Alex’s cold grey-blue eyes stared at me with the same disapproval and hatred as the day he learned of Amora’s death. He, like the others, wished that I was the one who died instead of my sister although they never said it openly. I could feel it and even I wished that I had died in her place. Amora, despite being my identical twin, was a beauty with brains beyond compare. The next Nana, as everyone called her. Alex was in love with Amora but she was such a big flirt that I doubt she even returned his sincere feelings but that made no difference when he openly expressed his disappointment at her dying instead of me.
“I’ve come to get you,” he said coldly and I blinked disbelievingly at him.
I was happy to hear I would be able to return home and all but I had so many questions! How could they just post me away and not contact me? Why did they suddenly want me after I had finally settled into my new life in my mother’s birth country?
“I thought you’d be happy,” he said calmly after realizing my delayed reply.
“I am happy but this is so sudden….I have to tell my aunts and uncles…my cousins, my friends! I just started school! I can’t just leave because you’ve come for me!” I snapped hotly.
I knew it was not his fault for the sudden decision made most likely by Nana but I was angry. They threw me away to just uproot me again.
“Your caretakers have been alerted since morning and you will be transferred to a University in America. Pack your things. We leave tonight,” he said firmly.
We stared at each other fiercely and I could feel my blood boiling.
“And my friends? I have a life here. I’m free! I’m not going!” I practically shouted, ignoring the stares of passer bys as I glared daggers at Alex who glared back with the same aggression.
Alex was the only of her children raised directly under her so I was not surprised that he had inherited her signature forced authority. He always acted like he ran the show and I hated it but he was terrifying in his own way.
“You were never the one to like friends anyway. They will forget you in due time” he said with the same familiar coldness that I received the last time we spoke and I knew I should back down.
“I want to stay here Alex, Please. What happened that day with Amora…I’m finally getting over it, Let me talk to Nana.”
I was begging him. Even he knew how difficult that was for me to do in front of him but he showed no signs of budging.
“You see, that’s why I came for you. Nana is dead and all the direct family has been summoned for a memorial service.”
I stared at him as I processed each word and they hit me like a powerful blow to the chest. Nana, the head of the Johnson family, was dead? Although she was human, I had never seen her as such. She was a powerful woman who demanded her respect and walked, head held high, in a field dominated by men and overpowered them into submission. A force to be reckon with and a terrifying woman. I could not believe that Nana the great was taken down by something as simple as death.
“What…what do you mean she’s dead?” I asked, stumbling over my words.
“She’s no longer with us. You’re a big girl Madison, you understand death,” he stated while obviously also referring to the death of my sister.
I ignored his shady remark as I stared ahead. I would have no choice but to return to America. I was thrilled to know I would see my father again but I could not help but have a bad feeling. Nana was the chairwoman of Johnson’s Co so with her death, there would need to be a new chairperson. All seven of her children, Alex included, would be a possible candidate to inherit the multi-billion dollar company. All hell would be released and I would have to brace myself for it.
My heart raced as the limo slowly cruised down the stoned road towards the Johnson’s Manson. It looked the same as it did when I left but the ambiance was somehow different. Seemingly darker. I glanced ahead anxiously at the orange bricked, European styled family home and wished desperately to be anywhere but there. The place was not filled with pleasant memories for me. Especially since Amora died.
I threw a quick glance at Alex who was completely preoccupied with whatever business there was on his IPhone. He had barely said a word to me since we left the Caribbean and while it was probably better that way, I had so much I wanted to say. It tore me apart how he grew to hate me because I loved him. I never told him because I knew he could not see anyone but Amora. I studied the strong lines of his profile as he tapped away furiously at his phone. The thick neat eyebrows clenched in frustration and his lips pursed tightly. He seemed upset.
The limo finally pulled up at the front steps to the mansion and Alex climbed out then politely left the door open for me to pass out. I straightened parts of my plain black strapped dress then looked up at the double front doors. I was home, I was finally home.
“We’re already late. Let’s go,” Alex said after he closed the door and hurried up the steps.
I hurried behind him and through the doors that were opened by a maid. There was no one to be seen when we entered and I figured that everyone else was probably in the study waiting for us and that is exactly where we found them.
The most noticeable thing about the Johnson family would be our multi-racial gathering. All of Nana’s children, excluding my father who was her biological son, were adopted. It was often complex to outsiders because all my aunts and uncles looked so different and my cousins. A quick breakdown of the Johnson family would be as follows:
Nana- Family head (deceased)
Hiro- oldest son (my father)
Paige- step mother
Shantel- oldest sister
Amora (deceased) & I
Kwame- second oldest son (adopted from Ghana)
Ada- Kwame’s wife (Caucasian German)
Katrina (daughter of Kwame and Ada)
Abhaya- oldest daughter (adopted from Dubai, India)
Kevin (son of Abhaya)
Maria- second oldest daughter (adopted from Mexico)
The “twins”- Sora (adopted from south Korea)& Mark (adopted from Jamacia)
Alex - youngest and last son (adopted from Germany)
“About damn time!” sighed my uncle, Kwame with a broad smile as he crossed over to me and scooped me into a tight hug that I only returned out of false politeness.
I was really annoyed by his attempt at being so familiar with me. He was one of those who eyed me with disgust and disappointment when he realized that ‘the wrong twin’ had died that day but there he was, pulling me into a tight embrace as if he missed me. That snake. I decided to remain classy about it and smile and be polite.
While we exchanged polite greetings, I had not noticed a nonfamily member slip into the study and quickly make his way to the front of the group till he loudly cleared his throat, hushing us immediately.
“Good evening members of the Johnson family. My name is Anthony Lewis and I was the lawyer of the deceased, Miss Nana Johnson. Please accept my condolences,” he said, with a British accent, before straightening his thick glasses and taking a careful look at all our faces.
He was a short and pudgy man with thick lips and beady eyes. His thick fingers griped tightly to the brown leather suitcase in his hands and the grey suit he wore was at least two sizes too big. The light of the chandelier reflected against his balding head and he had an atrocious double chin that wobbled when he spoke.
I looked him up and down then frowned. Nana was strict about appearance and would only associate herself with the neat and beautiful so I was beyond words to see who she supposedly chose as her lawyer and so was everyone else. I could tell by the puzzled looks on their faces.
“Yes, urm, I’m curious as to how you met my mother and…your credentials,” my father spoke up, saying the last part slowly as to not offend the messy looking man before us.
“Your mother came to me a week before she passed and I attended Oxford’s University in the UK,” he said as he handed my father a certificate to prove his educational background that he whipped out from his suit case.
My father took one quick look at it before nodding and handing it back.
“Shall we begin?” Mr Lewis asked politely and we all nodded.
“Before all this, where is our mother’s body?” asked my aunt, Abhaya and the room was soon filled with our mutters.
“It’s in a sealed casket in the dining hall,” said Sora as she stared at Abhaya.
Those two had always been at each other’s throats for as long as I could remember so I was quite surprised when Abhaya took her word and sighed, letting the potential hurricane die.
“Please continue,” said my older sister, Shantel with a fake smile.
I honestly had no idea who was worse between her and Amora. Shantel had looked like our birth mother who had died in a plane crash five years prior. In fact, she looked exactly like her. She had her fair skin, narrow nose, thin lips and hazel eyes. She was as fragile in body as our mother had been and even had dread locks in her hair like her. Whenever I found myself missing my mother, I would just look at Shantel and instantly be comforted but unfortunately, that was the only thing she had in common with our mother.
Shantel was vile and wicked. I did not even think she was capable of human emotions. She knew that Amora was a girl after Nana’s heart so she constantly battled her for Nana’s attention out of jealousy but her efforts proved to be futile, obviously. Nana hated my mother and referred to her as a Caribbean peasant/ whore because my father fell in love with the daughter of a poor Tobagonian farmer. So Shantel looking the split image of Nana’s disapproval did nothing for her.
To make a long story short, Amora and Shantel despised each other with the burning passion of a thousand suns. It was not even fit to call them rivals because of how nasty they played the game to win Nana’s approval. I specifically remembered Shantel’s parade around town, club hopping with friends, merely hours after learning of her sister’s death. The disgusting feud between my sisters was only the surface of the wickedness that was the Johnson family. If we could even be called a family.
Mr Lewis cleared his throat before pulling a manila folder from his case and flipping it open. Tension was thick in the air as we all knew what was carefully stacked within the folder. Nana’s will. Taking a quick look around at the faces of my aunts and uncles, their eyes were glued to the lawyer, eagerly awaiting the name of the next head of Johnson’s Co.
The company, forged from nothing by Nana’s Afro-American father who left Japan to live in America with his Japanese wife, had originally been a restaurant but soon grew into a chain of multiple stars restaurants and bars. As the only child of the couple, Nana was handed the company by her father and what she did to it under her rule was a miracle.
Nana instantly spread the company into different fields. Johnson’s Co consisted of several units, all of which she supervised. Johnson’s Entertainment was a music company and one of the best in the world, Samurai was the chain of restaurants her mother and father started, Johnson’s motor’s which was one of the biggest vehicle suppliers in the country with incredibly affordable prices, J-Living was a chain of five to six star hotels that were in various locations around the world, Jungle fever was a clothing line and one of the most recent additions to Johnson’s Co, Johnson’s Protection Services was, as the name implied, a mas producer of specially trained fighters for protection which even celebrities and heads of states hired and J’s appliances which was the last addition to the company’s units.
How Nana had managed all units was beyond my comprehension but I knew if she had not stated an heir to be the company’s next head, all hell would break loose.
“Now I state, in the words of the deceased, Nana Anna Johnson, and I quote, I Nana Anna Johnson have taken careful consideration in the sharing of my assets and the company forged on my back with blood, sweat and tears,” Mr Lewis began and I rolled my eyes. How typical of her to be a narcissist even in death.
“I love all of my children equally and thus, I have taken care to share equally my gains with the hope that they will continue to spread the power and greatness of the Johnson family name.”
I almost choked on a gasp as I heard Nana’s weak confession of love for her children. I did not know her to love anyone but herself. I had seen her relationship with my father and his siblings and I could not see the love at all. On many occasions, she threatened to disown them or would do cruel acts to them. I remembered one time, when Mark came out as gay to the family at a thanksgiving dinner, Nana flew into a violent rage and had him tied to the stalk of a tree in the yard for three whole days and had him fed nothing but tasteless bits of bread hoping it would “cure” him. She knew no love.
“To my oldest son, Hiro, I leave Johnson’s Entertainment, the Samurai chain to Kwame, Johnson’s motor’s to Kevin, J-living to Maria, Jungle fever to Sora and Mark, Johnson’s protection Services to Alex and J’s Appliances to Shantel.”
The lawyer paused, giving us all the opportunity to absorb what said. The placements were clearly strategically thought out because each person had experience either academically or hands on in their field but what shocked me was Shantel being involved in the sharing. Knowing the relationship between the two, I found it unbelievable.
I looked her way and she was clearly pleased with herself for that achievement and made no attempt at hiding her proud smirking.
“But, who is the new president of Johnson’s Co ?”
My step mother asked the question that held steady on everyone’s mind and with the careful distribution of the company, it was difficult to tell who the next head would be. I had two people in mind. Either my father would be the next president or Alex. Those two were definitely the frontrunners and they knew it.
“In the event that I may die before my time, the person I wish to succeed me as president of Johnson’s Co is Amora Johnson.”
The silence that followed was so eerie and the tension could be cut with a knife. We all glanced at each other in silent confusion. It was impossible for Amora to be named the next head because she was dead. I saw her die. We even had her body cremated. How could Nana make such a mistake?
“That’s impossible!” Abhaya snapped angrily as she rose to her feet.
“This is written here in Miss Nana’s own words,” the lawyer said calmly as he fixed his glasses.
“That old hag by-passed the living to give her company away to the dead!”
Abhaya was heated and I supposed, rightfully so. Out of all my aunts and uncles, she and Nana had the worse relationship so I was not surprised that she was entirely left out of the will. Not that she needed it anyway. She was a prestigious doctor in California with her own hospital but to know that even she was disrespected in that way, I felt it for her.
“Watch your tongue Abhaya,” warned my father and the two engaged in a deadly staring match.
Muttering erupted like a volcano and soon, the memorial meeting was as chaotic as a bar on a Friday night. They were all shouting and screaming at each other and it gave me a headache. I just wanted them to stop. Nana was dead! Why should we still bicker among each other for no good reason?
I could feel my world collapsing around me and my heart beat quickened. Quickly placing my hands over my ears, I tried to drown out the sound by doing what the many therapists I had been to told me to do when my anxiety was taking the best of me, find my happy place an calm myself but at that moment, my happy place was not allowing me to seek refuge. A meltdown was brewing and I could feel it.
A gentle hand on my shoulder made me look up with confusion. Alex stared down at me with an expression I did not understand but it did not feel like his usual hostility. He seemed to offer his comfort and it was working.
“Deep breaths,” he said sternly and I did as I was told, not taking my eyes off him for even a second for the fear he might disappear.
Once I was calmed, he removed his hand then placed his fingers into his mouth, releasing a sharp whistle that sliced into the noise and immediately summoned silence.
“Good. Now that we’re acting like humans again, I would like to state that Amora is no longer with us and Nana knew this. There is no way she could be our next President.”
Alex was cool and level headed as he presented the issue towards the lawyer who looked quite puzzled by the news.
“I see but there is more to the will,” the man replied quickly and Alex waved his hand nonchalantly, allowing the lawyer to continue.
“If the mentioned to succeed me is no longer living, her twin sister, Madison Johnson, will rise to the position.”
My eyes went as wide as saucers. I could not believe what was said and no one else could either as they all started at me. Not only was my father and Alex completely ignored for the position but it was given to me, someone with zero experience in management or leadership.
I was named the next President and I had a gut feeling that everything I knew was about to change. The life as I knew it was over and a new one was being forced on me.