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The small office room was stark and silent. I was sitting in a chair staring at the man seated in a cushioned seat behind a large, oak-wood desk. He had a pair of horn-rimmed glasses perched on his long, aristocratic nose, and a sheet of paper in his hand. All eyes in the room were focused intensely on the man and the important document he held. My grandmother’s will.
My aunt, Cindy, and uncle, Dennis, who lived in Georgia, were seated on my left, looking both anxious and excited. I didn’t understand what their excitement was from; it’s not like Grandma had a million dollars or anything. She’d probably just collected the usual knick-knacks people who lived as long as she did accumulated over the years. doubted they realized that the last time they had visited had been last Christmas and Grandma had not forgiven them for their lack of concern when she had been hospitalized two months ago. She would not be kind in her will, that I knew for sure.
Across from me was my grandmother’s younger brother, Joey. He was one of the few present who was there not to see if she’d left him anything, but to be able to hear her final written words.
Across from Joey was my grandmother’s obnoxious cousin, Annabelle. She was at least twenty years younger than my grandmother had been, and was one of the bitterest older ladies I had ever had the misfortune of meeting in my life. Her eyes practically burned with greed.
Next to Annabelle, was my uncle, Jeremy, and his young, baby-faced wife, April.
And my aunt, Helen, my legal guardian, sat beside me on my right, calm and composed. She had been devastated when Grandma had passed away, and did not care to be where we were—neither did I, actually—but in her eyes we had an obligation to be present during the reading whether we wanted to or not. She did not care if her mother left her anything behind. All she wanted was my grandmother back, and that was all. I felt the same.
My grandmother’s health had been declining dramatically since last year. It was a miracle she had lasted this long. The doctors had been convinced she wouldn’t make it through last spring, but she had hung on. She was very strong. She had suffered a minor stroke two months past, and had to be hospitalized. She put up such a fight when the paramedics came to transport her onto the ambulance to take her to the hospital that they had told us frankly that a woman who had the strength to argue about getting into an ambulance after just having a mild stroke was not going anywhere anytime soon.
She had lasted two months in the hospital. Almost every day Helen and I visited her. We brought her flowers, drawings, Get-Well cards, newspapers, magazines, books, and anything else I’d thought might cheer her up. I had loved my grandmother. I remembered all the stories she used to tell me when I had first came to Helen’s house. Grandma had moved in with her daughter about a month before I did because she had been unable to live alone. Helen hadn’t minded. She’d loved the company. My grandmother had been there for me in all my grief and anger when my mother had deposited my on the doorstep of her sister’s, the night after Dad left us for her best friend. Grandma had had the most unusual and wicked sense of humor. She was the complete opposite of the typical sweet old lady. She had still been a firecracker even at age ninety. Even when she was in the hospital she had flirted shamelessly with her handsome doctor, and her doctor had humored her, impressed by her strong spirit.
And then, we had gotten the phone call. They had told us she had died peacefully in her sleep the night before. Helen took care of all the arrangements in her neat, organized way, fighting off the grief that consumed our entire household. But Helen and I took comfort from one another and, now, a week after Grandma’s funeral; we took comfort in the presence of the other, while we waited patiently for the will to be read so we could leave.
The lawyer—what was his name, again? Something weird—Mr. Woodruff cleared his throat. I wondered if he was as anxious as the rest of us to get this over with. Usually this wasn’t how things were done, but Grandma had been insistent that she had wanted it this way. “Now to begin the reading of the last will and testament of Lucille Helen Norris.” He cleared his throat again and paused. I wanted to jump up and strangle the man. Could he please just get on with it? All I wanted to do was go home. “’I have lived a long and happy-filled life, and I am not sad that I am gone. So, Helen and Bailey you should not be either. I know that the rest of the people gathered in this room are probably not sorry I’m gone, but I could care less.’” I suppressed a smile. That was so like her. She had always been a very frank and direct person who did what she pleased when she wanted. She had also been stubborn to her very core which was why we were gathered in this room in the first place against normal procedure. “’Over my long life I have gathered many nuisances that I will no longer need. I leave a thousand dollars to my daughter, Cindy, and her bore of a husband, Dennis. Hopefully this will you help buy you a psychiatrist to work out those problems of yours, Cindy. And maybe send those kids of yours off to boarding school to learn some manners.
“’To my lazy, worthless son, Jeremy, who never worked a day in his life, I leave you a thousand dollars to do with it what you please. Hopefully it won’t have me turning in my grave.
“’I leave a thousand dollars to my dear cousin, Annabelle, who made my life a living hell whenever I visited her and my aunt in Daytona. I’m hoping I won’t be seeing your mother up here.
“’To my wonderful—and I can say that sincerely—little brother, Joey. I leave you five thousand dollars plus all of my stocks. Invest wisely. But I know that won’t be a problem for you—you always were intelligent.’”
“’Helen, the sweetest and smartest of my children, I leave you five thousand dollars and all my antique furniture that’s locked away in storage. I bet you didn’t know I had some original pieces of art in there or some authentic pieces of furniture from France, England and Italy? And also the rest of my rest of my assets and jewelry that I’ve collected will go to you, as well. Anyway, I hope you live a long, healthy, and happy life. I owe much to you for giving me a home when I had no where else to go.’” I vaguely noticed how my mother’s name was not mentioned in the will.
“’And, finally, to my favorite granddaughter in the world, Bailey. I leave you ten thousand dollars that will be put in a trust fund until you are eighteen—and that’s not because I don’t trust you but because of other reasons you’ll learn about soon enough—and also my favorite heirloom. It holds such precious memories for me that I hope you’ll take good care of it. And also, I hope you’ll continue to keep those glasses I gave you. They hold sentimental value to me, and to you as well. So, Bailey, be careful. And…I love you.’” The lawyer coughed discreetly, and I snapped my attention back to the suddenly suffocating room I was in. All pairs of eyes—except two—glared back at me with a fury and burning hatred that had the phrase, If looks could kill… running through my head.