“This better not take long,” said Mirabelle, arms crossed and shifting her weight from one black leather heel to the other.
“You didn’t have to come. Dramatic reading-of-the-will stuff only happens in movies, you know.”
“No, the lawyer was clear that we all had to be here.”
“Your mom was rich, right?”
Keven bristled. “I don’t know.” The metal walls offered a dull reflection, like a cheap mirror, and he had to work to keep his eyes averted and neutral. He could see Mirabelle watching herself and resisted doing the same. She reached and took his hand. He let her.
“Either way, I wanna hear this for myself.” With a ding the doors slid open. She dropped his hand and stepped from the elevator. “It just better be worth taking the time off work.”
“Just –” he hesitated, searching for a better phrase than shut up. He lowered his voice as he followed her. “Let’s just not talk right now.” Mirabelle’s quick exhale told him these were the wrong words.
His mother’s death had surprised him, brought up old painful issues; he didn’t want to be here. He resented Mirabelle for being here, insisting on coming and then acting like it was such an imposition.
Padding along on the taupe shag carpet, they found the door, which looked like all the other doors along the corridor, unique only in that the sign on the wall beside it read Kantola and White, Attorneys at Law. Keven felt his stomach sour and his mouth start to water. Mirabelle looked up at him expectantly, sighed and pushed through into the office, her long black hair swinging. Too late to meet her expectations of chivalry, he swallowed a sigh and followed her. Add it to her list of things he does wrong. Mirabelle was gorgeous and driven; even though they’d been married only three years he was already getting that proverbial seven-year itch.
“Good morning,” the receptionist nearly sang, her hair a neat orange beehive. “How can I help?”
“We’re here about the Cleah Lucky estate,” Mirabelle said.
“Keven and Mirabelle Lucky,” he added, gesturing to himself.
“Ah yes!” She beamed under the hive. “I’m Mindy. I’ll let Mr. Kantola know that you’re here.” Mindy was already through an interior door, her nylons scraping audibly past thick thighs with each step. Mirabelle eased onto a chair and started shuffling through her purse. Keven unzipped his fleece jacket and settled onto the chair beside her, leaning his head back against the wall. He closed his eyes as Mirabelle pulled out a lipstick and proceeded to dab.
The entrance door opened and he looked up as in walked a tall woman in a long grey sweater cardigan over pink nurses scrubs. He sat up straighter and swallowed as her green eyes pierced him.
“Hello, Keven. Mirabelle.” She said, looking past them.
“Tanna,” Keven acknowledged. Mirabelle put her lipstick away.
Tucking her chin-length blonde hair behind her ear, which immediately loosed and fell back over her ear, Tanna turned toward the empty receptionist’s desk.
“She’ll be right back,” Mirabelle said as she picked up a magazine off a side table.
Keven felt the silence of the room and wondered why there was no canned music.
Mindy burst brightly back into the room. “All right, this way.”
Keven stood. “And this is my sister, Tanna Hopkins. Is she to come also?”
“Yes!” Mindy sounded thrilled. Her arm was suspended in a follow-me gesture. “Hello Tanna! I’m Mindy. The Rodgers are already inside. So if you’d all like to follow me?” Mirabelle was right behind Mindy, but Tanna shook her head when Keven motioned her to go ahead of him. Of course. She always did have to be the martyr. He shrugged and went through the door in front of his stiff sister.
Weary, Tanna tried to unclench her jaw as she followed the others down the lawyer’s narrow hallway. She’d been having trouble sorting through her feelings since being informed of her mother’s death, so she concentrated on being frustrated with how insistent the lawyer had been that they meet right away. She’d had to get someone to cover the end of her shift. And that reminder text an hour before the appointment felt too invasive.
They were certainly walking quickly – probably rushed along by that quirky receptionist with the lacquered carroty hair. Oh well, quick was good, Tanna decided as she checked her watch. She would have to pick up the kids in just over an hour. She didn’t want to be late for the new daycare. And she had to remember to get gas on the way home. Her mind spun through its lists as Mindy ushered them into a back meeting room. A thin oldish man with a greying manicured mustache sat at the head of an oak table that took up too much of the room’s square footage. Elise and Jeff were already seated to his left. Jeff smiled and raised his hand; Keven waved back somewhat. Elise gave Tanna a rigid nod. The mustachioed man stood, suddenly toweringly tall, and motioned the newcomers in, filling the room with people Tanna had never wanted to see again.
“Welcome, hello, hello. You’re all here, that’s good; you’ve met the first Requirement! Please, come sit down. I’m Mr. Kantola, Mrs. Lucky’s lawyer.”
Smiling, Mirabelle strode over to shake his hand and took the chair at his right with Keven following behind her, looking like an obedient puppy with a trendy high-peaked haircut. Tanna sat across from Mr. Kantola after mumbling appropriate greetings. She kept her things clutched in her lap and concentrated on her breathing as she inspected a tiny scratch on the tabletop in front of her. She couldn’t help but think of the last time they were all in the same room together. No one was silent then: all shouting and red-faced.
“All right, now that we’re all here,” Mr. Kantola began. Then he appeared to be waiting for someone to speak, even as they all were waiting for him. Mirabelle crossed and uncrossed her legs, keeping a coquettish smile on her face. Jeff seemed to stare out an imaginary window.
“Well, let me say first, I am very sorry for your loss, so very sorry,” the lawyer continued, setting entwined fingers on the table and focusing on his left thumb resting on the top of the pile. Elise murmured, “Thank you,” echoed a little louder by Mirabelle; no one else responded.
“It’s never an easy time, no, no, never easy.”
“Mr. Kantola, can you tell us any more about what happened?” Elise asked. “You said she’d called you the day before yesterday?”
“Certainly, yes. As I told each of you on the phone, your mother called me very early Sunday morning saying she wasn’t feeling well and directed me to solicit an ambulance, which I did so immediately. Apparently she then had a massive stroke and, well, she succumbed before the ambulance arrived.”
Keven cut in, “But why would she call you and not just dial 911?”
Mr. Kantola was nodding. “Ah yes, Keven, but you know that was her way, it was her way. She liked to have people do those kinds of things for her. She called me in June, don’t you know, with similar concerns and it turned out she had had a minor stroke then.”
“Well, she did smoke all her life,” Elise said. “Virginia Slims.”
Sheepish that she hadn’t known about her mother’s earlier stroke, Tanna felt the table scratch with her finger. She wondered how it had gotten there. She wondered if Elise or Keven had known about the stroke. If they did, they weren’t saying.
“Again, my sincere condolences to you, each one of you. Yes, it can be quite a shock when one isn’t expecting it. And why would you, of course, why, with one in such healthy shape otherwise, you know, hmm.” Blah, blah, blah, Tanna looked at her watch as the lawyer yammered on, thick with sympathetic nods and smiles.
“Yes,” Elise said into an opportune pause, “Mr. Kantola says he is going to read the Will to us and then we’ll all receive a copy. I think we’re ready, Mr. Kantola.” Trust Elise to try to keep things moving, bless her for that. Tanna almost gave her a grateful smile.
“Oh yes, well, that is correct.” He started shuffling carefully through the papers in front of him, “Lots of papers, hey. Hmm, yes, yes, looking for the Will statement.” Tanna had mixed feelings about inheriting anything from her mother. Part of her wanted nothing to do with it, although it would really help support her kids, damn ex. She again checked her watch, not really seeing it.
“Ah yes, here we are, right here. The Last Will and Testament of Cleah Margaret Lucky, dated the 15th of July of this year. And here we go.” Tanna was surprised it was so recently updated. Perhaps that first stroke.
“I, Cleah Margaret Lucky, being of sound mind, hereby declare that this is my Last Will and Testament and revoke all prior Wills and Codicils. I further declare that none of my estate shall be inherited by any of my kin…” here Mr. Kantola drew a deep breath as he peered around at the siblings while Tanna’s heart skipped a beat.
“What the hell?” Keven interjected.
“…unless,” the lawyer continued, “all of my Executory Bequest Requirements are met.”
Mirabelle exhaled and leaned back as Keven dropped his head into his hands, mumbling “Oh my god.” Elise’s brow was wrinkled, her lips pursed and Jeff couldn’t seem to stop fidgeting, but Tanna almost laughed. So typical of Mother, never one to let an opportunity to lecture or punish pass by. She braced herself for some tongue-lashing.
Mr. Kantola read on, “For exactly one year following the reading of my Will, my three children (Elise Bethany Lucky Rodgers, Tanna Claire Lucky Hopkins, and Keven William Lucky) must share custody of my urn, and its contents of my cremated remains, in turn. It must be kept in an open and prominent place in the home, and not left alone for more than 48 hours at a time. If the family with custody will be gone for more than two days one night consecutively, they must respectfully take the urn along or arrange with the other families for one to assume custody of the urn in their absence.
“Each of my children and their families must gather at Easter, Labor Day, and Christmas all together,” Mr. Kantola paused again indulgently, “to pass the urn on to the next guardian. They may decide together who hosts which date. At these family gatherings the whole group must eat a meal together, take an extended-family photo as well as general photos during the event, and participate in holiday activities as outlined below. Elise, Tanna, and Keven must also meet for a meal together on each of their birthdays, taking a group photo at the birthday event. In addition, each of my children shall compose a letter to me to be delivered on or before my birthday, Mother’s Day, and Thanksgiving. These letters shall be delivered to the guardian of my urn, to be opened and read aloud by that guardian to my ashes on said day.
“The entire estate has been transferred to a Trust with additional terms, of which are to remain secret and will be divulged by the Trustee in a timeframe as outlined therein. The letters and the photographs shall be provided to the lawyer’s firm as proof of compliance.
“My three children, Elise, Tanna, and Keven, must arrange for a Celebration of Life on or after the first anniversary of my death and meet again with my lawyer and Trustee, Mr. Kantola, having faithfully complied with all of these maxims of both Will and Trust, at which time the inheritance will be administered through the Trust and the urn interred in the mausoleum.” He lifted his hazel eyes and raised his chin and eyebrows, scanning those seated with a smile. “And it goes on with some details, hmm.”
He set the papers on the table in the stunned silence that followed.
“This is ridiculous,” Elise finally managed, annoyed with herself for being caught off guard. Only Mother would pull something so unbelievable. Even dead she was a control freak. More so! This was the ultimate power play! “I mean, we can’t be expected to do some circus act to please someone who’s, well, deceased, can we? I mean, she’s… deceased!”
“What happens if we don’t comply?” Keven interjected. Elise sighed with irritation at his interruption even though she was wondering the same thing.
“Yes, what would happen?” she pressed.
All eyes glared at Mr. Kantola, who took his sweet time answering the question. He was nodding, with a faint ever-present smile on his infuriating face and seemed oblivious to the tension in the room.
“Well, uh, that would simply nullify any eligibility of inheritance for you.”
“Do you mean only those who didn’t comply?” Elise shot back, drumming her fingers on the table top. “Or everyone – even if some of us are trying to… comply?” Elise didn’t want to use the word obey. God! Leave it to Mom, forcing obedience even after she’s dead.
“Everyone.” Mr. Kantola paused to nod like a manipulative drama queen. “Even those who did comply with all Requirements.”
“That can’t be right.” Mirabelle looked like she was trying not to explode. “I’m sure Mother Cleah would have wanted her children to inherit no matter what!” God, that Mirabelle – just as manipulative as our lawyer friend here. Mother Cleah? Like she ever called her that. I mean, had they even met?
“Well in fact there is a contingency in place for just such a situation as, uh, failure to execute Mrs. Lucky’s conditions.”
“This doesn’t make sense at all!” said Mirabelle, batting long eyelashes manically.
“Can we hear that part please?” Jeff finally spoke up. Elise glanced at him with an it’s-about-time look but he kept his gaze on Mr. Kantola as the lawyer slowly read out the contingency.
“In the event of any one person’s noncompliance, the entire estate will be donated to a qualified nonprofit organization chosen at my Trustee’s sole and absolute discretion.”
“How much are we even talking here?” Keven asked, ever graceless. Mr. Kantola let the anticipation build as he flipped pages. His calm, power-trip demeanor was making Elise nuts, reminding her of her high school English teacher. She tried to catch Tanna’s eye, unsuccessfully.
“All right, yes, yes, here we go,” the lawyer said as he found the right paragraph. “Right here. Well there’s the house, of course, and its contents, and a portfolio, mostly stock etcetera.”
“Okay. And that’s all worth what?”
“It’s an indeterminate figure as it stands, very complex, what with fluctuations of the market and the prospect of an entire year before realization. I can’t say.”
“What? Such bullshit!” Keven’s face was even redder than Mirabelle’s, his thick eyebrows were becoming evil-scientist wild.
Jeff started chuckling. “It’s a joke, right?”
“I’m afraid not,” smiled Mr. Kantola with infuriating empathy.
Elise exhaled sharply. “She thinks we won’t do it.” Her mind spun through example after example of her mother’s petty, reverse-psychology, manipulative mind games.
Keven scoffed. “I bet she thinks we can’t do it.”
Elise had had enough. “Look, can we be finished here? How about give us each our copy of the Will and we will make our arrangements for ‘complying’ with Mother’s wishes. If we have questions we can call you. But I need to leave – I have another appointment.” There was no other appointment but Elise was done with beige walls and shag carpet and talking about her mother’s Rules and Requirements.
“Yes, please,” Tanna said, breaking her snooty silence and nodding her dishwater blond head. Elise still couldn’t connect her gaze.
Mr. Kantola stood up slowly. “Certainly, of course. I will have Mindy give you the copies and you may be on your way. Also, the reminder you were all sent prior to this meeting was a group text, so you all have each other’s phone numbers. Please save those contacts. Okay then, be right back.” He exited the room, taking that coy sneer with him.
“But it is all bullshit, right? We don’t really have to do these ‘Requirements’, do we? And secret Trust ‘terms’, what?” Elise asked, using air quotes liberally, once the door closed behind the lawyer.
“I’m eager to read the whole document, but it sounds pretty clear,” Tanna said blandly. “I’m sure we are capable of having three meals together in a year’s time.”
“Well, six for the three of you,” interjected Mirabelle. “The birthdays.”
“Oh my god, birthday lunch with my sisters,” moaned Keven like a petulant child, elbows on the table and his forehead in his hands.
“Fine, but I’m not hosting Christmas,” said Elise. “We’re way too busy that time of year. Keven you should do that one.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” chimed in Mirabelle, always looking to disagree.
“I thought we were going to my parents’ house this year,” Jeff whined into Elise’s ear.
“For Heaven’s sake, I can host Christmas,” Tanna said, checking her watch for the hundredth time.
“What were the other two?” Keven asked.
“Easter and Labor Day.”
“Then we don’t want Easter,” Mirabelle broke in as she pulled her smart phone from her purse. “All the kids will be expecting an egg hunt. That’s a lot of extra work.”
“But that’s right during my busy season,” Elise growled.
“Substitute teaching is busier during Easter?” retorted Mirabelle.
“Tax season!” Elise thundered back. This was hopeless. How would they possibly manage six civil meals together if they couldn’t even manage this conversation?
“Tax season is over by Easter.” Mirabelle seemed hell bent on an argument.
“Not always.” They all had their cell phones out now and were looking at schedules. “See, Easter is early in April next year.”
“Fine, I’ve got Easter,” barked Keven, “but no egg hunt. That means you’re Labor Day, Elise.”
“I know,” Elise retorted as she rose and pulled her coat on, having decided to tell the receptionist to mail her the papers. “Jeff, let’s go.”
“What about the birthdays?” Tanna clutched at her purse.
“Keven’s is first.” Elise glanced at Keven. “Just let us know what you want to do.” As she reached for the door, it opened and Mindy appeared, short in spite of the height of her hairdo.
“Here we are, one copy for each of you,” she sang. While she passed the packets out, Mr. Kantola came in carrying a small ceramic urn, white with blue curvy lines, almost floral but not quite, painted on it. How in the world did Mother’s ashes fit in there?
“As you can see, Mrs. Lucky had planned quite thoroughly for the eventuality of death. State law requires a 24-hour wait period and all required documentation before a cremation can proceed. Arrangements for cremation had been outlined and prepaid, and as her Designated Agent I contacted the necessary parties to complete the task.” Mr. Kantola beamed at them, as though proud of a job well done.
“She certainly was thorough,” Tanna said dryly. “And organized.”
“Yes, yes, that she was! I will also be notifying the appropriate entities of her death: social security, financial institutions, and etcetera. Consider it all taken care of! And as per Mrs. Lucky’s directions, one of you must take the urn with you today,” he said, setting it gently on the table and again taking his seat. Elise did not want that honor.
“What?” Keven said, so prolific, as always.
“The nearest gathering time is Christmas,” Mr. Kantola went on, “then Easter, then Labor Day… so the person who hosts Labor Day will take initial guardianship of Mrs. Lucky’s ashes.”
That meant Elise. Her head was full of swear words but she said instead, “And how does that make sense?”
“At Christmas it will be passed into the guardianship of the host of Christmas; at Easter it will be put into the guardianship of that host. Then on Labor Day the urn is returned to the initial sibling guardian again, the host of the Labor Day gathering.”
Still standing, Elise passed the paperwork over to Jeff and gingerly took the urn, conscious of its ominous contents. “Do I sign for it or something?”
“Not necessary, my dear,” Mr. Kantola replied with a jolly mustache-hidden smirk.
With a nod, Elise left the room, knowing that Jeff would be right behind her.