Releasing April 7th!
I awoke to the dulcet sounds of a dying elephant.
The bed beneath me shuddered and quaked, and I pried open mascara-sealed eyes to have the morning spit sunlight back in my face. Temples throbbing, I squinted back at the offending window in complete bewilderment.
Oooooh shit, Rose. What did you do?
As if to answer, there was another mighty bellows, and I cringed as far away from the snoring colossus beside me as the sheet tethered around my waist would allow.
Glancing around the room in the harsh light of morning was nothing like what I remembered from my whiskey-induced haze of last night. My eyes traveled first to the life size cut-out of Ms. Pac-Man, then up to the Star Wars memorabilia mounted on the wall, before closing with a silent groan.
Perfect. Just perfect.
As quietly as possible, I peeked over my shoulder to see the man I’d apparently decided it would be a good idea for me to go home with last night.
Barry. Or Larry. Or maybe even Terry.
Still wearing his socks. Nice.
Like you’re one to talk…
I discreetly peeled away a pillowcase that had glued itself to my lipstick and decided that this was not the morning for un-caffeinated judgement. Waking up face-to-face with Ms. Pac-Man had pretty much ended the battle for self-respect before it could begin, so that insufferable voice in my head could go away any time she so desired.
Yes—this morning, it would be better to focus my attention on more important things.
I glanced over my shoulder again before tentatively lowering first one foot, then the other to the ground. Unlike my comatose friend, sporting only his socks, I was still wearing an odd assortment of clothes—albeit in rather strange places.
My shirt had become some sort of necklace, my skirt had cinched around my ribs like an ill-fitting corset, and my scarf—riddle me this—was wrapped around my left ankle so tightly that the toes beneath it had begun to turn blue.
Two minutes and several muffled profanities later, everything was where it was supposed to be…minus one key item.
You have GOT to be kidding me.
My bra—my lucky turquoise mermaid bra, the one that had seen me through high school graduation and into my early twenties—was wedged squarely under my nameless accomplice’s muscled arm, trembling with every deafening snore. A veritable rhinestoned hostage.
About a barrel of Jameson churned unforgivingly in my stomach as I tilted my head and contemplated its rescue. I could always try for the ‘Shawshank approach,’ coaxing it out inch by inch. Or I could go for a more brazen ‘snatch and bolt.’ I had once liberated a prized stiletto using nothing but a bottle of fish tank cleaner and a long pair of tongs. Needless to say, I was pretty confident in my skills.
But just as I was fashioning myself a similar grappling-hook device from a trio of wayward chop-sticks, the man rolled onto his back, and my beloved bra slipped forever out of sight. I stood there for a second, frozen in an impromptu moment of silence for the dearly departed, before my eyes drifted up to the wrinkled condom wrapper stuck to his cheek.
Oh for fuck’s sake!
The Jameson threatened to make a sudden reappearance, and I shrank backwards to the door, navigating my way through a minefield of dirty laundry. It opened with a shrill creak and I froze again, glancing back towards the bed. But lover-boy was out like a light, a steady trickle of drool running down his cheek.
Probably dreaming of his high score on World of Warcraft, you boozy little—
Not that I was making any judgements. No judgements here. Not today. Not while my silk stockings were still gathered in a bunch around my wrist.
I crept my way down the hall on tip-toe, deliberately avoiding my reflection as I passed by a mirror. The peripheral silhouette piled atop my head didn’t make logical sense, but I would work it out later. First thing’s first. I had to get out of this house without being—
“Well good morning, dear!”
I half-tripped, half-fell down the last of the stairs, landing with a disgruntled oof on the hard laminate. When I looked up, I found myself staring into the bright and cheerful faces of an elderly couple gathered around a steaming breakfast table.
“Good—” I cleared my throat quickly, pulling myself erect, “good morning.”
Their eyes did a curious sweep of me, but the smiles remained intact.
“We thought Chris came home with someone last night,” the woman continued brightly.
Chris. That was it.
My eyes clouded in momentary confusion. “And you would be…?”
She threw back her head and laughed. “Aren’t you a funny one! We’re Chris’ parents!”
A wave of bile rose up in the back of my throat and I swallowed it down with a sickly smile. “Of course you are.”
They stepped forward to shake properly, before the woman pulled back and gestured to the spread. “Eggs and bacon?”
“No thanks. But it was nice meeting you.”
“But we insist,” his mom said.
“I’m not presentable,” I said, looking away.
His mom walked over to me and touched my arm. “We don’t care, dear. Please just have a few strips of bacon and some orange juice.”
“Come on,” his dad said with a big smile. “What’s five more minutes?”
His mom led me to the table and I didn’t have the heart to bolt out of there.
“Listen, I really have to go.”
I sat down and started to eat after thanking them for their hospitality. The eggs were the best I’d ever eaten, and the bacon was to die for. We made small chat and his parents were actually quite nice.
“So you said you’re a vet?” his mom asked.
I smiled. “Yes.”
“Whoa!” his dad said. “Our son has landed himself a doctor!”
“I told you there’s hope for him yet,” his mom said.
I about spit out my juice.
“How do you handle pit bulls and Rottweiler’s and big German shepherds?” his dad asked.
“Well, actually, the dogs that scare me most are the little Chihuahuas. They’re much more likely to bite.”
It wasn’t until forty minutes later that I was finally able to make my escape. Turns out, Chris’ parents—who he still lived with—were not the kind of people who understood the words ‘no thank you.’ Between that and the fact that greasy bacon was one of the only things able to cure a hangover, I allowed myself to be shepherded to the table, and ate whatever they put in front of me.
Thankfully, Chris never made an encore appearance—as I vaguely recalled from last night, he wasn’t big on encore appearances—and by the time I finally made my way to the front door, I was somehow under the delusion that this tragedy of a day might yet be salvaged. Sure I had woken up tangled in Pokémon sheets, lost my lucky mermaid bra, had breakfast with the parents of my one-night stand, and realized—as Mrs. Walton kindly told me halfway through the meal—I had pieces of a broken golf visor stuck inexplicably in my hair; but in a strange way, the combination made me almost relieved.
This was rock bottom, wasn’t it? What the hell else could possibly go wrong?
I was still thinking that over, reveling in my newfound sense of optimism, when I said goodbye and stepped out the front door onto the morning paper.
A familiar face stared back up at me.
‘Millionaire Mogul Dies at 65’
My breath caught in my chest, and for the second time that day, I froze.
* * *
I stole the Walton’s paper, retreating back to my apartment in a kind of trance. An initial call to my mother went unanswered, but in truth, I hadn’t expected to reach her. She was probably off in the Bahamas, or the Seychelles, or the Maldives with her newest boyfriend, blissfully unconcerned with the goings-on of her ex-husband. Although all I wanted was a friend, the next call went out to the family lawyer.
My father had been a lawyer, after all—the greatest lawyer this little Southern town had ever seen. Although his ‘rise to power’ only included one or two international successes and the accumulation of a few million, it was a few million more than the rest of the community would ever see and was enough to catapult him to the status of a local celebrity. Not a hero—there was no way the gentle southerners could ever see a two-time divorcee and estranged father (not to mention, a lawyer) as beloved—but celebrity was celebrity.
Razor tongue and a heart of stone, Ronald Garland was reviled and feared. Two things he cherished deeply. After leaving his second wife to a career of island and bed-hopping, he publically disowned his only daughter for not following in his footsteps. Not only did I show not the slightest inclination towards getting a law degree, but I actually selected a profession that—while most thought it noble—he deemed to be the work of farm hands and servants.
I was a vet.
At first he thought it was a phase, some sort of hormonal rebellion I needed to get out of my system before I made my way into the fold. But the longer I stayed in school—that’s right dad, some people say that veterinary exams are even harder than the bar—the more he began to see me as a carbon cut-out of everyone else in Wessler, this picturesque little town he despised.
By my second year, the tuition checks stopped coming. By my third year, so did the phone calls. He didn’t come to my graduation. We didn’t do Christmas. The only thing he did do—inexplicable as it was—was move his office from New York to Wessler.
The townsfolk couldn’t believe it. Why would a big time east coast lawyer come all the way back to this blink-and-you-missed-it city nestled away between the rolling hills and lazy rivers of rural Tennessee?
Only I knew the truth. He came here to torture me.
His law office—the biggest building in a little city—had been built directly across the street from my budding practice. Specifically designed so that every day, I was literally cast directly in his shadow. Over the years, as I occasionally glared through the sunlit windows—usually over the back of a sickly Pekinese—I came to imagine that he was glaring back at me. Forcibly reminding me of his daily disapproval. It was a cold war, right there on Main Street.
The scandal was delicious. Of course, the longer it dragged on and the more reclusive my father became, the quicker people were to lose interest. You see, my father may have been a local celebrity, but I was beloved.
I had grown up here. Never missed a beat. Walked the streets barefoot with my friends eating popsicles. Hunted for crawdads on balmy evenings down by the local pond. Played soccer every fall and softball every spring.
I lost my virginity at prom, did the obligatory one terrified night in jail for adolescent stupidity, went to a college nearby, and came back to take care of everyone cats and puppies.
Yep—I was as beloved as they came.
So while I built a life for myself, wandering happily around the sunbathed streets, my father holed himself away in his dark monument of parental disapproval—coming out less and less often, and eventually only talking with his solitary friend: the family lawyer.
Thus, it was the lawyer—before anyone else—who got my call.
‘This is Barry Weinstein, please leave a message.’
The beep went off and I chewed my lip, debating what to say. “Hey Barry, it’s Rose…” I began uncertainly. Unlike my father, Barry and I had always gotten along splendidly. “I just, uh, I just saw the paper. I can’t believe he…” I sighed, “actually, I haven’t even read it yet. Just give me a call whenever you can, okay? I’m not sure what exactly I’m supposed to—”
The phone cut off with another beeeeep and I pulled it away from my ear, feeling numb.
Ten minutes later, I was nestled safely in my apartment, pulling my knees up to my chest as I settled on the couch to read. My four giant rescue dogs—Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme—clambered over one another trying to be the first to win my attention. (Yes, they were named after a Simon and Garfunkel song. No, no one ever understood the reference besides me.)
“Hey guys,” I said distractedly, lowering my hand into the middle of the fray and feeling four hot tongues shoot out at once to devour it. I pulled it back and began to read.
Millionaire mogul Arnold Garland was found dead today inside his Wessler home. While the cause of death is still unknown, he was believed to have died of natural causes at sixty-five.
It was awful. I knew he drank himself into an early Scotch-induced grave.
He is survived by his two ex-wives, Lydia Clarice and Samantha Wells, as well as his twenty-five-year-old daughter, Rose Garland. In addition to leaving behind a thriving law practice centered in Wessler, Garland also amassed a sizable fortune, recently measured upwards of—
I shut the paper with a sigh. No need to read any further. I wasn’t concerned with what the man left behind, I was concerned with the man himself.
My father. Dead now. Gone.
As the shock slowly dissipated and the reality set in, I lifted my fingers and did some quick mental math. Could it really have been five years since the last time we spoke?
My phone buzzed suddenly and I snatched it off my knee. “Barry?”
“Hey there, Rose.” Even the unshakable Barry Weinstein sounded sad. I supposed it was natural. No matter what he thought of my father personally, they spent nearly all their time together. “Sorry I missed your call—it’s been a little chaotic over here. How’re you holding up?”
I fiddled with my hair and considered thoughtfully. How was I holding up? To be honest, I had no idea. Was I sad? Angry? Triumphant? Was there a right way to be feeling right now?
“I’m…holding up,” I answered evasively. Barry let it go. If anyone understood our volatile family dynamic, it was him. “I didn’t mean to call you so early, I just didn’t know…” My voice trailed off as I tried to gather my thoughts. “Barry, is there something I should be doing right now? Like—packing up his townhouse? Identifying his body? Did he want me to ship his things somewhere or donate them? I don’t…” I ran my hands back through my hair, suddenly daunted by the abrupt weight of being the ‘only surviving kin.’ “I don’t even know what kind of burial arrangements he wanted.”
There was a thoughtful pause on the other end, and when he spoke, Barry seemed to be choosing his words very carefully.
“You don’t need to worry about anything logistical right now—I can handle all of that on my end. And as for his burial arrangements…I don’t really know how to say this…but he didn’t want a ceremony of any kind. Last I read, he wanted to be cremated and scattered near Big Sur.”
No ceremony of any kind. No funeral. No burial. No chance to say goodbye. Just a quick trip to the crematorium before he flew off to the four corners of the globe.
Typical dad, really.
“Rose, you still there?”
I shook myself out of it, and took a huge swig of coffee. “Yeah. That’s fine. Whatever he wanted, I guess.”
“I’m sorry if you’d wanted to say goodbye…”
My lips turned up in a wry smile. “I think you and I both know that the two of us said goodbye to each other a long time ago. But thanks, Barry. I won’t take up any more of your time. Just let me know if there’s anything you need help with—”
“Actually, Rose…there is another matter I wanted to discuss with you.”
Again, Barry sounded like he was wading out onto thin ice. This coming from a man who was always so certain. I set down my coffee mug with a slight frown. “Sure, what is it?”
“There’s the matter of his will.”
All at once, his misconceptions made sense. Sweet old man. I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Oh—don’t even worry about it. The thought never crossed my mind. My mother, on the other hand, might be a different story—”
He cut me off quickly. “Rose, I think you need to get down here. Your father didn’t leave you with nothing.”
A faint chill ran up the back of my spine. “What did he leave me? A snake?”
There was the sound of shuffling papers, and Barry cleared his throat twice before answering. “Well it’s—it’s complicated, but…”
“He left you everything.”
* * *
I probably was unsafe to drive. I should preface this with that. But left with no other options, I crawled into my dented VW Beetle and headed off down the street.
I barely noticed the crowds of people milling about on the streets. School had been officially released for the summer, and flocks of kids darted around between the cars—off planning their next great vacation adventure. My hand lifted of its own accord—graciously taking over on autopilot as people who had just gotten up shouted their greetings, and the ones who had seen the paper shouted their condolences.
Before I knew it, I was parked in front of my office—pulling into the same spot I used every day. Then I remembered why I was there and I swung a U-turn to park in front of my father’s office. My eyes squinted up at the towering obelisk, before I lowered them with a sigh and trudged up the marble steps—hopefully, for the last time.
Barry was sitting behind his desk. Before him, stood two other men I didn’t know. He jumped to his feet the second I came into the room and greeted me warmly, pulling me into a long heartfelt embrace that made me vaguely aware of the fact that I most likely still smelled of last night’s whiskey. As we pulled away, my eyes flickered to the two stern-looking suits standing behind him. He followed my gaze and made the immediate introductions.
“Rose, this is Hector Milton and Elliot DeSparge. They’re from the New York branch of your father’s office. Gentlemen, this is Rose Garland—Arnold’s only child.”
Although I offered a weak smile, the two men looked me up and down like I had crawled straight out of the sewers. Lifting a self-conscious hand to my hair, I felt around discreetly for more bits of visor, before I remembered that I was no longer wearing a bra. After the news of my father’s death, I wasn’t thinking straight. I was in a daze. I should’ve showered and changed. But that was the last thing on my mind. I didn’t even think of it until now. I was numb and it was like there was this fog around me.
Awesome, Rose. Way to make a first impression.
“Well it’s nice to meet you,” I stammered nervously, wondering why they were here.
Barry caught on at once and gestured for me to sit. “Rose, first of all, let me say that I’m so sorry about Arnold. He was…well, he was a difficult man. But we will all feel his loss.”
I nodded, as I was clearly supposed to do, but I still felt like I was playing catch-up.
What were lawyers from New York doing in Wessler? What had Barry meant when he said the will was ‘complicated?’ How was—
My throat tightened and surprised me with a genuine sob.
How was my father dead?
A warm hand squeezed my shoulder as Barry pulled his chair alongside mine. “Were you able to get a hold of your mother, honey?”
He hadn’t called me honey since I was maybe four years old. My head tilted up and I tried my best to smile. “No, you know her. Probably snorkeling or helicopter touring some extinct volcano.”
A thousand wrinkles around his eyes deepened as he smiled. “Well, I’m not going to keep you here long. It’s just…as I said, the will is a bit of a tricky business, and I thought it was best that we read through it in person.”
My eyes shifted again to the increasingly impatient-looking suits, and I nodded quickly.
“Okay, sure. Go ahead.”
Satisfied that I was alright, Barry swiveled around to the other side of his desk and pulled a single sheet of paper from a manila file. Without any further ado, he began to read:
“I, Arnold Garland, being of sound and disposing mind and memory, do hereby proclaim this my last will and testament—revoking any prior wills and codicils. It is my intent to dispose of the entirety of my estate and I will do so forthwith.
To my trusted partner, Barry Weinstein, I leave the bulk of my practice. All current and on-going cases and clients will be transferred immediately to his jurisdiction, with all the resulting proceeds entrusted solely to him. Residuals from past cases will remain with the firm.
The rest of my estate, I hereby bequeath to my daughter, Rose Garland. A sum of liquid assets totaling approximately five million dollars.”
My jaw dropped. To the floor. At the same time, there was an agitated rustling behind me, and I suddenly realized why the two other lawyers were there.
They were there to try and stop it.
Barry’s eyes flickered up and over his glasses, but he wasn’t finished yet. They drifted right over the angry counselors and landed on me with an emotion I didn’t understand. It was something close to pity.
“There is but a single condition to this gift,” he continued gravely, “one which, if not honored, the estate will be immediately transferred back into the possession of the firm.”
A condition? My heart froze in my chest. What sort of condition?
Then Barry cleared his throat again and said the fateful words.
“By the seventeenth of June in the summer of 2010, the day of her twenty-sixth birthday, my daughter, Rose Garland, must be married in the eyes of the law.”
My fists pounded in quick bursts against the door.
I had driven from the lawyer’s office as fast as I could, but I was worried that at any second, the horrific realization of my father’s last hurrah might come crashing down upon me.
“Tommy!” I shouted, banging again. “Open up!”
With my luck he was out cartwheeling, or car racing, or trombone-making, or whatever other hair-brained notion he was chasing after this week. He could be on a Howard Hughes bender, holed up in his closet learning Flemish. Or just as easily, he was in the middle of a desert somewhere, having chased a solar eclipse.
The sky was literally the limit with Tommy Murphy.
“TOM!” I yelled again. Tom, not Tommy, to emphasize the urgency of my plight. “Open the fucking door!”
My eyes locked on his motorcycle, propped lazily against the side of the house.
“I know you’re in there!” I continued my assault on the door. “Why the hell is this thing locked, anyway? TOMMY!”
“Just a second!” called an equally frustrated voice from inside. “We’re trying!”
For a minute, that actually threw me enough to make me pause.
“Not to quote Yoda or anything, but when it comes to doors, there is do or do not. There is no try. What the hell is going on in there? Are you on uppers again? And who exactly is we?”
Before I could get a response, the door creaked open, seemingly of its own volition. I took a tentative step inside to see Tommy standing against the far wall of the living room. The second he saw me, he burst into wild, beaming applause.
“It’s no big deal.” I tucked a lock of hair casually behind my ear. “I come in and out of houses all the time.”
“Not you, narcissist.”
He pushed past me and knelt beside the front door.
It was only then that I noticed the contraption attached to the handle—a long coil of rope attached to a wire with a lever on the end. It was only after I noticed the rope, that I saw the black and white goat standing on the other side.
“Oh my gosh, Tommy. He’s beautiful!”
Tommy knelt in front of him, all smiles, ruffling his thick coat like a dog.
“Well done, Leopold. Very well done.”
I stepped to the side, waiting for him to finish. I didn’t know what was stranger, that Tommy had decided he would ‘get a goat for the house,’ or that he insisted on speaking to him like a grownup.
“You’re training Leo to open the door?” I surmised, eyeing the rope with reluctant curiosity.
“Leopold, not Leo,” Tommy corrected, giving the goat one final pat. “He’s not as informal as you and I. And yes—I’ve been training him. Not the easiest thing to do with you pounding away on the other side—poor thing was afraid to go near it.” His blue eyes scanned me quickly up and down. “Where’s your bra?”
It never ceased to amaze me—the lightning quick, yet completely inexplicable workings of Tommy’s brain. He’d been like that since we were kids. Always the first to pick up on something. Always the first to get bored by it and move onto something else in his mind—so that when you asked him a question about the first thing, he answered regarding the second.
Most people found it hard, if not impossible to follow.
Fortunately, I was not most people.
“Actually, it’s a bit of a long story.” I dropped my purse on the floor as Tommy sank back onto the couch—noticing the coffee stain on his shirt for the first time, and discarding it on the floor beside him. “I lost it between an oaf and a mattress with Pokémon sheets.”
Tommy looked up in alarm. “Is Pokémon still a thing? Should I know what that is?”
“Don’t trouble yourself about it, dear. You’re far too busy training your goat.”
“You should be happy I got a pet.”
“When I told you to get one, I meant a bird or cat, something low maintenance.”
“You don’t like goats?”
“Goats have charming personalities and I adore them. I take care of lots of farm animals. But they can get destructive. And they’re lots of work. I’m not sure if you could handle one. You should’ve looked into this more, Tommy. Goat hooves have to be trimmed on a regular basis.”
“I’ve got you, right?”
“Overgrown nails can make it very difficult for a goat to get around well, so you have to take this seriously.”
“You’ll do it free, right? And then you can teach me.”
“Giving a goat a pedicure isn’t the easiest thing to do.”
“How hard can it be?”
“It’s not fun. You have to strap the goat into the milking stand and give it lots of feed to keep him happy. Then lift each foot in turn and scrape it clean with a foot pick, and trim the nails with a very sharp pair of pruning sheers. All the while, bending at an awkward angle and trying simultaneously not to cut yourself with the clippers or get kicked in the face.”
“I can handle this,” he said.
“You should’ve started with a cat.”
“I took the goat because Ted Johnson passed away. Nobody wanted the poor fellow, so my heart went out and I stepped in.”
I sighed. “Your heart was in the right place. Don’t worry. Between the two of us, we’ll give him a great home, and he’ll be well taken care of.”
“You’re welcome.” I petted the goat and he seemed to love the attention. “But you can’t lock me out.”
He peered at the door contemplatively, before returning his eyes rather shamelessly to my chest. “So what? You couldn’t MacGyver some chewing gum contraption to retrieve it like you usually do?”
“No, I couldn’t. It was the mermaid bra. And it’s gone.”
He shook his head sadly. “Shit—that’s terrible. I really liked that one.” Then he brightened. “Want me to go back and get it for you? What’s the guy’s name?”
For the second time that day, I blanked. After breakfast with the never-going-to-be-in-laws, I should have just written it on my hand.
“Oh shit, I just had it… Um, like Barry? Or Larry? Gary?”
“Chris?” Tommy guessed. “That’s who you had a date with.”
“That’s the one.”
He nodded wisely, stretching out his legs and leaning his head back against the arm of the sofa. “Mermaid bra—wow. End of an era.”
Holding back my tears, I nodded silently.
“Also, my dad died.”
Tommy’s eyes flashed up as the rest of the room froze.
End of sample.
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