“We don’t normally have a formal reading of the will, you know with everyone sitting around a table and the lawyer making shocking announcements to the family,” Lillian’s stodgy lawyer told me. “You only see that on TV. I think Perry Mason had something to do with that idea.” Mr. Cartwright sat at my dining table on my left and Chris sat on the right. “Because you two are the only relatives in the area and much of what is in here concerns you, I can give you each a copy to read for yourselves. There’s a lot of legal jargon, so I can interpret it you need it.”
He opened a folder and removed two copies of Lillian’s will.
“Mr. Cartwright, is this correct? She signed this version only two days before she died?” Chris asked.
“Yes. She called me to her house, said the revision was urgent and asked me to come right over. She looked healthy enough, so I don’t know if she had some kind of premonition, or not. She was 94, afterall. Maybe she was just making sure of her wishes considering she could go at any time.”
I nodded and read through a lot of party-of-the-first-parts and other legal wording until the section that concerned me the most flashed on the page. Chris and I were to inherit her house, a stately Victorian on the James River.
“Am I reading this right?” Chris asked. “We get the house, but only after we deliver her car and her ashes to Matt in Sante Fe. And we have to drive there through each of the forty-eight contiguous states. That could not be a less direct route.”
“Yes, Mr. Archer. Those are her instructions. If you do not comply, then I am authorized to sell the house and donate 100% of the profits to the American Cancer Society.”
“And the rules state Anne and I have to go together for the road trip through all forty-eight states. And we have to take a time stamped selfie of the two of us together in front of every state’s welcome sign.”
“Yes. She has also provided you with this.” This was a GPS tracker that could record the entire road trip. “It will record the journey and I will have to check it before I can turn the deed to the house over to you. You must cross into every one of the lower forty-eight states. Together. And the selfie at the welcome signs must be of the two of you together.”
“She was serious about this?” Chris demanded. “A trip like that would take months. We would both have to quit our jobs.”
“Lillian said these were her terms if you want her house. You can, of course, refuse and in which case I will arrange for the sale of her house as soon as possible.”
Chris looked over his shoulder toward the living room where Lily played a video game while wearing a headset. He lowered his voice, “You realize Anne and I are planning to separate after we get all this stuff with Mom straightened out.”
“And you still can, Mr. Archer. After you have complied with Lillian’s wishes, you can sell her house and split the money, you can rent it out, you can move in. It will be yours, and all the contents, less the few things that are supposed to go to Matthew and his three children.”
“We get the house, and Matt gets the car and the money?”
“Yes, that is the will in a nutshell. You were not slighted in anyway, Mr. Archer. The house and the property it rests on is worth over 3 million dollars and there is only a little over a million in her liquid assets, after all her debts are taken care of. Her Cayenne is worth about $50,000.”
“I wasn’t worried about that. That house is a drafty old barn. We would have to sell this house to be able to afford the upgrades on that one before we can sell it.”
“Chris, do we really want to sell it?” I asked. “Also, I can let Abigail run the store while I am away. You can talk to your partner and I am sure he will let take some time off for this. You own the firm and architecture is not brain surgery. You won’t be missed by your partner if you go on the road for a few weeks.”
“I don’t know, Anne. I just don’t know what I want. I know I don’t want to spend six months in a car with you.”
“In reality, Mr. Archer, if you plan your trip correctly, you would make the journey in just a couple of months. If you average 500 miles a day, you could do in a month,” Mr. Cartwright said. “Lillian has left a prepaid credit card to cover the expenses on the trip. Hotels, food and the like. I will leave you now and give you a few days to think about it.”
“Wait,” I said. “Do we have to drive the entire way in the Cayenne?”
“According to the rules, you just have to make the road trip in one shot. Beginning to end. Sante Fe would be your final stop. You can buy another car for the trip home, or perhaps fly back. There is enough money on the card to do either.” Mr. Cartwright said and he vanished out of the front door.