500 Words, Road of Change

Road of Change, Chapter Two

Chapter Two

Hampton VA

“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.

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Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

500 Words, Road of Change

Chapter One conclusion

I picked up my cell phone and called Matthew to let him know.  How many people would have to be told? No tangible number popped into my head.  Matthew answered,  “It’s the Anne Archer.  How did you get my number?”

He always said the same thing when he answered my calls, referring to the actress Anne Archer. My stock response:  “Not the Anne Archer.  Just an Anne Archer.”  

“What?  Your mother hate you?  She gave you two first names.  An Anne.”  Also part of our ritual.

“Matthew, I have some very bad news.  It’s about Lillian.”

“Uh oh,”  he said to me.

“She passed on just a few moments ago.  I was… still am with her.”  I managed to say it without my voice cracking.  “The doctor said it was heart failure.”

A long pause followed.  Finally, Matt said,  “Hard to believe.  I thought the old dear was immortal.”

“As did we all.”  My voice sounded tired.

“How is Chris doing?”  Ever the older brother.

“He walked out of the hospital and went outside to smoke.”

“Stupid man.  When did he start smoking, again?”  

“About a half an hour ago.”

“At least Mom doesn’t know that.  Anne, I am so sorry.  I know Chris will make you take care of all the arrangements.  Do you know what she wanted?”  Matt asked me.

“She wants a wake.  Not a funeral or a church service.  She will be cremated.  Nothing too complicated,”  I said.

“How soon?”  Matt asked.

“The wake can be just about anytime.  We could do it today, if I could get enough people together.  What about you?  Will you be able to come to her wake?  I can schedule it around you.”

I could almost see him shaking his head.  “I’m not going to try it.  The drive to Virginia is at least a couple of days.  I can’t leave Barbara that long and there is no way she can make the trip.  Also, you know I won’t fly.”

“How is she doing?”  I asked.  Anything to get my mind off of Lillian.  

“Barb’s chemo is beating her up.  She can’t eat or sleep or even concentrate long enough to watch a TV show.  She has another month of this, then she will have to recover from the effects of the chemo.  We are hoping she won’t have to do this again.”

“I am so sorry, Matt.  Tell Barbara I love her. I will call you.”

“Righteo,”  he said and then he disconnected the call.

I waited for Chris to return to the hospital room and after a half hour, I realized that likely wouldn’t happen.  I walked to the nurses’ station and asked them what I should do next.  The RN told me a counselor waited for me in a conference room across the corridor.  

The woman in Conference Room F wore a mask of too much makeup, and her smile was thin and forced. She looked up from her tablet when I entered.  “Mrs. Archer, I am Sunny Rivers.  I am very sorry for your loss.”  Sunny Rivers? Really? I refrained from making a joke she had probably heard about ten thousand times.  

When I said nothing, she continued,  “First, I would like to inform you that this hospital offers a complimentary grief counseling session, if you are interested.  You can call me and I will set it up for you.”  I took the proffered card that she slid across the table.  She continued her rote speech that sounded hollow and rehearsed.  “Are you aware of any arrangements Lillian Archer may have had?”

“Yes,”  I said.  “She wished to be cremated.  She has a prepaid plan at the funeral home on Market Street.”

“Very good.  We will arrange to have her remains transported later today.  Is there anything I can do for you?”  What a question.  Her tone made it sound like she had no intention of actually doing anything beyond her basic job description.  For more than one reason, I welcomed Chris’s absence as I pictured his temper tantrum when he saw the shallow female in the room.  Chris worshiped his mother and could not honestly understand when someone else didn’t.

“No. There is nothing.”

Sunny Rivers stood from a white plastic chair that was one of six around a small table and hurried out of the room with a toss of her blond hair and a swish of her short skater skirt.  

I returned to the nurses’ station and requested the RN inform Chris that I left if he should return.  I didn’t try to call him or to text him.  Maybe he acutely felt the loss of his mother, but that was no reason to leave me entirely on my own to handle it.  Coward.  Besides, I assumed he went to find comfort in the arms of his co-worker.  Another tiny blond with short skater skirts.

“Maybe you’ll chain smoke yourself to death,”  I muttered while I waited for the elevator. Finally, I left the oppressive building, found my car and climbed in.  

The sun crept across the sky, a light breeze rustled leaves on the trees, cars came and went in the lot.  Still, I hesitated to start my car.  Nothing crossed my mind other than the sure knowledge that my life changed forever.  And I suspected not for the better.

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Photo by Breather on Unsplash

I glanced at my watch. Time passed without my noticing.  Three hours since I sat in the room with Sunny Rivers.  Lily would be home from school in an hour and I couldn’t chance Chris telling her about Lillian. I started my car and drove toward our house.

Thankfully, I didn’t see Chris’s car, so I could tell Lily, myself, knowing Chris generally made a mess of things.

The house looked exactly the same as when I left it earlier.  My coffee mug sat on the kitchen counter, the magazine I threw at Chris that morning lay with wings spread open like a dead bird on my living room floor.   Dirty breakfast dishes cluttered the sink and the dog’s food bowl stood empty. She looked up at me and her tail slowly flopped back and forth.  “Snow, I didn’t mean to forget you,”  I told the solid white German Spitz.  Snow was only two years old and I loved her dearly.  Her manners were impeccable and her disposition very sweet.  As a bonus, she completely adored me.

I poured some dog crunchies into the ceramic bowl shaped like a Chinese take-out box and freshened her water.  Oblivious to the human emotions around her, she crunched the food noisily.  

“You’ve got it right, Snow.  Just ignore everything except food and water.  In the grand scheme of things, what else do we truly need?”  I made another pot of coffee and waited in the kitchen while it brewed.  Before the carafe filled completely, I poured coffee into my mug, sat at a bar stool and settled in to wait for Lily to come in from school.

500 Words, Road of Change, Writing

Chapter 1 continued

I complained about Chris to her that day.  We sat in her sunroom, drinking strong coffee and she said,  “Anne, my dear, Chris was a spoiled baby, a spoiled child, a spoiled teenager and a spoiled man.  He is the reason Matt and I kept going after Mr. Archer died.  We raised him together and gave him everything he wanted. He grew up feeling very entitled. He grew up thinking he didn’t have to work for anything.  You, my dear, have made remarkable strides with him.  A couple more years and he will be a human being.”  She reached across the coffee table and gave my hand a pat.  “I have watched the two of you grow up together.  You were so young when you married him.  In many ways, Chris was very young, too, even though he is ten years older than you.  Try to be patient with him.”

“Patient, you say?  He is seeing a woman he works with.”  I blurted out the issue between us.  I meant to keep it quiet, feeling somehow that I failed him.  If I was a better wife, he wouldn’t need the company of another woman, right?

The woman who spoiled him terribly gave me a sad smile. “He is not perfect, Anne.  Christian Matthew Archer Junior is as flawed as his father.”  She took a dainty swallow of her coffee that she served to us using her Royal Doulton’s Old Country Roses coffee set.  “I think the two of you need to spend some time together.  You have a daughter who became your sole focus when Trip died and now she is nearly ready for college. That’s just a couple of years away. You and Chris both forgot to love each other because you both hurt so badly over the death of your son.  Things will be alright.  You’ll see.”  The cup rattled on the saucer when she set it down, possibly the first sign of frailty.  A sign I missed at the time, so wrapped up in my own hurt and anger.

Old Country Roses

That day Lillian gave me a handkerchief so I could wipe away tears.  We spoke of only pleasant things after my grand confession.  We walked in her garden and she told me how she cares for her roses.  She showed me the new birdhouse she built from scrap lumber and her well-used power tools.  She pulled some offending weeds away from her roses then made me promise to see her the next week.

I kept my promise by sitting by her side in the hospital room.  Lillian, the glue that kept my little family together, slipped away from me while I held tightly onto her hand, never opening her eyes.

The monitor beeped loudly and a nurse entered the room.  She checked Lillian’s vital signs, turned off the monitor, then told me the doctor was on his way.

A man who didn’t look old enough to drive entered the room, checked Lillian’s vitals and then announced she had passed.  He squeezed my shoulder and said,  “You can spend some time with her.”  He walked out of the room just as Chris walked back in.  

Chris watched me for a moment, then drew his own conclusion. “I was outside smoking when she died.  Smoking.  A thing she hated because it killed my father.”

“Don’t beat yourself up, Chris.  There’s no way you could have know she would die right then.”

Chris looked down at his mother, said, “You’ll have to take care of this.  I just can’t,”  and he left the room.  He left me alone to deal with her remains.  He left me alone to face the hurt on my own.  Just like always.

500 Words, Road of Change

500 Words: Road of Change: The Beginning

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Photo by Yeshi Kangrang on Unsplash

Chapter One  Hampton Virginia

The hospital smelled antiseptic and felt cold and lonely, like an unlived-in house with dusty sheets thrown over all the upholstery. Three ward clerks, two elevator rides, and I finally arrived at Lillian’s room.  Private accommodations resembling the five star hotel of your choice.  Chris sat in a chair beside her bed, dejected as a lost toddler.

No one told me anything prior to my arrival so I didn’t know what to expect.  Chris’s text sent less than an hour ago said, simply, “Mom’s in the hospital.  It’s bad.”  Because of my anger, I didn’t try to call him to find out more details.  Punishing him by punishing myself.

The text surprised me for two reasons.  Chris and I argued terribly for the past three weeks and just this morning, he stormed out of our house yelling through the slammed front door, “I will never set foot in this hell hole, again.”  An hour later, I received the text about his mother, a woman with a presumed lifespan roughly equal to a bristlecone pine.  Two shocking events to shatter my already shattered day.

Lillian’s frail body, grey skin, and multiple tubes and wires told a horrible tale.  “She collapsed in the grocery store,”  Chris said.  “The doctor said it is heart failure.”

“Chris, I’m so sorry,”  I whispered. Sorry for what?  Of course, I felt sorrow for his mother, but did the sentiment mean I forgave his behavior?  Not time for that, yet.

“She isn’t going to make it.  She is going to die.”  Chris dabbed the tears from his eyes with the back of his hand.  “What am I going to do?  I can’t lose my mother and my wife in the same day.”

“You haven’t lost me.  I am just…”  Just what?  I wondered for several moments while Chris watched me expectantly.  He waited for my answer.  “I am just angry.”

He looked relieved.  “I know what I said this morning, Anne, but I need you.  Can I come home?”

“Yes.  You can’t sleep on a park bench.”

“Technically, I could.  I just don’t want to.”  He tried to smile.  Chris stood and said,  “Have a seat.  I’ll find another chair, plus I feel the need to smoke after all these months completely smoke free.”  

Are we to share anything?  Even this?  I watched his back as he left the room. Leaving me alone with his dying mother.

I turned my attention to Lillian, a woman I had grown to love deeply over the past seventeen years.  Lillian gave birth to Chris at the age of forty-seven. She and her eldest son, Matthew, raised Chris together because Chris’s father died on the day of his birth.

Lillian told me about Chris’s father shortly before our wedding. “Mr. Archer hung on as long as he could, actually waiting until he saw the baby before he fell into a coma and died about four hours later.  Late stage lung cancer from smoking five packs of unfiltered Lucky Strikes every day for over forty years.  Stupid old bastard.  Left me and Matt to raise Chris and I think we did a good job.  You must think so, too, if you are planning to marry my son.”

Lillian was already seventy-seven when Chris and I married.  Seventeen years later, the ninety-four year old woman lay in a hospital, life rapidly slipping away.  Before her collapse, she lived alone in a grand old house that she cared for herself.  She even mowed the grass herself and repaired her dishwasher just two weeks ago.

“Oh, Lillian,”  I said as I gripped her hand hard enough to make my hand ache.  “Don’t leave us alone.  We need you something fierce, Chris and me.  We won’t make it as a couple without you.  Don’t go.”  And the tears wet her hand and mine.  The woman seemed as solid as Mount Rushmore the previous week when I visited her.

NOTE:  A couple of notes about this story.  First, the title is just a working title and may change.  Character names may change.  In fact, at this stage, anything can change.

Please leave comments below to let me know what you think or to make suggestions.

500 Words, Writing

My 500 Words: Day 1

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Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

I have just joined a writing challenge to write 500 words a day for the next 31 days… January is my new writing month.  If I were writing a novel, that is 15,000 words already.  I have some novel ideas, I have story ideas.  I just don;t take the time to write them down.  What is wrong with that picture? I have a note on my phone that is called “My Idea Bucket,” where I put clever ideas for writing and guess what?  It is empty.

I am hoping this will get me into much better writing habits.  I mean, I am retired.  I don’t have a lot to do during the day, but I find myself reading, or watching TV.  What a wasted day when all I do is channel surf.  I am not a lazy person.  I am just uninspired.  Maybe setting a challenge for myself is a good way to develop a habit.  Actually, I have heard that it takes 60 days to fully develop a habit.  So, if 31 days is accomplished, then I will give myself another goal:  29 days.  Or maybe more.

So, what is this novel about that I am going to write over the next 31 days?  It is called, tentatively, Road of Change.  It is a Lifetime Movie type story of a husband and wife who are estranged, then his mother dies and leaves them a 3 million dollar house.  The stipulation to get it is, Anne and Chris have to drive a Porsche Cayenne to Chris’s brother. Sounds simple, right?  Well, they have to drive through every one of the contiguous 50 states to get it there.  

So right away they have problems, when Chris wrecks the Porsche on the first day of the trip.  Anne and Chris snipe at each other, get angry with each other, yell at each other and finally learn to get along.

On the trip, they have their dog with them, a German Spitz named Snow.  They leave their teenage daughter with Anne’s sister.

During the journey, Anne and Chris relive moments in their lives and finally discover the reason for their drifting apart.

This novel is somewhat autobiographical in that I am reliving many parts of my own life and some of it is made up.  The scenery isn’t important on the journey, just the interactions between the two people. The setting isn’t important.  The time of day isn’t important.  It is an opportunity to watch two people fall in love all over again and for them to remember why they are together to begin with.  This is definitely a love story, sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter sweet.  

I hope that is reading this new creation, you will fall in love with my characters, too.  

This is a bit scary for me, writing a story while essentially naked.  I am allowing the world to watch the story unfold, step by step.  There will likely changes made along the way.  Some of what I write may be deleted and a new scene written to take its place.  At the end of this experiment, I hope to have a novel.