Friday, August 14, 2015

Fiction Friday - Contemporaries - Chapter Three

Karen filled Christine in with the background on Miles, but obviously hadn’t prepared her for the kicker. “Miles was killed recently, and I’m now in charge of his estate.”
            Christine almost choked on an ice chip. “What? I thought you were going to tell me he asked you out. The guy is dead? I’m glad I was sitting down!”
            “Sorry, I thought I’d mentioned that part earlier this week. I guess we haven’t had a chance to talk much with everything else that’s been going on.”
            “You mean with me being out late four out of five nights this week. I guess you could say we haven’t. I can’t believe you didn’t wake me up that first morning though. That’s huge news. Why would you want to go through that all alone?”
            Karen shrugged. At this point she didn’t think about going anything alone anymore, it just seemed normal. “Anyway, I think I have to go to Kentucky to figure part of this out. Apparently that’s where he grew up. Do you have enough vacation for a road trip?”
            “I wish. The store will probably be up and running by Tuesday at the latest. It’s not as bad as it looks. I would be on the road in a heartbeat if I could. I’ve always loved Kentucky: the rolling green hills and the beautiful horses.”
            “Well, I’m not sure what part of Kentucky it’s in, actually. I haven’t even had time to let it sink in yet. I wish you could come with me. This is a hard enough job as it is. The only other person helping out is my boss, and it would be a little weird to ask him to take a trip to Kentucky. Looks like it’ll just be me.”

            Christine smiled and put her hand on Karen’s shoulder. “There is no way I am letting you go driving out of state by yourself. I have an idea.”
            Karen shook her head slowly. Christine’s ideas always seemed to get them both into trouble. Then again, she was getting desperate for a solution to this particular problem.
            Christine hopped in the driver’s seat and turned the car towards the south end of town. As they drove, Karen suddenly realized where they were headed. “Your brother?” she almost screamed. “I am not taking your older brother on a road trip. There is no way.”
            “Why not?” Christine shrugged. “It’s the perfect solution. Justin just got laid off again, and I can convince Mom that he needs to check out some out of state colleges.”
            “You mean he’s actually going to go back to school?”
            “Well, he at least wants to get away from home until he can go back to work. Mom seems to believe in his latest plan.”
            Karen sighed and blew a stray strand of hair out of her face. “I guess if you think it’s the best option. Or the only option. I haven’t seen him in almost a year. Maybe he’s grown up a little bit.”
            Christine’s snort seemed to answer that question.
            When they pulled up to the two-story white colonial, Karen experienced a brief, jealous longing for a home of her own. She wanted to have a row of gleaming windows to buy curtains for, a garden to design, guest rooms to decorate. She suddenly remembered that she was also the sole beneficiary of Mile’s estate. If he didn’t have everything mortgaged to the hilt, she might come away with enough to buy her dream home.
            She shook away that thought quickly. What a morbid thought. She hadn’t even learned anything personal about Miles, and she was already spending his money in her mind. She certainly didn’t feel like she deserved any of that money right now.
            As Christine banged on the door trying to wake her brother up, Karen’s mind drifted to Kentucky. She tried to picture Miles standing out in a green field, gazing down on his childhood home. The image in her mind seemed fuzzy and surreal. She just could not imagine him outside of his corporate setting. Would he wear jeans or cargo pants? Would he wear short sleeves? She had no idea what his arms would even look like. And now she was fantasizing about a dead man.
            Karen’s brother flung open the door, blinking at the sunlight as if he had just woken up. “Hi bro.” Christine flung her arm around his shoulder, a full 8 inches above her own. “Want to take a road trip with Karen?”
            His eyes brightened up a little too much at that suggestion, so Karen shot him down with a stern look. No matter how old they were, boys like him always had one thing on their minds. And there was no way that was going to happen.
            Justin looked down at the ground briefly and shrugged. “I guess I don’t have anything better to do.” He lifted his sleepy, brown eyes toward Karen. “Where are you going?”
            “Kentucky.” Christine said.
            “Why would you want to go to some backwoods place like that?” Justin asked, glancing at Karen.
            Karen sighed. “I’m hoping it’s not as backwoods as you think. I’ve always imagined it as a very beautiful state. Rolling green fields, horse country, and tall wavy grasses.”
            “Yup, sounds pretty backwoods to me.” He leaned against the doorjamb.
            “Look, your sister just thought it would be nice to have someone along for the drive. I pulled up directions online and it looks like it’ll be about 8 hours. I’m definitely more than happy to drive on my own.”
            “No, Christine knows how much I want to get out of this house. When do we leave?”
            “I told my boss I would be at the office through Wednesday. I think a long weekend would be enough time to get everything done. If you’re coming, we’ll leave at 8:00am on Thursday.”
            Justin stood up straight and stared at his sister, then at Karen. “8:00 in the morning! You can’t be serious!”
            “Oh, but I am serious. I’m not planning on driving on unfamiliar roads after dark. I’m leaving plenty of time to get there.”
            Justin glanced back at Christine and then nodded. “I can be ready by then.”
            Christine grabbed Karen’s arm and practically dragged her away from the home before Justin could change his mind. She laughed and tossed her keys in the air as they walked back to the car. “I almost can’t believe he actually agreed to go with you. You’ll have to tell me absolutely everything. This should be hilarious!”
            “I’m not sure why I even agreed to this. I could have driven there myself.”
            “Hey, my brother is an excellent driver, you could use his expertise.”
            “Just because he hasn’t had an accident yet doesn’t mean he’s a good driver, I’ve seen him flying through this neighborhood and not thinking twice about it.”
            “He’s just showing off. Besides, I think he has finally decided to go back to college. The only steady job he’s had since high school is the afterschool program, so he’s out of work every summer. He gets tired of being the flower delivery guy and the pizza maker in the in between times or when he doesn’t get enough hours.” Christine lifted a shoulder casually. “He’ll become something one day; he’s just on the fifteen year plan.”
            Karen laughed. “He’ll be cutting it close. He only has about one year of credit from the community college. I’ll just have to keep him reined in on the speeding for our trip.”
            “Good luck!” 
            The hours seemed to tick by as Karen counted down to the big road trip. The funeral director had taken over most of the arrangements, and there was plenty of money in the estate checking account to pay for everything. Karen hadn’t been sure how many people to plan for. In the end, only a few co-workers showed up for the memorial service.
            Karen had hoped to meet someone who would know more about Miles or his past in Kentucky, but the brief funeral left little opportunity for small talk. At work, Karen went through the motions. Of course her boss, Scott Tanner, had been more than accommodating. She spent several hours going over questions and paperwork with him to be sure everything went through correctly.
            When Karen pulled up in front of Christine’s parent’s house Thursday morning, she felt the butterflies start fluttering. She had never been much of a traveler. She had visited the beach and the mountains of North Carolina, but both were less than five hours away.
            She felt unprepared for this trip. She remembered the checklists her father would frantically copy down and cross off in preparation for even a short trip. He must have felt the same way she did. Not knowing what the future would hold, and wondering what she was missing.
            Justin was ready and waiting and he tossed his one small backpack into the backseat. He carried two of his favorite CDs and a bottle of water. He moved the directions she had placed in the seat. His smile held just a hint of smugness, as he knew she wasn’t expecting him to be ready on time.
            “Ready to go?” She asked.
            “Ready whenever you are.” He said.
            Karen didn’t quite feel ready, but knew it was time for her journey to begin. When she saw the rap labels on the CD, she politely asked if he had headphones he could use. She could stand just about any type of music, but that thudding bass would drive her insane. Fortunately, he had a pair of ear buds in his backpack, and the trip started out in a relatively quiet mode.
            As Karen drove, she thought about Miles and made a mental checklist of everything she had left to do with his estate. She still couldn’t imagine that he was truly gone. His funeral wishes included being cremated, so everyone had mourned the small jar of ashes. She tried to imagine him with his eyes closed, resting forever.
            Karen had never seen a dead body before. She had never been close enough to have the unfortunate opportunity, and didn’t choose to make a start with a near stranger. She had enough to do with figuring out estate management on the fly.
Scott had given her a list of things she had to accomplish while she was on the Kentucky property. She knew it would be a lot of work, but her mind seemed to be concentrating on the city she was leaving behind.
She had somehow been unable to find the deed to the house, despite searching a bank safety deposit box, a metal file cabinet, and even his desk at work. The car was leased, and the Lexus dealership had been very helpful and agreed to take the car back without any additional fees. She was starting to inventory the household items: leather couches, flat-screen TVs, cherry wood furniture.
She had no idea what she would do with everything. If she sold the household items, she probably wouldn’t get market value, but she wasn’t sure she could stand to live in a dead man’s house with his furniture. She tried not to imagine him sitting on the furniture, or what he would watch on television.
As they drove through the mountains, Karen kept her focus on the road. The trip was relatively easy for the most part. As long as she kept her eyes open for the highway signs, she was on the right path. As far as Miles’ estate proceedings, she wasn’t even sure what the right path was anymore.
“Hey Karen.” She turned her head toward Justin, who had taken off his headphones.
“What is it?”
“I didn’t eat breakfast this morning. Do you think we could stop here?” He nodded his head toward a series of billboard road signs advertising ‘the best pancakes in the tri-state area’.
Karen figured she could do with some comfort food. “Sure thing, one and a half miles ahead.”
She had to admit that the pancakes were delicious. The wait staff seemed to all be related to the owner, and Justin polished off a three-course breakfast in record time. As Justin fished in his wallet looking for his share, he grinned up at her. “Are you sure the estate doesn’t buy the food while we’re on this road trip?”
“Sorry, dude. You’re on your own for food. Scott said I could probably get reimbursed for mileage, although I don’t see that it makes a big difference, with me being the primary beneficiary.”
“Whoa, you’re going to be rich.”
“Not quite rich. We’ll see what this Kentucky property looks like. There are a few other bequests to some distant family members, and the checking account took a pretty big hit from the funeral arrangements and a few other bills that came in.”
“Did he have a huge credit card debt? I saw that house and car, and I thought he must be up to his eyeballs in debt.”
“Actually, I’m not entirely sure about that yet. The credit card bills were fairly reasonable, it seemed like he paid a lot of his expenses on his corporate card or maybe in cash. I haven’t found the house documents yet. Most people I thought would keep their mortgage and deed someplace safe, and I haven’t come across it yet.”
“Good luck with that. I don’t even want to sort through a living person’s papers.”
Karen smiled. “That’s a very good point. Thank you for your encouragement and support.”
“Anytime,” he grinned. “Anytime.”
Justin slapped a few bills down and grabbed his Styrofoam coffee to-go cup. The waitress, who looked to be about 16, had been flirting outrageously, and with good effect judging by the size of the bill Justin left.
“I’m guessing you’re planning on stopping on the way back?” Karen’s forehead wrinkled slightly just between her eyebrows.
“Maybe. I guess it depends on how hungry I get. Are you sure they have food in Kentucky?”
“From what I can tell, it seems to be a working farm. Miles had a few papers with lists of crops and animals and dollar amounts next to each item. If you need beef, I bet you can get some extra fresh!”
Justin wrinkled his nose, and his ears wiggled just a little. “I might have to become a vegetarian. I know where my food comes from; I just don’t want to actually see the process.”
“Yeah, I am definitely with you on that point. I’m sure they take the animals to the butcher.”
“So, who has been running this place with Miles living in Charlotte for so long?”
“The will showed a sum of money going to a Mr. Eli Wellsbrooke in Kentucky. It seems like he was probably the manager and took a cut of the profits in exchange for his labor. I guess we’ll find out exactly who he is when we get there. Can you double check the directions for me?” Karen asked.
“You sure are a worry-wart aren’t you?” Justin asked. His carefree attitude had annoyed Karen when she first met him, but it was hard to stay mad at him for long.
“I tend to want everything to go perfect, if that’s what you mean.” Karen smiled, thinking back to a day when she hadn’t worried about perfection.
“What’s that smile supposed to mean?”
“I was just thinking about my 16th birthday party. One of my friends back then was so wild and crazy and she planned a surprise party for me. I almost didn’t show up, because I knew something was up, but I didn’t know exactly what they had planned. I didn’t want to be unprepared. Then, when I arrived, they had all these ridiculous accessories for me to put on: a set of big, goofy glasses and a huge striped hat and Mardi Gras beads.”
“And you had fun? You didn’t think you looked stupid with all that stuff on.” Justin’s greenish-brown eyes twinkled as he imagined his sister’s most boring friend in the unusual get-up.
Karen thought for a few minutes. “Yes. I did have fun. I just relaxed and went with the flow. We had to go out in public because it was a treasure hunt. We had to collect different items from stores and businesses in the neighborhood. I looked like a crazy fool, but that was my favorite memory of the entire year. I can’t even remember whether I made A’s in school that year or not, but I could name everyone who was at that party.”
“Did you ever not make A’s in school?” Justin teased.
“You can be a real brat sometimes can’t you?” Karen kept her eyes on the road, and Justin made a production out of double checking the map and directions for few minutes.

“We’ve got about twenty miles left on this road and then we take another interstate for about a hundred more.” Justin then launched into a particularly horrible rendition of My Old Kentucky Home.

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