Family Affairs Ch. 23byD.C. Roi©
Passion In James County XIX: Family Affairs
Matt and his Uncle Ezra and Aunt Serena sat in the attorney's office, listening to the lawyer read the terms of his parents' will. According to the document, Matt, as sole heir, would inherit his parent's entire estate.
"I don't know if you know it or not, but you are a very wealthy young man," the attorney told Matt. "The value of your father's investments, were you to liquidate them all right now, totals well over three million dollars. In addition, there is your father's majority interest in his business and some rather substantial and profitable real estate holdings. And, of course, you'll also have whatever settlement you'll receive from the airline's insurance company and the various life insurance policies your parents held. I believe, conservatively, the total value of the estate, once everything is settled could wind up in the range of ten to fifteen million dollars."
Matt was stunned by the vast figures the lawyer suggested, but how much money he had wasn't really important. He'd rather be poor and have his parents alive.
"Geez," Uncle Ezra exclaimed as they drove back to the house after the reading of the will. "You ain't never gonna have to work a day in your life if you don't want to, Denny. Ten to fifteen million bucks. Wow!"
"Now Ezra," his wife cautioned him, "You have to remember, Matt has been through a terrible tragedy."
"I know," Ezra said, "but damn, Serena, you and me, we worked real hard all our lives, and we ain't never gonna have a tiny damn piece of what's fallin' into that damn kid's lap."
They pulled into the driveway, then went in the house. Matt didn't like the tone he heard in his uncle's voice when he talked about the inheritance. He might be reading it wrong, but it sounded to him as if Uncle Ezra was jealous of his inheritance. Even worse, it sounded as if his uncle would like nothing more than to get his hands on some, if not all, of the money.
He went inside and directly upstairs to his room and the darkroom. Working on his photography projects helped ease the grief and loss he felt. It gave him something he could do that made him feel as if he had control over at least part of his life.
His uncle and aunt were using the spare bedroom, which happened to be on the other side of the darkroom wall. In fact, the darkroom was created by partitioning off some of that bedroom and some of the one Matt used. He heard his aunt and uncle enter the next bedroom, then he listened carefully, trying to hear their conversation.
"You know, Serena," Ezra said, "we gotta get that lawyer to unnerstand he hasta make us the kid's guardians and make him come to live with us. Then maybe we could get the courts back home to put us in control of all that money. I bet the court would rather see us takin' care of it, instead of some wet-nosed kid."
"I don't know, Ezra," Serena replied, "If that was what your brother wanted, don't you think he'd have put it in the will? Besides, Matt's eighteen. He's in charge of his own money."
"I been thinkin' about that," Ezra said. "It ain't right, a wet-nosed teen-age kid havin' control of all that money. I mean, he ain't gonna be able to handle that kinda money. I bet, if he was back in Seattle with us, they'd let us take care of it for him."
"I hadn't thought about that," Serena replied thoughtfully. "And you're right about him being too young. I'm sure he'll come back to Seattle with us. I mean, he certainly can't stay here alone. And who else could they appoint as his guardians? We're the only family he has left."
Matt heard it, but couldn't believe it. His worst fears were confirmed. He'd never much liked Serena and Ezra and neither had his father. Ezra, the younger brother, hadn't done much with his life and Matt's father had grown tired of bailing him out.
Matt knew his father wouldn't want either Ezra or Serena to have any say over the estate. All his aunt and uncle wanted, it seemed, was to get control of his money. He thought about telling his parents' attorney. But would the lawyer believe him? After all, Serena and Ezra were kin, the only kin he had left.
"I'm going out," he yelled through their bedroom door as he headed for the stairs.
"Don't be out too late, dear," his aunt yelled back.
Matt took the pickup. He wasn't sure how his aunt and uncle would react to that, but he didn't care. Question was, where could he go? Who could he talk to? Who could help him out of this mess?
He went to Dianna's house. He wasn't sure why, it just seemed like a good idea. He parked the truck in front, got out, walked up the sidewalk, and knocked on the door.
Dianna's mother answered the door.
"Hi," Matt said, "is Dianna home?"
"She's in her room," Dianna's mom said, "come in. I'll get her."
Dianna appeared from the hallway. "Matt! What are you doing here?" she asked.
"I need to talk with someone," he told her. "I...uh, was hoping you might have some time to..."
"I'll get my coat," Dianna said. She was delighted, almost giddy, that he had turned to her as a confidante. "What's wrong?" she asked as Matt wheeled his truck away from the curb.
"I think I'm in trouble," he said.
"Trouble? What kind of trouble? What happened?" Dianna asked.
He told her about his aunt and uncle's obsession with his inheritance and the conversation he'd overheard.
Dianna was shocked. "That's terrible! What are you going to do?" she asked.
"I really don't know," Matt said. He pulled into the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant. "Want something to eat?"
"Sure," Dianna said. She was concerned. This was awful. Matt was a friend, someone special in her life, and she hated to think about his moving out of town. Besides what his aunt and uncle were doing was awful.
Once they were seated at a table inside the restaurant, Dianna repeated her question. "What are you going to do?"
"I think I need an adult to help me," Matt said, "but I don't know who to ask."
"How about the lawyer who's handling your folks' estate?" Dianna suggested.
"I'm not sure he'd believe me," Matt said. "I mean, it sounds pretty sick, doesn't it? My uncle and aunt will say I'm just trying to get my own way, that I'm trying to get to stay here and that I'm too young to handle my folks' estate. And...and a judge might believe them."
Dianna shook her head. "What about Ricky's mom?" she said. "You and he are real close, maybe she'd be willing to help you."
Matt had thought about talking to Mary, but he didn't want to go to the Forrester house and find out Mary and her husband had gotten back together. "I haven't talked to them since...since...you know," he told her.
"Well, maybe it's time you do," she said. "Mrs. Forrester was friends with your folks. Maybe a judge would listen to her."
Matt wasn't sure how to respond to Dianna's suggestion. He wanted to see Mary, more than anything, but he wasn't sure she would want to see him.
"I think you ought to give Rick and his mom a call," Dianna insisted. "If you don't do something, you'll have to move to Seattle."
"Would it bother you if I had to move?" he asked.
Dianna was surprised by her answer. "Yes, it would," she said.
Matt smiled at her and said, "Well, then, maybe I better try."
Dianna was heartened to see him smile, the first smile she'd seen on his face since the tragedy that took his parents.
Matt took her home, then drove to the Forrester house. He sat in the truck in front of the house for quite a while, working up the courage to go to the door. Finally, he got out walked up the sidewalk to the house, and knocked on the door.
Ricky opened the door, then almost broke Matt's back with a hug. "Matt! Geez, it's good to see you," he said.
"Are your, ah, folks home?" Matt asked.
"Mom's here," Rick said, giving Matt a funny look, "My Dad's got an apartment on the other side of town. You knew they split up. That happened just before your folks, ah, you know..."
"But...I...you were all together at the...the funeral," Matt stammered.
"I convinced Mom and Dad it would look better if we did that as a family," Rick said. "They've already filed for divorce and have the agreement all worked out and everything."
"Ricky..." Mary's voice came from the direction of the stairwell, "...is somebody here?"
Matt was trying to grasp what he'd just heard. Mary and her husband hadn't reconciled! Rick's father had moved out! He had an apartment somewhere else and the divorce was all but taken care of! He realized he'd let himself be cut off from Mary by a stupid misunderstanding.
"Yeah, Mom," Ricky replied, "Matt is here."
Mary was downstairs in seconds, giving Matt a hug even tighter than Rick's. "How are you, Matt?" she asked, "Are...are you all right?"
"I'm better...now," he replied. He felt hopeful for the first time since he overheard the conversation between his aunt and uncle. "I came over because I need help."
"What's wrong?" Mary asked. Her pretty face reflected concern. "Sit down and tell us about it."
Rick sat in a chair, Matt and Mary sat on the sofa, and Matt told them what was going on.
"My God!" Mary exclaimed when he finished.
"Those bastards!" Rick snapped.
Mary didn't bother to challenge her son's profanity. "We have to figure out some way to help Matt," she said.
"Why don't we have him move in with us?" Rick suggested.
Matt and Mary looked at each other, then at Rick, and they all smiled. The suggestion was so simple, so obvious, there seemed no need for further discussion.
"I'll set up an appointment with the lawyer handling my folks' estate," Matt said. "We'll meet with him tomorrow and get this straightened out."
Matt knew it would work. It had to. He now had a responsible adult willing to let him live with her and her son. In addition to the other valid reasons for him to remain in his home town, this should be enough to convince any judge, if that became necessary. There were other reasons he liked the proposed situation, but he couldn't tell the lawyer about them.
"It was a real shock finding out my Dad's brother was that greedy," Matt said. "I mean, I know Dad used to say Uncle Ezra was lazy and all, but I didn't think he was, you know, like he is."
"Money does strange things to people," Mary said.
They talked a lot longer and, finally, Matt knew he had to go home. Mary and Rick walked with him to the door, and Mary gave him a motherly kiss. Matt would have liked much more. His body ached to feel hers pressed against it, but with Rick there, that was impossible.
"See you tomorrow," he said, then headed for his truck.
Ezra and Serena were in the kitchen when he got home. A six-pack of beer, four cans missing, sat on the table.
"Hey, Denny," Uncle Ezra said. "Me 'n Serena been talkin'. You come live with us, we're gonna find us a bigger house. An' we'll take that Mercedes and truck along, too. I mean, it'd be kinda silly to get rid of them, you know? That's a really nice truck. I kin put a snowplow on it and you can make a few extra bucks that way. And I think Serena looks perfect in the Mercedes, you know?" He took a long swallow of beer from a can he held in his hand. "An' tell you what, we'll get you a little darkroom, too, so you can play with your cameras and stuff. Like you been doin' here."
"Thanks, Uncle Ezra, that's really nice of you," Matt said, not bothering to conceal the sarcasm in his voice.
Ezra and Serena didn't notice Matt's sardonic tone.
"I'm going to bed," Matt said. He couldn't wait until tomorrow. He wondered what Ezra and Serena would do when they found out there wasn't a chance in hell of their getting the money.
"OK, sweetheart," Serena said, "see you in the morning."
Uncle Ezra belched.