A Contest of Wills: Chapter 4

Bex Miller had a lot of work to do, but first she needed some caffeine. A cup of Joe and a nice long talk with a good friend. She pushed open the door to The Brew-Ha and breathed in the smell of freshly ground coffee beans. At 10:30, the morning rush had passed and her friend Linda, also the owner, came out from the back to the counter, wiping her hands on a towel. An Australian Shepherd followed and bounded over to Bex, tail wagging furiously.

“Well hey there,” Linda greeted Bex, “I don’t usually get to see you during the day like this. It’s a real treat!” She stopped and took another look at her friend. “What’s up honey? You look upset and you’re all dressed up. What’s going on? Fubu, get down!”

The dog ducked it’s head and looked up at Bex, who smiled and rubbed his head. “It’s o.k. Fubu, you’re not used to me wearing nice clothes.” She walked to counter and gave her friend a half smile. “Do you have a little time? I just need to talk.”

“Of course!” Linda said. “Go grab a seat and I’ll get us some coffee.”

Bex sat in one of the plush armchairs toward the back of the store, Fubu curling up on the rug at her feet. Linda appeared a moment later with two steaming cups and sat opposite her friend, tucking her legs under her. She took a sip of her coffee and looked at Bex expectantly. “So what’s up?”

Bex sighed and turned to look out the window. After a moment she turned and looked at her friend’s concerned face. “The funeral was today,” she said. “This morning actually.” She looked down into her cup and said softly, “Actually, right now.”

Linda leaned forward and put her hand on Bex’s knee. “Oh honey, I’m so sorry. I know they meant a lot to you. But why aren’t you there? You obviously planned to go.”

Bex looked up at her friend and fought back tears. “I did go. I got there and when I got out of my car Bob Taylor walked over to talk to me. He said he was really sorry, but that the Szczepanki’s daughter, Tiffany, didn’t want me at the funeral.”

“What?!?” Linda’s expression reflected how Bex had felt when Bob told her she wasn’t welcome. “But why on earth not? What is wrong with that girl?”

Bex shook her head. “Bob said for some reason they read the will early – and that when the will got read, she just lost it. She’s mad. She’s mad at her parents and she’s mad at me. I guess she’s really just kind of mad at the world.”

“Why on earth is she mad at you? What did you do?”

Bex signed and took another sip of coffee. “Well, you know that I’ve been living in that trailer out on the land her parents own, right?” Linda nodded. “Yes,” she said, “I remember that Mrs. Szczepanski wanted you to be able to start your cat refuge, so they let you use that land.”

Bex nodded, and then continued. “Yeah, but what we didn’t know was that they recently changed their will and left 100 acres of that land and the trailer to me.” She looked at Linda to see how her friend would react. Linda didn’t disappoint her. She sat back in her chair, eyes wide, mouth open.

“I know,” Bex said, “it’s crazy. But the thing is, I actually do feel like that land is mine, and that I should continue the work I’ve started. But Tiffany is furious and plans to contest the will.”

“Wow.” Linda was still processing the information, and took another sip of coffee. “So what are you going to do?”

Bex shrugged. “I don’t know. I mean, at first I kind of felt bad. It must be upsetting to have your parents leave a valuable piece of land to someone who’s not even in the family. But then, well, I don’t know, I started thinking about it and really, how much land does she need? I know that Kate believed in the work I was doing, and the last time they came out and visited they were really pleased. And now, with the way she’s acting, I don’t feel bad at all.”

Linda reached down to rub Fubu’s ears. “Well,” she said slowly, “it sounds to me like the Szczepanskis knew what they were doing and wanted you to have that land. How much more is there?” Bex shrugged, “I’m not sure, I think there’s over 200 acres left.”

“Oh for pity sake!” Linda put her coffee cup on the table and folded her arms. “That’s plenty of land! What does she want it all for anyway?”

Bex smiled and said, “Seriously? Linda, it took one day for a developer to contact me about buying that land. It’s worth a lot of money.”

“Really? How much?”

Bex laughed. “That’s really not the point. Anyway, the developer told me that based on zoning restrictions and access rights, the acreage left to me was the most valuable from a development perspective. The other land is almost worthless without my 100 acre parcel.”

Linda looked puzzled. “Why would the Szczepanskis do that?”

Bex was quiet for a minute. “Well,” she said, “I don’t think they wanted that land turned into condos and strip malls. Bill was a real advocate for keeping the county rural, and my guess is they were worried that Tiffany would sell the land. But they knew that I wanted it for something else, something that means more to me than money.”

Linda looked skeptical. “But Bex,” she said, “you could also do a lot of good for a lot of cats with a lot of money.”

Bex smiled at her friend. “Yes, but I can’t buy another piece of land and set it up like what I have now. And I’ve already got 26 cats out there.” Linda nodded and the two women smiled at each other.

“And,” Linda said, “whether Tiffany likes it or not, it sounds to me like her parents knew exactly what they were doing.”

Bex’s smile grew wider as she stood. “You’re right,” she said, “and I think that might be the part that makes Tiffany the maddest of all.” She sighed and said, “Thanks for the coffee, and for talking. I really do feel better. But I need to go, I’ve got a lot to do.” Linda stood up and gave her a hug. Fubu rose, wagging his tail and followed Bex to the door.

As she opened the door to leave Linda said, “I’m here for you honey, whatever you need you just let me know.”

Bex turned and smiled. “I know,” she said, “and I can’t thank you enough for that. But for now I’ve still got to make enough money to feed myself and 26 cats.” With a smile she let go of the door and headed down the sidewalk.

A Contest of Wills: Chapter 3

It was a clear day in Manhattan, and Kyle was actually enjoying the view of Central Park from his living room window. It was rare that he took a moment to just look out and actually see what was there, instead of being distracted by problems at work. He began to wonder if he really needed to go into the office today when he heard the phone ring behind him. He ignored it, and felt a slight stab of irritation when he heard Cassandra pick it up. He really needed to find a graceful way to get back his key; her proprietary attitude toward his apartment, his belongings, and in fact he himself, was beginning to grate on him. He listened to her smooth, polished voice as she spoke to the caller.

“Hello? Yes, he’s here, may I ask who’s calling and what this is in regard to?” Kyle turned to look at her and she held out the phone to him.

“It’s a woman,” she said coldly, “she says her name is Tiffany and you know who she is.” She didn’t try to hide the displeasure in her voice, nor did she cover the receiver, ensuring the caller would hear her ugly remarks and hard tone. Kyle frowned slightly and took the phone.

“That was rude,” he said, not bothering to cover the phone himself. Cassandra pulled herself up to her full height and just glared at him. He turned his back on her and spoke into the phone.

“Yes?” He listened a moment, the frown fading from his face, leaving him expressionless. “Yes, o.k. I’ll leave this afternoon after I make a few calls. I should be there late tonight. I’ll see you then.” He paused for a moment, and his face softened just slightly. “I know, me too. But it’ll be fine. We’ll figure it out when I get there.” He hung up the phone and stood staring down at it. He turned and looked into the obviously displeased face of his girlfriend.

To say Cassandra Sanchez was beautiful would be an understatement. Kyle remembered the first time he asked the model out; he couldn’t believe she’d said yes. Now he only wondered why, after a first date where she’d done little more than talk about herself, he’d kept asking. She was beautiful, yes, but she was also ambitious, spoiled and selfish, and more often than not Kyle simply found her irritating. He wasn’t sure how it had happened, but he could no longer see the beautiful face that so many people coveted on the cover of magazines; over time she had become more and more unattractive in his eyes.

Cassandra was practically spitting as she spoke. “What do you mean you’ll be there tonight? Would you like to explain that one to me? We’ve got that gallery opening and I can’t possible go alone.” Kyle just stared at her, expressionless. Inexplicably, the thought that popped into his head was to ask for his key, so she could no longer let herself into the apartment. But the timing was wrong, and Kyle prided himself on having an uncanny knack for timing. He would have to wait for his key.

“There’s been an accident,” he said, “in Virginia.”

“So? Who was that and why is she calling you?”

He sighed. “Bill and Kate Szczenpanski,” he said, pronouncing the name slowly, “Tiffany’s parents, were in a car accident and they,” he paused for a moment, then shook his head, “they’re dead. I have to go to Virginia,” he paused again and looked around the room, running his hand along the back of his head, “to take care of some legal matters. Their assets were quite valuable.”

Cassandra relaxed her pose for a moment and said, “Well, I’m sorry to hear her parents have died, but what does that have to do with you?”

Kyle shook his head, starting to get impatient. “Apparently she doesn’t have anyone else to call, and I’m familiar with the family and the estate, o.k.? Look, I’ve got to go, her parents have died; can’t you accept that and feel bad for her? Think about someone else?”

Cassandra’s eyes narrowed. “Give me a break Kyle. What, did you have a thing with her or something? How long have you known her?”

Kyle felt something break in his chest. “It’s none of your business,” he snapped. Cassandra’s eyebrows shot up, and she crossed her arms across her chest. He sighed, closing his eyes. In his line of work, emotional outbursts were something he simply could not afford, and he prided himself on staying in control. He needed to calm down before he lost his temper.

“Fine,” she said, dropping on the couch, her legs resting over the arm. She grabbed the remote and turned on the TV. Kyle took a deep breath and then spoke.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I’ve known her a long time, o.k.? There’s never been anything between us, it’s just that she has no one else to turn to and she needs help sorting through the estate. I shouldn’t be gone long, but I might have to make a few trips back and forth.”


Kyle knew that she wasn’t going to let him off the hook, but he didn’t care. He had more important things to worry about, and he needed to get ready to leave. He walked toward the bedroom and called back over his shoulder, “Just go the gallery opening with someone else. I’m sure there’s a dozen people that would love to go with you.”

On the couch, Cassandra rolled her eyes and muttered, “There’s a million men that would give their right arm to spend five minutes with me.”

Kyle walked back out, pulling off his tie. “Cassandra, I don’t know what you want from me. I’ve got to go.”

She turned her head to look at him and gave him a one shoulder shrug. “So go.” They stared at each other for a moment, and then Kyle returned to his bedroom and Cassandra snapped off the TV and stood. She grabbed her purse and called out, “I’m leaving.” She waited, but when there was no response from the bedroom she walked out, slamming the front door as she went.

In the bedroom Kyle sat on the edge of his bed. His empty suitcase sat open next to him, but he wasn’t packing. He sat on the edge of the bed for long time, then sniffed and wiped his eyes. He got up and began looking through his closet, trying to decide what he would need for the trip.

A Contest of Wills: Chapter 2

Bob Taylor was just finishing a cup of coffee when the call came on his radio. Bad accident on Route 723; a head on collision involving a car and a truck, and a tractor had also been involved. Some serious injuries and paramedics were on the way, but it would take at least 25 minutes to get the victims to the nearest hospital. Bob quickly threw his cup in the trash and raced out to his cruiser. Lights flashing and siren blaring, he tore out of the Gas Up and Go parking lot and called for back-up as he headed to the accident.


Her act of defiance forgotten, Tiffany was sitting in front of the television eating popcorn and watching an old movie. She loved these cheesy old films where life seemed so easy and troubles so trivial. Things always worked out and the worst thing a man ever did to a woman was fail to immediately admit his undying love. There had been a time when she really thought life would be like that, but she knew better now. But it didn’t stop her from being swept up in a romance played out on screen.

During a commercial she looked up at the clock and sighed. She knew she couldn’t stay cooped up in her parents’ house forever – in fact she didn’t want to – but she just didn’t feel like going anywhere. She hadn’t kept in touch with any of her friends in Chicago, and was embarrassed to call them now. It had been a year and half since she had talked to most of them. Her mother kept encouraging her to call, but she just couldn’t face it. When Colin had coolly invited her leave if she didn’t like his having a “friend” over, Byrd’s Mill had seemed like a sanctuary; now it was starting to feel like a prison. The town had remained untouched by time, and while many thought it was charming it drove her crazy. In her opinion everything here was too “small town” and she wanted the things she had gotten used to in the city. Shopping at major stores, getting her hair and nails done at well-known establishments, and getting regular spa treatments that most people here had never even heard of. The closest places that might have anything near what she was looking for were Charlottesville or Richmond, and they were both at least an hour away. She hated the thought of driving along a highway lined by nothing but trees, in the car alone. And she couldn’t imagine asking her mother to go with her.

She tossed a piece of popcorn in her mouth and mused on her life with Colin Dawson. Maybe it hadn’t been so bad. He had bought her nice clothes and beautiful jewelry. They went out to dinner to wonderful restaurants, and he had taught her a great deal about things like wine and art. She had felt grown up and sophisticated with him, and despite the fact that he had made her feel unloved and insecure, and had jealously kept her from having a relationship with anyone else, including her parents, she missed him. When she had once told that to her mother, Kate had asked what she missed about him. When Tiffany began talking about the trip to New York, and how Colin had promised to take her to Paris, her mother had remarked that it didn’t sound much like she missed Colin, but that she missed his money. Although it stung, Tiffany had to admit it was true to some degree. And it was at that point that Tiffany had a major epiphany. She needed her own money. She just hadn’t been sure how to get it. And then George Hartwell had come knocking.

George was a developer who had arrived in Virginia a few months earlier. He had stopped by the house once when both Bill and Kate were out. He had been funny and charming and, Tiffany had to admit, kind of cute. Although she knew her parents would have had a fit, she was bored and lonely so she invited him in. They talked about the places he had visited, but eventually he began asking her a lot of questions about her parent’s land. He asked about the acreage, how it had been used, zoning restrictions. He’d had a lot of questions she couldn’t answer, but when he told what he thought the land could be worth, she had been shocked. It was then that she realized the land might be her way to get her own money.

She knew that her father would be dead set against selling the land for development, but Tiffany didn’t see why he needed all 300+ acres of it. She thanked George for his time, and told him it would be better if she spoke with her parents first. He left his card with her, and when Bill and Kate returned Tiffany tried to broach the subject of selling the land.

Of course her father was dead set against selling. He had raged against the developers who had been putting up all kinds of town homes and strip malls in other areas of the state, and he was determined to keep Byrd’s Mill as rural as possible. He had reminded her that he had been going to all kinds of meetings with the County Developers, trying to convince them that it was to everyone’s benefit not to turn Byrd’s Mill into just another town full of chain restaurants and strip malls. Tiffany knew then that she had her work cut out for her. She wasn’t sure how she would do it, but she was going to have to find a way to sell some of this land.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the doorbell. Tiffany frowned and got up from the couch. She hoped it wasn’t George – she hadn’t showered yet today – but she had no idea who else would be coming to visit.

Tiffany wasn’t surprised to see Bob Taylor on the other side of the door. While she’d been growing up he’d often come by during hunting season when the “No Trespassing” signs her father posted were ignored. She was surprised to see the young woman with Bob. She wasn’t wearing a uniform, but had an official look about her. She opened the door wider to let them in.

“Hi Bob,” she said, and began to feel nervous. Bob wasn’t smiling and he looked serious. Bob looked at the woman with him, took off his hat and stepped into the door. Tiffany stepped back and both of her visitors came in.

They stood for an awkward moment in the hall until Tiffany said, “My dad’s not here right now Bob. Is everything o.k.?”

Bob looked again at his female companion who stepped forward and held out her hand with a warm smile. “Hi Tiffany, I’m Justine Hartwell.” Tiffany took the woman’s hand and shook it, looking at Bob in confusion.

Justine spoke, “Why don’t we all go sit down somewhere?”

Tiffany led them into the den and sat down on the couch. Bob picked up the remote and turned off the television. Justine sat on the edge of the coffee table and took one of Tiffany’s hands. Tiffany looked at Bob, and her eyes had grown wide with fear. “Bob,” she asked, and her voice trembled, “what’s going on?”

Bob looked at the floor for a minute, and then met her eyes. “Tiffany, it’s your folks. There’s been an accident.” Tiffany gasped and pulled her hand from Justine’s. She looked at the woman in front of her with accusation in her eyes. “What happened? Why are you here?”

Bob shuffled his feet, and Justine took her hand again. “Tiffany,” she said softly, drawing the younger woman’s attention to her, “there’s been an accident. I’m sorry honey, but your parents have been killed.”

Tiffany just stared at her, as if trying to make sense of the words. Justine moved from the coffee table to the couch, and put her arm around Tiffany. Tiffany looked at her as if she was still trying to solve a difficult puzzle. “What happened?” she asked. Justine looked over at Bob, who answered.

“We’re still not completely sure. It was a head-on collision out on route 723. It looks like your dad was trying to pass a tractor on a hill, and the oncoming truck was driving too fast.” Bob stopped for a moment, wondering how much he needed to tell her. “The driver of the truck was also killed, and the driver of the tractor is in critical condition. It will be awhile before we know everything.”

Justine spoke again, “Tiffany, I’m a grief counselor with the county, and I’m going to stay here with you until you can reach someone else. Do you have someone to call honey? A friend who can come over and stay with you?” On the way to the Szczepanski’s house, Bob had briefed Justine on the situation with Tiffany, and that she didn’t really have any friends in town.

Tiffany sat on the couch with a stranger’s arm around her, her thoughts drifting into her head slowly, like fallen leaves drifting downstream. Suddenly everything seemed to be going in slow motion, and she couldn’t make her mind form thoughts properly. Bob cleared his throat and she looked up at him, her expression confused.

“Is there anyone you can call?” he asked, repeating Justine’s question. “Justine can stay with you tonight, but is there anyone else you can talk to who can come and stay with you?”

She looked at him blankly for a moment and slowly shook her head. Then she stopped for a moment and said slowly, “Oh, wait. Well, yes, there is a call I guess I should make.” Justine and Bob exchanged a look as Tiffany got up from the couch and wandered out of the room. Justine nodded at Bob and followed.

Bob took a few steps away from her and spoke into his shoulder radio. He told his dispatcher that he was going to be another hour or so, and he wasn’t sure how long Justine would need to stay. When he finished, he could hear the murmur of Tiffany’s voice in the other room, and the sound of her weeping.

Justine returned a moment later, her arm still around Tiffany. The three of them sat on the couch, and Justine began to talk softly. Bob didn’t pay much attention to what she was saying, but was wondering who on earth Tiffany could have called, and who would be coming to stay with her. He’d always thought of her as spoiled and a little selfish, but right now he just felt a profound sense of sadness. He reached over and patted her knee, and felt ashamed that he was wondering how long he would have to stay. He really just wanted to go and be anywhere else right now. He heard Tiffany saying that someone would be there in a few hours, and saw Justine hand the young woman a glass of water and some kind of pill. Then she led her out of the den and told Bob he could go, that she would put Tiffany to bed and stay until whoever she called arrived. Bob tried not to look relieved and hoped he didn’t look like he was rushing out the door. But neither woman seemed to notice as he made his way out.