Beth inherited a cozy little cottage in a seaside village when her great aunt, Patty, passed away. That’s how the attorney described it at least. She hadn’t seen Aunt Patty for more than ten years when they both attended her parents’ funeral after a car accident.
It sounded like the perfect place to start over. Beth finalized a nasty divorce only a month ago, and she felt burnt out with her job on the anemic local police force. She needed to get away for a while.
Beth assumed her boss felt guilty for making her miss the funeral because it surprised her when he approved her request for time off. She took it as a sign, packed her bags, and drove north to New England, not stopping along the way despite the half a day’s drive.
“Cozy little cottage my ass,” Beth said as she pulled up to the property. It looked nothing like she imagined after talking to the lawyer. Shutters dangled on loose nails. The walls showed more exposed wood than paint. And overgrown hedges nearly blocked the path to the front door, which might have been a good thing because the gate on the picket fence had fallen off its hinges.
Beth couldn’t turn around and leave then, or she would have. She needed to rest after the long drive. I’ll just stay the night, she thought to herself. I’ll sort through some of Aunt Patty’s things tomorrow, and then I’ll go home.
The cottage’s interior rivaled what she saw outside. Floors creaked with every step. Much of the antique furniture sat in disrepair. She saw a puddle near one of the windows. No one thought to close it when her aunt’s body was taken away, despite it being the rainy season. Beth closed the window and rolled her luggage to the bedroom.
She turned on a lamp. I guess this is where Aunt Patty died, she thought. Just an observation, as Beth wasn’t easily creeped out. I might as well get started. The sooner I go through this stuff, the sooner I can leave and have it put on the market. She had no interest in making the fixer-upper a more permanent residence.
Beth started with the bedroom closet. She neatly folded Aunt Patty’s clothes, boxing them up for Goodwill. She came across some old family photos and other mementos from Aunt Patty’s, and her grandmother’s, childhood. I should hold onto these, she thought as she set them near her suitcase.
She went through the nightstand drawer next, finding some empty pill bottles but not much else. From the labels she could tell Aunt Patty suffered from a heart condition before her death.
By that point, several hours had passed and Beth felt drained. But the only thing left to go through in the bedroom was a secretary desk, so she pressed on.
The desk drawers overflowed with personal papers, from old letters to paid bills. Beth sorted them into two piles, things she could throw away and things she should keep for a while, like utility bills for accounts she would need to cancel.
As Beth began to close the secretary, another paper caught her eye, tucked tightly between the last mail slot and the edge of the desk. How did that get there? Beth wondered.
She removed the piece of paper and unfolded it. Her eyes widened as she read.
The paper contained her aunt’s handwritten will, signed by Aunt Patty and her lawyer just days before her death. But this will wasn’t the same one the lawyer showed her. It didn’t only leave her the cottage. It seemed Aunt Patty went on a casino trip with some of her church friends several months earlier, and she won big. Despite her modest surroundings, Aunt Patty was worth millions, and she left it all to Beth, her last living relative.
Beth took another look at the pill bottles in the nightstand drawer. A wave of sadness overcame her. Sadness, and anger. She unpacked her suitcase. She wouldn’t head home the next day. She would make herself cozy here after all. In the morning she would meet with her colleagues from the local police department. That, and she would confront Aunt Patty’s lawyer.