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Jim had to have known that traveling to Chicago on a Sunday afternoon was the only way he'd get the busy Potter family together for this somber event. Not all of them had schedules permitting the six-hour drive north to Wausau during the week-and Amie had the tightest timetable of everyone. Her position as a creative consultant for the Chicago firm of Maxwell Brothers' Marketing and Development Company gave her little or no flexibility. And for some reason, Jim stressed the importance of her attendance at the disclosing of Uncle Hal's last will and testament.
"To my sister, Lillian," he read from the document in his hands, "and to her husband, John, I leave ten thousand dollars."
Amie raised her brows in surprise at the generous amount. Her mother, too, looked quite taken aback.
"Mercy!" she exclaimed, shaking her head disbelievingly. "Wherever did Hal get that kind of money?"
Jim smiled patiently. "Investments. He liked to dabble in the stock market and it proved quite profitable for him."
"Well, knock me over with a feather!" Lillian Potter ex-claimed, combing back her silver, chin-length hair with well- manicured fingers. "And to think he's lived like a pauper all these years."
"Don't feel sorry for Hal. He was very happy," Jim stated, wearing a hint of a smile just before his gaze fell back to the will. "And to Dottie I leave my mother's jewelry."
Amie smiled, hearing her twenty-three-year-old sister gasp with pleasure. As girls, Lillian had told them that she and Hal had split their mother's jewels after her death. Grandma Holm had wanted to be fair to both her children, even though she knew Hal hadn't much use for women's jewelry. "To Stephen, my favorite nephew-" Jim paused to chuckle since everyone knew the youngest Potter was Hal's only nephew. "-I leave my Chevy Caprice." "Awesome!" eighteen-year-old Stephen declared. His golden-blond hair, the same color as Amie's, shone brightly, and the smile on his face reflected the happiness he obviously felt at receiving such a gift. Stephen had been pleading with their father for "wheels" that he could take to Northwestern University next month when the fall semester started and he'd begin his freshman year. Now he had them. "And to Amie," Jim stated, causing her stomach to flip in a peculiar way, "I leave my gas station and entire property in Tigerton, Wisconsin." The room fell silent and all eyes turned on her. Dottie wore an expression of pity, Stephen, a look of confusion, and her parents' countenances scarcely masked their horror. As for Amie, she felt terribly disappointed. Why would he leave her a gas station? Maybe Uncle Hal hadn't liked her after all.... Over the years, Amie had been sure her uncle favored her above her brother and sister. He remembered her birthdays, whereas he tended to forget Dottie's and Stephen's. At Christmastime, all three received gifts from Uncle Hal, but Amie's were always the biggest and the best. It used to be a point of contention among the two other Potter children. And every year around Easter, she would get a card from Hal wishing her a happy "spiritual birthday" because it was her uncle who'd led her to a saving knowledge of Christ when she was twelve years old. But she must have done something to displease him before his death to warrant such a bequest. Although try as she might, Amie couldn't think of what! "Oh, I'm sure there's got to be some mistake," Lillian said, turning to Jim with a frown of confusion creasing her silvery brows. "That run-down gas station? He left it to Amie? Why, I don't think it's even in working order." "Yes, it is ... for the most part. And there's no mistake," Jim countered emphatically. "Hal told me, himself, even before we'd put anything in writing, that he wanted Amie to have the service station." "What in the world is she supposed to do with it?" John Potter asked incredulously, sitting and resting his forearms on his knees. As always, he was smartly dressed, wearing a red polo shirt and khaki pants. He shook his white head that, in his younger days, had been as blond as Amie's and Stephen's. "My daughter doesn't know the first thing about running a gas station-not that she'd want to. Look at her. There she sits, sugar and spice and everything nice. Can you see her running a filling station? I don't even think she's put gas in a car in her life. She usually gets Stephen to do it ... or Dottie ... or me!" "Oh, Dad, I've filled my car's gas tank plenty of times," Amie replied, disliking the way her father had just made her sound so inept. He shot her a teasing grin while Dottie and Stephen burst into hysterical laughter. Meanwhile, she sat by bristling. So she wasn't aggressively competitive like her younger sister, who wore her dark hair short and was majoring in sports medicine. So Amie liked her hair long and softly curled. So she liked feminine-looking clothing, lace and frills; she used make-up, bubble bath, and fingernail polish. So what? "Princess," her father cajoled, "you've got to admit, it's awfully amusing. You and a ... a gas station." Her family laughed again and even Amie had to smile this time. "Jim, are you certain there's been no mistake?" Lillian asked, doing her best to swallow her merriment. "I'm positive," the attorney replied. "Hal specifically stated that he wanted Amie to have his gas station and its surrounding acres." Jim shifted his weight in the powder blue wingback chair. "Now, Amie," he said, looking over at her and wearing an understanding expression, "you can sell the place or keep it and hire someone to manage it. There's a fine man who's worked with Hal for the past thirteen years-ever since he was sixteen. Tom Anderson is his name. He roomed with Hal in the two-bedroom apartment above what used to be a laundromat years and years ago. Now it's just filled with junk." Jim grinned. "That was Hal's other hobby-collecting junk. You name it; it's probably stuffed into some part of those two buildings." He paused, obviously seeing the confusion on Amie's face. "Let me explain. There are two buildings on Hal's property, the service station with an attached garage and a two-story building that houses the laundromat area, along with Tom's and Hal's apartment ... well, now it's just Toms place. A sheepish look crossed Stephen's face. "Was there, um, a particular reason why my uncle and this guy shared an apartment?" Jim chuckled good naturedly at the implication. "No. They were just good friends. Hal was like a father to Tom ever since he was a teenager." He paused and cleared his throat. "In a way, Amie, you've inherited Tom, too."
"Great," she replied, unable to keep the discouragement out of her voice.
"There, there, take heart, my dear," Jim told her. "Tom is a nice fellow. Honest. Hard working. With his help, you might be able to figure out how to actually make Hal's place into a profitable business." He paused, looking around the room at all the Potters. "I believe you folks met Tom at the funeral a few weeks ago." "Oh, I know who you're talking about," Dottie said, giving Amie a rap on her shoulder. Leaning toward her, she added, "He was that geek with the dark brown wavy hair and mismatched suit who looked like he'd just stepped out of a rerun of 'The Partridge Family.'" Stephen hooted. Amie couldn't recall meeting anyone of that description. Jim cleared his throat, appearing slightly agitated. "Look, Tom's a good man. He's intelligent, even though he's only got a high school education. But I know lots of folks with college degrees who don't have a lick of common sense." "True enough," Helen Henderson agreed, speaking up for the first time in a long while. Round and jolly looking, she possessed a wide, double-chinned face and short auburn hair that was teased back off her forehead. "Tom's a smart fellow. Why, I remember Hal saying he would have been valedictorian of his senior class if it hadn't been for-" She stopped short after receiving a look of warning from her husband. "Oh, never mind," she added, in an obvious attempt to cover her blunder. "It's a long story anyway." "Tom didn't move into the apartment with Hal until about two years ago," Jim offered, apparently feeling the need to explain the situation. "It was right after his youngest brother turned eighteen and went off to college and Tom sold the family property. Being the eldest in his family and with his mother dead and his father being a ... well ... he liked to tip the bottle, to put it politely. Tom kind of raised his siblings, and Hal kind of raised Tom." Jim smiled broadly and glanced at Amie. "Tom will be glad to help you out, whether you decide to sell Hal's station or let him manage it."
Amie sighed glumly. "I imagine you'll want to at least inspect the place before you make a decision." Slipping his hand into the pocket of his dress pants, Jim pulled out a key, dangling from a chain sporting a plastic rainbow trout the size of a large paperclip. "This is for the safe deposit box at the Tigerton bank. In it you'll find the deed to the property and such." He handed it to Amie, who turned the key in her palm, still marveling at her inheritance-or curse-whichever the case may be. What was she ever going to do with an old service station filled with junk and an "outdated" attendant? "Amie?" She looked up, meeting Jim's serious regard. "I sincerely hope you'll come to appreciate what Hal left to you. He loved you very much and spoke fondly of you." "Thank you," she replied halfheartedly. "I hope I'll come to appreciate it too."
* * *
The scorching July sunshine beat down on Tom Anderson as he watched the 1980 Caprice drive away, heading south on Highway 45 with Hal's nephew at the wheel. The sun reflected off the red taillights, and as he saw them disappear into the distance, Tom hoped the guy would take care of the vehicle. Hal had babied his eighteen-year-old automobile with frequent oil changes and tune-ups. Tom wasn't so sure Stephen Potter would be as responsible. He'd seen the expression on the kid's face when he first viewed the Caprice-Tom could only describe it as utter disappointment. Must've been expecting a newer model, he thought dryly. Turning and heading for his apartment, Tom thought about Stephen's sister Dottie. She'd driven them up from Chicago to get the Chevy. They'd both come to claim their inheritances, and while Stephen seemed dissatisfied with the car, Dottie had appeared wide-eyed and calculating after tucking Hal's jewelry box under one arm. She surveyed Tom's apartment with interested chocolate brown eyes, inquiring over several pieces of wooden furniture, the tea cart, cane-backed chair, coffee table, and matching end tables. Then she asked about their ownership. Hal had purchased them at various rummage sales or found them sitting on the side of the highway with the trash. But Tom had repaired, sanded, stained, and varnished them. They'd both enjoyed them, so he honestly didn't know who possessed legal rights to the items. "Well, no matter," Dottie had said, lifting her chin haughtily. "Amie owns the place. I'll just ask her if I can have them." Tom climbed the steep, narrow steps to the apartment he used to share with a man who was more of a father to him than his biological dad. He walked through the kitchen where the red-and-white rubber-tiled floor had obviously seen better days. In the dining room, an aging air-conditioning unit rattled noisily in the window, surrounded by cracked plastered walls. The worn, pea green carpet covering the dining and living room floors needed replacement badly. That was the next thing Hal had wanted to do-rip up the carpeting. But that was before his heart attack last month, and now Tom never felt more depressed in his whole life. The only consolation he found was thinking about Hal in heaven, walking the streets of gold with the Savior, Jesus Christ. His friend was in a much better place than here in this dumpy apartment, in this nothing little town. Collapsing onto the green, floral sofa and ignoring the ancient springs' groans of protest, Tom thought about the stocks and bonds Hal had left to him. He supposed he could cash them in, take the money and run for his life. Leave Tigerton behind along with the nightmarish memories of his life here. But where would he go? What would he do? In his hopeless state of mind, Tom couldn't fathom that answers to those questions even existed. Picking up his Bible from the coffee table, he opened it and flipped through the Psalms. Finally, he began to read: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul...."
Excerpted from Wisconsin by Andrea Boeshaar Copyright © 1999 by Barbour Publishing, Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted June 21, 2005