The following are the first couple of pages from the novel I’m writing. It doesn’t have a name yet.
Nobody, including (or especially) Cora, knew why Grandma Evelyn left the store, the property, and everything she had to Cora. But there it was, in black and white, with The Law Offices of McNeal and Brayburn printed neatly on the letterhead. Nobody knew why Grandma Evelyn, who was technically Cora’s great-grandmother, had skipped four generations of parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins to name her the sole beneficiary in her will.
Most thought that if it weren’t going to be split up, then the property should have been given to Grandma Mercy or Uncle Thad. Mercy, the great family matriarch, was Evelyn’s only daughter, but as far as anyone could tell, had been the family matriarch since she was 16 and had her first child, Uncle Corbin. It was understandable, of course, why Evelyn may have passed over Mercy in making her will as Mercy was 82 at the time. Uncle Thad, the son of Mercy’s second child, seemed to be the most logical choice. For the past fifty years or so, he had taken on the personal responsibility of seeing to the property upkeep and paying the bills and taxes. Roughly three times a month he would make the hour and half drive up from Lorton to check on Evelyn, the house, and the store. When she herself was moved to an assisted living home in Lorton 16 years ago, he increased his visits to her to twice weekly and decreased his visits to the store (which had been closed since 1977) to two or three times a year.
The fifty-plus remaining relatives had, in their lifetime, probably only seen the store two or three times, including the family reunion held there in 1986. Cora was only seven at the time, but remembered it as just a dull and dreary a place as any of the other locations the annual family reunion picnics were held. Usually they were at parks or community centers in various, unremarkable towns around Texas. Each year, the head of each family would put his or her name into Grandma Mercy’s cookie jar, and sometime around sunset a lottery would be held to see which family would get the honor of hosting the following year’s picnic. Cora had been exempt from this Jackson-esq tradition since she hadn’t married or had a child (the necessary “qualifiers” for adult life). The summer she turned thirty-two and her cousin Jim turned thirty, however, Grandma Mercy apparently gave up on their every “settling down” and insisted that their names be added to the pot, a pronouncement few family members liked since Jim lived in San Antonio and Cora lived in Austin, a good seven hour drive from Lorton. At this past reunion in June, Jim was named the unfortunate “winner” for next year’s picnic. After commenting to Cora that he would rather be stoned to death, they decided to sneak off to the dumpsters to get stoned in a more contemporary sense.
So a month later, when Evenlyn died and Cora was handed the “keys to the family’s honorable past” (as Grandma Mercy put it), Jim, of course, begged Cora to host the picnic at the store again. When it didn’t seem that she was going to be persuaded, he went on an all-out phone call campaign to convince the family that this would be the best memorial for the late-great Evelyn. The family, of course, agreed since it would reduce most of their driving time by at least five hours. For the next month, her email inbox was flooded with arguments that this was her “duty to the memory of her dear great grandmother who clearly held her in high esteem.” Her mother called her almost daily for two weeks. Uncle Thad assured her that the space would accommodate that many people with “only a touch of cleaning up.”
But the coup de grace was a visit from Grandma Mercy herself.
Granma Mercy had only been to Austin once before, and that was when Cora’s cousin Charlene married the lawyer with the twitchy elbow. Although Mercy claimed that the purpose of the visit was to see Charlene and lawyer’s two-year old soon-to-be-twitchy son, Cora knew that this was about her. She knew that Grandma Mercy also wanted to solve the mystery of why Cora had been given the store and, of course, instill, in person, the weight of responsibility to the family that this great “gift” had, starting with the family reunion.
Cora had no answer answer as to why she was the chosen child. Cora, in her own opinion, and most likely the opinion of most of the family, was completely unremarkable. She had always been an average student, void of any standout talents. In high school she ran track and played the violin, but was never very passionate about either. She studied business management at a small liberal arts college in Houston and graduated with a 2.8. Since then, she had changed jobs every couple years, but usually worked as an office assistant. She had had a couple jobs in sales, but didn’t enjoy either. The first was for a technical college, which meant she basically sat at a table during high school career days. The second was at a call center for a real estate company that sold time shares in Florida. For the past year and a half she had been the office coordinator for a small gaming company, by far her favorite job. Most of her day was spent filtering emails, doing payroll, and making sure there was enough toner in all of the printers. She would occasionally have to leave the office to mail packages or pick up coffee for the break room, so she didn’t feel trapped at her desk all day. The people were pleasant and her boss always smelled like baked bread. All in all, it wasn’t impressive, but she was comfortable.
She could be thought of as pretty, but only in the sense that there was nothing particularly wrong with her appearance. She had dull brown hair that her mother had liked to bleach when she was younger, but a practice Cora had given up in college. She would still run two or three times a week, so she was reasonably fit. She had probably never been called “gorgeous,” but most of ex-boyfriends had told her at one time or other that she was “cute.”
*This is not fully edited.
**This is part of the intro chapter establishing a few key characters (namely Cora). In the next chapter, she’ll have to take time off work to start cleaning out the store, in which she’ll find a few strange objects in the back room and a trapdoor that’s locked. At the reunion she’ll start asking questions and will get some odd stories about the family’s background.
The revelation will lead to a rather large twist that, of course, I’m not going to tell you about because it will ruin the book. Or you might steal it.