The coffee shop was bustling as holiday shoppers zoomed in and out for a quick latte or a hot tea to go or to sit for a minute and scroll social media. Everyone seemed all happy and cheerful.
Not John Wilbanks. His holidays were not so rosy.
Melodies proclaiming the holidays - sounds of Bing, Frank, Rosemary and others – piped through the ceiling speakers, and the smell of coffee brewing and cookies and other goodies baking added to the pleasantries of the season.
John sat in a corner booth nearest the window, sipping on some fresh-roasted coffee, trying to get his head around the task in front of him.
His boss, Charles Simmons, had sent him a document late last night. One of the clients who had been with them the longest had wanted them to prepare his last will and testament.
And the client had sent them what he wanted. Both Charles and John were surprised. John had called his boss, “Is he sure about this? You know there are going to be a lot of unhappy folks.”
On the other end of the phone, Charles snickered, “That is an understatement … no disrespect to him or the family.”
“Are you sure he wanted me to do this? Isn’t this conflict of interest?” John had asked his boss.
The client just so happened to be John's former father-in-law.
But Charles assured him that everything was going to be fine.
After they hung up, John hadn’t slept well. He got up early, and took his work with him to Proverbs & More, the coffee shop and bakery that he was an investor in, and his youngest daughter managed, owned, and did everything else.
He looked at the screen again, and decided to read the document one more time – he felt like he already read it a hundred times.
John must have been so centered into the document that he didn’t even hear his daughter, Lacie, walk up. She called his name a few times, and then sat down in a chair across from him. The smell of cinnamon and … Sand & Sable perfume brought him to attention.
“Tell me you didn’t put some of your sister’s perfume in the cookies?” John asked, looking over the screen at his 28 year old daughter, Lacie Reed. She was a pretty girl – average build, a natural olive complexion, always with a smile on her face – dimples in her cheek and the thickest, long brown hair – which she always wore with a messy bun up top.
Lacie laughed. “No, I got doused by the perfume fairy this morning as she was getting ready to leave. I used to love the smell of this perfume when I was little, but whew, this morning, she was hoarding or something. So, what are you doing?”
John’s second to the youngest daughter, Mary, had been in town visiting, and stayed with Lacie and her husband. Mary loved that perfume.
He reached over to the basket Lacie had brought out, “Are these for me to try?”
“Yeah … it is the recipe you gave me from Grandma’s kitchen … the cinnamon and molasses cookies. I think I got it this time … not sure.” Lacie was always trying new recipes, and rarely failed. This one though, was an old family traditional cookie recipe that John’s mom made every holiday, and the family loved.
John took a bite, and chewed. He leaned back in his chair. Lacie got worried for a minute – her dad was seldom quiet, and when he was, it usually wasn’t good news. “Dad?”
He sat up, “I am sorry, baby. I think you got it. It took me back to the last time Grandma was able to make these.”
Lacie cocked her head, “Are you sure, Daddy?"
“You did fine. Sell ‘em.” John took one more cookie.
Lacie grinned, and took one out of the basket herself, and nibbled. “So what's this that you're working on so hot and heavy over here? I haven't seen you look this zoned or serious … not since we found out about Mom’s diagnosis. Dad, you aren't sick are you?" Lacie’s eyes got wide. Her mom had been diagnosed with cancer about 10 years ago, and died five years ago.
John shook his head. “No, Sugarfoot, I have a last will and testament to write, and I kind of know the person.” He took a sip of his coffee. It was almost gone.
Noticing the almost empty cup, Lacie looked to her employee behind the counter, and pointed to her dad’s cup. “So? Don’t you know all of your clients?”
The server walked over, and filled the cup. “Thank you, Dana.” John smiled at the server, who nodded and walked back to the counter, checking on a few other customers.
“No, I mean, I am kind of personally connected to the client.” John said.
Lacie finished her cookie, “It is Big Jack’s will, isn’t it?” Big Jack is Jackson Howard, father of John’s late wife, and Lacie’s grandfather.
John debated on what to say to his daughter. “I can’t discuss this. And how did you know that I had Big Jack’s will?”
His daughter sat up, “Big Jack came by yesterday, and he wanted to talk to me and George.”
“So, you know what's in the will?” John asked.
Lacie nodded, “And I told him no. I told him that there were going to be a lot of unhappy folks if he did it that way.”
John smirked, “You can say that again … But you know Big Jack.”
“Proud, determined, stubborn … and he's coming through the back door and through my kitchen. I am scooting.” Lacie got up as she saw her grandfather through the corner of her eye.
John sighed, “Chicken.”
Lacie laughed, “Bach Bach.”
As she walked toward her kitchen, Lacie gave the servers the basket, and told them to give them out as samplers. John straightened up the table, and shut his laptop, and put it away. He was sure that his father-in-law would want to chat.
Jackson Howard stands about six feet tall, and has the body of a rancher – an old cowboy for sure. At the age of 75, he was one of the wealthiest men in the county, but you wouldn’t know it by the way he dressed, talked or the people he called his posse. Or by the vintage, hunter-green Ford truck he drove. He wore his cowboy boots, jeans, a leather belt with a buckle with the ranch’s H on it, and also a denim shirt during the day. His voice was booming – even now. People listened to him – not out of fear, but respect.
“Sugarfoot, what is that smell?” Jackson walked through the doors from the back, where he had been talking to Lacie’s husband, George, who was doing some paperwork.
Lacie handed her grandpa a cookie. “Grandma Wilbank’s Cinnamon and Molasses cookies.” John snickered at the sight of his daughter and Big Jack. Lacie was five feet and four inches tall, and she was standing on her tip toes, but she had her grandpa’s spunky personality. Big Jack didn’t bother her. In fact, of all his eight grandchildren, Lacie was the most like him.
Big Jack took a bite. He licked his lips. “George!” He called. In a minute, a young man, about the same age as Lacie, but much taller, muscular, with a gentle face, and a dark brown skin tone, dark hair cut in a military buzz, and almond colored eyes, popped his head over the swinging doors.
John smiled at the figure his son-in-law cut. He had retired from the Marines last year, and came in to do the business management and catering side of the business for Lacie. When Lacie first brought him home when they were in college, both John and his wife had their doubts – not about George, but about the interracial relationship. It didn’t take long for them to realize it was going to be OK.
“Sir?” George asked, walking through the door, moving to stand behind his wife.
Jackson said, “You need to give your wife a day off. I think she finally found her grandma’s recipe. These our heavenly, Sugarfoot. Your grandma would be proud.”
John grinned. Lacie stood up straighter. George said, “You heard the man, go home.” He kissed his wife’s cheek, “But first, I need your help with this calendar.”
Lacie smiled, and patted her grandfather on the backside. Jackson jumped. “Thanks, Big Jack, you tried.”
Jackson winked, “You got a winner here. Folks, try my granddaughter’s newest cookie creation – you will want to slap yourself if you don’t.” Jackson’s voice bellowed as he walked from behind the counter. He turned to the girl at the counter. “Little girl, would you pour me a cup of the blackest regular coffee you got, and bring it to that table over there.”
“Coming right up, sir.” She went to find a mug.
Jackson walked to the table, “I think old George and Lacie have got it going really good here, son-in-law.” Jackson stuck out his hand, and John shook it.
John smiled, “Yeah. She really has some creative cooking skills, and George has a good head for the business.”
They made some idle chit chat, and after the server brought Jackson’s coffee, Jackson said, “Are you going to have some creative will making skills?”
John made a face. “I think, sir, that we can get this done for you, but I have a few concerns.”
“Let me guess, your two sister-in-laws, and the other four of the grandkids, including your eldest daughter and your son’s wife?” Jackson took a swallow of the coffee. “Man, that is some good joe.”
John sighed, “Yes. You know there is going to be some issues. You saw how they were when Millie died, and then Mrs. Howard died. It was like no one talked to each other for months, except Lacie, Denver, Julie and Kyle.” John mentioned his daughter, and three other grandchildren.
“And it was ridiculous. I don’t know what else to say. Your daughter doesn’t communicate with any of us unless she wants something, or thinks she can get something … sorry, but you know that is true. Your daughter in law and son never call. The other two grandkids don’t have the common sense of a … grizzly bear, and my daughters … those two are just miserable in their lives, and I don’t know why. My youngest four grandkids may not have a lot of tangible stuff, and really don’t want it … well, Denver might, but at least they are working, they call, they come by and make an effort.”
John coughed, “Now, Jackson, that is not the Christian way to look at things … revenge and grudges and all of that.”
A plate dropped on the floor – someone had accidentally knocked over a saucer. Everyone looked in that direction, and saw there was nothing broken. Dana walked over with a new saucer and a cookie.
Jackson said, “Son, you know that I am not trying to be un-Christian. I am just being real. God and I have been talking a lot lately, and been reading the Bible, and I just think that He understands what I am doing. Lord, I am not cutting them out of the will … each one of them gets a little something.”
Taking a swallow of his own coffee, John nodded. “OK, I am not gong to argue … you are right. And it is not like you are going to be around when this will is read anyway. The rest of us will have to deal with the fussing and feuding.”
“I only told Lacie and George about this, and Charles and you, and that is how I want it to be. And if there is fussing and feuding that is fine. I also want you and Charles to be my executors, and I want George to be able to sign anything for me if I became an invalid. That boy is smarter than a hound going after a squirrel.” Jackson grinned.
“Lordy, lordy. Charles said you wanted he and George on the bank accounts?” John asked, stretching his arms behind him.
Jackson nodded, “Yup … and that is going to light a fire under them too. And I am sorry. But, I just feel like this is right, and George said it would be fine.”
“OK, Big Jack. I will get it done, and have it ready for you to sign tomorrow when you meet with Charles.” John said. “But you gotta promise me one thing.”
Jackson asked, “What is that, son?”
“The only kicking the bucket that you plan on doing right now will involve the buckets in the barn? It is so peaceful right now among the folks.” John said.
Jackson laughed, “I will try, but you know, you really are going to have start talking to God about that stuff.”
“You really are going to stir the pot you know that right?” John asked.
Jackson leaned in, “Yup, and I won’t even be here to watch the fun.”