They were ordered to stay in the room. Sitting was optional. The Patterson siblings pivoted glances between each other and the clock on the wall. Robert adjusted his tie while Sandra tapped her manicured nails on the chair.
Thirty minutes passed. The door opened and in walked the family’s long standing lawyer, Mr. McEvoy. It had been known for years their dad had chosen this man as executor of the will. No one liked the man and the feeling was mutual.
McEvoy eased himself into the leather chair; his icy stare did nothing to settle the strain in the room. It was clear he did not relish the job of giving either one of the selfish lot a single penny.
“Thank you for coming.” McEvoy adjusted his glasses relieved the initial civility was over. “Your father left a detailed will and the law states that the will cannot be altered or appealed under any circumstances. What he chose to do with his fortune will stand. Do you understand?”
Peering over his glasses, he looked from one to the other and waited for the obligatory nod. Comfortable they agreed, he opened a sealed envelope and removed two sheets of starch white paper.
After reading the typical legal jargon, McEvoy came to the section they were waiting for. He cleared his throat and began, “You are to return in thirty days to hear the full reading of the will.” The gasps in the room were hard to dismiss but he continued on. “During those thirty days, you are each to read thirty books which I have selected for you. Failure to read the books will remove you from the will. The attached sheet contains the list and location of each book in my personal library.”
“This is the most absurd thing ever!” Sandra stormed to her feet. “Who does he think he is demanding this of us? Books were his love…not ours!”
Robert ripped off his necktie and threw it on the desk. “Typical. That’s what this is. Just plain typical Dad.”
Over the next month, the siblings read the works of Dickens, Bronte, and Austen. Classics from Beowolf to the tragedies of Shakespearre were consumed by the money hungry descendants.
Thirty days from their first meeting, they gathered once again in the stately office of their deceased father. They didn’t try to hide their impatience. Robert had ditched the tie opting instead for a button down polo. Sandra chewed her nails nervously.
McEvoy entered the room and strode to the desk. Without a word, he took two pieces of paper and passed them to each sibling along with a pencil.
“What is the meaning of this?” their eyes burned with rage.
“The will states you are to prove you read the books required. I will now hand out a test that you will have thirty minutes to complete.”
Moans of utter annoyance mingled with the shuffling of bodies as they positioned themselves around the desk and end table in the room.
Each took the paper, looked at it, and then glared at McEvoy. There was only one question on the test. “What have you learned?”
“You have thirty minutes to complete the test.” McEvoy turned abruptly and closed the door behind him with a click.
By the time the thirty minutes were up, the siblings were sweating; their papers full. While they struggled initially, the more they wrote, the more they realized they had learned. The vocabulary they had been exposed to, the ethical dilemmas they had thought through, the tragedies they had felt, and the moments of love and victory poured forth on the pages.
McEvoy returned and pulled the final piece of paper from the envelope, cleared his throat, and began, “I will now read your father’s last will and testament.” He shifted his weight and proceeded, “ I, Frederic Patterson, do hereby bequeath the awareness of the value of reading to my children. I give you the gift of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding that comes from the written word. May you use your new wealth wisely. I wish you many hours of reading pleasure.”
The sounds of pencils hitting the floor reverberated off the walls. McEvoy smirked as he continued, “My fortune, which was built from the sale of my many books, I do hereby bestow to the Morris County Library. May it serve the community well in expanding their world…and yours.”
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