Theodora Lee—better known as Tad—was backpacking in the Andes Mountains outside of Machu Picchu when her cell phone, buried in the bottom of her pack, caught a stray signal. And a good thing it did, or she never would have known that she had just inherited a cherry orchard in Montana.
The problem was that she didn’t want a cherry orchard. She hadn’t so much as rented an apartment since 1996, the year she graduated college with a degree in wildlife biology. It was a degree she’d never used, because she celebrated her graduation by through-hiking the Appelachian Trail, and the civilized world had barely glimpsed her since. Now, at age forty-four (or maybe forty-five—she wasn’t sure anymore) she was a confirmed adventure junkie, only picking up the odd job to fund the next adventure.
And while she had nothing against Montana (she’d spent a memorable two weeks there hiking Glacier National Park), she wasn’t sure how a cherry orchard fit into her plans for her life.
Hence, the conversation went something like this:
“Hang on, hang on, I’m getting there!”
This, to her ringing backpack as she struggled to shrug it off while clinging to the rock face she’d been scrambling. The stiff breeze lifted bits of her close-cropped gray hair like the flaps of an airplane. Below her, the near-vertical face dropped freely into a bottomless jungle valley, with a trickle of a waterfall at one end. Finally freeing herself from the straps, Tad stuffed the pack against a rock and extracted a battered cell phone (only six models behind the current one, with an industrial rubber case).
“Yes? Hello?” She shouted as if yelling through a tin can phone with a string stretching the one hundred miles back to the trailhead.
“Hello,” said a refined feminine voice, “is this Theodora Lee?”
“Call me Tad.”
“Tad. This is Roxanne Wexworth with Harper and Duff Legal. I’m calling in regards to the will of your late aunt, Maribeth Lacey.”
Tad’s face dropped with shock and disappointment. “Aunt Maribeth? Did she die? Well, darn, I had no idea.”
There was silence on the other end of the line. “My… ah… condolences on your… loss.” Roxanne cleared her throat and moved on. “According to her will, she left you a—” And here, her voice fell into unintelligible garble.
Tad leaned into her phone. “What’s that? You’re breaking up. I get terrible reception in the Andes.”
Roxanne Wexworth spoke louder. “She left you a cherry orchard on Flathead Lake in Montana.”
“A cherry orchard?” Tad pulled away from the speaker to scowl at her phone, then put it back to her ear. “Is this a scam?”
“No, Ms. Lee. I can mail you a copy of the will. Where is your address?”
“I don’t have one.” She shrugged. “I guess you can mail it to the cherry orchard?”
So Roxanne Wexworth mailed the will to the cherry orchard. Nine days later, Tad Lee emerged from the jungle into a small mountain village. There, she bummed a ride on a donkey cart to the next village, where she caught a bus to a small town. In the small town, she answered a “help wanted” ad from a nearby ranch. There, she worked as a gaucho. Four weeks later, she had enough money for a bus ticket to Lima, and from there, a plane ticket to Missoula, Montana.
Roxanne Wexworth, by now convinced that Theodora Lee had dropped off the face of the earth, was taken aback when a tanned woman in cargo pants and a tank top walked into the offices of Harper and Duff Legal, dropped a dusty external-frame backpack on the floor, and asked for a ride to Flathead Lake.
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