Sam and Austin quickly became a visible couple around the school.
Ever so slowly, as the day came to an end, Sam noticed that they were less and less stared at. Ryan continued to waylay them in the hallways to quickly, chat for a couple of minutes and David continued to treat her with hostility. Surprisingly, she found David's response reassuring.
He wasn't falling into line like so many other people at school were now that the Student Body President had given her the so-called 'stamp of approval'.
Shelby avoided her, the Shelby minions along with her, though Austin had voiced his displeasure at the fact that Shelby still waylaid him daily to plead her case. As if she had one.
At Sam's insistence, Austin went to football practice. Because, no matter what he'd done, he was still technically on the roster and they deserved his support. He'd voiced a token protest, but eventually gone and Sam suspected he needed a little 'boy time' after spending the last week almost exclusively with her.
Sam, on the other hand, went straight from school to the house Fiona and her daughters now lived in. She'd been back almost nightly since quitting the Diner and having her say - minus the days she'd been sick - packing up her things sporadically through the week and boxing them over to Rhonda's.
Thursdays were one of the days Fiona went in for her enhancement surgeries. It was also the day the twins stayed at school to watch the football team practice; Sam only hoped they continued the trend despite Austin now being so visibly - if only for a short time - hers.
It wasn't as if he was the only good looking guy on the team.
The main house locks hadn't been changed and Sam used her key to get in. Bypassing the main floor, she headed straight for her attic bedroom, glad as ever that she'd taken to locking her door years ago and it had basically left it untouchable by her step-mother and step-sisters. Letting herself in, Sam took in the boxes she'd already piled by the door, the bed - now stripped with its covers packed away - and the desk set up she hadn't yet packed.
Her computer tower was already at Rhonda's just waiting for the last of it.
Several shelves of knickknacks still needed to be boxed, as did the books, pictures and furnishings - if Fiona didn't throw a fit and prevent her from taking them. In addition, there were the rugs, the posters and various school trinkets still to be removed. The rug, Sam knew, would go last, but the open box on the bare mattress held the first of the wall hangings and she decided to start there.
Setting her alarm for two hours - more than enough time to pack what she wanted and carry it down to her car - she set to work. Clearing her walls took a few minutes, there wasn't much left to take down, the box's contents slowly increasing until there was nothing left on her walls. The knickknacks went next, wrapped in fabric, until the box was full. Sealing the box, she placed it with the rest by the door before placing an empty one on the bed.
Several books from the shelf near her door, along with the wire rack that had held them, filled the next box before being piled with the others. Packing away the desk set up was next - it would be the first box down to her car tonight - though it only covered the base third of the box. Photos came next, along with her album and the framed photo of her father. Meaningful items, she decided - items that needed to come out right away. The box didn't take long to fill and she closed it, taking another look around as she room as she did; she was just about finished and there wasn't much else she wanted to bring... until her gaze settled on the book of fairy-tales.
Staring at it, she considered everything that had happened - everything that had changed - since she'd thrown it aside last week. Amazing how a single week could change one's perspective. A half smile crossed her lips as she made her decision, crossing to the other side of the room and gently scooping the book up by the spine.
A folded, slightly battered, blue backed paper fell out, catching her eye as she made to turn away. Surprised, it had been her favorite book after all, she placed the Fairy-tale book on the closed box. Crouching, she scooped up the paper - to find it was a sheaf - and opened it up. Fancy, official looking bold script exploded before her eyes.
Last Will & Testament
It took a moment for the words to register and for Sam to realize what she was holding.
Her father's missing Will.
It had to be - Fiona, if she had a Will, would never have had a reason to hide it in her fairy-tale book. Sitting back on her heels, Sam exhaled and flipped the Will open, scanning the document with interest and then growing disbelief as she progressed to the second page.
Her father had... he'd... he'd left her... everything. The house, the diner, the car, the plot, the bank accounts - all of it was supposed to have passed to Sam. Not Fiona. The last page held the two signatures required to validate the Will; her father's neat cursive and Fiona's sprawling scrawl.
Disbelief filled her almost immediately as she stared at Fiona's signature, the abuses and mis-treatment she'd suffered over the years - from being kicked out of her own room to being Fiona's personal maid - careened about in her head, a mis-mash of images and remembered pain. All of it swirling about as she stared blankly at the paper in her hands, the inescapable fact in the evidence before her.
Fiona had lied.
Not once, in all the years she'd been living with her step-mother had Sam considered that Fiona might have cheated her out of her inheritance... yet she should have. Without this Will, everything had gone to Fiona to do with it as she pleased. Sam had believed herself powerless... and instead she should have been the one making the decisions with her step-mother and step-sisters living on her good grace.
Folding the Will closed, she considered her next move. For starters she needed to speak with Rhonda and find an attorney; if her father had intended for her to be his heir, she had every intention for fighting for what was hers. The Will not only represented Fiona's lies, but financial security for Sam.
Financial security and the ability to fund her tuition without student loans.
Determined, Sam tucked the Will back into the pages of the Fairy-tale book before picking up the box on which it rested. She could probably have finished packing tonight, but if the house was indeed hers, she didn't see a reason she had to move. Still, for however long it took for her to find and see a lawyer, she wanted this box with her. Careful to lock her door behind her, Sam headed downstairs.
There was no sign of Fiona, Brianna and Gabriella as Sam locked the door to the house before heading for her car. The box went onto the passenger seat; the book containing the Will was slid down between the seat and the box. Now that she'd found it, she wasn't about to lose it. As a precaution, she buckled in the box to keep it tight.
A grin stole across her lips as she started her car. Fiona wasn't going to know what hit her... and Rhonda wasn't going to believe this!
"It's the genuine article."
Rhonda had taken one look at the Will and called her own personal attorney. He'd slotted them into his schedule immediately, and they'd taken the Will to his office. A look through it had him shunting them off to the head of his company, who in turn had brought their case directly to the attention of the state of California.
Which is where Sam now found herself, along with Rhonda, sitting across from the man who now held her father's will. "You mean, Fiona didn't inherit it all."
"According to this, young lady, Fiona was supposed to keep it in trust until your sixteenth birthday."
"Sixteen? Not Eighteen?"
"Some parents feel their offspring are more responsible than others." The attorney shrugged. "You said you've been working at this Diner for how long?"
"Since I was twelve; Fiona insisted I needed to know the family business."
"And you've been the primary caretaker of both the business and the home?"
Sam and Rhonda exchanged looks. Rhonda fielded the question. "I've been overseeing the business, sir, but mostly to watch over Sam. Fiona hasn't been the most understanding guardian."
"Then the answer is yes."
Sam and Rhonda exchanged another look before Sam nodded. "Yeah; I'd say I've been the primary caretaker."
The attorney made a contemplative sound and then continued to read through the rest of the Will while Rhonda and Sam waited patiently. Finally, he flipped it closed and placed it on the desk, resting his hands upon it as he folded them together. Pinning Sam with a look, he regarded her silently for a long moment, as if organizing his thoughts, before speaking.
"Now, you said your step mother never mentioned the existence of a Will."
"That's right. I remember her bemoaning the fact she was stuck with me as part of the bargain. She used to claim that if my father had left a Will, there was no way he'd have left me to her."
"More like there's no way he'd have left everything to her," Rhonda interjected scornfully.
The attorney held up one hand to forestall whatever else Rhonda might have added. Sam was the one to voice the next questions.
"So what do we do?"
"For starters, we fast track this through the court and freeze all of the assets that should have been yours. Taxes, bank accounts - everything." Leaning back in his chair, the attorney tapped one finger on his desk. "I presume you do intend to fight for what is rightfully yours, Miss Montgomery?"
"Fight and more," she told him firmly. "Just tell me what I have to do and where I have to sign; Fiona's not getting any more of a free ride than she's already had."
The attorney took one look at the fierceness of her expression and smiled. "You and I, young lady, will get along just fine." Reaching out, he pressed an intercom button on his phone. "Marie, cancel the rest of my appointments this evening and get in touch with Judge Matthews; I've a case he's going to want to see immediately."
"Right away, sir."
The line clicked off.
"Now Miss Montgomery - or do you prefer I call you Samantha?"
"Sam is fine."
His lips twitched. "Sam; I'll need to you to put together a written statement for the Judge with regards to your treatment over the years, your responsibilities and include specific details where you can of instances where Missus Fiona Montgomery has denied you basic care or privileges."
"Like insisting I work instead of attending a school dance because she needed it?"
"That would be one example, yes."
Rhonda and Sam exchanged looks before Sam regarded the attorney with a faint smile, her question holding more than a little amusement. "Is this paper supposed to cover all of the time she's been my step-mother or just this last year, because I could write a whole series of novels on what she hasn't done for - or plain out denied - me."
"A novel won't be necessary; simply outlining the worst of these offenses should suffice. The Judge will want to speak with you sooner rather than later; can you have it ready by this evening?"
Sam blinked. "Tonight?" Glancing at Rhonda she hedged. "Isn't that a little soon? I'm right in the middle of finals and I have to study-"
"Sam." Rhonda cut her off. "We'll both have something for you before your office closes. May we borrow a work station?"
The attorney pressed a button on his intercom again. "Marie; Miss Montgomery and her friend are in need of some office space; is the boardroom empty?"
"Thank you, Marie." he clicked it off, addressing Sam and Rhonda again. "Take the last door on your left, you won't be disturbed."
Sam reached out to take the Will, but the attorney held up one hand. "Do you mind if I hang onto this? I'd like to take a copy and fax it over to the Judge. She will want to be prepared for such a clear cut case as this."
"I suppose it's better if you hang onto it." Agreed a reluctant Sam. Straightening her shoulders, she pushed to her feet. "Is there a computer in the conference room or stationary we can use? I didn't realize you'd be wanting anything else and I didn't bring anything."
"Everything you need will be provided, Miss Montgomery. The desktop on the sideboard isn't password protected and you should be able to compile your list of grievances there."
"Thank you," Sam reached across the desk, extending her hand. "I mean it; I wouldn't know what to do with this otherwise."
"No, Miss Montgomery, thank you. This particular case will be a pleasure." He smiled, shaking her hand. "I'll come find you when I've finished my preparations."
Sam nodded, letting Rhonda lead her to the boardroom. In a blur, she compiled factual occurrences, including those whose dates and times she could remember over the last dozen or so years Fiona had been her guardian. In addition to them, she added a victim impact statement - how the treatment had affected her life and choices - without being asked.
Judge Matthews heard her case behind closed doors later that night, promising to review all of the facts before making her decision - though she did indicate it was a fairly cut and dried case of neglect and abuse. Once her decision was made, no matter what time of the day or day of the week, she'd ensure Sam was informed.
And then the whirlwind that was the next three days overtook her completely and passed in a blur. Sam and Rhonda had a team meeting, Sam going so far as to bow out of having Carter or Austin around, pleading the need for some girl time. The boys had backed off, albeit reluctantly, and Sam spent the weekend formulating a plan of attack. With the Diner, the house and the family assets coming to her, they drafted a list of all the expenses they knew Fiona had incurred and then some.
Once the list had been finalized, Sam put numbers to them - having been the one in charge of the family finances, she knew roughly how much everything had cost. Those numbers were then translated into equity and they came up with a list of things that would need to be sold for Sam to be able to pay her college tuition.
As soon as they had the go ahead from the Judge, Sam intended to implement the changes immediately. Fiona, she swore, wouldn't get another penny.