Her dad had been her world, and she would give anything to be by his side.
But when she received the call about his sudden passing, she knew nothing would ever be the same.
Her brothers and sisters kicked her out of their childhood home immediately.
They laughed that out of their dad’s will, she’d only come out with the old family barn.
If only they knew what their dad was planning.
But life hadn’t always been so bleak for Jemma Miller, the last born of the Miller family.
She’d once been a happy woman.
But of course, this was when her dad was still alive.
He was her everything, from mentor to best friend, and she always strived to make him proud.
Her world came crashing down when she received that call about his sudden passing.
Like many of us, Jemma never imagined a life without her dad.
Of course, as a grown-up, the thought had crossed her mind once or twice.
But she’d never really dwelled on it.
But the last time she saw him, they’d ended things sourly, fighting over Jemma’s future and lifestyle choices.
Jemma had fallen pregnant and decided to keep the child.
Her dad wanted her to return home so she could be cared for, but she wanted to keep her career going.
While he maintained that he only wanted the best for her, Jemma saw it as him trying to control her life.
She was away from home when her dad’s nurse called her personal cell.
Jemma and the nurse were good friends, so she didn’t think much of the call.
But the nurse’s tone would tell her that this wasn’t a routine call.
Jemma jumped into the first bus home the minute she heard her nurse friend sobbing.
Her dad had just gone into cardiac arrest, and EMTs were trying to resuscitate him.
Guilt-ridden, Jemma prayed with everything within her that he’d pull through.
They’d left things so badly that she didn’t know what to do if they didn’t patch it up.
But as her taxi pulled into her family farm, she saw the many car lights in the drive and knew she was out of time.
The worst thing had happened.
The following days were a blur for Jemma, who was stuck in a perpetual whirlwind of stomach-churning grief and guilt.
Everything had blurred into nothingness around her.
She only snapped back to reality when the family lawyer called her name one evening, standing in the middle of the living room with her dad’s will in hand.
Although Jemma’s dad wasn’t the wealthiest in town, he had a few properties around the county that turned heads.
His lawyer read his will solemnly, dividing up the properties among Jemma and her three siblings.
She thought she’d get something of value from everything.
She’d been her dad’s favorite, after all.
But as the lawyer continued reading, she realized this wasn’t the case.
Jemma’s relationship with her siblings hadn’t always been the best.
In fact, they rarely got along.
Her big brothers loathed that she was the most similar to their dad.
While they were high school dropouts who didn’t bother to do anything with their lives, Jemma had worked her way to college and was an assistant veterinarian in town.
Although she loved her brothers to the moon and back, she suspected they didn’t share her feelings.
She’d soon know their true colors.
Jemma’s dad left everything to her big brothers, save for a derelict barn some yards away from the family home.
The lawyer was barely outside the house when her brothers kicked her out.
They didn’t care that she was in her first trimester of pregnancy or that she was their blood and flesh.
They jeered at her, drunk and staggering as they called their friends for a party.
The bitter end was here.
Jemma watched as car after car drove into the farm, drunk people filling out and running into her childhood home.
Furious, she stomped back in to give her brothers a piece of her mind.
But they only stared at her before dragging her out.
“Dad’s no longer here to protect you,” they said triumphantly.
“Go to your barn and sleep there!”
Dejected, Jemma pulled herself from the ground and walked away.
She couldn’t believe her dad would do this to her.
Even more painful was her brothers’ treatment of her.
She never understood why their hate burnt so brightly.
With tears streaming down her face, she fished out her phone to call a taxi.
It seemed this was no longer home.
But then her sight landed on the barely standing barn.
Jemma approached the building with fury and pain churning within her.
She kicked at its walls and pummeled its rotten walls.
Why would her family do this to her?
Wasn’t she cut from the same cloth as them?
She was still assaulting the building when she heard a voice behind her.
The man would make her rethink her dad’s will.
“I could take it off your hands, you know,” the voice went.
Jemma swung around, finding a rotten-teethed man smiling behind her.
“The old man never really liked it,” he continued.
“He never liked you either,” Jemma cut in crossly, recognizing the man as one of the farm’s neighbors.
The man, a rugged farmer always caked in mud and manure, had often butted heads with her father.
What he’d reveal would leave her with more questions than answers.
“There is nothing but problems there, Jenny,” the man said.
Of course, he didn’t even know Jemma’s name, even though he’d known her all her life.
“It’s not for sale,” she said softly, hoping to cut the conversation short.
“I wish to grieve in peace, Mr. Halsey,” she said.
But his words were already boring into her mind.
“What did you mean ‘nothing but problems?”
The man only laughed and offered to buy the barn again.
He even doubled his initial price.
But that only made Jemma more apprehensive.
She’d never known her dad as someone who kept secrets before.
But Mr. Halsey’s words had piqued her interest. “If you’ll excuse me,” she said.
The man tried to protest, but she glared at him until he walked away.
Jemma would find exactly what he was talking about.
Jemma pushed the barn’s door open and stepped in.
The air was heavy with dust and the stench of manure.
She coughed, squinting so her eyes could adapt to the dark environment.
Her sight took in everything, rotten floorboards and walls, rusted railings, and a tractor Jemma had never seen running.
At first glance, the place looked like any other abandoned barn.
But Jemma felt like there was something more than what met the eye.
Soon, her pain was replaced with a burning curiosity to explore the dusty place.
She turned on her phone’s flashlight and began weaving through old farm tools.
Jemma was in the milk house, a favorite of her dad’s when she was younger, when she noticed something tucked into the wall.
Her brows furrowed as she approached.
Jemma reached for the item, a folded paper carefully wedged into the rotting wooden planes.
Outside, her brothers’ party was raging on.
They laughed at her barn, praising their dad for leaving them all his fortune while she got practically nothing.
Jemma wiped tears as she opened the paper.
She had no idea that her life was about to change.
The paper was a note written in her dad’s name.
It seemed old, which didn’t make sense to Jemma.
How did it survive the harsh seasons in the barn?
She opened it and staggered back when she realized her dad had addressed her.
He expressed his undying love for her and her brothers, saying they meant the world to him.
But that was only the beginning.
The letter expressed the old man’s fear of Jemma’s brothers falling into bad habits when he was gone.
He asked Jemma to build a life for herself, knowing she was more than capable.
But at the foot of the note, there was a section about a hidden cellar door in one of the barn’s stalls.
He had unlocked it and wanted Jemma to explore, saying he’d hidden a ‘cupcake’ for her to find.
Jemma’s back shot straight. She remembered her younger days.
Her dad had always hidden cupcakes for her in the house, asking her to root them out if she could.
Nine out of ten times, the cupcakes weren’t pastries but items such as story books and kids’ novels.
The word had been their codeword for treasure.
Jemma wasted no second. She turned on her heels, racing for the barn’s furthest stall.
After a few minutes of searching, Jemma found the cellar door hidden under piles of dry hay and straw.
The hinges were rusted, and the door handle was covered in gunk.
But Jemma didn’t care.
She pulled the door open with both hands, nearly screaming as she employed all the energy in her body.
She shone her light into the darkness that greeted her.
Her eyes broadened at what she saw.
A corridor stretched into the darkness before Jemma.
She looked at her dad’s note, wondering if she could honor his wish.
A dry lump of air forced its way down her throat.
Could she do this?
The noises outside were louder now, the merry-makers making fun of Jemma and her bad luck.
That alone gave her the courage she needed to see this through.
She took her first step down the staircase, shining her light all over.
Cobwebs caught against her face and hair as she waved them out of her way.
From the looks of things, it had been a long time since anyone had been down here.
Jemma realized that unlike the barn above, which her dad erected out of wood, this place was concrete and stone.
The walls were white, although layered with dust.
Her survival instinct yelled for her to turn back, get her brothers, or sell the barn to Mr. Halsey.
But she couldn’t stop now.
The aspiring veterinarian went down the corridor, studying all she could.
It was clear that this place had been sealed for a while, given how dusty it was, and that her brothers didn’t know about it.
Regardless of how old it was, Jemma continued exploring.
She didn’t expect to find much down here, but the premise of a treasure hidden somewhere made her heart beat faster.
If only she knew the secrets that her late dad had kept from her and her siblings.
After ten minutes of walking, Jemma made it to a room at the end of the corridor.
The place was just as dry as the corridor, although it looked like a bank vault.
But what it contained is what robbed Jemma of all her words.
She stared at her find, suddenly frozen in place.
Her lungs constricted, and her mouth ran dry.
How could her dad hide such things from his family?
Jemma thought she’d always known her dad.
She was his confidant in his older days, and he’d opened up about so much to her.
But he never failed to mention all this in his stories.
A sickening rush fired through Jemma.
She couldn’t tell if it was fear or excitement.
As she walked into the room, one thing became clear.
Her dad wasn’t the person she’d always believed he was.
When we are young, we see our parents as our heroes.
The possibility of them being dangerous individuals in the outside world never occurs to us.
Sometimes they are heroes to the outside world, a fact that we never learn while growing up until someone reveals it to us.
For Jemma, such secrets would be laid bare tonight.
“Cupcake,” she whispered. “Cupcakes. Lots and lots of cupcakes.”
Before her, lined on the room’s floor were wrapped packages.
They covered every inch of the room from one wall to the next.
Jemma squatted down and carefully picked up the first one, which had another note stapled to it.
The message was short, giving her a clue of what was happening.
“My little cupcake,” the note started. “What makes a whiskey exquisite is its age.
Here are the best 1960 had to offer. Find Mr. Livingstone.”
There was a phone number on the paper. “He will help.”
Jemma opened the package, almost falling back when she saw the famed Macallan logo on a bottle of whiskey.
Another package had a Glenfiddich bottle.
One vintage bottle like this could go for thousands of dollars.
Jemma couldn’t even count the number of packages before her.
She slid to the floor, her head falling in her hands. “What’s happening, dad?”
Disclaimer: To protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination.
Any resemblances to actual events, places, or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.