Claire stood on the back patio, undecided, trying to focus, trying to breathe.
It was all simply too much to process, too much to consider. And she had to decide now? It was insane. This morning she had been unaware, concerned with nothing more than which packet of tea held the most promise as she puttered slowly about her kitchen, awakening in reluctant degrees, as was her manner. And then the phone had rung.
A stranger’s voice, rippling with fake, professional concern. Great-Uncle Henry had passed. Could she rearrange this day’s schedule to meet Strange Voice at the estate of Great Henry? Sorry to bother, but said meeting must take place today or secondary codicils would kick in, thus negating the offer.
Offer? Great Uncle Henry? Estate? None of this made any sense with what Claire knew of her family, a family that would never, even stretching the imagination, speak of their dwellings as “estates”. She simply stood there, suddenly-sweaty hand clutching a phone that felt unfamiliar, wrong. The kettle on the stove began to whistle urgently, briefly mooring her thoughts with familiarity. She had to sort this out. “I think there might have been a mistake, Mr… I don’t even know who you are.”
Strange Voice, still professional, still fake: “I’m afraid I can’t tell you that, not just yet. But I can say that I am Henry’s solicitor. And speaking of telling, you must not consult with any of your other relatives until after you have met me at the estate or the offer will be withdrawn.”
Claire numbly poured the scalding water over the tea bag she no longer recalled selecting, but there it was in her favorite mug, steam wafting. “You do realize that this sounds very odd, right? I don’t know you and I don’t know this Uncle Henry. Why should I even trust you?”
Voice: “You don’t have to trust me. You don’t have to agree to anything. This is entirely up to you. You can simply pretend that this phone call never happened and carry on with your life.”
Claire sipped her tea, absently, unaware of the flavor, only the habit. Then she set the cup down, spilling a bit, unaware of that as well. “Tell me how to find this estate of the uncle I never knew existed.”
The Voice did.
Several hours later, after notifying her unimpressed supervisor that she must take a personal day, family crisis and whatnot, Claire maneuvered her ancient and wheezing Citroen through the massive gates of an estate that spoke of another time, another place. The long, impressive drive, bordered by arching, meeting trees led to an even more spectacular chateau, many-windowed wings stretching in all directions.
Claire clamored out of her clunky car.
She met The Voice at the massive wooden door.
His name was Herbert, and he had been the late-in-life lover of Henry.
Surprise Number One.
The two of them sat down in one of the many parlors, wherein they reviewed legal papers and discussed the terms set forth in Henry’s final wishes. There were startling revelations scattered amongst those wishes, tiny grenades of never-sought truths.
Eventually, Claire asked for a moment to collect herself.
Herbert suggested a repose on the back patio, where she could review the lovely acreage of the vast estate whilst she pondered. Perhaps she might enjoy a brisk spirit-based beverage whilst she did so?
Claire declined. She wanted to think clearly. And this is where we found her when the curtains on this story first drew back.
The door behind Claire opened with a solidly-built click.
Herbert: “Sorry to bother, once again, but I’m sure you realize that we have a deadline. I must hear your decision before sundown, per the last wishes.”
Claire took a deep breath. “I accept.”
Herbert: “And you realize this means that you can never tell anyone how you came to own this estate?”
Claire, another deep breath: “Yes, I understand.”
Herbert: “Lovely. I’ll go fetch Amelia.”
Claire took a final breath and braced herself to meet her biological mother for the first time.
Surprise Number Two.
Note: This is the third in a series of stories inspired by one of Claudette’s posts involving her gorgeous photography. More to come, eventually…