Will of Bequest

The wrong aunt had died. At least, in my opinion. Aunt Fiona had never been a welcoming woman, and she’d become truly frigid toward me a few years back. Truthfully, I wished she was the one who’d died, not my gregarious and soft-hearted Aunt Josephine. But Great-aunt Josephine was the eldest sister, so I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised to find myself walking across the cemetery grass at her funeral—or, “life celebration.”

True to her nature, Aunt Josephine had insisted on festivities in her honor, although any liveliness during the burial ceremony was quashed with an icy glare from Aunt Fiona. As Aunt Josephine’s closest living relative, she was the one in charge of the actual funeral arrangements, so the burial had a definitely somber air. She had begrudgingly allowed for a feast afterward, and welcomed friends of the family with a resigned glare.

I’d been “accidentally” avoiding her all afternoon, partly because I’d brought my boyfriend Jimmy Martins along. I didn’t think it was the best idea, but I liked the company. My brothers certainly had no qualms about bringing their girlfriends. They’d also ignored Aunt Fiona’s increasingly disconsolate expression as they trooped up to her with their girlfriends in their coquettishly lacy black dresses.

Jimmy, miraculously, had on completely normal clothing; a dark violet polo shirt and black dress slacks. Of course he was still wearing shiny silver nail polish and the black choker collar with its pink heart pendent I’d given him last spring, but he had eschewed lipstick and washed the neon pink stripe out of his brown hair. In fact, I hadn’t seen him this masculine in over a year, not counting the high society functions he sulked through in a tux and tie.

After the burial, I walked to the refreshment tables, orange and red leaves crunching under my feet. It was unseasonably warm for autumn, but then Kansas tended to be unseasonably something all the time. I stopped next to a table that was mostly free of mourners. Aunt Josephine had been a popular woman judging by the crowd, although I thought a large number of the children belonged to one of my uncles.

I was eyeing a dish filled with small round beads that might have been caviar, when I caught sight of my brothers Paul and Spencer huddled over a punch bowl. The twins were whispering and snickering to each other, and as I watched, Paul pulled something out from under his shirt, then upended it over the punch bowl. He hurriedly hid the whisky bottle again as Spencer started stirring the spiked punch with its ladle. I decided I’d keep a safe distance from the twins for the rest of the afternoon. I didn’t want to be there when Aunt Fiona found out they’d poured hard liquor into her chaste fruit punch.

As if summoned just by thought of her, I heard Aunt Fiona’s haughty voice ringing out over the general murmurings of the crowd. I looked up to see her standing a few yards away holding court with a girl I vaguely recognized and…Jimmy. I considered crawling under the table, but steeled myself against it. I doubted Aunt Fiona would appreciate my dating an effeminate sixteen-year-old, but at least I hadn’t spiked her punch with straight whisky.

Clutching a paper plate like a shield, I crept around the table and moved toward Aunt Fiona and Jimmy. I hadn’t been able to hear her words before, but her tone didn’t sound any more vexed than usual. That was good, at least. I hoped. I came within earshot just as she started speaking again in her haughty tone. “On our last trip to Paris, my dear sister Josephine and I visited the Louvre museum. It was our fourth trip to the museum, as my sister was adamant we see every piece in it before we died. You do know what the Louvre museum is?” she added, sounding somewhat condescending.

The girl—one of my cousins, I assumed—seemed to be considering the question, but Jimmy didn’t hesitate. “Of course! My family spent three whole days touring the Louvre last summer. My father had to attend work meetings one of the days, but my mother and sister and I walked through every gallery and garden on the Louvre’s grounds.”

“Oh?” My aunt sounded skeptical. A bit impressed too, I thought, as I came up next to the party.

A wicked gleam flashed in Jimmy’s eyes. “Oui. Le musée du Louvre est très impressionnant.”

Aunt Fiona’s eyebrows shot up, but she quickly masked her surprise. She clearly hadn’t expected to hear perfect French come out of Jimmy’s mouth, or anyone else’s. I supposed that was the curse of being one of the old guard, so to speak. My maternal family—Aunt Josephine, Aunt Fiona, and my grandmother—had come from a decently wealthy and well-traveled heritage. But of the fortune bequeathed to them, most of it hadn’t made it to the next generation.

Well, some had, but much of that had gone to the lawyers of my mother and her warring siblings. The result was a mixed family of stuffy aristocrats like my Aunt Fiona and plebeian punch spikers like my brothers. Of that mix, most members were of my brothers’ class, and so far none of my relatives had lured a socialite into the family.

This was probably part of why my Great-aunt Fiona viewed her younger relatives with such melancholic disdain. She’d tolerated me until about three years ago, when I’d introduced her to my first boyfriend. She’d taken one look at his rumpled hair, black jeans, and leather jacket and turned as frigid as Antarctica in winter. I had expected Jimmy, with his slim build and astonishingly feminine features and inclinations, wouldn’t do much to improve her opinion.

But I’d forgotten the Martinses had blood bluer than azure. If it was the social elite Aunt Fiona respected, then Jimmy Martins was the best person to win her heart, or at least her regard. And I had the strong suspicion I’d just watched my aunt meet her match in aristocratic hauteur. That, I guessed, wasn’t something that happened to her often, so anyone who met her challenge was liable to garner her approval.

My aunt noticed I’d joined the gathering and turned her attention to me. “Calix Anderson,” she greeted, eyeing me dispassionately. “Finally decided to show yourself? Your brothers already came to pay their respects, along with their…lady friends.” Her tone made it clear they were anything but ladies.

“I hadn’t gotten a chance to come visit,” I lied. Behind her dotted black mourning veil, Aunt Fiona pinned me with her steel gray eyes. The high collar of her black mink coat bristled disapprovingly. I tried not to squirm like a hooked fish.

“Is that so,” she muttered. She didn’t appear thrilled to see me, but the tight line of her lips hadn’t turned completely white.

“Hey, Cal,” Jimmy said, ignoring the tension.

“You are acquainted?” Aunt Fiona asked, her attention flicking back to Jimmy.

He looked surprised. “Of course.”

“Mmmh.” I couldn’t tell if the sound was one of displeasure or just acknowledgement.

I was saved from trying to do or say anything else by a screechy gasp. Aunt Fiona’s head snapped around, eyes narrowing. “Excuse me,” she said, and strode past me toward one of the tables. A young woman, one of my uncles’ wives I thought, was holding a punch cup in one hand and a wriggling little boy in the other.

“Auntie Fiona!” she gasped. “There is alcohol in this punch! What am I supposed to give my kiddies? There are underage children here you know!” The twins were—barely—underage, but that had never stopped them.

Aunt Fiona frowned at her niece frigidly. “You could try water,” she suggested.

“I see your great-aunt has a fondness for all her relatives,” Jimmy said quietly at my shoulder.

I snorted. “I did warn you she’s a rather frosty sort. Speaking of which,” I turned to face him, “did you just aristocratically one-up my aunt?”

“Nonsense.” Jimmy flashed me a mischievous smile. “Whatever gave you that impression?”

*          *          *

I hadn’t noticed there was a new key on my key ring until I pulled up in front of Aunt Fiona’s house. I stopped with one leg already out of the car door and flicked through the keys. Car key, house key, second house key (this one to the Martins’s home), key to the lockbox I kept birthday money in, and the new key. I was certain I’d never seen it before, and I had no recollection of something around the house it could fit. It was a tiny gray thing, ancient looking, with an extravagantly carved end.

“What is it?” Jimmy asked, leaning across the console. The twins had whined the whole way over because Jimmy wouldn’t give up shotgun when we picked them up. In fact, they were still bemoaning their plight as they bolted from the back seat.

“It’s nothing. I think,” I said, shoving the keys in my pocket. I would have asked him about the key but Aunt Fiona had just appeared at her front door, still in a black hat and veil, a black mink stole in place of her coat. I scrambled out of the car and followed my brothers up the imposing front steps, the click of Jimmy’s stiletto boot heels painfully noticeable behind me.

Aunt Fiona had called this morning and insisted the twins and I help her pack up some of Aunt Josephine’s things. It was only a day after the funeral, but she was already getting rid of her sister’s worldly possessions. When Spencer told her our older brothers were at work, she’d instructed him to “tell Calix to bring some of his men friends along.” This last had been relayed with a good deal of chortling from both twins.

“Ah, just the nephews I wanted to see,” Aunt Fiona said as the twins stopped in front of her. Incongruously, I noticed she was holding a metal bucket filled with soapy water and a fistful of rags. She handed them over, bucket to Spencer, rags to Paul. “I’m afraid I’ve made a terrible mess in the kitchen. I was trying to get some of that leftover punch out of the refrigerator and the bowl slipped right out of my hands! I’m so shaken up after my dear sister Josephine’s death you know,” she said, steely eyes glinting behind her veil. “You boys arrived just in time to clean up.”

“But—” Spencer started.

Aunt Fiona reached a trembling hand to clutch the double strand of pearls around her neck. “You wouldn’t begrudge helping your poor old auntie, would you? The doctor said I shouldn’t be getting down on my knees anymore, it’s bad for me.”

The twins wilted visibly. In all her years, I didn’t think Aunt Fiona had ever lost an argument, and certainly not with the younger generation. She stepped aside and the twins trooped past her, mumbling under their breath. Before I could follow them into the house, she turned back and swept her gaze over me, then past me to Jimmy. For a second genuine surprise registered on her face, before it was quickly snuffed.

I couldn’t really blame her. Jimmy tended toward the ostentatious, in a black V-necked shirt with multicolored sequins splashed across it in a tie-dye pattern. Since this wasn’t a formal occasion, he’d ditched his slacks for white denim shorts and his ever-present brown leather boots. If my aunt was expecting the proper young aristocrat of yesterday, she was going to be disappointed.

“Jimmy Martins, I believe,” she said, with a slight inclination of her head. Without waiting for a reply she stepped back and motioned us into the front hall. “I want you two upstairs packing some boxes for me,” she instructed us, leading the way to the staircase.

As we passed the kitchen she paused and stuck her head through the doorway. The twins were halfheartedly mopping up a pink puddle smelling strongly of fruit and faintly of whisky. “Hop to it!” she barked, making them jump. “If that stains my good floor I’ll have to refinish it, and those things are always cheaper with some free labor.” The twins were galvanized into instant action, and Aunt Fiona turned away with the slightest of smirks on her face.

She preceded us past the library, study, and living room to the sweeping spiral staircase that led to the sisters’ bedrooms, bathrooms, and a huge rec room where I could vaguely remember playing with my brothers and cousins when we came to visit. Aunt Fiona flung open the rec room door and waved at a wall filled entirely with bookshelves, except for a narrow window squished into the center. “Those books on the right side are all Josephine’s. I want them sorted by genre, and anything that says ‘romance’ goes.”

I tilted my head back to see the top most books. “All of them?” I asked faintly.

Aunt Fiona considered a moment. “Start in the corner and work toward the window. If you can’t reach something, don’t bother with it. When you get the boxes filled, bring them downstairs.” She spun to leave the room. “I’ll be back in a while. Someone’s got to keep those overgrown mongrels on task.” By this, I assumed she meant the twins.

“Well, this isn’t the most glamorous date I’m afraid,” I said as Aunt Fiona’s footsteps faded down the stairs. I had been taking Jimmy out, before Aunt Fiona called and insisted we come help her.

Jimmy shrugged. “At least we’re not scrubbing punch out of her kitchen grout.”

I snorted. “Good point.”

We started on the books.

*          *          *

Jimmy finished filling a box with romance books and groaned. “I swear I can’t sit on this floor one more second,” he said, stretching and rising as I hoisted up the box. I usually watched where I walked going down the stairs, but I was distracted by watching Jimmy walk this time. Those shorts of his were absolute murder on my concentration, which was probably exactly why he’d worn them. Twice I nearly missed a step and had to lean into the high railing to steady myself. When we reached the bottom of the staircase I set the box next to its compatriots with a grateful sigh.

As though summoned, Aunt Fiona appeared from the library. “Ah, good, you’re making progress,” she said, looking over the boxes. “I think I’ll come up with you for a bit. The twins should be decently occupied.” The faint smirk tugged at her lips again, and I wondered what new task she’d forced them into, but didn’t ask.

Jimmy bounded up the stairs, probably hoping Aunt Fiona would declare us done with the book boxing and give us a more interesting task. Without a cumbersome box in the way, it was even harder to ignore Jimmy’s very nice legs. I was also aware of my aunt, who was easily keeping pace with me on the twisting staircase though. I tried to pretend I wasn’t staring at Jimmy’s partially bare thighs, and promptly tripped over the last stair.

Aunt Fiona caught my gaze and arched an eyebrow. I hurried looked away, feeling my face flush with embarrassment. I was certain she had no trouble deciphering Jimmy’s relationship to me, but that didn’t stop me from blushing. And I hated blushing. I studiously avoided looking at Jimmy or Aunt Fiona again as we reentered the rec room.

Aunt Fiona considered the bookshelves for a long moment, then nodded to herself. “Good. Clean out that window seat next. I’ll sort things after you take them out.” She moved to the non-romance books we’d stacked on the floor, piled up according to genre, and began sifting through them as Jimmy knelt and pushed the top of the window seat up. I knelt next to him and peered into the narrow interior.

There was a fuzzy baby blanket on top, followed by two quilts, a stack of truly ancient books, and a vintage jewelry box. The box was made of red stained mahogany with a stylized fleur-de-lis relief on the lid. Something about those swirling silver lines was familiar. I held the box for a minute, staring at it as I tried to figure out what it reminded me of. The lid was held closed with a brass lock with a tiny key hole in the center.

“What is it?” Jimmy asked, leaning over to inspect the box. I was struck by a sudden flash of recollection, and dug in my pocket. Could it really be…? I pulled out my key ring and looked at it. The tiny new key, with its end carved in a stylized fleur-de-lis, was still on the ring. I turned to my aunt, who was on her knees sifting through the stacks of books.

“Aunt Fiona?” I asked hesitantly.

She glanced up at me. “Yes, Calix?”

“Do you know what’s in this?” I asked, holding up the jewelry box.

She squinted at it for a moment. “Oh, I couldn’t say for sure. Go ahead and open it if you like.” She turned back to the books.

“It’s locked,” I said, trying the lid.

“So?” Aunt Fiona seemed surprised this should stop me. I stared at her, then at the key, then at her, then at the box.

“Try it!” Jimmy hissed. He appeared on the verge of snatching the keys out of my hand and trying it himself. With a last glance at Aunt Fiona, I took hold of the key and tried it in the lock. It fit perfectly. Pushing up the lid, I was confronted with a handwritten note lying atop a piece of smooth black velvet.

 

Dear Great-nephew,

If you are reading this, it means that my dear sister Fiona has deemed you worthy of my last bequest. Congratulations, for that alone is high praise! As wills go, I am sure this is an eccentric one, but I am an eccentric woman. My sister, niece, and nephews will gain most of my money and possessions, as is the way of the world. However, I wish to give my most treasured possession directly to a worthy member of the youngest generation.

Dear nephews, forgive me, but here I will confess to playing favorites. I have always held a soft spot for my niece Delilah, and it is to one of her children I have insisted on leaving my last bequest. (My dear sister, bless her cynical heart, thinks me a proper fool for this.) Much as Delilah hoped to birth a girl, I had hoped to endow this gift to a great-niece, who would give it full appreciation. But since none of you had the good sense to be girls, I shall have to make do. Therefore, a few rules:

1. This gift shall not be given away to a passing flame, no matter how much you think you like her.

2. This gift shall not be pawned off for money, no matter how much you think you need it. If you need money, get a job, boy.

3. This gift may be given to your wife (assuming you manage to get a wife), but in the event of divorce it shall be returned absolutely to your possession. This is a family heirloom, after all.

4. If you should be stupid enough to refuse this gift, it shall remain in my sister Fiona’s possession until such day she dies, at which time she may will it on as she sees fit.

Speaking of my sister, I believe now I will enlighten you as to her part in this. I have always enjoyed a good game, which is why I write this second will, instead of simply including all this in my larger will. As Fiona often informs me, I am a dreadful judge of character. Thus, I have enlisted her help in my little game.

To her I have entrusted the key to this box. Upon the day of my funeral, she shall judge the assembled relatives and decide which of Delilah’s offspring is worthy of my last bequest. She shall then find opportunity to deliver the key into their possession without their knowledge. Silly, I know, but it wouldn’t be near as much fun to just march up and hand the key over, would it?

Anyway, after delivering the key Fiona will give its new owner access to this box. They say curiosity killed the cat, but personally I like to reward it. If you are reading this, it means you have passed my final test; to be smart enough, and curious enough, to try opening this box with that mysterious new key. And now, dear great-nephew, discover what I have left to you as my last bequest.

Your loving Great-aunt,
Josephine Hargreaves

*          *          *

“This better be good,” Jimmy said as he came across the parking lot to me. It was a month after my Aunt Josephine’s funeral, and we were in front of a fancy restaurant for Aunt Fiona’s birthday party. (This was not her idea).

I raised an eyebrow at Jimmy’s attire. He was in a shimmering gold satin blouse with flared lace sleeves and gunmetal gray slacks, seeing as this was a formal occasion. His flapper bobbed brown hair was devoid of dye, but he’d made up for it with rainbow glitter nail polish.

“That didn’t come from the boys section, did it?” I asked, nodding at the blouse.

Jimmy rolled his eyes. “Obviously. Actually, this isn’t mine. Jenny said I could borrow it if I loaned her my gold and onyx choker.” He looked momentarily worried. “Speaking of which, exactly what sort of not-present am I getting?” He narrowed his eyes at me.

I smiled. “Close your eyes. Come on, it’s a surprise!” With a sigh, Jimmy obediently closed his eyes.

Reaching into the car, I took out the red mahogany box and unlocked it. Folding back the black velvet wrapping, I carefully lifted out its contents and walked to where Jimmy was waiting. The triple strand of diamonds flashed every imaginable color in the sunlight as I fastened the necklace around his throat. Its thumbnail sized opal pendant gleamed with its own fiery array of colors. “Okay,” I said.

Jimmy looked down and let out a startled gasp. “But you can’t give this to me! Your aunt—”

“I’m not giving it to you.” I held up my hands. “I’m loaning it. You can give it back after the party.” He eyed me skeptically, but I could tell his resolve was already weakening as he ran a careful finger over the opal. “Something that beautiful shouldn’t be kept in a box for the next ten or twenty years, and I’m sure Great-aunt Josephine would agree. Besides, you know more about taking care of gemstones than I do.”

“Alright!” Jimmy grinned. “You win.” He threw his arms around my neck and kissed me with an intensity that left us both breathless. The taste of his strawberry lip-gloss lingered on my tongue even after he’d let me go. I was seriously considering trying for a second kiss when Aunt Fiona’s haughty voice rang across the parking lot.

“Calix Anderson!” I hastily stepped away from Jimmy as my aunt stalked over. “I see you decided to join this horrid party. I can’t believe I let myself be talked into attending.”

“I thought you were the guest of honor,” Jimmy said.

Aunt Fiona snorted. “That’s no reason to show up!”

Her eyes dropped to rest on her sister’s necklace, and for a fleeting second her lips curved in what might have been a smile. “Ça te va très bien,” she said softly.

Jimmy gave her an almost shy smile. “Je vous remercie, Madame.”

Aunt Fiona inclined her head, then turned to me. “You know Calix, I thought you’d turn out just as much a ruffian as your brothers. But I believe I may have been wrong, for once. Not that anyone else need know of that,” she added, raising an eyebrow.

I smiled, because I didn’t think she’d appreciate being hugged. “Of course, Aunt Fiona. Heaven forbid I be the one to spoil your record.”

Isabel Nee loves reading, writing, science, birds, and mythology. She sporadically practices archery, and is known to research bizarre genetic diseases which she then inflicts on her characters. Isabel has had prose and poetry published in elementia magazine and Showcase Selections ~ 2016. She is currently writing a YA fantasy novel, and hopes to some day become a professional novelist. Isabel lives in Kansas where she hatches chickens and (she would like to think) great ideas.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *