Short Story Contest # 173 Theme: "Dream Home" courtesy of @BookLover. Congratulations @Lancie. That's two in a row with Inheritance, a story of sweet revenge. _________________________________________________________ Inheritance [2550 words] The day my sister called me I didn't recognise her voice. “Leah, this is Claire.” “Claire? Claire who?” “Claire…your sister, Claire.” “Oh. How are you?” I didn't know what else to say. In my defence, my sister hadn’t spoken to me in two years, and it had been five since we’d been in the same room. She hesitated, stopped and started countless times, talking sporadically about the weather, her poodle pedigree show dog 'Mirabelle' and her two sons- in that order. I gleaned that she had divorced the previous year from a hastily written Christmas card. Other than that, I knew nothing of her life so at first I let her talk without thinking too much about how she got my number, or how she failed to ask how I was doing. Finally, growing irritated and anxious I came out and asked her what she wanted. I think my bluntness threw her off balance and after a pause that lasted too long, she barked at me. I had been summoned. Not to her house, she clearly didn’t want me there, but to an office in the middle of the city. I thought I might not recognise her, but she hadn't changed at all. I saw the jittery woman in a fine and harshly cut business suit from across the road and I knew it was her. She still wore wide rimmed black glasses and kept her blond hair arrow straight and neatly bobbed around her cheek bones. My stomach knotted and twisted as I approached her and I clenched my fists to stop myself from fidgeting. She hated my fidgeting. I must have stood by her for a minute before she decided to acknowledge my presence but I could tell from the puzzled look in her eyes it was she who didn't recognise me. “Leah?” she looked me up and down, raising her finely plucked eyebrow. She disapproved, though I wasn't sure if it was my long, loose curly hair or the lack of make up that offended. “Well, you came. You actually came.” “Am I late?” “No, just…” she trailed off, looking down at her French manicured finger nails so she wouldn't have to look me in the eye. “I didn’t think you’d come. Let’s get this over with.” She gestured to the building but walked off before I could agree. She walked faster in stilettos than most people did in flats, and she hadn't slowed down. On entering, we ascended in a lift to the fifth floor. It didn’t take long, though it felt like an age of not making eye contact, wondering if I should say something. She led me down a grey corridor to a door which bore a golden name plate: Mr Thomas Barrows, followed by a string of letters that meant nothing to me, all except two: QC. I dug my heels into the carpet; panic began to flood my brain. “Queens Council? A lawyer? Why are we seeing a lawyer?” What had I done, or rather, what did she want to do to me? “Please don’t make a scene, Leah!” she hissed. “Grandmother died. You’re in the will. We weren’t able to settle the estate until…” again she trailed off and straightened up her navy blazer. “You’re here now, anyway.” I shook my head. “Wait,” I began to feel the panic shift into sorrow that cut me across my belly. “Nana is dead?” I heard my voice cracking. “When?” Claire sighed, she looked exasperated. I could see her nostrils flare. “About eighteen months ago. She was ninety, Leah, it can’t be such a shock. Can weplease just get this over with?” A lump was forming in my throat. “Nobody told me.” I whispered. Claire pressed her lips together and gave me the angry stare down I used to receive daily as a child and it still made me feel hot and tiny. She said no more, and knocked sharply on the door. Inside there was a receptionist overseeing a hard looking leather sofa with a glass coffee table covered in intelligent looking books and magazines. She spoke quietly with my sister before we were let straight into the next room. It had floor to ceiling windows and the walls were flanked with book shelves, certificates and various tribal art, yet I noted the lack of personal items. The man sat at a big chestnut desk stood, his lanky frame stooped towards Claire as they shook hands. He smiled with his thin lips but his slate grey eyes were cold. His old fashioned three piece suit was impeccably smart, and just like Claire's it didn't dare wrinkle as he sat back down. And there I was in faded cropped jeans and a loose white shirt. “This must be Miss Logan,” he said without looking at me. “Thank you for coming.” I could imagine what Claire had told him, painting me out to be almost fictitious; the Bertha character in Jane Eyre wailing in a locked room hidden from view, lurking in dark corridors and sinking back into the shadows. I sat in one of the chairs opposite his desk and sank into it, my feet not quite touching the floor. Claire perched haughtily, and asked the receptionist for a black coffee. “For you, madam?” the receptionist asked. Claire cleared her throat a couple of times, her eyes bulging. I turned from the lawyer to my sister before realising the receptionist was speaking to me. My mouth dropped in the confusion. “Oh, um, tea with sugar and milk, please?” I said hurriedly and smiled almost apologetically. When the drinks came the receptionist vanished back to her desk and I waited for Mr Barrows to begin. He pulled out a number of thick folders and files from his desk and chattered about mundane things with my sister; traffic and parking, something about his house keeper going on holiday which was, apparently, a nightmare. Finally his gaze slipped towards me. “Now, Miss Logan, we’re here today to discuss the last will and testament of your Grandmother, Mrs Flora Foxworth-Logan.” He laid out some official looking papers with a series of flurried signatures at the bottom. I looked into my teacup. The news my grandmother was dead had left me feeling like an arm had been ripped off and I struggled to keep myself from falling apart infront of my sister. Not only was she gone, I had missed her passing and her funeral, and nobody had bothered to tell me. As far as I knew, she had just stopped calling and writing to me. I had been deeply hurt by it, but not surprised. “Your sister, Claire Fergus is representing the family,” he continued and Claire nodded curtly. Ah yes, I thought ruefully, ‘the family’. I pictured the five of them, Claire, our brother and three cousins pulling straws to determine who would contact and accompany me here today. What an inconvenience it must have been for her. I sipped my tea, eyeing her cautiously over the rim of the cup. “Your grandmother has left you some money and property.” Claire shuffled in her seat, making the leather loudly rub. I frowned, was it possible she was fidgeting? I turned my attention back to Mr Barrows. “Money and property?” He nodded. “Yes. You’ve been left a considerable sum of money, your grandmother bequeathed to you four hundred thousand pounds.” I almost violently expelled the tea in my mouth but managed to swallow it, though it was too hot. I felt the boiling liquid burn all the way down to my stomach. “Oh,” I managed to rasp. Claire looked angry. Her nostrils were wide and quivering. “Plus some stocks and bonds which we can explain to you another time,” he moved on quickly. “And the house. I have a picture here but I should warn you the house itself is rather old and crumbling and the land it’s on is quite tatty. It’s five acres, comes with a couple of tenants, though.” He slid a photograph over the table towards me. I held it up and looked at the Edwardian style manor with big arched windows and sweeping porch wrapped in ivy and wisteria. “Nobody has lived there for about twenty years. It’s covered in rot and mould and it’s out in the middle of nowhere.” Claire interjected. I shrugged. “I think it’s pretty.” “You would!” she scoffed, though she received a warning look from Mr Barrows. She took a deep breath. “Now, Leah. The house is huge and it’s attached to a large plot of land that is currently buried under brambles and heaps of rubbish,” she took the picture from me and laid it on the table. “Malcolm and I have discussed it, and we think it best we buy it from you.” She paused for breath; her bulging eyes locked on me though her mouth twisted into an unnatural smile. My brother and sister had planned it all out, it seemed but I still frowned. “Why do you want it if it’s so dilapidated?” “We’ll give you a fair price.” “I don’t need the money!” I said with a low chuckle. I could tell I was starting to irritate her more than I could understand. “Where is the house?” I asked Mr Barrows. “Pembrokeshire, Wales. Near the coast.” “See!” Claire said triumphantly. “The bloody thing is in Wales!” I looked again at the picture and the white washed walls. My mind ticked over, thinking back to stories my grandmother had told me about the magical, beautiful house by the sea she lived in as a child. “I think I’d like to see it first, before I decide.” We left the lawyers office in a hurry. Claire rampaged through the reception area and back through the corridor, furiously jabbing at her mobile. She raged at me in the lift. This was just typical me, away with the bloody fairies, never thinking of anyone else, how I was destructive and always such an embarrassment to the entire family. It was familiar torment and I took it in silence, like I always had. Our father had worked through banking and politics and into an early grave. Our mother, drunk and incapable of doing anything other than sleep till noon and put on make-up, went through a series of flings and flighty relationships that took her half way round the world. Our grandmother, who Claire had so callously waved off, had raised us. She was the only one who didn’t treat me like a leper. Though I only ever received a barrage of cruelty and mistrust from my siblings, on the darker days it was my grandmother’s soft lilting voice that always coaxed me back into the land of the living. The following week, I packed up my little mini and drove the long five hours down to the coast of Wales. The satnav struggled finding the area and sent me in a few circles but eventually I found the narrow dirt path that led me up to the house. I stopped the car and pulled out the padded envelope with the keys. The house was much like it was in the picture, but the land wasn’t as bad as Claire made it out to be. There were gnarled tangled fruit trees, brambles muddled up in hedges around the edges and long grass that needed attacking with an industrial lawn mower, but still not that bad. I walked up the steps and used a chunky old fashioned key to open up the wide door. It swung with a creak and a shudder. Inside was dull, with some furniture under musty blankets. Before me in the open hall way sweeping stairs with curling iron railings led to a second floor. My footsteps clicked against the hard wooden floors as I crossed the hall into the room opposite. I held my breath looking at all the dusty books packed into shelves, gazing up in amazement at the high ceiling. A few tables with old lamps and a globe packed the corners. I walked round to the large bay window and pulled the strings to the flat canvas blind. As I pulled it up, light flooded the room and I gasped, staggered at the view of the coastline and sparkling deep blue waters. The way the narrow lanes curved and through the convoluted directions of the satnav I had no idea I was so close to the sea. Somewhere in the distance I heard seagulls cawing, it sounded like they were laughing at each other and I smiled too. I made my way round the house, opening windows and curtains and casting out the stuffy dimness. Mostly the biggest problem seemed to be the dated furniture underneath a thick layer of dust. When I made my way back to the front door I kicked up an envelope that lay scattered on the doormat along with dried leaves and other leaflets. This one, unlike the rest that were simply printed ‘To The Occupier’, was hand written with my name on the front. I stooped to pick it up and carefully opened it. Inside was the pretty cursive of my grandmother. They got their way and put me in a nursing home and you in a ‘facility’. I’ve changed my will. They’ll only get their share of the inheritance once you’re present, well and fully discharged, although I am leaving mostly everything to you, anyway. I hope you can be happy here as I was. I stepped back into the bright light clutching the letter to her heart, but my thoughts were interrupted by the sound of ringing coming from inside my car. I checked my watch. Malcolm and Claire had been phoning me every afternoon to see if I’d visited the house yet. I refused to tell them when exactly I was going because no doubt they’d descend upon me and twist my arm. There had been six missed calls already- they were getting anxious. With a deep breath, I answered the phone. “Hello?” “It’s Claire,” she said abruptly. “So, have you actually seen it yet?” “Yes, I’m here now.” A stunned silence resounded at the other end of the phone. I could picture Claire stood with her phone over the speaker, mouthing frantically to Malcolm. “And?” “And I’m going to keep it. I like it.” I pulled the phone from my ear as Claire erupted into squawking and flustered fury. I could hear Malcolm and somebody else muttering in the background, probably a cousin. “What were you going to do with it? Do it up and sell it on, or were you going to develop it? Turn it into a restaurant or a hotel? Or just rip it down?” I asked softly. The usual insults started. I was a burden, fresh out of the loony bin and throwing everything back in their faces, after everything they did for me. “You managed to tell me you were divorced, but not that nana had died.” I interjected. Claire stopped cold in her ranting tracks. “What?” So I repeated myself louder. “You managed to tell me you were divorced, but not that nana had died.” She had no answer for that. “Goodbye, Claire.” I hung up the phone and turned it off, and gazed back at my beautiful new home.