"Lona, are you coming?"
My brother's words broke through my haze of stunned disbelief at the contents of Aunt Clare's will. "In a minute." I blinked, fighting back the tears. "Go on without me, Robert."
We had come to the lawyer's office in separate cars, so there was no need for him to wait, and I didn't want him to see me cry.
His forehead wrinkled in concern. "What's wrong?"
"You have to ask? If I was really Aunt Clare's favorite niece like she always said, how come she left her chain of beauty salons and makeup manufacturing and sales businesses to her other two nieces who hardly spent a day or two a year with her, and all she left me was a $100,000 a year stipend and a Victorian home with strings: I have to live there or lose both the income and the house."
I reached automatically for my malachite pendant, my thumb finding the familiar smooth indentation in the back of the stone. Gripping the gem, I turned my face from Robert's, feeling ashamed of my greedy, whining voice. Thank goodness Christi and Elaine had already left. It wasn't their fault Aunt Clare had lied to me. She'd even left Robert a hefty investment portfolio of blue chip stocks and government bonds.
Robert bent down and pressed a hand on my shoulder. "I know what you mean. Considering the size of Aunt Clare's estate, it is uneven."
At that moment, Mr. Corbin, the lawyer, interrupted. "I have something to discuss with Lona in private."
Robert gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze. "I'll call you later."
When he was gone, I turned my attention to my aunt's attorney, hoping for some explanation of her actions.
"I understand your disappointment," Mr. Corbin said. "Your aunt did not explain her actions to me, but she did leave a message for you." He picked up a white envelope from the stack of papers on his desk and held it out. "She instructed me to give this to you in private. I hope whatever it contains will bring you some peace. Read it, and then let me know if you have questions."
I had plenty. I didn't ask them though. I stood, took the envelope, stuffed it in my purse, and fled for the door. It was getting harder to stifle the emotions threatening to erupt.
Late that afternoon in the house that was now mine, at least conditionally, I removed a bottle of chilled water from the refrigerator and dropped onto a chair at the table. After taking a long drink, I pulled the envelope from my purse and opened it, hoping for some explanation that would erase what felt like a betrayal.
My dear Lona,
I know you are wondering what possessed your old aunt to leave you my house and a stipend for its upkeep rather than a portion of my business interests and investments as I did your brother and cousins. Dear, don't take this the wrong way, but you simply don't have a business head on your shoulders. I wanted to ensure your future livelihood.
However, if you are interested in building a business that suits you, all is not lost. Like you, I once had nothing. At thirty, I had spent most of my adult life caring for my invalid mother. Then, she and my Aunt Sophie were killed in a car accident on the way home from a doctor's appointment. Aunt Sophie left me this house, which she had inherited from Grandma Bess. At first, I was as disappointed as you must be now. But then I read her private message for me, and I, who knew nothing about business, became a wealthy entrepreneur. If you want to know more, you must watch the videotape I made for you. It is in the wall safe in my bedroom. The combination is 5-10-3.
My dear, you are not obligated to follow the instructions in my videotape, but I must ask for your complete confidentiality. Do not reveal any of the secrets you will find there.
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