They had found Clare’s ashes, but why were they abandoned in a vault in a disused part of the garden?
Hailey was still seething with anger but had to attend to Birdie who seemed to be is shock.
Birdie collapsed into a kitchen chair, not bothering to remove her coat and boots.
Hailey wisely decided to leave her and silently set about making some hot chocolate to comfort her.
She brought back two steaming mugs to the table and set them down.
“It’s my fault,” Birdie said in a strange monotone.
“Your fault—what are you talking about?”
“It’s my fault that I just accepted things at face value. Why didn’t I ask where Mother was buried?” The misery in her eyes matched her dead-sounding voice. “Maybe I never wanted to know the truth.”
“Don’t torment yourself, Birdie—you were only a girl.”
“But why didn’t I ask?” she wailed.
“Perhaps you were just frightened or overwhelmed—Mother could be quite intimidating, not to mention Alicia or the other aunts.”
“But even Papa didn’t want to talk about it. He seemed to want to forget and move on and then he went away and left me here…” Her voice trailed off as she avoided voicing the obvious.
“You mean, he left you here with Mother. Don’t be afraid to say it, Birdie. I understand how you feel.”
“No—Miss Beatrice was kind—I didn’t mean that.”
“Then what?” Hailey was puzzled.
“It was your aunts. There were constant meetings in the parlor—long discussions into the night. All I remember was Alicia scolding and Miss Beatrice pleading.”
“Pleading?” Hailey asked hoarsely. “Pleading about what?”
“I never knew. The sliding doors were closed. All I could hear was muffled noise, but I could tell by the angry tone that Alicia was not pleased with your mom.”
“I wonder…” Hailey stared off into space.
“What?” Birdie looked startled.
“Nothing, really—just a gut feeling.”
She regretted saying anything, but knew Birdie wouldn’t easily be put off.
“Are you thinking they were arguing about my mother?”
“Something like that. I’m not sure just yet, but obviously Alicia was pressuring Mother.”
Birdie looked totally lost.
“Do you recall when these meetings took place?”
“I think it was a few days after the funeral. Papa was still around and then he left about a week later. I never saw him again,” she sobbed.
“Can you remember anything more? Even the smallest detail might help.”
“I remember your mother’s lawyer being there on a few occasions.”
“Mr. Gunn? He was there?”
“Yes, Miss Hailey. I remember him distinctly.”
“Mother never used Mr. Gunn except for important reasons. There must have been something serious being discussed.”
“Could it have been my mother’s will?”
Hailey shook her head. “I doubt that. Mother told me Clare was already given her part of the family inheritance before she married Bernie—Father was quite wealthy and made bequests to each of the aunts.”
“Come to think of it, it does seem peculiar he was there. I wonder why I never thought of that before.”
“Well, I’m glad you thought of it now. I was intending to pay Aunt Alicia a visit tomorrow, but I think I’ll stop by Mr. Gunn’s office first. Don’t worry, Birdie. I intend to get to the bottom of this and settle this matter once and for all.”
“If anyone can make sense of this, it’s you Miss Hailey, but please be careful. Your aunts frighten me.”
“What can they do to us now?”
Birdie looked doubtful.
Hailey patted her hand. “My aunts have been hiding some dark secret for over twenty five years. Don’t you think it’s time you knew the truth about your own mother?”
“If all goes well, by this time tomorrow we should know what really has gone on all these years.”
“I hope we’re not opening some Pandora’s box.”
“I think it’s the aunts that have to fear that,” Hailey grimaced. She stared through the kitchen window to the moonless sky outside.
The darkness felt as menacing as Alicia’s black eyes watching her every move.
© 2017, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.