It was now obvious to Hailey that the person making harassing phone calls was also stalking her and watching her every move. As she pondered this new information, she felt a tug on her sleeve and turned to see Aunt Lil.
“Hailey dear, could we have a word with you?” She nodded in the direction of the door where Aunt Alicia was waiting, a stern look on her face.
“Yes, certainly.” She turned to the group, “Would you excuse me?”
Nan caught her eye and flashed her a questioning glance, but Hailey responded with a slight shake of her head. She watched as Hailey followed Lil across the room to the door and the three women exited the room.
Once outside, in the red-carpeted hallway, Alicia led Hailey to a small alcove off to one side. There was a grouping of an over-stuffed beige and pink floral print couch and two matching sofa chairs.
They all sat down, the older women perched uncomfortably on the edge of the couch, their legs too short to touch the floor.
Alicia glanced around warily and then leaned forward speaking in a harsh whisper.
“Did you meet with Thomas Gunn on his way out?”
“Yes, Aunt Alicia. We spoke briefly before he left.”
“Aha. And did he say anything about your mother’s estate?”
“Only that the family would be gathering at his office on Wednesday afternoon for the reading of the will.”
“Hrmp. I don’t like this secrecy. They were always thick as thieves, those two, conspiring among themselves.”
“But I don’t understand, Auntie. Surely Mother had a right to some privacy regarding her affairs—I’m certain there was no slight intended.”
“Oh, you’re quite right, Missy. She certainly was private regarding her ‘affairs’ as you call them—but, there’s the family heritage to consider, particularly the deposition of priceless heirlooms and other records of importance.”
Hailey grew defensive.
“I’m sure Mother made all her wishes known to Mr. Gunn. He didn’t tell me any of the details, only that he intended to follow her wishes to the letter.”
“Would you consider deferring to your elders in this matter, Hailey? We know best how to guard mementoes from the past—especially articles that you would not recognize as having any particular significance.”
“According to Mr. Gunn, all those details were meticulously worked out. He said Mother was extremely well-organized.”
“Yes, of course, but inevitably things will be overlooked—we’re just asking to retain our purview as custodians of the family heritage.”
Aunt Alicia eyes narrowed and seemed to probe Hailey’s thoughts, flicking to and fro like a searchlight scanning dark territories.
“I don’t know what to tell you Auntie, until I hear the will.”
“Well, you could reassure me that you’re amenable to reason and you recognize our responsibility as depositories of the family tradition.”
“As I said, Mr. Gunn assured me he and Mother had gone over all these matters. I’d prefer to reserve any decision until I was apprised of the actual details of the will.”
Her aunt was not pleased with the response. Lil eyed Alicia and a subtle flicker of information transfer passed between them. Alicia straightened up and looked Hailey directly in the eye.
“May I inform you that your mother has confided certain information to us as sisters, the exact details of which she would not want disclosed. You were not privy to those matters, Hailey and to be frank, your mother’s capabilities were failing in her later years—I have good reason to suspect that these concerns may not have been fully addressed in her will.”
“Are you suggesting Mother was in some way mentally incapacitated?”
“Let’s say she was forgetful and prone to make rash decisions that she wouldn’t have made in her younger years.”
“I have to disagree with you Aunt Alicia—Mother may have been many things, but forgetful and rash were not her weaknesses.”
“On what are you basing your opinion, Hailey—twice monthly visits, lasting perhaps an hour?”
Her aunt’s comment threw her. How did she know the specific details about her comings and goings? Aunt Alicia’s pupils went black and hard as a ferret’s.
“I’m just asking you to be reasonable, Hailey. Ev and Lil and I have all observed your mother’s failings for some time now and I think you should accept our opinion.”
She eyed Hailey, judging her reaction.
“I’m not saying your mother was incapacitated as such, but she was slowing down and inclined to get flustered. She was on medication that tended to exacerbate her condition and make her confused.”
“Really?” Hailey tried to hide the cynicism in her tone, but her expression must have betrayed her.
Alicia turned away, rebuffed. She looked to Lil as if passing off to her.
Lil rose to the challenge. “Show some respect, Girl. Remember your place. This off-handed attitude might be acceptable among your peers, but it is totally inappropriate when addressing your elders.”
“I’m sorry, aunties. I don’t mean to appear offensive, but I refuse to accept your assessment of Mother’s abilities. I’m sure you only mean to help, but as a daughter I feel obligated to obey Mother’s dying wishes. After hearing the will, I’ll be better able to discuss this issue on a better footing.”
Alicia’s face was dark. “There is no need to be obstinate or impertinent. Your Aunt Lil and I are only asking for a commitment from you to respect the long-held family traditions and to assist in their continuance.”
Hailey sensed her aunts were asking for and expecting a whole lot more.
“I don’t know what more I can say to you both at this moment. I am at an obvious disadvantage as you, yourself, alluded to, Aunt Alicia, when you said I was not privy to all my mother’s affairs. I believe I am acting in her best interest and mine to defer any decision until after I hear the will.”
Alicia’s eyes darkened and she stood up, obviously irritated.
“You may regret that decision, Hailey. We may also have to act to safeguard our interests. Carefully consider what we have said. I’ll be asking again after the funeral if you have changed your mind—hopefully, by then you’ll have come to your senses.”
She looked over at her sister. “Come along, Lil.”
Hailey watched the two women return to the reception room.
She felt uneasy and mistrustful of their motives.
Why was it so important to them that she surrender and submit to their authority—even before hearing the contents of the will?
Moreover, if it were just a case of preserving family traditions and history, why was there such a sense of urgency?
There was more to this than met the eye. Perhaps Mr. Gunn should be informed—and that was another decision she’d have to ponder.
© 2017, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.