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The Cookie Baroness dies

by Aga about a year ago in fiction
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... and her revenge is sweet.

The elegant hall was filled with cheap, wooden chairs - one of those that give you uncomfortable tingling in the spine just by looking at them. I tried to count the seats and got lost at 43. All of them were already taken with more onlookers crowding in the aisle, leaning against the walls or crouching in the very first row. With the windows tightly shut, the air indoors was heavy, almost damp from breaths getting out of dozens of chests. I looked at the faces of those who had arrived: some of them I knew, some looked familiar - the almond-shaped eyes, long, thin fingers with oval nails or narrow lips - those are features characteristic to our family.

Finally, the door at the back of the hall opened - an old, sophisticated man with a massive moustache entered the room. He wrinkled his nose as if he sniffed something rotten, quickly realised that it's not how a gentleman should behave, adjusted his horn-rimmed glasses and moved towards the oak table set on the platform. The moment he sat behind the desk, the room went silent - as if someone cut down all whispers and mumbles with a sharp cut of the axe.

Mr Huskins, who happened to be one of the best (and thus the most expensive) lawyers within a radius of 5 thousand kilometres, glanced at the audience. I noticed that he looked much older since I last saw him - and that was only several months earlier. Now the wrinkles on his face deepened, eyes - darkened, and the whole posture seemed to be heavier. It had to do with Nana’s death - since she passed away, until today - the day of reading her will - he received a good dozen of phone calls, pleas, enquiries, the rumours said that even threats, from family members and anonymous sources. Everyone wanted to know one thing: is my name shortlisted to receive some of Nana’s great fortune?

Yes, Nana was rich - very rich, to be precise. Those who admired her called her “sweet Princess”; those who were jealous “the Cookie Baroness”, simultaneously diminishing her role, as if she was baking some ordinary sweets. But all of them at least once tried - and most probably instantly fell in love with - her macaroons with almond filling. The rumour has it that her baking saved the Old Continent - during the peace negotiations after the Great War, the enthusiasm for her bakings was the only thing that all monarchs could agree on. They sent the whole delegation for my grandmother, and as long as negotiations continued, she provided them with her exquisite desserts. She owned, and to the very last day of her life, managed a handful of very exclusive small patisserie shops in different European countries. One of those, where the smells make you drool from the very entrance, and just by looking at the confectionery display cabinet, you feel confused, almost dazzled, hypnotised. You want to try it all, or at least pinch every piece, to feel the heavenly sweetness.

- Ladies and gentlemen - the lawyer started in an official tone. - This briefcase - he pointed at the leather bag, laying just in front of him - holds the official testamentary will of the deceased Pola Starinsky.

A murmur of excitement ran through the crowd. Everyone was ready. Mr Huskins raised the palm of his hand to calm the crowd.

- I’m kindly asking you; I’m urging you to remain in your seats during the reading of the will. - he stated while and slowly opened the briefcase. He took a sealed envelope and presented it to the audience. The papers and the symbol printed on - two fighting goats, standing on the almond tree - were undoubtedly Nana’s. He slowly cracked the purple sealing wax and took the letter from the envelope. I noticed his hands were shaking and voice almost unnoticeably trembling - he knew. He knew something, and most importantly - he was afraid of it.

“I hated you all, and I mean it. All of you - with small exceptions” - the lawyer’s baritone echoed in the hall. Everyone held their breath. - “most of you are lazy parasites, just waiting for me to kick the bucket. I also know that some of you started spending my fortune before I died, which suggests that you are reckless and quite silly. Do not expect anything from me. All of my money will go to a good cause - supporting young talents from disadvantaged homes. However ...” - the crowd almost choked with excitement - there is one small gift I want to leave to one of you”.

I knew one thing - that’s not going to be me. Nana spared no warm feelings towards me - for a good reason. It was me who took her beloved, and only, daughter from her. Grandma never raised me - several days after the short funeral ceremony, she secured a place for me in the small orphanage run by nuns. I still met her from time to time, but we never were close. Every time I tried to grab her hand or - something I was missing most in my early days in an orphanage - get a hug from her, sink in her soft arms and touch her skin covered with a labyrinth of blue veins - she got stiff, cold almost out of my reach. I could feel her muscles tighten up and hep lips - clenched. I tried for several years, and then - I fed up. That’s why I would never expect her to leave me anything. Why did I come here, then? To see family members fighting over every penny over Nana’s grave isn’t probably the best way to remember her - but still better than bearing in mind the white knuckles of her clenched fists. And, hey - let’s be honest - not every day you can see the money-wrestling competition between two skinny aunties. I didn’t want to miss it. Now, with all eyes on me, I understood I should have stayed home.

- Julia, come here - the soft lawyer’s voice struck me. I could feel my stomach turned into a heavy stone, and my throat dried up instantly. I slowly got up, standing on the wobbly legs, and - almost automatically - moved towards the ebony desk.

- That’s for you - he handed in an elegant diary, covered in black leather.

- Open it! - someone shouted from the back of the hall.

- Tell us what’s inside!

I looked at Mr Huskins, and he slowly nodded. I opened the small, black book and flipped through pages. I could not believe my eyes.

- It’s empty - I heard my trembling voice crawling out of the throat. - Nothing’s here... Oh, except for the short dedication. - I blinked two or three times - Urging me to get my together.

- No way, show us!

- She’s lying! She must! - someone whispered in the far left corner.

- I... I do... I do not.... - I mumbled.

- She’s right - the lawyer said out loud - I can vouch for that.

There was a silence for several seconds, and then a whisper of amusement passed through the room. I could only hear snippets of sentences: “The old scrooge left her a notebook”, “she never liked her”, “just to see the disappointment in her eyes, it was worth coming here...”

Some were still not convinced and demanded to see the little black notebook. They touched the pages, checked whether the cover was glued, smirked in disbelief. Finally, one of the uncles announced: “the old witch had mocked us all. We won’t get a penny”, and as if by some magic trick, the hall emptied. I realised I was still standing with my eyes fixed on the floor. Mr Huskins came up to me and touched my shoulder.

- Come on, child. It has been a long day. Let me offer you a cup of hot chocolate.

We’ve been sitting at Nana’s patisserie shops, and a hot drink was steaming from the cups. Even its sweet smell could not overcome the evil thoughts and shame that spilled in red over my cheeks and neck.

- Nana asked me to take care of you just in case - he waved his hand in the air as if chasing away mosquitoes - they would try to steal the notebook from you.

I nodded.

- It’s not as you think - he said. - Nana wanted you to be happy.

I raised my eyebrows. Since when making fun of somebody was supposed to be helpful?

- I booked a hotel room for you, outside the city. Your grandmother paid for that already. She wanted to protect you until the whole fuss with the will dies down.

Two hours later, I was lying in a hotel bed, very comfortable indeed, with a notebook next to my head. I learned the six sentences by heart already.

“I want you to have this book as a small souvenir. Own your future, young lady. It’s high time. Right now. Not tomorrow, but today. This should help - keep it as a memory of nana”.

Repeating them in my head was painful - the sweaty faces of uncles and smirking aunties were moving like a kaleidoscope. But at the same time, it worked like a mantra - making me dizzy, helping me fall asleep. The sentences started to dance in my head; the letters swam chaotically in my mind. Something struck me; everything became more explicit, obvious. I jumped out of bed and to the closet. I opened it and saw it - at the very corner lied the old fashion iron. I knew I must try it.

I plugged the iron into the socket and pressed it against the first page. One, two, three seconds - that should be enough, I reckon? I looked at the page - nothing. I was almost sure that it was a riddle, a word puzzle, that the capital letters...

And then it happened. Letters slowly started to appear on the page; faded at first, but as in Polaroid photos, every second gave them richness and boldness.

“If you read this, it means something went very well or very wrong, but I am dead now in both instances. I wasn’t the best Nana, and I know that money won’t change it, but I hope it will help you start all over again. With your talent - you will achieve a lot. But you won’t be able with other family members knowing you’ve got it all. They would try to cut your throat, drown you in a bathtub, or shoot you on the street. They tried all those tricks with me. I want you to be safe - even Mr Huskins does know only a smart part of my plan. That’s why you must rip these pages out. Destroy them. And then leave the country. Forget about others. Everything is ready for you, including a check for $20 000 stored in a PO Box number --”

That’s where the first page ended.

And that’s where my new life began.


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