Lightning flashed across the sky, quick and fierce. It reminded Sylvia of the man beside her. His face was a hardened mask right now as he stared out at the sea, watching waves crash down angrily. This weekend was already off to a terrible start and the storm was an un-welcomed addition to their party. Lue hadn’t even known his grandmother was ill. The whole affair came as a bit of a shock, for both of them. But hadn’t she made sure they were prepared?
“Lue, are you going to come in?”
He pulled the cigarette from between his lips, blowing smoke towards her. She closed her eyes. He isn’t angry with you, it’s everything else, she told herself as she remained calm. She would keep the smile on her face, if only to make him angrier. She did earn a small thrill from it.
“Why would I do that?”
She glanced back towards the mansion, the way it stood against the sky. As though it were the center and the sky was simply background noise. It was impressive in a way, frightening also. She had grown up reading about the house and its occupants, and now here she was. Eagerly waiting while pretending to not care about where they were. The past few years had led her to this moment. All the time spent with Lue, the dealing with his quirks and broken fragments, had brought her here. Finally,
She hadn’t spent much time within the building but Lue had grown up there. He knew every room, had run up and down the halls as a child, and slammed doors as a teenager. He had climbed out of those beautiful windows, sneaking to parties, he had stared out them at storms just like this one. He had earned scars and hard edges here. This was the home that had built Lue.
It was also the home that broke him.
It broke everyone.
Or so she was told.
Sylvia hadn’t yet experienced it, not the way they described it. Lue was certain the place was cursed and being back on its grounds had flooded him with a rage he couldn’t control. His thoughts had spiraled. He felt as though someone else were controlling his thoughts and his actions. He felt as though he were sharing his body with someone else, he wanted to tear his skin from his flesh to make room for himself.
“They’re reading the will,” Sylvia answered, following his gaze to the water. He could remember running to the sea as a child, his grandmother watching from the window in the tower. If anything had happened to him, she wouldn’t have been able to stop it. But at least she would have known.
It was her will being read in the mansion’s massive library. The room where his grandfather had worked for years, the room that his grandmother had tried to turn into an enjoyable escape. She had exchanged many of his grandfather’s thick volumes for decorated fairytales and signed classics. When he was young his grandmother would spend hours reading to him, even after he was too old to read to, she insisted.
He didn’t want to go in that room again. He had stepped into it briefly, only for a second and that was enough. The smell had permeated his clothing and tainted his skin. Sylvia had been enthralled since he parked their Mercedes in the parking lot, staring up at the building with huge eyes. Her mouth practically watered. He knew she was hoping the house was left to him, but he was hoping he was completely left out of the will. Please let Frederick inherit it all, he thought to himself. His brother was older, and though they had always butted heads, he didn’t want the property and fortune to fall to him. It was too much. Frederick could handle it. Frederick and whatever wife he was onto now. Lue took another drag of his cigarette, thinking of the nieces and nephews he hadn’t seen since they were born. Frederick had shipped them off to private schools as soon as they could speak. They were getting used to a revolving door of mothers. That was no way for a child to be raised. Lue turned to the mansion again, thinking of his own upbringing and Frederick’s. There were clear differences.
Frederick hadn’t seen the shadows slinking along the hallways, he hadn’t heard the sobs coming from the garden. He hadn’t thought of flinging himself from the cliff into the sea just to see what would happen. No, that had been Lue. Frederick was happy at his private school three states away. He had escaped the family and their misfortune, but Lue was thrust into it after their parents died in an unexpected car crash.
Or a completely expected car crash if you asked his grandmother.
Lue wondered if his grandmother had seen her own death coming. He presumed she did. That was why she had such an extensive plan here. Lue had received an invitation for the get together three months before his grandmother died, as did Frederick. When he agreed to the get together originally, he didn’t realize how somber the event would be. He should have known though. It’s Blair House.
“What if we leave?”
Sylvia laughed, looking down at the dark blue dress she had picked out precisely for this occasion. She had spent more than she cared to admit on it, but she wanted to present herself as someone who belonged in Blair House. She wanted to look like she belonged with Lue.
“You could inherit a fortune.”
“You don’t understand.”
“So let me. Let’s go see what they’re going to say. They’re waiting.”
“Frederick should inherit it.”
Sylvia touched his arm, the material of his suit soft beneath her fingers. “Maybe he will, but you won’t know until we go in.”
“We leave as soon as they’re done reading. No matter what the outcome is.”
Sylvia turned back towards the mansion, her hand still on Lue’s shoulder as she bit her lip. It was so beautiful. Large windows welcomed them, they pulled the eyes of those lucky enough to be on the grounds inwards. They begged them to walk through the door and lope down the hallways, they beckoned them to go in and view the artwork that graced the walls, to touch the spines of the books that sat patiently on their shelves, awaiting the next person willing to read them. She wanted to be that person, she wanted to be the elegant mysterious woman that lived in Blair House. She wanted to be a Blair. She had read all about them growing up, collecting the magazines that featured interviews with the family and tours of the property. They were famous in town. They were a crushed family worth a fortune.
What Money Can’t Buy had been her favorite article, an article in which Lue himself had discussed growing up without his parents and being separated from his brother.
Sylvia would never admit to Lue that she had been obsessed with his family for years. If she had, she wouldn’t have gotten this far.
And here she was. Standing on the grounds of the Blair House.
She had made sure she went to the same college as Lue, switched into his classes within the first week, and accidentally dropped one of her papers in front of him. As she had hoped, he had followed her to return it to her. And the rest was history.
“Okay, we leave as soon as they’re done reading,” She agreed, simply to get him to take her hand and lead them towards the main door. At least, with his hand wrapped around hers, and the wind whipping around them, she could pretend that she was a Blair, that she belonged here with this unbelievable man and his family, or what was left of it.
Stepping into the building broke the image she had formed of herself. Her cheap shoes squeaked on the expensive floor, breaking a heavy silence that sat inside like another body. Lue removed his hand from hers.
There was a heaviness in the building, it sucked the breath from Sylvia’s lungs and she needed to remind herself to breathe. Such a simple thing seemed too loud in the building, as though it would disturb a sleeping beast.
But there were worse things. She could accept the silence.
Lue walked slightly ahead of her, his clip suddenly increasing as he wiped his hands on his pants. She could see the irritation in his jaw, but wasn’t sure what she had done to cause it.
Sylvia stopped herself from reaching out to touch the frames of the paintings she had read so much about, of course she had studied them in her art history classes as much as she had in the magazines that were still stacked in her mother’s attic. She tried not to frown as she thought of her parents’ house. It was a small home on the other side of the state, quaint and away from the ocean. Away from anything worth mentioning. But she had loved it all the same.
As she gazed around Blair House, she imagined what it would be like to live within the walls with Lue. She wondered if it would be everything she imagined, or if somehow, it would be more. They could change it. Even if she didn’t love him, which she was slowly realizing, she would help him fix this place. It deserved to be beautiful.
A cool breeze made its way down the hallway and she found herself wishing she had worn a sweater. She hadn’t been expecting it to be cold on this hot summer day, but goosebumps had taken shape on her arms and legs.
“There must be a draft somewhere.”
Lue laughed. “Yeah, a draft.”
Lue knew the cold weather of Blair House well. It was impossible to get rid of it, it sat within the walls. It was in the very structure of the building. It was the blood and tears that had gone into it. It would never go away. It would linger. It would most likely still be there even after the building was gone.
He found himself fantasizing about the ruin of the building he had grown up in. He wondered what could possibly take it down, if anything. It had survived hurricanes and earthquakes, the strongest winds and rains. And it still continued to stand. The local fire department had saved it from the wildfire of 1937 and again in 1996. He was sure there would be more, and they would most likely have the same outcome.
Blair House would continue to stand.
They had reached the entrance to the library, he could hear the sniffling of his brother and the woman he assumed to be his newest sister-in-law. Was this number three or four? He couldn’t keep track anymore nor did he care to. After the first wedding (which was a sham) he had stopped attending family events. This was the first, and it was only because it was for his grandmother. He would have rather avoided the entire reading of the will, he would have been happy just saying goodbye to the house, but Sylvia had pushed this, saying it was important, saying it was the last thing he would hear from his beloved grandmother. She had raised him. How could he say no to that? Besides, he had agreed to come. He argued that at the time, he hadn’t known what he was agreeing to.
He stepped into the library again with Sylvia holding his hand. He tried to ignore the queasy feeling in his gut. He didn’t want to be here. A sudden anger awoke in him and stormed away from Sylvia to lean against a bookcase in the corner of the room, leaving her standing awkwardly by the door. There were images on the bookcase behind him of ancestors he would rather not face. His cheeks burned as eyes turned on him, he bit back bile as he noticed the fake tears on his brother’s cheeks. There was no emotion in his eyes, but Lue assumed that had been gone since the day he was born. Frederick Blair was a monster.
Lue took a deep breath, looking towards the ceiling as Denis Sampson, the family lawyer, cleared his throat. He was seated at the desk, the same desk the Blair family had occupied for generations. He could feel Sylvia staring at him, but refused to meet her gaze. His discomfort was her fault and he wouldn’t let her off the hook easily after this. He hoped she had gotten what she wanted out of the event.
He was well aware that Blair House was a thing of interest to everyone in the state, perhaps to everyone in the country if he allowed himself to be so arrogant. It had been built with the bare hands of Irish immigrants and filled with their family. The walls had seen…
He wouldn’t let his mind wander down that road, but there were plenty of tales about Blair House. There were enough to fill books. Maybe enough to fill a library.
“We are all gathered here today to read the final will and testament of Loraine G. Blair,” The old man looked up at the room, taking in the four faces around him. Lue was dry eyed but distracted, he stared at the ceiling, hands in the pockets of his slacks. It was a posture that Denis Sampson was used to seeing him in, he supposed that was because he was never called to the house on good terms. Frederick Blair was dabbing at his eye while his new wife wore a darkened veil over her face. The dramatics were a bit much for him and he supposed that was one reason the will was written the way it was. Sylvia, Lue’s recent girlfriend, stood off to the side with her hands crossed in front of her. Her eyes were downcast, her cheeks rosie. She was listening intently, of that he was sure. “To Frederick Blair, I leave with you the care of my 1933 Cadillac Sedan, my 1955 F-150, the collection of novels currently housed in the museum, and the plot beside your father.”
Frederick sat up straight, dabbing his eyes that were now completely dry. He met Denis’ eye. “And?”
Denis cleared his throat and kept reading, knowing already that Frederick would not like the rest of the document. It was out of his hands. “Within the vehicles you will find answers to the questions I know you possess. The answer to your why. Call the number you will find there. You may not truly be mine, but I did love you in a way.”
Denis glanced up from the will, watching Frederick’s face for recognition of the words. There was no moment of realization, just as Lorraine had said there wouldn’t be. Frederick didn’t understand riddles, but Sylvia and Lue had both shifted during the reading. He supposed, they understood the underlying meaning. He continued
“Lue, my son, my one true heir, I leave Blair House and all items and funds that go with it. It is now in your care to do with what you wish,” Denis looked towards Lue who had gone completely still. He pulled a key from his pocket and unlocked the top drawer of Loraine’s-Lue’s desk. He pulled out a thick leather bound journal. It looked old, but Denis knew it was relatively new. “And finally, to Lue I would like to leave this leather bound journal with my final words, my final thoughts. I love you all and look forward to the moment we are reunited. For now, enjoy your life, count your blessings and not your years..”
“This is insane!” Frederick stood, leaping to his feet so quickly the leather couch he was sitting on jostled backwards. Lue was staring intently at the leather bound journal. Sylvia had begun to cry, but was avoiding meeting the eyes of those around her. This place is worth a fortune, she thought to herself, so much history, Blair House is mine. It was the moment she had been waiting for, the moment her life would truly change.
“This is what your grandmother wanted,” Denis folded the will neatly and slid it into his pocket.
“She was a crazy old bat!”
“Don’t speak about her like that,” Lue pushed himself away from the bookcase, feeling the heat rise up in his body. His hands tingled, forming fists, as he thought of the last time Frederick had stepped upon the property. He wasn’t there for very long.
Frederick’s new wife reached up to touch his arm, but he shook her off.
“Loraine was a crazy old bat. And leaving Blair House to you just proves it. Lydia, let’s go. We’re out of here.”
Lue rolled his eyes as Frederick yanked Lydia away from the couch. He walked quickly out the library door, pretending to not hear Lue behind him. “Running away like always. It’s the only thing you’re good at Frederick. I want your vehicles off my property within ten days or they’re mine.”
“Legally,” Denis added as Frederick’s footsteps faded away.
Lue took the leather bound journal in his hand, knowing it held the last words his grandmother would say to him. He wanted to read it in private. Denis had always been good at reading people and he sensed Lue’s need to be alone.
“Shall I take Sylvia on a tour?”
Lue smiled. “That would be fine Denis.”
Sylvia could have squealed with excitement, but she held it at bay. She had never had a tour of Blair House, she had only dreamed of it since she was a teenager reading about it in the magazines. She wanted to see every inch of it, and now it was hers. She could spend every day in the house, she would learn all of its secrets, and maybe create more. The gardens were hers, the library, the statues…all hers.
Lue waited for them to walk out before sitting upon the couch Frederick had just vacated. He took a deep breath and opened the leather bound journal. The first page was empty, and the next, and the next. Confused he began flipping through the pages, finding almost all of them empty. And then there, there it was. A scribble caught his eye and he flipped back to the page where Loraine had left her final message for him.
Burn it to the ground.
Lue stared at the words, their meaning sinking in. He couldn’t help himself. He laughed until tears slid from his eyes, ran down his cheeks, and dampened the pages. He would miss his grandmother, but he wouldn’t miss Blair House.
Katrina Thornley is a nature poet. novelist, and freelance journalist that resides in Rhode Island. She has two poetry collections currently published, a novel, as well as a short story anthology. Her poetry collections "Arcadians: Lullaby in Nature" and "Arcadians: Wooden Mystics" were inspired by a local park and life in her small rural town. You can find them on Amazon now!
About the Creator
Katrina Thornley is a Rhode Island based author and poet. You can find Arcadians: Lullaby in Nature and Arcadians: Wooden Mystics on Amazon now. Her debut novel Kings of Millburrow is now available!