I stood at the foot of the porch steps, gazing up towards the door. Twelve steps to the top. I had counted them long ago. Twelve steps to the top, eight steps to the door, then just knock. Wow, sounded really easy when I thought about it. So, why wouldn't my feet move? Eleven years later and I still dreaded this place. All the old signs were there. My heart was racing, my palms were sweaty and I was stuck at the bottom of the stairs. Ah, home sweet home.
"Buck up, Nicolai, this isn't going to be that bad! You aren't a kid anymore. Yeah, just keep chanting this in your head, Niko and everything will be fine!" Great! Another sign of being home, I am talking to myself. With an exaggerated sigh, I forced myself to walk up the steps, stopping at the top. Eight more steps. Raise the hand, knock, hard but not to loud. With any luck, they won't hear me and I can turn and run. No, not run, walk quickly. Yeah, that's it. I will just walking quickly away. The definite sounds of foot fall heading towards the door. Oh well, was a nice daydream anyway. The door opens and there is Russell, looking just as he did eleven years ago when I ran out this very door, severe and unwelcoming.
His eyes narrowed, than ran up and down the length of me.
"We do not accept solicitors. Go a way." He moved to close the door. For the briefest instant, I contemplated letting him just close it and going with my plan B, the whole walking away really fast idea but, I didn't.
"Russell, I was invited here." He looked down his thin, long nose at me. After a few brief moments, recognition flashed over his face and, I have to admit, it was priceless. I think he almost stammered.
"Master Nicolai? You have," he looked me up and down again, "changed."
"Eleven years will do that to a person, Russell. If you would be so kind as to let me in, now." It felt good being a bit pushy with him. It made my heart slow down and I unclenched the fists that I hadn't realized I was clenching. He just started at me for a few more moments as if weighing whether or not to let me in.
"May I see some form of identification?" Now he was just being annoying and I wasn't going to play.
"No, no you may not. Now, I am here at the request of my father's lawyer. You either get out of my way or I will leave. That is it, your only choices." Anger danced around his eyes.
"I see something has not changed. You still have no manners." But, he stepped aside. I strolled past him, feeling proud of myself. A few steps into the huge mansion, the sound of the old, solid oak door closing and my stomach sank. I started to sweat and I instantly began to curse, silently to myself for actually fighting to get in here. I hated here. I always had. From the marble floors to the white furniture you would never consider actually sitting on, I despised this place. With a small shudder and a gulp, I looked over my shoulder at the butler, Russell, another bane of my childhood. Was there the slightest smirk on his face? Did he realize how much I hated it here? As the phantom smirk spread into a smile, I had my answer. I frowned and tried to look nonchalant.
"Where are they..." my question was cut off by a voice from behind me.
"Nicolai, how nice of you to come, though, we didn't expect you until later." I didn't jump. I actually gave myself extra points for not jumping. I turned slowly, eyeing my father's lawyer, Richard.
"Yes, I bet everyone wanted me to show up later which, of course, is why I did not. I suppose I am I should ask you how you knew it was me after eleven years but, I don't think I want to know the answer." He smiled.
"Private detectives, Nicolai. It's how I knew where to send the obituary notice. We had him snap of a few photos, just so we knew who to expect..." He was walking around me, circling me like the shark. Hmm, funny, just accord to me where I have seen his smile before, Discovery Channel during Shark Week. "Your family was pleasantly surprised that you look so much like your father, Nicolai." I couldn't help looking up at the life-sized painting of my father. Richard was right, of course. I had his jet black hair; just as wavy as his; though I let mine grow to my shoulders instead of his neat at the nap cut. The high cheek bones, the dark blue eyes, yes, much to my chagrin, I was every bit the Beaumont. His voice drew my eyes back to him. "I think they were afraid you would lean towards your mother's side of the family."
"Like my temperament?" I held up my hand, to cut off his mock protest. "I don't want to spar with you, Richard. Why am I here?" He frowned, tilting his head to one side.
"Why, I thought that would be obvious, Nicolai. You are here for the reading of the Will." I laughed. I not only laughed, I got down right loud. I couldn't help it. This was the last thing I had expected. I glanced at Richard, tears streaming down my face, and he did not look amused. I waved my hand, trying to control myself but, it was another few moments before I could speak.
"Goodbye" I choked out as I gasped for breath, straightening up and walking towards the door.
"Nicolai, wait!" I wiped my eyes and looked back at him. "You are in the Will." I stopped walking. Turning to face him, I said in my best mockery of Richard's voice.
"At to my youngest son, I leave the family curse and a dagger between the shoulder blades." I shook my head. "Thank you anyway, Richard. I will pass."
"If he had wanted a dagger between your shoulder blades, boy, it would be done! It wasn't that difficult to find you."
"How refreshing, I will remember that in the future!"
"I thought you didn't want to spar? Just stay, as soon as the other awake, we can have the reading and, if you still feel the need to flee, you can do so then."
"Flee, what an apt turn of phrase. Richard, I will stay if I have your word my relatives will let me leave if I so choose." Richard opened his mouth to answer but it was a female voice that purred from upstairs.
"Baby brother, if you wish to leave, I will promise your safety." Lucinda glided down the stairs. "You, look wonderful." She smiled, and for a moment, I almost believed she cared. But, my mind latched onto the glide and I remembered, before it was too late, that Lucinda did nothing that didn't promote what she wanted. This meant I was a game piece. Already. I hung my head.
"Hello, Lucinda. Am I a Knight or a Pawn in this game? Just so I know which ways I can move?" I looked up, carefully looking at her beautiful face but, avoiding her eyes. I didn't need to look into them to know they were the same dark, sapphire color of mine. I also didn't need to tempt fate by seeing if I could still break away from her gaze. No, better to look at her cheeks. She continued gliding towards me, having reached the bottom of the stairs and pulled me into an embrace. In a purr that only she could get away with, she whispered in my ear.
"That, baby brother, depends on what the nice lawyer says about you after he reads the Will." I chuckled. Lucinda loved her games but, at least I could still rely on her to let me know it was just a game.
"Coddling him, already, I see." This time I jumped. I wasn't proud of it but having my older brother hiss in my ear, when I hadn't even heard him slither up behind me was, well, scary!
"Leave him alone, Chance. We are all here to get along." Lucinda moved around into between the two of us.
"Lucinda, dear, sweet sister, we are here for a great many reasons, none of them being to get along! Hello, Nicolai. I didn't make you wet yourself, did I?" I gritted my teeth.
"Why no, not this time. But don't worry, Chance, the night is young. And, as I was just telling Richard before Lucinda brightened the room with her beautiful self, I need to be going."
"Run, run, run. How completely like you. Alas, I would love to watch you skitter away, little brother but, Richard has made it abundantly clear that the Will can't be read without you here so, I am afraid you are staying." I rubbed my forehead and looked over at Richard.
"I really didn't want to put it like that but, your brother is correct. All five of you have to be here before it can be read. So, if you go, no Will." Oh, I really wanted to keep a straight face and not have a sadistic smile appear but, I failed, miserably. I heard Chance's jaw clench behind me and I almost snickered. The look on Lucinda's face told me to stop. Chance had moved closer, I could feel his breath on my neck.
"Don't push it, Nicolai; no one said you couldn't be tied to a chair for the reading."
"Not that this old home night, diatribe isn't amusing but, could we keep, at very least, the illusion of civility?" And then there were four, I thought as I peeked over in the direction of my Cousin Krista's voice. She waved. The only blonde in the family, how in the world had she survived? She walked over, all but knocking Chance out of the way and hugging me. Then, just as she had done so many times when we were younger, she freaked me out by whispering in my ear. "I survive, dearest cousin, because I am just as mean as they are!" And with that, she nipped my ear and moved away.
"I hate, when you do that!"
"Get over it!" She yawned and ran a hand through her golden locks. "Where is Blair?"
"Blair was sleeping and then, Family Hour started. Now, Blair is hoping we can get this over with, quickly." I know he hadn't been there just a few seconds ago but then, that was my family. Always appearing when things get heated. He nodded at me. "Little cousin, how nice to see you again. Though, I know owe Krista $100.00 because I bet you wouldn't show." The hundred dollar bill showed up and Krista was suddenly there, plucking it out of his hand.
"Thank you." Krista snickered.
"Hello, Blair. So sorry I have lost you a bet. If it helps, I almost didn't come tonight. I even almost ran at the door. Feel better?" Blair cocked his head to the side and ran a finger along his lips.
"I suppose. Richard, can we get this over with before Chance gets anymore annoyed?" My eyes shot to Chance who was, indeed, looking just the safe side of hostile. Richard cleared his throat.
"As we are all here now, yes, I think getting started would be a wonderful idea. If you will all follow me into the study." I grimaced. That sounded so cliché but followed along anyway.
My father's study was just like the rest of the house, large and cold. I had only been in here a few times as a child but the memories were strong. I grabbed one of the chairs that was sat out and wrapped my arms around myself, feeling the cold creep in. Completely encircling the room was floor to ceiling bookshelves. The volumes that filled them, both old and priceless, and completely untouchable laid, perfectly dusted in a row. I hate this place, my brain screamed. I looked around, chuckling as I noticed I was sitting off away from everyone else. Ah, just like old times. Richard stood behind my father's desk, a thick stack of papers in his hands. His voice rattled on with the boring legalities and I didn't bother tuning back in until he hit Chance's name.
"And to my eldest son, Chance Kevin Beaumont, I leave controlling shares in the Beaumont Corporation... " I tuned back out. No surprise there, of course Chance would get the main family Corp. Richard went on to list a huge sub-list of other companies and holdings that big brother would receive. I must not have been paying enough attention because, after the long list, Chance was frowning. This went on and on, and after the long list that each person ahead of me was read, each was frowning. Even Krista, the person read right before my name was to come up, had a bit of a confused look on her face. I must have been addled because up until Richard stated my name and read off my first bequeath, I didn't get it. After he had said it, I got it! The house. Father had left me the house.
I had stood up without even realizing it. I backed towards the door with just as little effort. Chance's eyes were burning with an inner fire, bright and blue and his hands were clutching the arms of his chair. My breath caught in my throat and I was about to run when Lucinda and Krista both started to laugh. Richard looked annoyed at being interrupted but, Lucinda and Krista just kept laughing.
"What do you two find so funny?" Chance snarled, standing up and glaring.
"It's...perfect!" Lucinda choked. Krista nodded her head in agreement, unable to muster speech.
"Enough!" Richard all but roared, causing all of us to look at him in amazement. "If all of you could manage to act like adults for awhile longer, I would appreciate it. Now, along with the house, Nicolai, you also get-" he proceeded to name of some stocks and a sum of money that made my mouth drop. "This will keep you and the house happy for the rest of your life. Now, to rest of you, hear this! If any of you fight over any part of this Will, you will be cut off and your allotment will go to the rest of my heirs." Richard looked up and around the room. "I assume you have all understood what I have said? There will be no fighting or I am to re divide all of the holdings. So, Chance, I would advice you learn to deal with this new situation. Ladies, I would advice you both to stop you're laughing so as to not irritate Chance anymore than he already is. Yes, Blair, what is it?" I looked over and saw that he had his hand raised like a child in school. Blair looked at me.
"Will you be throwing us all out?" He smiled like a small boy who had just asked if Santa was coming. Chance growled again. I ran my hand threw my hair, realizing that all eyes were turning to me. Leave it to Blair to dig me into a deeper ditch and all with a smile. My mind was reeling. I actually had completely control of a rather large part of their lives. They all needed this house while I had been away and knew I could make it alone. It was an interesting twist of fate. As I was pondering my life situation, Russell walked in and announced that Krista had a telephone call. I looked over at him, a smile spreading across my face. "Utoh looks like someone won't be living here long." Blair said in a sing song voice. Russell looked confused.
"Take a message, Russell." Krista said with a wave of her hand.
"Oh, and then, Russell, pack everything you own and come back in here. Your last check will be waiting for you." I don't think I have ever said words that tasted so sweet. Russell's look of confusion deepened until Blair, ever the one to pour salt in wounds, explained.
"Baby Cousin Nicolai got the house, Russell. I guess this means you are unemployed!" Blair then fell back over his chair, laughing. Nice to know I wasn't the only one who hated Russell. Or perhaps this was just the kind of thing that would play up to Blair's warped humor. Either was possible. Russell gasped, looking to Richard.
"What Blair said is true. Nicolai, I assume there is know way I can talk you out of this?"
"Richard, I believe you have the paperwork for me to sign? By the time I am done signing it, you are to be packed and ready to leave Russell. Oh, and do go tell Krista's friend she will call them later." I walked towards the desk, ignoring the impulse to gloat further.
Richard was looking at me with a new found respect and quickly laid out the papers I was to sign. The firm thud of the door closing told me that, to my amazement, Russell had gone to do as I said. As soon as I had finished signing, I moved out my father's chair from the desk and sat down. I took a deep breath and looked up at my relatives. "To answer your question, Blair, no, I will not be throwing any of you out. We will all just, learn to live together again, I suppose." I looked around, already redecorating in my mind. "Yes, moving home will be nice, I think." I met all the pairs of eyes looking at me. I could do this, I thought. I could make this place worth living in. And all I would have to do is survive my family. I leaned back in the chair and smiled to myself. Ah, just like old times.