*Short story originally written for a flash fiction challenge in which the elements of Drama, a conference room, and a baby rattle were to be used.
The conference room smelled of furniture polish. I sat alone at the long mahogany table admiring the elegant decorations and I marveled at the circumstances that brought me here.

My mother had died. I hadn’t even seen here in over two years, since I left to travel around Europe, much to my family’s chagrin.  We’d spoken on the phone a few times, at Christmas and Mother’s Day, but the conversations usually consisted of the weather, when I was going to ‘give this up and come home’, or if I had met a ‘nice young man’ yet.

But I didn’t want to give it up. I loved traveling and I didn’t care about meeting a nice man at all. I wanted to travel and write for as long as I could. But the truth was, it probably wouldn’t be much longer – writing jobs were slim and I was running out of money.

My thoughts were interrupted when the attorney finally walked in, brown leather briefcase in hand.

“Sorry to keep you waiting. Miss Collins, as you know we are here to discuss the conditions and terms of your mother’s last will and testament. Do you have any questions before we proceed?”

I shook my head slowly. Should I have questions? It’s not like I’m familiar with the legal process that follows the death of a relative. I was certain this entire thing was just a formality; surely my mother would want to leave everything to my sister Caryn. She always liked Caryn more, always commented on how responsible and put together she was. There was always the implication that by comparison, I was irresponsible and not put together.

“Actually yes.” I suddenly realized I did have a question. “Where is my sister? Shouldn’t we be doing this together?”

“Miss Collins your mother was very specific in her wishes. She requested that the two of you go through this process alone. She believed that the news would be better absorbed this way.”

I nodded. “Ok then.”

“Alright.” The attorney nodded and began pulling folders from the briefcase, placing them neatly on the table. “I have here a sealed envelope for you Miss Collins. My instructions are to let you read it first, alone, then proceed with all further legal matters when you are ready.” She slid a cream envelop toward me. “I’ll be right outside.”

As she stood to go I reached for the pitcher of water in the center of the table. I poured a glass and prepared to read the last words my mother wrote to me. I could only imagine all the nagging that she’d bottled up to save for this moment, no doubt receiving some pleasure knowing that she would have the last word.

I settled into the chair and opened the envelope, surprised by the photo that fell out. It was an old picture of my mother and me. My mother was young, her hair long and her features soft. She was looking down at me, holding a bright blue rattle and smiling genuinely.

I set the photo aside and moved on to the letter.

Emily.

 

It is awkward writing a letter to your child, knowing that when she reads it you’ll be dead. In any case here we are.

 

That picture was one of our first together. And it’s one of my favorites. You were such a happy, carefree baby, so pleasant to be around. You always wanted to play and explore, to do things at your own pace, couldn’t be rushed for anything.  I’m honestly not sure why it became such a shock for me that you remained that way into your adult life.

 

I know we haven’t spoken much in the last few years. I know I am to blame for that. I should have been easier on you. I should have just let you be instead of pestering you to get a “real” job and become what I thought you should.

 

I never told you this but I think I envied you. I think I envied your choice to remain independent and unmarried. Untethered to anyone or anything. Never settling for a life you didn’t love, and instead forging a new life full of travel and adventure.

 

I suppose it’s too late for what I should have done. But I hope you know that I have loved you so much all of your life. I hope you know that I always wanted what was best for you, even if I didn’t know what that was.

 

But I cannot go back in time and do things differently and I do not have the time left to try to make up for the past.

 

I am leaving the store to your sister. She lives here and she likes it. But Emily, I am leaving the rest to you. I want you to have the financial freedom to travel and live the life you love. To explore the world at your pace and to continue being carefree.

I looked up from the letter and realized I had been crying. I didn’t know what to think. I felt every emotion – relief, anger, sadness. Why hadn’t she told me these things when she was alive? I was angry at her for making me wait until now to read these words. And I was struck by an overwhelming sadness, realizing that my mother was actually gone.

But in with all those emotions there was also happiness. My mother had loved me and been proud of me. My mother had left me the gift of more time, more financial freedom to keep doing what I love. And for that I felt thankful.

Just then there was a knock at the door and the attorney looked in. “Miss Collins? Are you ready to move forward?”

I looked down at the picture and folded the letter into my lap. With a heavy heart and a long sigh I realized that yes – I was ready to move forward.

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