Anne signed her maiden name for what seemed like the hundredth time and added the document to the pile in front of her. "And just one more," the legal assistant said as she slid another across the well-polished table. Anne pressed the gilded tip of the fountain pen down again, blotting to avoid ink stains, and signed what she hoped was the last document trans ferring her aunt’s estate to her. Again she wondered why her Aunt Cynthia had chosen her. She barely remembered her.
"Thank you, Ms. Le Clair," the attorney said. "There is one last thing." His somber tones matched the rich wood-paneled walls.
Anne reached for the pen.
"Not another document." Mr. Jefferson pushed a tattered manila enve lope across his desk. "Your aunt wanted this given to you in person. She was adamant no one open it but you."
Anne weighed the envelope in her hand. It was surprisingly light. Across the top was scrawled in a shaky hand "For Anne Morgan Le Clair Only." She dropped the envelope into her briefcase. "Thank you for all your help, Mr. Jefferson. My family is indebted to you for your service." She stood up to go.
"Thank you, Ms. Le Clair. It is always an honor working with your family."
Anne smiled faintly. Always the family. She made her good-byes and escaped into the crisp New York winter afternoon.
The Christmas crowd jostling for sidewalk space immediately swallowed her. Anne decided to go home instead of finishing her own shopping. Snow clouds darkened the sky, and all that signing had exhausted her. Besides, she had her own Christmas present to open. Maybe this gift from the past would shed some light on this mystery. She stepped to the edge of the street and raised her arm for a cab.
The snow had begun falling by the time she reached her apartment half an hour later. She ran up the stairs rather than taking the elevator. As soon as she put her key in the door, Anne heard Merlin and Vivienne’s welcom ing meows. She stepped inside, and the two Egyptian Maus rubbed against her legs, then ran into the kitchen, jumped onto the counter, and waited next to the electric can opener. They’d been a gift from her brother, Thomas, after the divorce; small bundles of fur complete with names and definite opinions. "You’ll need company," he’d said.
Anne shrugged out of her coat and dumped her briefcase on the couch, then obeyed their summonses. She opened a can of food and mixed in a spoonful of raw turkey and vitamins.
"You two eat better than I do."
Contented chewing answered her.
She put on the kettle and returned to the living room to check her mail. Nothing interesting. On her answering machine was one message from her secretary reminding her of an early appointment and another from her brother confirming dinner tomorrow.
Anne switched on the small Christmas tree she’d decorated a few days ago, then lit the fire already laid on the hearth. She stretched out on the couch, watching the flames reach eagerly for the long pieces of kindling. She added two small logs when the fire was burning well.
The whistle of the teakettle called her back into the kitchen. She rustled around in the cabinet, but decided against tea. It was a night for hot choco late. Mug in hand, she went back to the couch and fished the package from the bottom of her briefcase. She turned it over in her hand. Merlin arrived at that moment and sniffed it. "Should we wait for Christmas Day?"
Merlin pawed at the package.
"I agree." She tore open the manila envelope and turned it upside down. A small box wrapped in brown paper landed in her palm. She reached out and tucked the envelope under a log in the fireplace. The brown paper she balled up and threw on the ground for the cats to swat. They began a fast game of soccer.
In her hand, Anne held a small velvet case. She turned it over, but found no imprint from any store. She lifted the top. Nestled against smooth crim son silk lay a crystal pendant on a silver chain. Anne leaned back against the pillows. She’d expected some gem or a ring-but a simple crystal pendant?
She took the necklace out. The three-inch clear quartz point was beauti fully fixed in an old-fashioned filigree setting topped with a fleur-de-lis. The hook was old as well. She returned it to the case, trying to slide the chain under the small flaps, but the back of the box shifted. Behind the backing, Anne found a piece of stationery folded over several times. She smoothed out the letter topped with her mother’s family crest. There was no date.
You probably won’t remember me, dear. I stopped seeing you when you were about four. But I knew even then you would be the one to carry on the family tradition. I’m sorry I couldn’t train you, but if you delve deeply you may recover some memories of me from when you were quite young. I feel certain, dear, that teachers will be coming to you, and even though I have passed on, call for me in your dreams, and I will come.
Blessings to You,
Cynthia Le Clair
Anne stared at the letter, then reread it, trying to make some sense of the words. Cynthia Le Clair was the aunt who had left her the money, but when Anne had been informed of her passing, she’d had to ask Thomas who this woman was. Anne had gone through some family pictures and found Cynthia in the early ones; a tall, willowy woman riding at her grandmother’s, wavy reddish blond hair escaping from her hat. But Anne had only vague memories of her. In fact, she wasn’t certain how she’d died.
Anne put down the note and turned to the crystal. She switched on the lamp next to the sofa, then picked up the necklace and examined it closely. It looked ordinary enough. The stone was clear and cleanly formed, coming to a perfect point, but was almost too large for a necklace. She held it close to the light. As she turned it back and forth, Anne saw small cracks inside the stone. The light played softly inside, changing the hues. She yawned. At that moment, Vivienne returned from destroying the wrapping paper and settled quietly in her lap. Anne stroked her soft fur, and Vivienne closed her eyes and began to purr. The steady hum and the crackle of the fire deep ened Anne’s relaxation.
The snow fell in earnest now, muffling the apartment like a precious ornament carefully wrapped in layer after layer of tissue paper. Anne felt as if the set of rooms had detached themselves from the outside world. She was inside a snow globe, some idyllic Christmas scene, her head swirling along with the snow. She settled more deeply into her cushions and dangled the crystal in front of the fire. Anne watched the light dance inside the stone, the purples, crimsons, and golds of rainbows coming and going as the pen dant twirled. It slowed as the chain unraveled, then hung still.
Deep inside the crystal, a point of light brightened into a yellow glow, then expanded. The yellow cleared to reveal a scene. A woman appeared. She was young, with long reddish hair, wrapped in a cloak, a crystal in her hand. This scene was replaced by another, a tall woman wearing an elabo rate Egyptian scarab necklace and headdress with a solar disk set between two horns, staring intently into a fire, a crystal in her hands. She faded and another woman took her place, her face wrinkled beneath gray hair, staring into a pool in the midst of standing stones. Faint chanting drifted across the open air. Suddenly, the woman looked up and focused her sharp and steady eyes directly into Anne’s. She stretched out a withered hand, her gaze hold ing Anne’s firmly. Light flickered in her palm as the twisted fingers opened. Anne reached out for the light without a thought, as if it were the most nat ural thing in the world. The thud of her own crystal hitting the floor brought her back to the present.
Anne gasped and sat back heavily. Vivienne grunted in protest, extend ing her claws slightly. The apartment was quiet. Nothing moved. Merlin slept next to her on the couch. The snow fell silently outside. A log sizzled on the fire. Anne shook her head, then leaned over to pick up the pendant. Vivienne squeaked a mild protest and Anne ruffled her ears. She turned the crystal over in her palm once more. It lay there, just a stone. She laughed unsteadily. The sound was loud and hollow.
"Time for bed. I’m falling asleep on the couch." Anne gave Vivienne a gentle push.
The cats ran in front of her down the hallway to the bedroom, jumping up, each claiming a pillow.
"Can I have some room, please?"
Anne woke before the alarm and lay listening to the faint sounds of traf fic from the street below. She swore she’d made no noise, but the cats came running. "Good morning, my magicians."
Merlin found a perch on her stomach, and Vivienne settled on the pil low beside her. She stroked Merlin’s long body, enjoying the leisure. Most mornings, she hit the snooze button a few times, then tore around the apart ment getting ready. She hadn’t gone to sleep as early as she had the night before since she was a child. She looked at the crystal on top of her dresser and frowned. It looked perfectly ordinary in the morning light. She felt like she’d dreamed all night, but she could only remember fragments. They’d been vivid dreams, the kind that seem important, but try as she might, she only remembered one image-an old woman stretching her hand out, a light sparkling when she opened her fingers.
I’m getting as crazy as my grandmother, she thought. She nudged Merlin. "Time to get up, lazy boy."
Anne dressed quickly and left for work. In the office, the meeting with her client went well, even though she’d had to review the files in the taxi on the way in. She had no more appointments for the day, so Anne got her mes sages, read her mail, and started working on cases. She found herself reread ing paragraphs. Once, she went into the firm’s library in search of a book, but when she got there, she couldn’t remember the title. The mystery of her aunt’s crystal and the odd note continued to haunt her.
Why had Cynthia chosen her? Anne had been clear with all her relatives that she would not be drawn into the family drama, yet here she was work ing for the family firm and getting secret bequests with mysterious notes from long-lost relatives. She slammed the brief she was reading down on her desk and walked to the window. New York had whisked away most traces of Mother Nature’s latest appearance. The snow now lay in small brown piles on the edge of the sidewalks that would evaporate by afternoon.
By eleven o’clock, Anne had accomplished next to nothing. At the weekly staff meeting, she schooled her face to show polite interest as she lis tened to Charles Smyth, one of the partners, hold forth on the progress of his case, his long, thin nose accentuated by reading glasses perched on the end. He wanted three legal assistants from the next crop of students instead of his usual two. The office manager pursed her lips, but held her peace. Her word carried weight, but only if spoken in private.
What about the note? Her family did have a history of peculiar notions. Thomas had explained a little of the esoteric meanings behind the family crest and what he’d called the sacred geometry of the labyrinth on their grandmother’s estate. Surely, he was a better candidate for this inheritance than she was. When he was younger, he’d bragged he had inherited the fam ily gift-the Sight, as he called it-but his results had been less than impres sive. Anne had never taken any of it seriously. Just romantic stories. All aristocratic families had ghosts in the attic. Her mother had instilled in her a strong respect for the rational, the logical. Anne needed concrete evi dence. Proof.
Dr. Abernathy was talking. He didn’t fit the attorney image with his ever-present ascot and pipe. Roger Abernathy had been recruited to teach at Tulane early in his career, was christened "doctor" by his students, and the title had stuck with him ever since. Although he was not a blood relative, their two families had very old ties. She smiled at him now, remembering him running into her office to read one of his favorite passages from Dickens on the perfidy of lawyers. He caught her smile and nodded, taking her attention for agreement. Anne nodded back.
Edmund Spear, the firm president, cleared his throat. "Thank you, Dr. Abernathy." Mr. Spear made a show of looking at his watch. "We’ll see about your request, Charles. This will be our last meeting of the year." A cheerful rustle greeted this statement. "I expect people to be working, of course." A few laughs came from the back of the room. "We still have business to con duct. Enjoy your holidays."
Anne ducked her eyes at these last remarks. Her work with the firm was more politics than the daily grind of casework, so she didn’t work the eighty-hour weeks the other attorneys pulled. Everyone knew this included attend ing her grandparents’ annual Christmas party to hobnob with the rich and powerful. When she’d gone on the job market, Edmund Spear had con vinced her it wasn’t rational to expect her family connections to be ignored. "Power is more difficult to wash off than grease from fried chicken," he had said, using an uncharacteristically earthy metaphor. "Why work for some poor but noble firm?"
She’d sat on his leather chair, eyeing the Egyptian artifacts peppering his office.
"It would be romantic, yes. But effective? With the Hudson Group, you can pursue your liberal causes. It’s what everyone expects of a Le Clair."
Mr. Spear had been as good as his word. Over the past two years, Anne had helped prosecute a large corporation for selling unsafe contraceptives in poor countries, had represented an executive vice president in a race dis crimination case, and had helped rewrite legislation for women’s health care. Yet her mother still called her a sellout.
Anne exchanged a little congenial chitchat on her way out of the meeting, then slipped into her office. She asked her secretary to order takeout, intend ing to spend the afternoon catching up on her caseload. Around two o’clock, she pushed away the file she’d reread twenty times and buzzed her secretary.
Susan quickly appeared and sat in front of her desk, notepad in hand.
"I have one small piece of business that needs immediate attention. I have some questions about a case, but I’d prefer not to hire our usual inves tigators."
"We have several companies on the list. I can call someone we don’t use very often."
"Excellent. The questions are about an unusual inheritance from my aunt, and I’d like to keep this discreet."
"I need to know more about her death and activities for, say, six months prior." Anne wrote down her aunt’s name and last place of residence. "You can get details from the firm’s files, but please don’t let anyone know you’re looking-even Spear or Abernathy. It’s really a personal matter."
"I’ll let you know how long they expect the investigation to take."
When Susan left, Anne looked at her calendar. She was meeting her brother at their favorite restaurant for dinner at seven. Maybe she should do a little shopping beforehand. She certainly wasn’t accomplishing anything here.
At seven, Anne walked into the St. Anthony’s Club with her arms full of packages.
The maitre d’ sprang into action. "Ms. Le Clair, your party is waiting." Anne checked her bags and coat, then followed the host to a secluded table.
Thomas jumped up to hug her, jostling the vase on the table. "Anne, hello. Good to see you."
"You, too." She looked up at Thomas, again wondering where this ele gant man had come from. Only the lock of light red hair that kept escaping onto his high forehead held any echo of the gangly older brother she’d grown up with. His well-chiseled chin and nose, his clear amber eyes graced the cover of gossip rags every few months.
A waiter hovered like a hummingbird, so they ordered.
As innocently as possible, Anne said, "Last time I heard you had fathered a set of twins with that actress and were living incognito in a trailer park just outside of L.A. with an ex-prostitute."
Thomas looked like he’d taken a bite of something sour.
"No?" Anne widened her eyes in mock surprise. "Whatever are you doing with yourself then?"
"If you really must know, skiing with some of the guys in St. Moritz, try ing to forget my troubles."
"So, you call the Prince of Wales one of the guys?"
"I suppose. Why don’t you come along next time? One of those guys asked about you."
"I have a job. Have you heard anything from Janet?"
"Not since her engagement was announced."
"It’s a political marriage, Tommy. She still loves you."
"Call me old-fashioned. I want it all. So, how’s my baby sis?"
"Pushed around by two cats, that’s how I am." Anne could not keep a small smile from her lips.
"Just as I’d hoped."
The waiter arrived with drinks.
"Ready for the grand production at Grandmother’s on Saturday?"
"As ever." Thomas raised his scotch. "To the circus."
"To the circus." Anne took a sip of her merlot. "I signed the last papers from Aunt Cynthia’s estate yesterday."
"I guess it’s all finished. I still don’t know why she chose me." Anne decided to come to the point. Thomas was her safe harbor in the wild sea of the Le Clair family. "What do you remember about her?"
Thomas hesitated, "Well, what would you like to know? I’ve known her all my life."
"Really?" Anne set her glass down sharply.
Her brother nodded.
"But, I thought-" she stopped.
"I thought she had disappeared from our lives."
"From your life, maybe."
"What do you mean?"
The waiter chose this moment to arrive. Thomas dug into his soup.
"How could you have known her? She was never around."
He put down his spoon. "She was never around when Mother was, because Mother demanded she stop telling you ’fables.’ She was adamant that you be left out of the family legacy."
"Legacy," Anne scoffed. "In this day and age, how can you take any of those old stories seriously?"
"Then why did Mother insist no one tell them to you?"
"Because she wanted me to be able to function in the modern world, that’s why." Anne stabbed an artichoke heart.
Thomas shrugged and continued eating.
Anne looked around the restaurant at the large potted palms, the paneled walls, the watchful staff waiting demurely along the sides, then back to her brother. He’d tilted his bowl and was about to slurp the last of the soup. "Tommy!" Their table was somewhat secluded, so only the waiters were watching.
"I love this stuff." His smile reminded her of when he was ten.
She relented. "So you knew her."
"Oh. Mother took you away from her when we moved back into the city, but I was old enough to be rebellious. Cynthia was my favorite aunt, so I kept up my relationship with her."
"Why didn’t you ever tell me about this? I thought you told me every thing."
"Not quite everything."
"So you have this whole secret life I know nothing about?" Anne quipped.
Thomas was quiet.
"Oh, my God." Anne put down her drink and stared at him. "You do, don’t you?"
"Let’s just say I know more about the family than you do. But you knew that already, dearest."
The main course arrived, and Anne began methodically cutting up her steak, wondering how to bridge this gap between them.
"Why do you persist in eating that stuff?" he asked. "You know how much heart disease there is in our family."
"It’s from Argentina. No chemicals. Besides, we die from assassinations, don’t we?"
Thomas frowned. "Cynic."
"So if you knew Cynthia so well, why didn’t she leave you her whole estate?"
"She left me her library, all her papers and research."
"Everybody knows you love the family archives."
"Besides, some things have to go through the female line."
Anne sat forward. "What does that mean?"
Thomas considered her. "Do you really want to know?"
"Of course. Oh, you are so exasperating. Why do you all have to be so mysterious?"
"Who else is being mysterious?"
The waiter came to ask if everything was acceptable, and Anne was saved from further comment.
After a moment, Thomas asked, "What is it you’re not telling me?"
"You’re the one hiding things."
"Annie." Thomas took her hand. "This is your big brother talking to you. What’s the matter?"
Anne looked up at the amber eyes fixed on her.
"What’s wrong?" he asked.
"Why have you never told me about your relationship with Cynthia before now?"
"Because Mother insisted I leave you out of it, and when you got older, you made it clear you weren’t interested in learning more of the family, uh ..." he hesitated, "...legacy. I respected your wishes."
Anne considered this. It was true that when Thomas tried to talk about his ideas or tell her a family story, she resisted him, even ridiculed him. He often flew off to explore the musty libraries of some minor branch of a noble family or an obscure metaphysical organization, but she never listened when he told her about an enticing find. It never excited her. It only served to annoy her that this brilliant man wasted his talents on such pursuits. She’d accepted her mother’s view of things as a child and never really questioned her rational worldview. "I guess there’s a lot I don’t know about you."
Thomas set his glass down and looked across the table at Anne. "I’ve often wished that was different."
Now the words tumbled out. "I had these weird dreams last night, and Aunt Cynthia left me this odd necklace as a gift, with a very peculiar note."
Thomas glanced around. The tables nearest them were empty. "Tell me what happened. I want to hear about the note and the crystal. Please. This is very important."
"How did you know it was a crystal?"
"Tell me what happened."
Anne relayed the story of the crystal necklace, the note from Cynthia, and the faces she’d seen when she was sitting by the fire. When she finished, Thomas studied her for a long time.
"Say something. You’re making me nervous."
"Actually, that might be an appropriate response."
"What do you mean?"
Thomas squared his shoulders. "You need to make a decision and you need to make it quickly. You’ve always told the family you wanted nothing to do with our legacy." Anne started to speak, but he interrupted her. "Hear me out. If you keep this crystal, then you’ll have to learn what it’s for and how to use it."
"Use it? It’s just a necklace."
"It is far more than a necklace, my dear sister. You’ve already had a vision using it."
"Vision? I fell asleep on the couch."
"Oh, right." He looked around again, then lowered his voice. "If you don’t want to take on the responsibility of being the Keeper of this crystal, then you must give it to Grandmother Elizabeth immediately. If you keep it like some bauble in your jewelry case, your life may be in danger."
"Quiet." Thomas looked around again.
Anne lowered her voice. "Make sense. How can a necklace threaten me?"
"I’m sorry, Anne. I want to tell you, but we can’t talk about this here."
Anne sat back in her chair. "What’s the big deal?"
"Are you staying at the estate after the party?"
"I always do."
"Good. We can talk Sunday. I think Grandmother will want to join us. Is that okay with you?"
"What is the big deal?" Anne repeated more emphatically.
"I’ll tell you then. Meanwhile, just leave the necklace in its case."
"And don’t tell Mother."
"For God’s sake-"
"Please." Thomas watched her earnestly.
"Oh, all right. But I think Mother is right. The family has damaged your common sense."
"Good. Now I’ve got to scoot."
"Big date at the trailer park?"
He smiled. "I’ll see you Saturday."
Anne stood and hugged him good-bye, then watched the ripple he left as he moved through the restaurant.