“NOT FOR LOVE NOR MONEY”
It was her silent affirmations that kept her from going completely insane. Clarrisa threw in a few ‘Hail Marys’ and ‘I Ams’ to quell her trembling body. There was nothing she hated more than funerals .A dozen showers would not get remove the smell of perfumed flowers blended with the odor of death that permeated her clothing and hair. And she had yet to begin to grieve.
Great Aunt Clara had passed away a week ago today -- a feisty, eccentric ninety-year-old woman who wore floppy straw hats in summer and colorful felt hats in winter. She had been a handsome, woman, yet she never married. “Can’t find a man who can put up with me,” she often said. This was probably true as she was a strong woman who could not tolerate weakness in people, nor did she “suffer fools gladly.”
Clarissa, her namesake, had spent summers with her, along with her cousin Sebastian. They were the same age, but Clarissa considerd him a nerd, for they had nothing in common. He was always tripping over his own feet and stumbling over his words. He drove Clarissa crazy.
“Be nice to Bastian,” Great Aunt Clara chided. “Some day you may see him in a different light.”
“I‘d rather not see him at all,” Clarissa replied. Sebastian set her teeth on edge.
Great Aunt Clara just smiled that elusive, mysterious smile of hers, which spoke volumes, none of which her great-niece grasped.
As in many families, a rift grew between Great Aunt Clara and her niece, Clarissa’s mother, which put an abrupt halt to summer vacations. Clarissa wrote to her from time to time as she grew up. She was an only child and writing to her beloved great aunt was a catharsis for a lonely young girl. She kept the lettters from her wise old aunt in a special ribboned box, topped by a small, floppy straw hat.
Clarissa was certainly not expecting to find an attorney knocking on her door a few days after the sparsely attended funeral.
“Clarissa Chisholm, I presume?” he asked, as she let him into her studio apartment.
“Yes. What can I do for you?”
“Ah Miss, it is,” I am happy to announce, “what I can do for you.”
Clarissa thought he looked like a butler right out of an English gothic novel.
“I think it best if you sit down, Clarissa, as what I have to say may come as somewhat of a shock.”
“It seems, my dear that your great aunt Clara had quite a legacy and she saw fit to leave a large part of it to you.”
“To me? Why? I havn’t seen my aunt since I was in my teens, except at her funeral. And what could she possibly have to leave me other than some old jewelry that I really would treasure?”
“Oh that too, but much more. I am happy to inform you that your great aunt has left you five million dollars.”
When she came to, the elderly attorney was fanning her with a magazine and atempting to force a sip of water between her pale lips. Clarissa sputtered and sat up.
“Okay, say that again and I will not faint this time. I hope.”
The attorney repeated his littany and while Clarissa did not faint, she did sink into the pillows of her over-stuffed sofa and sighed. “This is just a dream.”
“No,” the lawyer insisted. “It is quite true , but there is one stipulation.”
“I knew it! Always a catch. I have to join a nunnery, right?”
“No, no, my dear, nothing so dreadful as that. You have to marry your second cousin, Sebastian Logan, within one year to receive your inheritance.” He wiped his face with a white pristine hankerchief, as if this was as taxing for him as it was for Clarissa.
“Sebastian! I haven’t seen him since he was a nerdy kid and we never got along then.”
“That is the stipulation, Miss. I suggest, if I may, that you reaquaint yourself with this young man. A lot of money is at stake. I took the liberty of getting his address, and phone number. I added his e-mail address as well.” The attorney was sweating freely now. “Sometimes it is easier to write someone to renew former ties.”
“What torture!” Clarissa said, tosssing a throw pillow across the room. She stood up and went to the refrigerator to get the poor lawyer some iced tea, muttering to herself all the way. “Five million dollars to marry a dork I detested. What a cruel joke Great Aunt Clara played on me. I thought she loved me.”
“I know nothing of the circumstances,” the attorney said, gratefully gulping the cold drink. “These are the terms and they are ironclad. I will leave you the documents and when you have proof of marriage to this nerd, er, Sebastian, call me and your inheritance will be released. Goodbye, my dear,” he said, handing her his business card,”and good luck to you. Sometimes nerds grow up to be . . . well, less nerdy.”
Sure, thought Clarissa, words of wisdom spoken by a nerdy attorney. Later, as she sipped a cheap chianti red wine, she said out loud ,” Wow! What am I going to do?”
Like Scarlett O’Hara, she decided to worry about it tomorrow.
Clarissa waited a few days and then e-mailed Sebastian. She was surprised at his prompt reply. No mention was made of the five million dollars. Sebastian explained that he had been in Europe at the time of Great Aunt Clara’s funeral. As they chatted back and forth over the internet, she learned that he had become, basically, a “rocket scientist.” for a major medical research company. His articles were documented in prominent scientific archives and journals. Still a nerd, Clarissa thought, but at least a successful one. They decided after weeks of e-mailing, to meet for dinner.
Clarissa dressed in a sultry black low-cut, short dress, not so much to entice Sebastian, but to show off her ginger-haired, green-eyed beauty. She was unprepared for the suave, tall, incredibly handsome man in the Calvin Klein navy blue suit. Surely this could not be the nerdy Sebastian standing inside her door.
“Clarissa.” He smiled and Clarisssa melted from the beauty of it. “It is so nice to see you again. You have grown into a lovely woman.”
“Thank you. You have changed quite a bit as well.”
He led her to his Rolls Royce and drove them to a charming restaurant overlooking the Chesapeake Bay.
“Did an attorney by any chance contact you concerning our Great Aunt Clara?” she asked, after finishing lobster bisque too scrumptious to describe.
“Yes Clarissa, the same day he visited you. Quite a dilemna we have, no?” His warm brown eyes, no longer framed by the tortoise-shelled glasses of his youth, watched her with a quizzical stare.
“So you know the stipulations, then?”
“Certainly. I was also offered five million dollars if I married you. Not likely to happen.”
Clarissa bristled at his remark. “Well we do have a year to catch up with each other.” Surely this hunk of a man could not be her annoying cousin.
“So we do, and since I was adopted, our blood lines are compatible. But I earn enough to keep myself happy and I would never marry for money.”
“Neither would I,” Clarissa added. “But where would our money go?”
“To a good charity, I presume. I can live with that. Now, Clarissa, as much as I have enjoyed your company, I must take you home now. I have an early meeting tomorrow.”
“No neeed to take me home. I am going to enjoy the ambience for a while and indulge in an after dinner apertif. Please do not let me detain you.” Her voice was cool, her words clipped, as she dismissed him.
“Are you sure you don’t mind?”
“Of course not. Go now. We can do this again sometime.”
“Perhaps,” he said, and giving her a five million dollar smile, left her to her own devices.
Clarissa’s head reeled from the week’s events. Five million dollars if she married a former nerd, who had tranformed into a handsome Prince Charming, who showed no feelings or interest in her on a romantic level. What would Scarlett O’Hara do? Clarissa had no idea, but she did have one whole year to claim a fortune. And a man she found she desired. It struck her with with startling honesty that the man seemed more desirable than the money. Clarissa shivered as a chill swept over her. Great Aunt Clara’s spirit seemed to brush over her and she was sure she heard a long contented sigh.