The package arrived three days after Brian’s funeral. Tricia recognized his handwriting on the label and felt her breath catch as her heart constricted. It would be just like him, she knew, to have prepared something. After all, his death hadn’t been sudden or unexpected. It had been announcing its arrival for years with a progressive cough and weakening limbs. The only question had been how long Brian would be able to fend it off, but even he knew at some point the battle would be over.
Tricia took the box to her living room, fetched a pair of sharp scissors. She knew it was sentimental, but she wanted to keep the label, this last contact of Brian’s, and so she carefully clipped it free before opening the box proper. Inside there was a letter, and underneath that, a stack of cloth-wrapped books. They were leather-bound with gilded edges, and when she opened them, she was certain they’d been hand-printed. It was like looking at something out of a fantasy movie, not anything that belonged on the hardwood floor of her two-bedroom condo. It was also not anything she would have expected Brian to own, much less to pass onto her.
She opened the letter with as much care as she had taken to clip the label and found a sheet of parchment with Brian’s writing.
I’m sorry for delivering this burden to you, but out of everyone I know, you’re the only one I can see bearing it. These books have been in my family for generations. I always thought I’d pass them onto my children, but, well, that’s not in the cards. Though, I did always wonder if you and I would ever get together when we finished school. I hope you can forgive me for passing this on to the wife of my hopes, since I didn’t have a wife in truth.
She had to stop reading then, just for a moment. She’d wondered the same, hoped the same, but they had both been so intent on establishing themselves. It could wait. They’d seemed to come to the unspoken agreement together. It could wait. Then Brian got sick, and while Tricia still would have said yes, he’d never asked and she couldn’t bring herself to do so for him. Perhaps she should have.
There is a chance, more than slim, that someone will come looking for these books. They’ll probably offer you a lot of money. At least at first. Please, Tri, don’t take it. I know that’s asking a lot of you, especially since I can’t explain.
I have cousins, though, somewhere out in the world. They’ll be able to fill you in better than I can. They might come to find you, too. It’ll be hard to tell the difference, but my cousins will not take the books, not even if you try to hand one to them. The others, they won’t be able to help themselves. It’s not the best way to judge, I know, but it’s all I’ve got. Trust your instincts.
I’m sorry, Tri.
Love you, always,
She put the letter down, stared at the boxes, and wondered just what in the world Brian had been involved in, and if this was some sort of joke. Maybe a game, something to make her feel better. If it was, it wasn’t working.