The Billionaire's Instant Bride

By: CJ Howard

Calista was quiet for a moment. She was going through the mail and had been reading a letter. She set it down and shook her head. “I’m still breathing, somehow,” she said in a hollow voice.

Callie knew the pain would take a long time to fade, and she wanted to see a smile on the older woman’s face again, but she knew it would take a long while. “It’s only been a week, grandma. It will get easier. It was you who always told me that time heals all wounds. We just need some time. It will come.” She hugged her grandmother again and then walked over to the counter. “Would you like some tea? I can make you a cup.”

“That would be nice, thank you, honey,” Calista said in a quiet, monotone voice.

Callie heated water and pulled down two of the old teacups from the cupboard. She sifted her grandmother’s favorite loose leaf Earl Grey into diffusers and when the water was hot, she watched as it swirled into the cups darkening quickly. She added a touch of milk to each one and placed them on the table as she sat down beside her grandmother.

“Did we get anything in the mail today?” she asked, hoping to get Calista to at least have a conversation about menial things. She knew that sometimes simple things are the best beginners when bigger, more difficult things are lurking in the back of the mind.

Calista sat beside her and stared at the letter in her hand. She didn’t speak for a long minute, and Callie waited for her.

At long last she shook her head a fraction of a movement, from side to side. “We… we did get some mail today, but I don’t understand it.” She stared at the same letter that she had been staring at since Callie had walked in the door. Slowly, she raised her eyes and looked into Callie’s sea green gaze. “Could you please read this for me, honey, and tell me what they’re talking about? I just can’t understand it. It doesn’t make any kind of sense at all to me.” She carefully lifted her old withered hand and offered the letter to Callie.

The younger woman took it and furrowed her brow slightly, wondering what it was that had confused her grandmother. Calista was a bright woman, and she had a sharp comprehension of everything she read and heard. It was entirely unlike her to be confused about anything, and that made the letter all the more curious for Callie.

She saw right away that it was from their city government. She read the greeting and felt her heart skip a beat when she saw that it was addressed to her grandfather and grandmother. She had been working on having his name removed from various accounts, but it was still a work in progress, and she knew it would take a while until he was completely gone off all the records he had been on. Still, she thought, it hurt to see his name on the letter as if he were still alive to read it.

She read it and as each word in it sunk into her mind, panic began to rise up in her stomach and her heart began to race. The letter wasn’t confusing: it was clear to her what was being conveyed, but she couldn’t bring herself to believe it at all. Her throat tightened some and she tried to swallow, but the lump she felt there wasn’t going anywhere.

“Well? What does it say? What are they telling me?” Calista asked in consternation and confusion.

Callie tried as best she could to draw in a deep breath. “It’s from the city, grandma. They’re letting us know that the back taxes on the house haven’t been paid in a long time, and that we have to pay them now.”

Calista blinked. “Well, that can’t be. Harrison took care of that every year. We don’t owe them any back taxes. What’s all that nonsense about?” she snorted and reached for her teacup.

Callie looked at the consecutive pages that were sent with the letter. “No, grandma… they’re right. They show the payment history here, and there is a lot of money due in back taxes. A lot. It looks like grandpa wasn’t paying it and it’s built up so much now that they are demanding it.”

She looked up at her grandmother who was staring at her in horror. “Harrison always took very good care of everything; he wouldn’t have let anything like this happen!”

“It’s not a mistake, grandma. I can call them if you like, but they are going to tell me the same thing, and it’s going to be that all of the back taxes are due. It’s correct. I’m so sorry, grandma. This money is due.” Callie set the letter down on the table and reached for her grandmother’s hand.

Calista stared out into nothing and shook her head slowly again. “But…. but how can that be?” she whispered incredulously.

“I don’t know, grandma, but that’s what it looks like.” Callie hesitated and pursed her lips for a moment before squinting her eyes a little and asking her grandmother a question she was more than certain she already had the answer to.

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