Authors: VC Andrews
Tags: #horror, #Fiction, #General, #Suspense, #Psychological, #Sagas
The sound of footsteps in the hallway shook me out of a deep sleep. The shuffling seemed to begin in a dream and continue even after I was awake, as if something dark and ominous and haunting was strong enough to crawl out of the graveyard of nightmares and follow me into reality. A hand of ice slid its fingers down the back of my neck. Under my breasts, shackles of cold steel tightened.
For a moment I didn't know where I was, I had driven nearly ten hours nonstop on the second leg of my journey from Spring City, South Carolina, intending to arrive at my mother's home in Palm Beach. Florida, at an early enough hour to have dinner with her and with my half brother. Linden. Because of some traffic delays due to road construction and a very heavy March rainstorm, however. I didn't reach the Flagler Bridge and cross into Palm Beach until nearly 11 P.M. Every-thing looked dank and depressed by the weather. Even elegant Worth Avenue reminded me of a glamorous woman caught in a downpour that ruined her expensive hairdo and soaked her haute couture outfit.
Both my mother and I were so excited when I arrived that we stayed up talking until a little after 1
A.M. Linden had gone to sleep before I arrived. and from what my mother had told me, he had not had any reaction to the news of my moving in with them and my decision to continue my college education in Florida. I thought that if there was any doubt in his mind that I was sincere about moving in with them, it would have been erased when my clothing and all of my personal possessions had arrived days earlier,
"Are you sure he understood what I have decided to do?" I asked her. disappointed. In my heart of hearts I had hoped that my decision would erase the grave depression clouding his mind and help cheer along his recuperation. Was it arrogant of me to believe I could bring sunshine into someone else's life just by being there, especially after all the overcast skies that had dominated my world lately?
What I feared the most was that now Linden resented me. resented what I represented in our mother's past. Fathered by a rogue. our mother's stepfather, who seduced and raped her. Linden was already a bitter, angry young man before he had learned all of it. My story and my mother's story simply had added salt to his open wounds by giving validity to the rumors and accusations flung at our mother. I could see the question in his eyes when he first learned the truth: Why couldn't I have kept my true identity a secret. buried forever and ever? An artist, Linden believed ugly secrets should be kept hidden with a stroke of the brush. Once buried in fresh paint, who saw it, who cared?
"Oh, yes, he understood what I was telling him about your return, but very little gets him excited these days. Willow," Mother said sadly. She leaned toward me to whisper. "Sometimes his eyes are so empty that they are like glass, It's as if he's turned them around and looks only inside at his own dark thoughts." She sat back, shaking her head. ''He never smiles. I haven't heard him laugh once since the sailing accident occurred." she continued, choking back a sob.
She always called Linden's sailing fiasco an accident, even though deep in our hearts we both knew he had set out that day deliberately to hurt himself. As a reminder of it forever, he had a deep scar at least an inch and a half long on his forehead where he had taken the blow from the boom. He had gone off in a depressed, suicidal rage after learning that our mother had given birth to me in my father's psychiatric clinic when she was a patient there and my father's lover, and that I was, therefore, his half sister.
After learning all this, lie was a lost soul just hoping to be hit by lightning. At minimum, his deliberate negligence and his anger at what he considered an unfair world put him unnecessarily in harm's way that dreadful day.
After I read my father's diary and learned who my real mother was. I was determined to get to know her and get her to know me. However, when I came here to meet my mother for the first time. I came incognito, pretending to be a graduate psychology student doing a study of Palm Beach society. I was afraid to burst on the scene and announce who I really was, afraid of what reaction my real mother would have, mostly afraid of being rejected.
At first Linden wanted nothing to do with me, even under my false identity, or perhaps because of it.
He distrusted me and thought someone had sent me to talk to him and our mother as if they were some sort of Palm Beach curiosity to be exploited and made the subject of gossip and amusement, not only because of our mother's past, but because of his dark, somewhat eerie paintings. He eventually softened his reaction to me, and I agreed to pose for him and permit him to paint me wearing our mother's clothing, if he would permit me to meet and talk to her. He still didn't know who I really was, and even though it was a bit bizarre.
I didn't think much about it I was too happy about being given the opportunity to speak to my mother.
What I didn't realize was happening and what I should have realized was that he was falling in love with me, and when he discovered why we couldn't be lovers, his anger and rage were directed at a world of cruel fate, fate he believed he would never escape, never defy. Afterward, both my mother and I blamed ourselves for what he had done to himself, and that was a big part of why I wanted to come back here to live and to pursue my education in Florida.
"Well, we'll just have to change all that," I said, patting her hand. "We'll bring the smiles and laughter back to his lips." It was always easier to give someone else hope, to urge someone else to take a risk and believe in rainbows.
"Maybe." she said, nibbling on the brightness in my voice and face. "Maybe when he finally belieyes you're here, and here for good, it will make a difference." But her voice trailed off as if the whole thought were made of smoke.
"Exactly," I said firmly, building as much enthusiasm for the task ahead as I could, "We'll make him a happy and productive young artist again," It was an Olympian ambition, to restore someone's life and purpose, perhaps even an impossible dream, especially for me at the moment. I had enough to carry on my shoulders with the weight of my own problems, enough to sink another
Even though I had come back to Palm Beach to live with my real mother and my half brother. I couldn't help feeling I was returning to an unfriendly world filled with people who would take pleasure in our struggles and our sadness. During my initial visit.
I had developed what I believed was a serious relationship with Thatcher Eaton, a prominent young Palm Beach attorney and son of Asher and Bunny Eaton, the couple who were renting the main house on Mother's property. Now that the truth about my relationship to Grace and Linden Montgomery was public knowledge, however, I was no longer confident that the man with whom I thought I was falling in love and who I thought was falling in love with me would want to set eyes on me, would want me complicating his life by forcing him to choose between me and his own family, his position in Palm Beach society, and his ambition.
With all these worries putting folds in my forehead, it was no wonder my hands had trembled as I turned my car toward the gate of the estate Jaya del Mar. the Jewel of the Sea. I could not help wondering if it would be a jewel to me or a home filled with "the dreads." as my nanny. Amou had called dark premonitions.
My mother smiled at me across the table. My unrelenting optimism finally restored the warm hope in her eyes. Then she told me with glee how Thatcher's parents were in denial about her refusal to sell them the estate and to extend their lease for even another day. They had little more than two months to go, but from what she had seen and heard so far, it was a reality they still chose not to face or admit.
"It's gotten so they try never to look my way.
As if I were now an eyesore," she told me. "Before this. Asher Eaton would at least nod to me occasionally and ask me how I was."
"I wouldn't worry about it. Mother. That's the way of people here. They either ignore anything unpleasant or pretend it doesn't exist," I said. "If they could, they would hire someone to go to the bathroom for them."
"I have no doubt." she said.
"I'm sure they just can't stand the fact that you no longer need them." I said.
Ever since her stepfather had run her mother's finances into the ground, my mother had been forced to lease out the main building and live in the beach house, which also housed some of the Eatons'
servants. Now that I had inherited my father's estate and sold our property in South Carolina. I had money that would free her from the financial shackles that made both her and Linden outcasts in their own home.
"Well. I suppose you're right. It doesn't take much to get them upset. You know Bunny Eaton." my mother said. "Just running out of caviar can put her into a deep enough depression to require a doctor's care."
We both laughed again, and then she looked at me with that soft smile around her eyes I quickly had come to cherish, the motherly smile every child basks in and from which he or she draws confidence and security. Pity the orphans who live in a world without such smiles raining down upon them, I thought, for I very nearly had been such a person.
"What?" I asked, already knowing her \yell enough to realize that behind that smile there was a thought itching to be voiced through those soft, loving lips.
"Thatcher is, of course, a different story altogether. He was very interested in your arrival and peppered me with questions about you."
"Really," I said dryly, unable to prevent a skeptical smirk. He hasn't called me since I left for home."
I had hurried home to help arrange and attend the funeral of my father's closest servant. Miles, who had been looking after the house and grounds since my father's passing. Now that he, too, was gone. I needed to see to the sale of the property as well. I then arranged for my transfer from the University of North Carolina. where I had begun my sophomore year, to a college in Florida. All that time I had expected to hear from Thatcher. He had promised to call, and I truly believed he would, despite his mother's disapproval of our relationship and me.
"He will call now," my mother assured me.
"I might not want to speak with him if he does,"
I said petulantly.
"Maybe not, and maybe yes," she teased, . My eyes surely betrayed my hope that she was right. "I can see it in your small smile, Willow. You reveal your true thoughts with the same tiny tug in the corners of your lips that I have"
I shrugged, and then she and I both laughed, giggling like two schoolgirls. How wonderful it was finally to have a mother who could be as close as a sister or be a best friend. My adoptive mother could barely stand the sight of me and had never failed to remind me what a great favor she was doing for me to let me live in her home. She never knew I was living in my real father's home; she never knew the whole truth. Such a woman was better off buried with lies. I thought, I wasn't being vindictive. I was just rendering unto Caesar what was Caesar's. When she was alive, she had cherished deception, fabrication, and falsehood almost as much as she had cherished diamonds. She had a closet full of untruths to pluck out and put to use at a moment's notice, even lies to tell herself. It seemed only just and proper that she take it all with her to the grave.
"I can barely keep my eyes open," I declared, Mother and I had been talking for hours.
"Me too," my mother admitted, and we put our dishes in the dishwasher and both went to bed, hugging in the hallway first.
"I'm so happy you're here," she whispered. "So am I. Mother. So am I," I told her.
Up until now the word Mother, the very idea of having one, had been as mythical as a unicorn for me.
I enjoyed saying it so much. I thought I would mutter
"Mother. Mother. Mother" in my sleep forever.
When I finally crawled into bed. I felt like I was still riding in the car. The visions of oncoming headlights, rain pounding on the windshield, and globs of fog twirling before me still lingered on the insides of my eyelids. Overtired. I tossed and turned for a while before dropping into what was more a state of unconsciousness than sleep. Then I awoke to the sound of those footsteps. I was surprised my ears had been capable of taking in the sounds in the hallway and delivering them to my groggy brain.