Casteel, V. C. Andrews
Summary: What if things were different…?
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Dedication: To everyone who reviewed. I adore you.
Disclaimer: So… 'Ginny' and me were hanging out the other day, and… xD
Notes: Sorry this was a long time coming.
"I haven't read it yet," Leigh confided, going to retrieve the envelope from the open shelf in the kitchen, moving softly so as to avoid accidentally waking Luke's sleeping parents. Even so, her clumsy toes seemed to find every screeching floorboard – some of which did not just whine, but went off with a noise akin to a shotgun. Luke, much less self-conscious, sauntered behind her, his feet as soft as their cat's paws against the bare wooden planks.
"You know," he whispered conspiratorially from behind her, his breath warm against the back of her neck. She had tied her long blonde hair into two braids – loose and uneven; she had had to, as usual, make do without a mirror except her compact – to sleep in, securing the plaits with a loose strip of lace that she had torn from an old garment. "I'm glad we're married," he went on, "because trying to sneak you in would be hell."
She pointedly ignored him. "Here!" She declared in a soft hiss of breath, snagging the long, thin envelope from within the cracked, empty sugar bowl. She ran her thumb over a corner: in this intimate light, with Luke at her side, it wasn't anything to be frightened of.
He had dragged over a spare pallet so it was against the wall, bathed in the nearly stifling heat of the cast-iron stove: light enough to read by without waking anyone. She perched beside him, stretching out her legs. Before her pregnancy, she had a habit of tucking them under herself, like the prints of elegant Japanese women she saw in her history texts. Luke drew his knees to his chest, hugging them loosely. She looked on with envy; it had been nearly two months since she had been quiet so limber.
She slipped her finger beneath the seal, tearing away at the envelope to reveal a thin, folded sheet of expensive stationary, cut to resemble the Polish cutting paper that her father had adored, always trying to show her the secret to it. (Leigh had quickly devised a shortcut of her own: use a razor blade to cut the paper, and then move onto more exciting pursuits. There were steam rooms and mechanics to explore! Why waste time playing at arts and crafts?)
She unfurled the sheet – not without slight nostalgic longing – letting an attachment fall to the floor. Luke uncoiled himself, moving to retrieve it. Leigh willed herself to avoid looking at him…or at the amount written on the long, pale blue business check.
She was immediately struck, not by the cold, impersonal greeting, but by the handwriting: it was tight and terse, without any additional flourishes of serifs.
Your father has fallen ill. The doctors say that it is a third world disease, one he caught on his travels.
(This, she would come to realize later, was the exact moment that she started to cry, with a half-strangled gasp for air and a broken sniffle.)
He has spent the last week in a delirium, crying out for his daughter. I have never made a request as your stepmother. I have never attempted to contact you, nor have you made an effort to communicate with me. If I ever must ask for anything, it is for you to come now.
There was more, more in her stepmother's hand, more that she could not stand to read, more that she could not bear because she was sobbing like a child in a way that she never had before and Luke's arms were around her and she was clinging to him and… and…
Oh, God. Daddy.