I do not own Garden of Shadows or any of its characters, likenesses, or places. They belong to V.C. Andrews.
"Alicia," Garland said.
"Yes, my darling?"
His head didn't budge from its resting place, but he answered all the same. "I'd like you to make me a promise. Or rather, I need you to promise me something."
My response was brief, honest, and automatic. "Anything."
"Don't abandon me," he said, and I blinked my eyes in shock. His head still in its original position on my stomach, it was impossible for him to witness my reaction. Too astounded for words to be an option, I listened to him go on. "Even if the day comes when I can no longer satisfy you, please continue to give me the benefit of caring for you and Christopher. Grant this old man his final wish by letting him enjoy the company of his family, while he still has the chance."
His voice trailed off into a hoarse whisper, as if he had already begun crying, and his arms tightened around me. Such behavior suggested that he truly believed I was capable of taking off, of leaving him alone and heartbroken with an infant son to raise. But I wasn't. And for the moment all I could do was lie there, stunned and wondering what could have possibly inspired such a paranoid delusion.
The answer came to me quickly, emerging into the light of comprehension from its tucked away place in the back of my mind. For the reason behind Garland's behavior was so simple: He was afraid. Afraid that I would leave him for another—and, perhaps, much younger—man, like his first wife had done. It was explicable that Christopher's birth had resurrected Garland's old sorrows and created new fears. I didn't know much about Corrine Foxworth, other than she had been very beautiful, and that Malcolm had been exceptionally close to her. Garland had spoken to me of Corrine only a few times, and every time he did I could see the light of sorrow reflected in his eyes. As much as I loved him, I couldn't help but be angry with the first Mrs. Foxworth for abandoning a man who was as kind and as gentle as Garland. I suspected she was the reason why he always went out of his way to make me happy—though I wouldn't love him any less if he didn't have a single penny to his name. I loved him for what and who he was, and as long as we had each other, then that was all that mattered.
"Oh, Garland," I sighed sadly. I combed my slender fingers through his hair as he'd done for me earlier, in an attempt to bring peace to his rattled mind. "Do you truly believe that's ever going to happen?"
His head shifted, and as it did I became aware of the dampness coating my abdomen. The poor, dear man, I thought. He has been crying.
"I'm sorry, my love." He raised his head to reveal the most pitiful expression I had ever seen him wear in the fourteen years we'd been acquainted. His eyes were wet, and I could see the discoloration on his pallid cheeks where his tears had dried. "I don't mean to burden you. But you must understand that, although my heart tells me you'd never abandon me, or even consider it, that doesn't stop my head from fabricating tales of irrationality."
"It's because of her, isn't it? Corrine." I blurted out the name before I could stop myself. Action subsequent to thought was one of my greatest flaws—always had been. "She's the reason you're so distraught, isn't she?"
Garland didn't have to say even one word for me to ascertain that I had hit the nail on the head. I could read it in his eyes and in the way he bit down on his lower lip, as if trying to keep it from trembling. When it came to displaying emotion, my husband was equivalent to an open book.
"Sometimes," he began, and hesitated for a moment. "Sometimes I feel I'm the reason she left. I mean, I know she left because of me—just not in the way those acquainted with us have chosen to believe."
Extending my hand, I gently brushed a fresh tear that had strayed from his eye and was rolling down his cheek. How sweet and childlike he looked when his emotions got the better of him. "For what reason do you think she left?"
"Frankly, I always suspected it had to do with the transformation of her body after Malcolm's birth. Although you'd never know it to look at her, Corrine insisted the differences in her figure were as noticeable as the sloping Virginia hills are from a distance. Before I knew it, she was refusing to let me touch her, afraid that I would ruin what had only become that much more beautiful. She screamed at me, threw things that had the potential of causing injury if I didn't move out of the way quickly enough. It was only then that I realized just how consumed she was with her appearance. I truly felt she was justified in the way she behaved toward me, simply because I was the one at fault."
"But you weren't!" I insisted. With great resoluteness I seized his hands and pressed them to my bare stomach, so he'd see just how little I resembled his former wife. "You wanted a child, didn't you? And I'll bet she did, too, didn't she? But if a child wasn't enough to make up for what supposed loss Corrine suffered, then perhaps she just wasn't meant to be a mother. I don't mean to appear boorish, darling, but what other motive can there possibly be?"
"I gave her everything and anything she could ever need or want," Garland went on. "Whatever her heart desired, I made sure she didn't go without. Money was never an object. And that room—the one Malcolm forbids anyone but the maids to enter—was my wedding gift to her. Behind that door is a magnificent bed in the shape of a swan, with an eye assembled from one of the rarest rubies in all of Asia. At the foot of it is a second, nearly identical—though much smaller—bed, which Malcolm slept in as an infant. There is an attached bathroom, and all of Corrine's clothing still hangs in an enormous walk-in closet. I had planned to present the room to you as a wedding gift upon our arrival at Foxworth Hall. But when I announced my plans, Malcolm positively exploded."
"It sounds absolutely lovely," I said, "that room. But if giving it to me is going to cause friction between the two of you, then it's hardly worth the effort."
Garland merely chuckled. "Malcolm is stubborn, but he's certainly not impossible. The trick is to catch him when he's in a decent mood. Besides, my love…" He paused to gaze into my eyes, while placing his forefinger beneath my chin. "You're worth every bit of my son's drivel."
Sometimes it was difficult to believe my husband's generosity. He was always giving, giving, giving to everyone around him, but never did he take or expect anything in return. According to him, generosity was not something that came attached with a price tag. It was the feeling you got from making others happy that was the real reward.
"You shouldn't say such things," I scolded gently. "Malcolm is your son, after all, and could be strolling past our rooms as we speak."
"If Malcolm is anywhere," Garland replied, "he's in his trophy room, mulling over plans to help benefit the company."
"Oh? What sort of plans?"
"I'm not sure. He refuses to tell me what any of them are."
I was shocked, and even a little bit angry with Malcolm to hear of this. "Why should he refuse to tell you anything? You're just as important to the company as he is. More so, in fact, considering it was yours first."
"And my father's before mine." Garland let out a heavy sigh. "I'm nowhere near the financial genius my son is. He inherited all that from his grandfather. I've never been capable when it comes to business, and attended business school merely to please my parents. If you'd met them, they would have told you how I often struggled to meet the expectations of my instructors."
I thought of the stuffy attic schoolroom, where little Mal received his education from an instructor who all but terrified him. The fact that the instructor's name was Mr. Chillingworth did nothing to stunt Mal's fear, and the poor boy had to be literally dragged up the stairs by his mother for every lesson. "Perhaps if you'd been permitted to attend a regular school with other children, then you would have done better."
Garland sighed. "If it hadn't been for an acute case of childhood asthma, then I'm sure I would have. Unfortunately, my parents were terrified of sending me away to school for fear I'd fall ill. Besides, doing so would have only made Jonathan feel lonely."
"Your older brother who suffered from polio."
"Yes. Our parents had our best interests at heart—I don't doubt that. Jonathan wasn't the type to be bothered by anything and knew how to entertain himself, despite being in a wheelchair. He often spent his free time either sitting beneath a tree in the courtyard, or in his bedroom building models. But I was different. For I was the type of child who was easily bored. And so it wasn't often I came across something that both captured and preserved my interest. Which is why I wished every day that I was swinging back and forth in a swing on a playground, instead of skipping stones across a lake in my back yard."
"We will not be restricting Christopher to that horrid attic schoolroom," I announced doggedly, "when the time comes for him to begin his education. Though I suppose that sending him to school would make Mal and Joel feel excluded."
"That's another thing I'll be sure to mention in my conversation with Malcolm," Garland said. "But let's take it one step at a time, my darling. We have five years yet before we need to start considering our son's future."
"He's a complicated man, isn't he?"
"Malcolm? But of course he is!" For a moment Garland appeared to return to his former, cheerful self. Then, suddenly, all of the exuberance faded from his voice like the light from the sky right before a storm. "Though I suppose that's another thing I can be held accountable for."
"What do you mean?"
"I blamed him." As he spoke, I perceived the guilt in Garland's voice as easily as one can the smell of rain in the air. "Blamed him for his mother forsaking us."
Since coming to Foxworth Hall, there had been a few occasions where Garland had said things suggesting this. But he had spoken in such a buoyant, repartee manner that I thought it was all his idea of a joke. Just his way of testing Malcolm's patience. Perhaps that was all it really was…perhaps it was Garland's attempt at reconciling with Malcolm, after the years of guilt and shame the two had suffered.
"Oh," Garland went on, "never did I come right out and say it was his fault. Never would I even consider doing that. But he could always tell. The way I sent him off to boarding school, and how I never offered to take him along on any of my business trips proved just that. I spent a great many nights alone in what is now my son's trophy room, staring up at the taxidermies on the walls, and wondering how different things would have been had he not been born. Though I never meant to hurt him."
"I'm sure he knows that," I offered comfortingly.
Garland didn't look as though he quite believed this, and yet he smiled anyway. He seemed satisfied by just having someone to understand and so willing to listen to him. "Malcolm is a genius in many other ways, besides that of finance. He is also a genius at knowing what those around him are thinking. Of course, I improved his abilities a hundred times over by getting rid of everything that reminded me of his mother. The only thing I left untouched was the Swan Room, as I'd gone to such extensive efforts to meet Corrine's expectations. Besides, I had hoped that Malcolm would one day marry…or that I would remarry—in which case that room would serve its purpose once more."
"Perhaps that room ought to be given to Olivia," I suggested. "After all, she was living here long before me. It's only fair that—"
"I've already spoken to Malcolm about it. He says Olivia is perfectly satisfied with her present rooms, and that any modifications would prove gratuitous."
"Are you certain of that, Garland? I know how much I step on Olivia's toes, as well as Malcolm's. The last thing I want to do is to give either of them a reason to be angry with me."
"No one is going to be angry with you, my love." Garland chuckled then, and reached out to tuck a strand of chestnut hair behind my ear. "And you don't step on anyone's toes. How can you when you're already so close to the ground, eh?"
Garland's little joke concerning my small stature was enough to crack a smile from me. But it wasn't until he reached down to tickle my abdomen that he managed to extract any laughter from me. And when I looked up, I saw that the smile I had fallen in love with so many years ago had returned to his face. The tears that had formerly ruled the corners of his cerulean eyes had completely vanished, and been replaced by a glimmering light. A light that shone its brightest during moments like this. It was the light of true love, and like the sun following a raging storm, that light broke through the gray cloud of my sorrow and flooded my world with happiness.