I do not own The Dollanganger Saga or any of its characters, likenesses, or places. They belong to V.C. Andrews. In the following chapter I have taken some fragments from Flowers in the Attic and reworded them to the best of my abilities; revealing the exact scene would require a spoiler, but all shall be revealed once you've started reading.
Once again, I would like to extend my appreciation to GrayRainbows, my lovely friend and mentor, for allowing me to borrow her idea concerning a certain artifact originally featured in her wonderful and very addictive fanfiction, Garden of Shadows: The Missing Chapters. Thank you for always being so generous with your ideas, and for helping me come up with my own. :)
I paid no mind to the late morning sunlight spilling through the sewing room window to where it formed a golden puddle on the floor between the beds. Being careful not to wake Christopher, whose face and right palm were directed at the ceiling, I slid out of bed. I scuttled across the room to the door and slipped out into the desolate hallway.
I maintained a steady pace from the sewing room to the other end of the foyer, where Grandmother Alicia's bedroom was. She had given up her own bed to Momma, whose painful injuries could not sustain the twin-sized mattress of the guestroom. Grandmother Alicia had slept there in her place, promising that a night or two on the small bed would do her no harm.
Once I had reached my grandmother's door, I raised my fist and rapped twice. "Momma, it's me. How are you feeling? May I come in?"
When my greeting failed to evoke a response, I knocked again. Nothing happened, and so I pressed my ear to the door. I listened carefully. Hearing only silence, I assumed my mother must still be asleep. I pushed the door slightly forward. Peering through, I saw my grandmother. She was sitting alone on the unmade bed, clutching a handful of sheets to her face. Was she crying? I put one pink-slippered foot through the door and tapped my knuckles softly against the panel. Lowering the sheets away from her face, Grandmother Alicia turned towards the sound. Our gazes locked, and I could see the manifestation of tears in her eyes.
"Oh, Cathy, it's you. What are you doing up so early? I would have thought you'd be sleeping still."
"Christopher is. I woke up and thought I'd come see how Momma was." Pushing the door the remainder of the way open, I stepped into the room and shut the door behind me. "Where is she?"
My grandmother's face displayed all the signs of an awful truth yet to be divulged. Silently I watched as she patted the empty place beside her. "Come here, darling, and sit with me. We need to have a talk."
I did as she requested, knowing that whatever it was she had to tell me involved Momma. I watched Grandmother Alicia produce a sheet of paper I had failed to notice earlier, for it blended in so well with her pink sheets. It was folded twice over and was the same style of pink perfumed stationary stored inside the desk of the sewing room. "I came in very early this morning," she began tearfully, holding the paper out to me, "with the intention of checking on your mother. When I opened the door, all I found were this letter and her two missing suitcases."
I took the paper from my grandmother. As I opened it, I immediately distinguished the loopy, feminine scrawl as that of my beloved mother's own hand.
Dearest Alicia, Christopher, Cathy, Cory, and Carrie,
As you read this letter, I shall find myself riding the train back to Charlottesville. As cowardly and selfish as I'm sure you consider my actions, please try to understand that I am doing what I truly believe is best. Throughout my entire childhood I attended boarding schools designed for daughters of the wealthy and influential. After that I was sent on to finishing school, where I was taught to follow social etiquette and scholastics. I was trained to prepare for forthcoming romances and debutante balls, and how to value myself as the perfect entertainer and hostess. But never was I given the skills that would help me be anything more than a proper wife and mother. I am not nor have I ever been suited for a lifestyle in which I would be required to work or earn a living. When I married my husband, I expected he would always be there to support me.
I pray that the details of my upbringing will provide you with an acceptance of why I have chosen such a difficult road. Christopher Foxworth, the father of Garland Foxworth, had a saying. A saying he not only lived by, but which he believed helped him to survive his services in the Civil War: "When time is of the essence, you must move forward while you still have the chance. If you don't, then you will risk losing out on the most blessed chance of all: And that is the chance at a full, happy life."
We've been given a chance, too, darlings. A chance to live in affluence and contentment for the rest of our days! Do your best to realize that, in order to earn what is ours, that certain sacrifices must be made. The loss of dignity when I was punished by your grandfather and John Amos was my sacrifice. But I was willing to sacrifice my dignity for a better future, just as you four children must be willing to sacrifice my company for your freedom. I cannot say how long it will be until we are all together again. But there is one thing I CAN promise, and that is not one moment will pass in which I am not thinking of you. Please forgive me for the pain I've caused you all. Realize that everything I have done up to this point has been with you in mind, and always with the very best of intentions.
Regrettably, I cannot guarantee how often I'll be able to visit. But I promise to stay in touch regularly by phone and through letters. Keep me in your prayers, just as I am keeping you in mine.
I hadn't even finished reading the letter before the tears began sliding down my cheeks like rain down a windowpane. "How could she—" I choked, and lifted my head to see that my grandmother's eyes had swelled with fresh tears. "How could she just leave us like that?"
Grandmother Alicia shook her head slowly. "I suppose she thought that by not telling us herself, that it would make saying good-bye easier on us all."
"Well, the least she could have done was said a proper good-bye…instead of just running off and leaving us with nothing but a letter!" Furiously I tossed the sheet of paper off the bed, paying no attention as it drifted silently through before settling beneath the bed.
Hastily my grandmother arranged her arms about me and pulled me into her lap. The last time we'd sat like this I had been all of seven years old and in tears over some silly thing Christopher had done. Just as I'd done then, I laid my head upon her bosom while she threaded her fingers through my hair. As angry tears coursed my cheeks and injured sobs tore at my throat, she began to hum softly the same melody she had just one week earlier when I'd become so irate with Christopher.
"It wasn't supposed to be like this! Momma was supposed to stay with us and find a job and…and…and Daddy wasn't supposed to die!"
Grandmother Alicia stopped humming. With an abrupt swiftness her hands pushed forcefully against the back of my head, causing my face to flatten against her. Through her pink floral nightdress I could sense the bony vestige of what was once a high and magnificent bosom. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted the crest of what I knew to be the first of two long, pink scars. Both began just below her collarbone and ended at the foundation of her ribs.
"Yes. Yes, darling, I know. It is a terrible blow that our family has suffered. The death of a loved one is indisputably the most painful burden that anyone is forced to bear during their lifetime. But it is not a punishment or an act of God that is responsible. For the most dreadful of circumstances can happen to the most righteous of individuals. After I left Foxworth Hall and came back to Richmond, a long time passed before I returned to what a psychiatrist of mine once referred to as 'a state of being'. I was so consumed by thoughts of Garland's death that I began having horrible nightmares. Shortly after that was when I began sleepwalking. But it wasn't until it became a danger that my mother consulted a doctor, who'd recently opened up a private practice in our small town. He was young, this doctor, and a person who seemed more willing to help me than any physician I had ever known.
"Alistair," declared my grandmother, a hint of pride in her typically inconspicuous voice. I raised my head to stare at her in amazement through my tears. "Dr. Alistair Aldridge, my childhood sweetheart."
I knew that Grandmother Alicia and Grandfather Alistair had rekindled their romance not long after her return to Richmond. What I didn't know—nor had I ever thought to inquire about—was the detailed explanation behind it. Wiping the tears from my eyes I asked, "What happened when you found out it was him?" However, I didn't take into account that such a question would be followed by one of my grandmother's interminable—though no less intriguing—accounts.
"Almost seven years had passed since we'd seen each other," she began. "Like your father was destined to be one day, Alistair was the pride of his teachers and of our town. He'd graduated high school at just sixteen, and was about to enter college when I married Garland. Even though I'd rejected his aspiration to court me, Alistair was still a proud guest at my wedding. He was more than just tolerant, and not once did he ever resent Garland for being the object of my love. He was all smiles that day as the two shook hands. The kiss Alistair gave me was the sort of peck on the cheek that a brother would give his sister. He wished us well, promising that he would have graduated college before Garland and I returned from our honeymoon.
"As Garland and I traveled all over Europe, so did letters and postcards from Alistair. Wherever we were, word from Alistair always managed to reach us. We stayed in touch throughout the years I spent in Europe with Garland. By the time we settled in Virginia, Alistair was just settling into his new life as a medical student. But his teachers and the full-time job he needed to support himself were demanding. Gradually his letters reduced in contents, and soon after that so did the letters themselves. The last bit of news I received was right before Christmas, in the form of a beautiful blue shawl. With it was a brief but heartfelt note. The note was written in Alistair's developing doctor's penmanship: For the cold Virginia winters. Love, Ali. P.S: Notice how the color matches your eyes.
"Every letter and postcard he sent me was stashed away inside a hatbox. They say one never forgets their first love, and Alistair was mine. Garland never seemed to mind that we kept in touch. He was always pleased that I'd continued to establish contact with many of my friends from high school—even if Alistair had been more than a friend at one time. But when I was with Garland, I never thought of anyone else. It was always Garland I thought of when I gazed deeply into his eyes, or felt the warmth of his hand on my skin as he caressed my cheek.
"Yet it was Alistair's letters that helped me to survive the agonizing months that followed my husband's death. He had a way with words, your Grandfather Alistair. He could look at a flower, or a bird, and express through words the sort of pictures that your Grandfather Garland had expressed through his paintbrush." Grandmother Alicia sighed dreamily, like a girl trying to decide which boy to take to the prom. "Whenever I felt devoured by sorrow, and always before I fell asleep, I would reach for the box that I kept stashed away beneath my bed. I cannot tell you how many hours I spent reading and re-reading those old letters and postcards. For the hours were always more like minutes. As I read what Alistair had written—sweet expressions filled with brazen affections that one expresses towards the dearest of companions—I realized for the first time the emotions he was struggling with. Even when he had let me go, not once had he renounced his love for me. He respected me too much to ever act on any thoughts he may have had. And he saw Garland as the type of man who would be able to give me what he couldn't.
"Because my room was on the second landing of my mother's house, she had felt it wise to move me downstairs to the guestroom after my first few sleepwalking episodes. One evening as I sat reading a letter whose envelope had an Italy postmark, Christopher wandered into the room. 'What'choo reading, Momma?' he asked me.
"Brushing the tears from my eyes, I looked up from the sheet of blue stationary in my hand. I had no trouble conjuring a smile, for Alistair's letters always made that easy. 'A letter,' I said, 'from an old friend.'
"'Alistair. Alistair Aldridge.'
"Christopher knitted his pale eyebrows together. 'Where's Ally-stair All-bridge now?'
"'I'm not sure. We lost touch shortly before you were born.'
"'Oh.' Christopher stuck his thumb in his mouth, which was something he did whenever he felt anything required serious thought.
"'Would you like Momma to read you one of Uncle Alistair's letters?' Christopher nodded eagerly. He raced through the door and climbed onto the bed, snuggling close to me. He was fast asleep before I was even halfway through the second letter. Those that remained I read in silence. As I finished reading, I placed the letters one by one in a pile on the bed. By the time I'd finished, I saw that dawn was just beginning to break across the sky outside my window.
"Christopher had later concluded that once you took a hat out of its box, then that box was to be used to store letters. If we were visiting friends and he came across a hatbox with its hat still inside, he always found himself asking where the letters were. This both amused and confused a great many of our friends and neighbors. So much that Mother and I found ourselves having to explain about the contents of my own hatbox.
"It was there, in the guestroom of my mother's house, where I first read aloud Alistair's letters to someone other than myself. I had often shared the gist of them with Garland, but never word for word as I did with our son that night. Christopher seemed to enjoy the letters every bit as much as he would any storybook. By six o'clock the next evening—and two hours before his scheduled bedtime—he was asking 'Momma, will you read me one of Uncle Alistair's letters before I go to sleep tonight?' I was thankful that the letters gave him something to focus on in place of his loneliness for those he was unlikely to ever see again. Since leaving Foxworth Hall he had mentioned Olivia's name—and sometimes those of his nephews—at least twice a day. Either in the form of a guiltless 'Momma, when's Olivia coming to see us?' or by an innocent declaration of 'Momma, I miss Olivia and Mal and Joel. Can we go visit them soon?'
"Presently April was upon us, and Christopher's fourth birthday party was set for the following Saturday afternoon. Mother and I had spent all day preparing; even if our only plans consisted of a small family celebration with a few of Christopher's friends from school. Needless to say I was looking forward to it. It would be nice to have something pleasant to distract from the horrific finale of the previous year's events.
"After dinner, I went upstairs to my old room where I'd hidden the gifts I planned to give Christopher. Most still required wrapping, and I wanted to get started so that I'd have time to help with the following day's preparations. I was exhausted by the time I'd finished, and too tired to make my way back down stairs to the guestroom. So I decided to lay down on my old bed for a bit. A month had passed since my last sleepwalking episode. (My mother later confessed to this being her reason for not waking me that night.) These episodes were usually caused by memories of my years at Foxworth Hall…memories that chased me during my waking hours and found me in my dreams. It was on the night before the one-year anniversary of when I had lost my beloved Garland Christopher Foxworth, that these memories finally caught up to me.
"Whenever I dreamed of the night Garland had died, I would run, still fast asleep but approximating that of someone wide awake, out of my room. I always took a right, because that was where I knew the parlor door to be in Foxworth that would isolate any dangers. On the night I fell asleep upstairs, I took the same route I would have had I been at the Hall. I sensed what I thought was Malcolm throwing me to the floor; only to discover when I awoke in a painful heap at the bottom of the stairs what had actually occurred.
Because I had screamed, my mother found me and immediately notified our family physician. Thankfully the extent of my injuries was not life-threatening. During my fall I had suffered a broken arm and leg, a bruised spinal cord and a minor concussion. But it was not until the following morning, after I was told all of this, when I learned the identity of the doctor who had spent all night tending to me.
"'Alicia,' said my mother from the doorway of the guestroom, 'there's someone here who wishes to speak with you.'
"I remained perfectly still, my mind a nebulous tumult of the previous night's events, as my mother stepped aside. From behind her there appeared the last person on Earth I had expected to see. Someone who had first been a guest in my home when I was all of fourteen; I was now twenty-two. Gazing upon such a familiar face made me wonder if my lightheadedness was due more to shock, or my concussion.
"Alistair had hardly changed at all in the six years since we'd last spoken. He had grown taller, and was broader in the shoulders and chest than from what I remembered. His green eyes still contained the same appealing sparkle that made them appear two emeralds in the center of his exhausted but handsome face. His benevolent smile—which was the first thing that had attracted me to him all those years ago—still maintained its ability to light up a room. The yellow rays of sunlight pouring in through the hallway windows fell across his hair, highlighting the auburn strands and turning them red. He was wearing a long white doctor's coat, and a stethoscope hung from around his neck. His slate-blue trousers were neatly pressed, without a wrinkle in sight. His brown oxfords appeared to have been recently polished and were free of scuffs, thus strengthening his professional exterior.
"'Hello, Alicia,' he greeted. 'I take it you haven't forgotten me.'
"His words were more of a statement than a question, and the way he delivered them set my agitated mind at ease. 'Oh. Oh, no…'
"While my mother went away to prepare tea, Alistair shuffled diffidently into the room. He sat pertinently in the velvet armchair with its lilac cushion and gold trim that my mother had placed beside the bed. Alistair apologized for Dr. Loveday, who had been seeing to another patient when my mother had frantically telephoned his office. Alistair went on to explain that Dr. Loveday had sent him along in his place. As Alistair talked, I could see the deep concern swimming so starkly in those emerald pools that had once captivated me so. For the first time in exactly one year, I found myself drowning in a lake of unrelenting desire.
"He leaned forward in the chair. He then took my left hand, whose arm was not confined by a sling, in his. 'Not a day has passed where I haven't thought of you. My only regret is that our reunion has to be under such ominous circumstances.'
"'I would have thought a clever doctor such as you would want to pursue his career in an eminent hospital somewhere,' I said. 'What was it that made you return to Richmond?'
"'Dearest Alicia… Even after all these years, you've hardly changed at all, have you? You're as naïve as ever; though I've always believed such conduct to be no more than a perfect performance to match your charm.' When he saw that I was serious, he smiled and stroked my hand with his thumb. Then his eyes lowered, and his voice took on a more solemn quality. 'The answer to your question is quite simple, really: I've always dreamed of having my own practice, and the properties in Charlottesville are so expensive. It made more sense to stay here, in a place where people aren't always able to afford decent healthcare. This town has done so much for me; from my high school education to the scholarships that got me through my first two years of university. I thought that by becoming a village physician, I would be able to repay the community for all it did to get me where I am today. I'm not a wealthy man by any means; most of the time, my services are reimbursed in the form of jarred fruit and pickles. But I make an honest living. I help people, which is all I've ever wanted out of life. And I learned something during those seven years I spent toiling and working my way through university and medical school.' His eyebrows raised and he asked, 'Do you know what it is that I learned?'
"'What's that, Ali?'
"'That it isn't money that makes the world go 'round—it's love. As long as you have love, then wealth becomes less of a factor to one's own happiness.'
"All at once I felt myself on the edge of my defenses. I saw myself standing at the bank of the lake at Foxworth Hall. I saw Malcolm, who'd followed me that day. I heard his voice, as it rang clearly in my head once more. He'd said terrible things about Garland then—things so cruel and deceptive they aren't worth repeating. 'I never considered wealth an importance,' I told Alistair accusingly. 'I married Garland because I loved him, and he loved me. Not once did money play a part in how I felt about him—how I still feel about him!'
"'I never thought it did.' Despite my harsh tone, Alistair's face never lost its expression of compassion. 'Always when I saw the two of you together was it obvious the degree of your feelings for Garland. Had those feelings been any less obvious, then I don't suppose I would have tried so hard to shield the ones I had for you.'
"He looked as though he had more to say, but my mother's arrival with the tea interrupted. She set the silver tray with its white kettle of pink floral and two matching, steaming teacups down on the nightstand. On the nightstand stood my beloved Tiffany lamp that Garland had bought for me. He had obtained it during a company trip to New York City, after I'd declared my fondness for a comparable model of Olivia's. The colorful glass trapped the sunlight seeping through the window and created little specs that danced across Alistair's face like fairies. His green eyes shone brightly with the additional light, making their similarity to jewels strengthen significantly.
"As my mother smiled, I recognized it as the same smile she had expressed the first time Alistair had come to our home. But it was also a smile that worried me. After Garland had died, I'd made a promise to myself that I would never allow myself to be wooed by another handsome man, let alone remarry. Not because I was devoted in such a way to Garland, but because I couldn't bear the thought of losing someone else I loved.
"Alistair and I waited for my mother to excuse herself and head into the kitchen, where Christopher was waiting patiently for breakfast. I was concerned about how much my son knew about my accident, and if so then how much it had affected him. That I had tainted his special day with yet another unpleasant memory was a possibility I had to force myself not to consider. My hope to recreate a little of the merriment that Garland and I had produced when Christopher turned three had been strong just the other day. Now, because of my own foolishness, I would be unable to do anything but sit and watch the festivities from my bedroom window.
"I hadn't realized I was pouting until Alistair handed me my tea and took the other cup for himself. 'Mm,' he said, as he raised it to his lips. 'It smells delicious. Tell me: Does your mother still make her own tea, or has she since relented and begun purchasing it from a supplier?'
"'No. She still uses the same jasmine leaves from her garden.'
"'Ah, yes, I can tell. She served this the first time you invited me to your house, remember? Or was it I who invited myself?'
"'It was our first date,' I confirmed, feeling my irritation for his former statement beginning to fade. 'You had insisted upon picking me up at my house so you could meet my parents. Your father had driven you in his motorcar, and was waiting for us at the end of the pathway.'
"'He had insisted on accompanying me to the door himself. But I told him no because I didn't want you to think of me as a sissy.'
"'That's one thing I never thought you were.' My cheeks were ablaze the moment I had uttered the last word. I hoped Alistair would be too focused on our conversation to notice my reaction, but his amused smile confirmed otherwise.
"'I'm very glad to hear you say that.' Setting his cup down on the tray, he took my own from me and positioned it beside his. Once again he reached over and placed his hand on top of mine. 'You know,' he began, and the smile faded from his face like the blue from the sky before a storm, 'I was truly touched when I heard about Garland. He was a good—a great man. His death was a tragic loss to not only those who loved him, but to those who never got the chance. He was lucky, Alicia; for not you or I or anyone else has reason to doubt that those six years he spent married to you were the happiest years of his life.' I watched through now blurred eyes as Alistair smiled, feeling him release his hand from mine. Ever so tenderly he pressed his hand to my cheek, thumbing away the tear that trickled down the side of my face. 'You gave him back his youth, darling, and in turn God blessed you both with a beautiful son.'
"I'll never forget the love I felt for Alistair as he placed a kiss in the center of my forehead, or the warmth that surged through my battered body as he hugged me, all the while being cautious of my wounds. He didn't seem to mind the way I hid my face against his chest, or that my tears stained his coat, or my echoing murmurs of 'Garland. Garland, my Garland.' Alistair, whose kindness and gentleness so perfectly mirrored that of my late husband, sat holding me, consoling me in every way a person possibly can. His strong fingers combed slowly through my chestnut tangles as he whispered to me that it was all right. That Garland was at peace now and looking down on Christopher and me. The only thing Alistair didn't do that any other man in his position surely would have was take advantage of my vulnerability.
"For the first time in exactly one year I watched, willing and unafraid, as the arms of love opened themselves to me yet again."