I do not own Garden of Shadows or any of its characters, likenesses, or places. They belong to V.C. Andrews.
I would like to dedicate this story to the unbelievably awesome GrayRainbows: In my brief time writing for The Dollanganger Saga, there is so much you've taught me. Thank you for all your support, and for welcoming me into the fandom. :)
Standing at the base of the balustrade, I fervently anticipated the appearance of my little mockingbird at its peak. Two months had passed since the birth of our son—a beautiful, joyous bundle named Christopher Garland Foxworth. He rarely cried and always had a smile for everyone who came to his crib. Although my wife insisted he took after me in looks, I believed it was her own striking beauty that made up these immaculate features. We had spent a few evenings playfully arguing over this prospect in the nursery, while Christopher observed quietly from his crib. He had most likely spent his time pondering why Momma appeared irritated one moment, and the next was throwing herself into Papa's arms.
When Alicia had first announced her desire to start a family, I admit I was hesitant. Not only had I casted off to the waters of desertion long ago the idea of ever having another child, but I was heavily burdened by the thought that I would coerce what would probably be the last child I had to loathe me. Although Malcolm had hated me for years, it was something I'd come to accept. He was entitled to that hate, for I had been the one who'd driven his mother away. I had allowed my pain to come between my son and me, when all the while I should have been keeping him close. Instead, what had I done but ship him off to numerous boarding schools and leave him in the care of housekeepers. I spent the rest of my time either alone in my offices or away on business, doing all I could to fill the void his mother's absence had left in my heart.
I was forty-four the first time I saw Alicia, and herself then just five years old. She was sitting at the piano beside her mother when I'd entered the parlor of their small, ranch-style house in Richmond, Virginia. Alicia was wearing a dress made of turquoise silk with a white lace color. Her chestnut hair fell in ringlets about her shoulders and was tied back from her face by a black satin ribbon. She was small for her age, and very, very bashful, having ducked behind the piano as I smiled in their direction.
"'Alicia,'" her mother said, "'this is Mr. Foxworth, an old friend of your father's. Why don't you go and say hello to him? If you don't, then he may think you're aloof, and nobody likes that sort of quality in a person.'"
Even at such a tender age, Alicia knew that the slightest impertinence was often frowned upon. Of course, I would never have assumed such a thing, with or without her mother's intervention. Still, I was thankful that Alicia had been encouraged. As she slid off the bench, I was amazed by just how tiny she was. Her appearance was significant to that of the little porcelain dolls of which my first wife was so fond. Dolls that had once lined the walls of the Swan Room at Foxworth Hall. Dolls that I would have given to Alicia had Malcolm not shattered them all in a fit of countered rage after his mother left us.
"'Hello, Mr. Foxworth,'" Alicia said, and to my amusement performed a perfect little curtsey. "'How do you do?'"
These were the first words she spoke to me, words that I would remember for the rest of my life.
Nathaniel Evans, Alicia's father, had been an acquaintance of mine since childhood. In his twenties, a terrible horseback riding accident had closed the doors to any career he could have had, making it difficult for him to support his wife and daughter. With my only intention being to help them, I supplied him with a position at my offices that paid well and required no standing. The fact that his only daughter eventually became my second wife was merely an added benefit, rather than a reward for my services. Sadly Nathaniel had passed away shortly before I proposed, from an illness that caused his health to deteriorate over the course of several months.
Alicia's first pregnancy had caused her little discomfort—one might even go as far as to say she'd taken pleasure in it. Her joy had vanquished from my mind all concern that she'd sink into a depression like my first wife in the weeks after Malcolm's birth. For the first few weeks, Alicia appeared to be as cheerful as she'd been throughout the duration of her pregnancy. Then one afternoon I'd returned home from the offices and discovered her in a state suggesting just the opposite. I was devastated but not entirely shocked when she explained how 'depressed' she was over the changes in her body. For her reasons matched those of Corrine's exactly. So similar were they that I feared Alicia would leave me like Corrine had all those years ago. I had done all I could to bring Alicia out of her self-pitying state, and in the end succeeded. On balance, losing her like I'd lost Corrine was not an experience I wanted to see repeated.
Malcolm's impatient sigh did nothing to encourage me to call again for Alicia. "Will you please go up and tell your—" He paused, as if it caused him physical pain to address Alicia by anything other than her name. "—Wife to hurry along? Honestly, Father. We'll look like fools if we arrive after the service has begun."
A sudden cough from Olivia interrupted whatever else Malcolm had planned to say. While he averted his eyes to glance for what had to be the twelfth time at his watch, I smiled my appreciation at Olivia. She was standing beside her husband, both of her hands clutching those of Mal and Joel. She didn't return my gesture, but nodded to guarantee she understood. Everyone was dressed in their Sunday best, even the boys. Neither of them appeared altogether comfortable in their church clothes. I could imagine that the woolen blazers and trousers their mother had chosen for them (to please Malcolm, I assumed) had to be terribly scratchy in the warm May weather. I pitied Mal and Joel for when we arrived at the cathedral, which was sure to be quite stuffy.
Olivia was garbed in what was the first splash of color I'd seen her in since my return to Foxworth Hall. She was quite the catch in her floor-length bustle gown of green moss, which brought out the brown in her gray eyes. Fastened at the collar was an oval-shaped brooch encrusted with sparking purple jewels. Her light brown hair was, as usual, piled high atop her head, and I took notice of her efforts to apply a little makeup. It brought to the surface the beauty she seemed so determined to conceal—or that which she felt she lacked. She really was quite pretty, despite her tallness and what was often a blunt demeanor.
Malcolm—in spite of his earlier unpleasantness—looked quite dashing in his simple two-piece, charcoal gray suit over a white dress shirt and navy tie.
I, on the other hand, had chosen a more innovative style in a tan suit (my best color, according to Alicia) over a white dress shirt, with a gray vest and red tie.
I didn't completely agree with Malcolm's decision to introduce Joel to church when the boy had only just recently turned one. Malcolm had been nearly five the first he'd set foot inside a cathedral—not counting his christening. I had even gone as far as to suggest to my son and daughter-in-law that Joel be kept at home with Christopher. But Malcolm wouldn't hear of it. Being as stubborn as he was (or perhaps it was his own childish way of defying my parentage), he insisted that religion knew no age. According to something Olivia had mentioned, Malcolm had already taken Mal and Joel to tour his fabric mills in Charlottesville. And so, Malcolm's latest proposal to 'introduce' his sons to religion came as no surprise.
Joel's nose was running more than usual, and I feared that the heavy aroma of incense might rile his hay fever. Out of my two grandsons, I must admit it was Joel I was most fond of. He was the spitting image of me at his age, from his wispy blond hair to the way he raised his hand and rubbed his nose. I knew Malcolm placed the blame of his youngest son's fragile condition on my shoulders. Although we had a history of hay fever in our family, it often skipped a generation, usually resuming with the second-born. In this latest case it was Joel who was forced to bear the burden of consistent sniffles, which had the potential of erupting into vicious sneezes that often lasted for hours He was lucky to have been spared from asthma, which I'd been forced to contend with until I was nearly sixteen. I absolutely hated the thought of seeing him confined to bed, his head propped up on four or five pillows while a machine pumped oxygen into his lungs. Even to this day, it pains me to recall how much of my childhood was lost because of my debilitating illness.
"Alicia, my love," I called merrily up the stairway, "we're all downstairs, waiting for you. Exactly how much longer do you expect to be?"
If she responded, I didn't hear her. Malcolm took advantage of the silence by continuing on with his complaints regarding Alicia. "Lucas has been parked in the driveway now for more than half an hour. If she isn't down in exactly one minute, then I'm taking my family and leaving. You can stay here and explain to your wife the importance of proper punctuality."
"Oh, Malcolm, have a little patience. I remember how your mother always used to—"
"We are leaving, Father. Come along, Olivia, boys." Then he pivoted, hitting me with that piercing, ice-filled gaze I had seen him use on his associates at the offices whenever they disagreed with him. "I'll send the limousine back here and you can meet us at the cathedral. Just be sure to prepare yourselves for the idle gossip that's sure to follow you about the town."
"I'm quite certain that won't be a concern, Malcolm. As of yet, it isn't even half past nine, and Reverend Masterson never delivers the sermon until after ten. We have plenty of time to arrive and take our seats before then. I wish you wouldn't worry so."
Malcolm frowned. "Two minutes, then. I'll give her two minutes, but no more. She's lucky I've allowed her this much extra time to comb her hair. Or whatever activity she's gotten herself involved in that has forced her to lose all track of time."
"Is Alicia coming with us to church, Grandpa?" Mal asked. "I don't wanna go if Alicia isn't gonna go."
"Oh, you're going," Malcolm said, and shot the boy a glare of warning from over his shoulder. "You, your mother, brother and I all going. Whether or not your grandmother chooses to accompany us is none of your concern. Or anyone else's, for that matter. Let her take the Lord's Day in contempt by fulfilling her own selfish desires if that is what she wants. It isn't my soul that will be on trial come Judgment Day."
It infuriated me the way Malcolm had spoken so harshly of and with such disrespect for Alicia. The very idea that he would have the nerve to speak so boorishly of her in front of me was shocking! Normally I would not have hesitated to put him in his place, the way I had when he was a child and misbehaved. But it was for the sake of my grandsons that I chose to hold my tongue. Mal and Joel were looking at me the way they looked at each other whenever their father harshly scolded one or the other, or both at once. Now they responded to the flare of their father's temper by ducking behind their mother's skirt, Joel following Mal like a shadow. By the way Malcolm treated his children, it made one wonder if he was intentionally raising them with fear rather than love.
It was only when I heard a soft, melodic voice call my name that I felt all of my umbrage for Malcolm vanish like a London fog. Turning to face the top of the balustrade, I saw her. Alicia, my beautiful, charming wife and the mother of my youngest child. She looked radiant in a two-piece, rose-colored suit with silver buttons down the front, along with a matching fedora. I'd seen her in the outfit many times before we were married, but her beauty was even more striking now…perhaps it was her new role as a mother that had added that little something extra. She had chosen for the occasion to wear her hair down—the way I liked it best—with chestnut ringlets spilling down her shoulders. She had on a pair of white pumps, and carried a handbag the same color as her suit. I was so busy admiring her that I took no notice of the stiffness in her step as she descended down the stairway. It wasn't until much later that I would learn the reason why and blame it on yet another result of my absentmindedness.
"Good morning," Alicia said pleasantly as she reached the final few steps. "I do hope I haven't kept any of you waiting long."
"I beg to differ," grumbled Malcolm. When no one answered, I assumed they either hadn't heard or were choosing not to pay any attention to him.
Extending my hand to Alicia, I took her hand and placed upon it a courteous kiss. "My dear, would it be terribly presumptuous of me to tell you how ravishing you look?
She giggled, and raised her hand to her mouth in order to conceal the smile there. "Not at all, my darling."
"If my father would transmit the sort of interest he has for you to his responsibilities at the offices," Malcolm remarked, "then perhaps—"
Olivia saw her chance, and intruded upon the situation before her husband could insinuate an argument between himself and me. "Now that we're all gathered together, it's rather impractical to merely stand around the foyer like a crowd of silly schoolgirls. If we're going to make it to Reverend Masterson's sermon on schedule, then it's best we leave immediately."
"Exactly my point," agreed Malcolm, doing nothing at all to mask his annoyance. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched him send Alicia a look so sharp that his eyes might as well have been daggers.
I returned Malcolm's threatening glare before restoring my focus to Alicia and guiding her off the final few steps. When I looked back at my son, he had already lost interest in the situation and pivoted. He was now ambling after Olivia and the boys, who were headed for the front door.
"Shall we?" Alicia asked, her engaging voice drawing me away from my present thoughts of annoyance.
"Certainly," I said, and held out my arm to her. She linked her own through mine, and together we went outside to join our family.