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Shooting Stars 04 Honey

V. C. Andrews


  Shooting Stars #4

  V.C. Andrews

  Copyright (c) 2001

  ISBN: 9780671039967



  During the spring of my seventeenth year, I learned a shocking truth about my family. It turned my blood so cold. I thought I would freeze in place, become a statue like Lot's wife in the Bible.

  Neither my mother nor my father wanted me to ever know that there were such dark secrets buried in our family vaults, secrets that deserved to be buried forever and ever.

  Daddy once said. "As soon as we're born, we're given private burdens to carry, burdens we simply inherit. Sometimes those are the burdens no one but you can carry for yourself, no matter how much someone loves you and cherishes you. Honey.

  "In fact, the truth is, the more you love someone, the more you want to keep him or her from ever knowing the deepest, darkest secrets in your heart."

  "Why, Daddy?" I asked.

  He smiled.

  "We all want to be perfect for the one we love." That meant no stains, no dark evil, nothing that

  would bring shame and disgrace along with my name. I knew that.

  I also would soon know why it was impossible.

  1 Never Say Good-bye

  In the spring of my senior year in high school, my uncle Peter was killed when his airplane crashed in the field he was crop dusting. A witness said the engine just choked and died on him. He was only thirty-five years old, and he had been my first pretend boyfriend. He had taken me flying at least a dozen times in his plant, each time more fun and exciting than the time before. When he performed his aerial acrobatics with me in the passenger seat beside him. I screamed at the top of my lungs. I screamed with a smile on my face, the way most people do when they have just gone over a particularly steep peak of tracks on the roller coaster at the Castle Rock Fun Park, which was only a few miles east of Columbus. Uncle Peter had taken me there, too.

  He was my father's younger brother, but the five years between them seemed like a gap of centuries when it came to comparing their

  personalities. Daddy was often almost as serious and religious as Grandad Forman. Both were what anyone would call workaholics on our corn farm. actually Grandad's five-hundred-acre corn farm, which also had chickens and cows, mainly for our own consumption of eggs and milk. Grandad sold the remainder to some local markets.

  Everything still belonged to Grandad, which was something he never let any of us forget, especially my step-uncle Simon, who lived in a makeshift room over the cow barn. Grandad Forman claimed that way Simon would be close to his work. One of his chores every day was milking and caring for the milk cows. He was the son of Grandad's first wife. Tess, who had lost her first husband. Clayton, when his track turned over on the interstate and was hit by a tractor trailer. Clayton worked for Grandad at the time.

  Simon had just been born when Tess married Grandad. but Grandad always regarded him as if he were an illegitimate child, working him hard and treating him like he was outside the family, treating him like the village idiot.

  There were only very rare times when all of us, my uncle Peter, my father and mother, and my stepuncle Simon would be around Grandad's dark oak dining room table, reciting grace and enjoying a meal and an evening together. However, when we were, it was easy to see the vast differences among everyone.

  Mommy was tall with a shapely figure, often kept well-hidden under her loosely fitted garments. She didn't wear any makeup and never went to a beauty parlor. Her rich, dark brown hair was usually kept pinned up. On special occasions, I helped her wave a French knot. Mommy wasn't born here. She had come from Russia when she was in her late teen years, accompanied by her aunt. Ethel, who was a relative of Grandad Forman's through marriage.

  Simon was the biggest of the men in our family. His father had been a very big man, six foot five and nearly three hundred pounds. Simon had grown very quickly-- too quickly, according to Grandad Forman, who claimed Uncle Simon's body drained too much from his brain in the process. Always taller than anyone his age. Simon was large, towering, and lanky, awkward for almost anything but heavy manual labor, which only made him more massive and stronger. When I was very little. I rode on his shoulders, clutching his hair like the reins of a horse.

  Simon never did well in school. Grandad claimed the teachers told him Simon was barely a shade or two above mentally retarded. I never believed that to be true. I knew in my heart he simply would rather be outside and couldn't keep his eves from the classroom windows, mesmerized by the flight of a bird or even the mad circling of insects.

  Simon was only twelve when Grandad Forman moved him into the barn and more or less forced him to leave public school. Besides his farm chores, Simon's only other real interest was his beautiful flower garden. Even Grandad Forman was forced to admit Simon had a magical green thumb when it came to nourishing the beauty he could garner from a seed. My mother and I were often the happy recipients of a mixed bouquet of redolent fresh flowers, to place in vases in our rooms or throughout the house. It amazed both of us how something so delicate could come from someone so hulking.

  Anyone would look small beside Simon. but Uncle Peter was barely five foot nine and slim to the verge of being called thin. He had as big an appetite as my daddy or even as Simon at times, but he was always moving, joking, singing, or dancing. His body tossed off fattening foods and weight like someone tossing heavy items out of a boat to keep it from sinking. He had long, flaxen hair, green eves, and a smile that could beam good feelings across our biggest cornfield. He cheered up everyone he met. excluding Grandad, who ordinarily viewed a smile and a laugh as a possible crack in the spiritual wall that kept the devil at bay.

  Sometimes, for fun at dinner -- when Uncle Simon was permitted to eat with us-- Uncle Peter would challenge him to an arm wrestle and put his graceful, almost feminine fingers into the cavern of Uncle Simon's bear-claw palm. Uncle Simon would smile at Uncle Peter's great effort to move his arm back a tenth of an inch. Once, he even put both his hands in one of Uncle Simon's and then he got up and threw his whole body into the effort, while Uncle Simon sat there as unmoving as a giant boulder, staring up at him in wonder the way an elephant might wonder at a mouse trying to push it away. Daddy and Mommy laughed. Grandad Forman called him an idiot and ordered them both to stop their tomfoolery at his dinner table, but not as gruffly, as he ordered me or Daddy, or even Mommy when he wanted us to perform some chore or obey some command.

  I always felt Grandad Forman was less severe on Uncle Peter. If Grandad had any soft or kind bones in his body, he turned them only on him, favoring him as much or as best he could favor anyone. From the pictures I saw of her. Uncle Peter did look more like his mother than he did Grandad. and I wondered if that was what Grandad saw in him whenever he looked at him. His and Daddy's mother was Tess's sister. Jennie, whom Grandad married a year after Tess's death from breast cancer. Simon was only three and needed a mother, but after a little more than eight years of marriage. Grandad lost Jennie. too.

  According to everything I've ever heard about her, my grandma Jennie was a sweet, kind, and loving woman who treated Uncle Simon well, too well for Grandad's liking. It wasn't until after she had died of a heart attack that he moved Simon out of the house and into the barn. According to Uncle Peter, and even Daddy, she wouldn't have tolerated it, even though everyone who knew my grandmother said she was too meek and servile in every other way and permitted Grandad to work her to death. She was often seen beside him in the fields, despite a full day of house cleaning and cooking.

  However, Grandad Forman had a religious philosophy that prevented him from ever taking responsibility for anything that had happened to his family or any
one else with whom he might have come into contact. He believed bad things happened to people as a result of their own evil thoughts, evil deeds. God, he preached, punishes us on earth and rewards us on earth. If something terrible happens to someone we all thought was a good person, we must understand that we didn't know what was in his or her heart and in his or her past. God sees all. Grandad was so vehement about this that he often made me feel God was spying on me every moment of the day, and if I should stray so much as an iota from the Good Book or the Commandments. I would be struck down with the speed of a bolt of lightning.

  Consequently, Grandad Forman did not cry at funerals, and when the horrible news about Uncle Peter was brought to our house. Grandad absorbed and accepted it, lowered his head, and went out to work in the field just as he had planned.

  Mommy was nearly inconsolable. I believe she loved Uncle Peter almost as much as she loved Daddy, almost as much as I loved him. We cried and held each other. Daddy went off to mourn privately, I know, Uncle Simon raged like a wild beast in his barn. We could hear the metal tools being flung against the walls, and then he marched out and took hold of a good size sapling he had planted seven years before and put all of his sorrow into a gigantic effort to lift it, roots and all, out of the earth, which he did.

  "Lunatic," Grandad said when he saw what he had done. "God will punish him for that."

  That evening I sat on the porch steps and stared up at the stars. I had no appetite at dinner and couldn't pronounce a syllable of grace. I wasn't in the mood to thank God for anything, least of all food. but Grandad thought wasting food was one of the worst sins anyone could commit, so I forced myself to swallow, practically without chewing. Tommy, who cooked and cleaned and kept house for him as well as for Daddy and me, choked back her tears, but sniffled too often for Grandad's liking, He chastised her: "It's God's will, and His will be done. So stop your confounded sobbing at dinner."

  I looked to Daddy to see if he would speak up in her defense, but he stared forward, muted by his sorrow. Unlike Uncle Peter. Daddy was a quiet man, strong and compassionate in his own way, but always, it seemed to me, caught in Grandad's shadow, Grandad Forman was still a powerful man, even in his early seventies. He was about six foot three himself, but walked with stooped shoulders. He reminded me of a closed fist-- tight, powerful, even lethal. He had a thick bull neck, was broad-shouldered with long, muscular arms and a small pouch of a stomach. His skin was always dark from working outdoors, and he always had a two-or three-day wire-brush beard because he didn't waste razor blades.

  Once, he must have been fairly good-looking. Daddy had inherited his straight nose, dark, brooding eyes, and firm lips, but Daddy was slimmer in build, with well-proportioned shoulders. From the pictures we had of Grandma Jennie. I thought he had inherited her best qualities. too. Despite his quiet manner and his dedication to work. Daddy was nowhere near as hard as Grandad.

  "Lift's got to go on," Grandad declared, lecturing to Mommy. "It's God's gift, and we don't turn our backs on it."

  Almost for spite, to show us he practiced what he preached, he ate with just as much vigor and appetite as he had ever done, and looked to us to do the same.

  I was glad when I could get away from him.

  On my tenth birthday, Uncle Peter had bought me a Stradivarius violin. It was very expensive, and Grandad Forman complained for days about the "waste of so much money." But I had taken some lessons at school, and talked about how I had enjoyed playing a violin.

  "That's what we need around here," Uncle Peter had decided. 'some good music. Honey's just the one to make it for us."

  He even paid for my private lessons. My teacher. Clarence Wengrow, claimed I had a natural inclination for it, and early on recommended I think seriously about attending a school of performing arts somewhere. Grandad Forman thought that was pure nonsense, and would actually become angry if we discussed anything about my music at dinner, slapping the table so hard he would make the dishes dance. Uncle Peter tried to get him to appreciate music. but Grandad had a strict puritanical view of it as it being another vehicle upon which the devil rode into our hearts and souls. It took us away from hard work and prayer, and that was always dangerous.

  Grandad could go on and on like a hell-anddamnation preacher. Daddy would sit with his head bowed, his eyes closed, like someone just trying to wait out some pain. Most of the time Mommy ignored Grandad, but Uncle Peter always wore a soft smile, as if he found his father quaint. amusing.

  I couldn't get Uncle Peter's smile out of my eyes that first night of his death. I heard his laughter and heard him call my name. He loved teasing me about it. Mommy had named me Honey because of my naturally light-brown complexion and the honey color of my hair and my eyes. I understood Grandad Forman immediately let it be known that he didn't think it was proper. but Mommy was able to put up a strong wall of resistence and brush off his tirade of threats and commands.

  Uncle Peter would sing, "We've got Honey. We've got sugar, but Honey is the sweet one for me."

  He would laugh and throw his arm around my shoulders and kiss the top of my hair, pretending he had just swallowed the most delicious tablespoon of honey in the world.

  How could someone with so much life and love in him be snuffed out like a candle in seconds? I wondered. Why would God let this happen? Could Grandad Forman be right? It made no sense to me. I wouldn't accept it. I would never permit myself to think the smallest bad thing about Uncle Peter. He had no secret evil, in his heart or otherwise. It was all simply a galactic mistake, a gross error. God had made a wrong decision or failed to catch it in time. However. I knew if I so much as suggested such a thing in front of Grandad, he would fly into a hurricane of rage.

  "Oh. clear God," I prayed. "surely You can right the wrong, correct the error. Turn us back a day and make this day disappear forever," I begged.

  Then I picked up my violin and played. My music flowed out into the night. It was an unusually warm spring, so we could enjoy an occasionally tepid evening when the approaching summer let it be known it was nearly at our doorstep.

  Suddenly I saw a large shadow move near Uncle Simon's garden, and quickly realized it was he. I stopped playing and went to him. He was sitting an the ground like an Indian at a council meeting, his legs around a flower he had just planted. I could smell the freshly turned earth.

  "What's that. Uncle Simon?" I asked.

  "For Peter." he said. "He likes these.

  Snapdragon," he said. "That's nice. Uncle Simon."

  He nodded and pressed the earth around the tiny plant affectionately with his immense fingers, so full of strength and yet so full of Gentle kindness and love, too, especially for his precious flowers, his children.

  "Play your violin," he said, "Flowers like to hear the music. too."

  I knew he often talked to his flowers, which was something that Grandad pointed out as evidence of his being a simpleton. He was the simpleton. not Uncle Simon, as far as I was concerned.

  I smiled, knelt beside Uncle Simon, and began to play.

  Uncle Peter will always be part of my music, I thought.I'll always see his smile.

  As long as I played, he lived.

  I would play forever.

  And we would never say good-bye.

  Maybe that was God's way of saying He was sally, too.

  2 Uncle Simon

  We lived in a turn-of-the-century two-story structure with a wraparound porch and nearly fifteen rooms. It was typical of many of the farmhouses in our region of Ohio, houses that were expanded as families grew and their needs increased. The floors were all hardwood. Some rooms had area rugs worn so thin anyone could see the grain of the slats beneath them. Grandad believed in keeping things until they literally fell apart. To replace something merely to change a style or a color was wasteful and therefore sinful. He expected the same sort of sacrifices from his possessions as he did from his family.

  All of the art in the house was simple and inexpensive. Most wall mountings consiste
d of pictures of relatives in dark maple oval frames, all of them captured without smiles on their faces. Daddy explained that, once, people didn't believe in smiling for photographs,

  They thought it wasn't serious and made them look silly if they smiled."

  There wasn't one picture of Grandad Forman smiling. Most of the ancestors looked like they suffered from hemorrhoids. I thought, and told Daddy so. He roared with laughter, but warned me never to say such a thing in front of Grandad.

  The remainder of our wall hangings consisted of dried flowers pressed under glass, some simple watercolors of country scenes. And lace designs made by Grandad's mother and sisters, all of whom were now gone.

  The appliances in the house, including the refrigerator, were nearly twenty years old. Everything had to be repaired as much as possible, even if in the end the repairs would cost more than a replacement. It was true that Grandad was very handy and able to fix most of his machinery himself. He believed the less dependent a man was on anyone, the stronger he was, and the better able he was to live a righteous life. Too many moral compromises were made to satisfy other people, he said.

  Mommy wasn't ashamed of what she could do in the house. She kept it very clean and whatever could shine, did shine, but she was too ashamed of the age and the tired look of our furniture to want to invite anyone to our home. I couldn't remember a time when she or Daddy had asked friends to dinner, and we never had a house party.

  On occasion my music teacher. Mr. Wengrow, was asked to stay to dinner. He appreciated Mommy's good cooking, but it was easy to see he wasn't fond of sitting across from Grandad, who made negative remarks about his profession. He called it frivolous, and insisted that any activity that wasted our time made us more susceptible to evil. He defined a wasteful activity as anything that didn't provide something useful to touch.

  "Music touches our hearts and our minds, our very souls, if you like," Mr. Wengow suggested softly. I thought that was a beautiful way to put it. but Grandad's reply was simply. "Nonsense and more nonsense."