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Heaven (Casteel Series #1)

V. C. Andrews


  Casteel #1

  V.C. Andrews

  Copyright © 1990

  ISBN: 0671729446



  In the Willies





  I HEAR THE flowers whispering, and the leaves singing in the forest, and I see again the birds on wing, the river fish jumping. I remember, too, the winters; how the bare tree branches made tortured sounds as the cold winds whipped them about, forcing limbs to scrape the shedlike cabin that clung precariously to the steep mountainside of a range called by the West Virginian natives, the Willies.

  The wind didn't just blow in the Willies, it howled and shrieked, so everyone living in the Willies had good reason for looking anxiously out their small dirty windows. Living on the mountainsides was enough to give anyone the willies—especially when the wolves howled like the wind and the bobcats screeched and the wild things of the forests roamed at will. Often small pets would vanish, and once every decade or so an infant disappeared or a toddler wandered off and was never seen again.

  With special clarity I remember one particular cold February night that revealed to me my own beginning. It was the eve of my tenth birthday. I lay close to the wood stove on my floor pallet, tossing and turning, hearing the wolves yowl at the moon. I had the unfortunate habit of sleeping lightly, so the slightest movement in the tiny cabin jolted me awake.

  Every sound was magnified in our isolated cabin.

  Granny and Grandpa snored. Pa staggered home drunk, bumping into furniture as he stumbled over sleeping bodies on the floor before he crashed down on the squealing springs of his big brass bed, waking up Ma and making her angry again so she raised her voice in shrill complaint because again he'd spent too much time in Winnerrow, in Shirley's Place. At that time I didn't even know why Shirley's Place was such a bad place, and why Pa's going there caused so much trouble.

  Our cabin floor, with half-inch spacings

  between each crookedly laid board, let in not only cold air but also the snortings of the sleeping pigs, dogs, cats, and whatever else took retreat under it.

  Out of the black suddenly came a different kind of noise. Who was moving in the darkness of the dim red glow near the stove? I strained to see it was Granny, bent over, he-I-long gray hair streaming, making her seem a witch sliding along the rough wooden planks as quietly as possible. It couldn't be the outhouse she was heading for; Granny was the only one of us allowed to use the "hockeypot" when nature called. The rest of us had to trek two hundred yards to the outhouse. Granny was in her mid-fifties.

  Chronic arthritis and various other undiagnosed aches and pains made life miserable for Granny, and the loss of most of her teeth made her seem twice her age.

  Once, so I had been told by those old enough to remember, Annie Brandywine had been the beauty queen of the hills.

  "Come, girl," Granny whispered hoarsely, her gnarled hand on my shoulder, "it's time ya stopped cryin out in t'night. I'm hopin maybe ya won't be doin it no more once ya know t'truth bout yerself. So, before yer pa wakes up agin, ya an me are goin somewheres, an fore we come back, ya'll have somethin t'cling ta when he glares his eyes an slings his fists." She sighed like the south wind blowing gently, whispering the tendrils of hair around my face to make them tickle like ghosts that were coming—through her.

  "You mean we're going outside? Granny, it's miserably cold out there," I warned even as I got up and pulled on a cast-off pair of Tom's too-big shoes.

  "You aren't planning on going far, are you?"

  "Gotta," said Granny. "Hurts bad t'hear t'words my Luke yells at his own firstborn. Even worse, it makes my blood run cold t'hear ya scream right back when he can strike out an end what ain't hardly begun yet. Girl, why do ya have t'answer back?"

  "You know, you know," I whispered. "Pa hates me, Granny, and I don't know why. Why does he hate me so much?"

  There was enough moonlight coming through a window to allow me to see her dear old wrinkled face.

  "Yes, yes, time ya knew," she mumbled, tossing me a heavy black shawl she'd knitted herself, then wrapping her own narrow, bent shoulders in another just as dark and drab. She led me to the door, swung it open, letting in the cold wind before she shut it again. In their bed beyond the tattered faded red curtain, Ma and Pa grumbled as if the wind half woke them. "We got a trip t'make, ya an me, down t'where we plant our kinfolk. Been atryin t'make it with ya fer many a year. Kin't keep puttin it off. Time runs out, it does. Then it's too late."

  So on this cold, snowy, miserable, dark night she and I set off through the black piny woods. A solid sheet of ice lay rippling on the river, and the wolves sounded closer now. "Yep, Annie Brandywine Casteel sure knows how t'keep secrets," Granny said as if to herself. "Not many do, ya know, not many born like me . . . ya listenin, girl, are ya?"

  "Can't help but hear you, Granny. You're shouting directly in my ear."

  She had me by the hand, leading me a far way from home. Crazy to be out here, it was. Why, on this freezing winter's night, was she going to give up one of her precious secrets, and to me? Why me? But I loved her enough to assist her down the rough mountain trail. It seemed like miles we traveled in the dark cold of night, that old moon overhead shining down on us with evil intentions.

  The treat she had in store for me was a

  graveyard, stark and eerie in the light of the pale bluish winter moon. The wind blew wild and fierce and snapped her thin white hair and blended it with my own before she spoke again. "Onliest thin I kin give ya, child, onliest thin worth havin, is what I'm gonna tell ya."

  "Couldn't you have told me in the cabin?"

  "Nah," she scoffed, stubborn as she could sometimes be, set in her ways like an old tree with too many roots. "Ya wouldn't pay no tention iffen I told ya there. Here, ya'll always rememba."

  She hesitated as her eyes fixed on a slim little tombstone. She raised her arm and pointed her gnarled finger at the granite headstone. I stared at it and tried to read what was engraved there. How very odd for Granny to bring me here during the night, where maybe the ghosts of those who lay here roamed about looking for living bodies to inhabit.

  "Ya gotta fergive yer pa fer bein what he is,"

  intoned Granny, huddling close to me for warmth.

  "He's what he is, and he kin't help it no more than t'sun kin help from risin or settin, no more than t'skunks kin help from makin their stinks, an no more than ya kin help bein what ya are."

  Oh, that was an easy thing for Granny to say.

  Old people didn't remember what it was like to be young afraid.

  "Let's go home," I said, shivering and pulling at Granny. "I've heard and read tales about what goes on in graveyards on nights when the moon is full and the hour is after midnight."

  "Know betta than to be skerred of dead thins that kin't move or speak."

  Yet she drew me tighter into her embrace and forced me to stare again at the narrow sunken grave.

  "Ya jus listen an don't say nothin till I'm finished. I got a tale t'tell that's gonna make ya feel betta. There's a good reason why yer pa speaks mean when he looks at ya. He don't really hate ya. In my mind I done put t'pieces togetha, an when my Luke looks at ya he sees not ya but someone else . . . an, chile, he really is a lovin man. A good man underneath it all. Why, he had a first wife he loved so much he near died when she did. He met her down in Atlanta. He was seventeen an she was only fourteen an three days, so she tole me lata." Her thin voice dropped an octave. "Beautiful as an angel, she was, an oh, yer pa did love her so. Why, he swept her offen her feet, when she was runnin away from home. Headin fer Texas, she was. Runnin from Bosto
n. Had a fancy suitcase with her, full of clothes t'likes of what ya've neva seen. All kinds of pretty stuff in that suitcase, suits an silky thins, silvery brush, comb an a silver mirror, an rings fer her fingas, an jewels fer her ears, an she come here t'live, cause she went an made t'mistake of marryin up with a man not her kind. . . cause she loved him."

  "Granny, I've never heard of Pa having a first wife. I thought Ma was his first and only wife."

  "Didn't I tell ya t'stay quiet? Ya let me finish tellin this in my own way. . . . She was from a rich Boston family. Come t'live with Luke an Toby an me.

  I didn't want her when she come. Didn't like her at first. Knew she wouldn't last, right from t'first, knew that. Tor good fer t'likes of us, an t'hills, an t'hardships. Tho we had bathrooms, she did. Shocked her when she knew she'd have t'trek ta t'outhouse, an sit on a board with two holes. Then durn if Luke didn't go an build her a pretty lit outhouse all her own, painted it white, he did, an she put in it fancy rolled paper on a spindle, an even offered Viet me use her pink store-bought paper. Her bathroom, she called it.

  She hugged an kissed Luke fer doin that fer her."

  "You mean Pa wasn't mean to her like he is to Ma?"

  "Shut up, girl. Yer makin me lose track. . . . She came, she stole my heart, maybe Toby's, too. She tried so hard t'do her best. Helpin out with t'cookin. Tryin t'make our cabin pretty. An Toby an me, we gave em our bed, so they could start their babies in t'right way an not on efloor. She'd have slept on Vfloor, she woulda, but wouldn't let her. All Casteels are made in beds . . . I'm ahopin an prayin anyways that's true.

  Well . . . one day she's laughin an happy cause she's gonna have a baby. My Luke's baby. An I feel so sorry, so blessed sorry. Was always ahopin she'd go back t'where she come from fore t'hills took her, t'way they do delicate folks. But she made him happy when she was here. Made him happier than he's been since."

  Granny stopped talking abruptly.

  "How did she die, Granny? Is this her grave?"

  She sighed before she continued. "Yer pa was only eighteen when she passed on, an she was still only fourteen when he had t'bury her in this cold ground an walk away an leave her alone in t'night. He knew she hated t'cold nights without him. Why, chile, he laid on her grave all t'first night t'keep her warm, an it was February . . . an that's my tale of her who came as an angel t'the hills, t'live an love yer pa, an make him happier than he's eva been, an likely he'll neva be that happy agin, from nooks of it."

  "But why did you have to bring me out here to tell me all of this, Granny? You could have told me in the cabin. Even if it is a sad and kind of a sweet story .

  . . still, Pa's meaner than hell, and she must have taken all the best of him into the grave with her, and left only the worst for the rest of us. Why didn't she teach him how to love others? Granny, I wish she'd never come! Not ever come! Then Pa would love Ma, and he'd love me, and not her so much."

  "Oh," said Granny, appearing stunned. "What's wrong with ya, girl, what's wrong? Ain't ya done guessed? That girl that yer pa called his angel, she was yer ma! She's the one who birthed ya, an by t'time ya come, she could hardly speak . . . an she named ya Heaven Leigh, she did. An ya kin't truly say, kin ya, that ya ain't proud of that name that everybody says suits ya jus fine, jus fine."

  I forgot the wind. I forgot my hair snapping around my face. Forgot everything in the wonder of finding out just what and who I was.

  When the moon slipped from behind a dark

  cloud, a random beam of light shone for an instant on the engraved name:


  Beloved wife of Thomas Luke Casteel

  Strange how it made me feel to see that grave.

  "But where did Pa find Sarah? And how did he do it so quick?"

  Granny, as if eager to spill it all out while she had the chance, began to talk faster. "Well, yer pa needed a wife t'fill his empty bed. He hated his lonely nights, an men gets cravins, chile, physical cravins yer gonna find out bout one day when yer old enough. He wanted a wife t'give him what his angel had, an she tried, give Sarah credit fer that. She made ya a good motha, treated ya like ya were her own. Nursed ya, loved ya. An Sarah gave Luke her body willingly enough, but she had nothin of his angel's spirit t'give him, an that leaves him still yearnin fer t'girl who would have made him a betta man. He was betta then, chile Heaven—even if ya don't believe it. Why, in t'days when yer angel ma were alive he'd set out fer work early each mornin, drivin his old pickup truck down t'Winnerrow where he was leamin all about carpentry an how t'build houses an such. He used t'come home full of nice talk about buildin us all a new house down in t'valley, an when he had that house, he were gonna work t'land, raise cows, pigs, an horses. . . yer pa, he's always had a keenin fer animals.

  Loves em, he does, like ya do, chile Heaven. Ya get that from him."

  Odd how I felt when Granny took me back to the cabin, and from beneath a clutter of old junk, and many old cartons in which we kept our pitifully few clothes, she dra!. ed out something wrapped about in an old quilt. From that she extracted an elegant suitcase, the kind mountain folks like us could never afford. "Yers," she whispered so the others wouldn't wake up and intrude on this most private moment.

  "Belonged t'yer ma. Promised her I'd give it t’ya when t'time were right. Figure it's as right as it'll eva be t'night, now . . . so look, girl, look. See what kind of ma ya had."

  As if a dead mother could be compressed and put into a fancy, expensive suitcase!

  But when I looked, I gasped.

  There before me in the dim firelit room were the most beautiful clothes I'd ever seen. Such delicate lacy things I hadn't dreamed existed . . . and at the very bottom I found something long, and carefully wrapped in dozens of sheets of tissue paper. I could tell from Granny's expression she was tense, watching me closely, as if to savor my reaction.

  In the dim glow of the woodfire burning I

  stared at a doll. A doll? What I'd expected least to find. I gazed and gazed at the doll with the silvery-gold hair bound up in a fancy way. She wore a wedding veil, the filmy mist flowing out from a tiny jeweled cap. Her face was exceptionally pretty, with beautifully shaped bowed lips, the upper cleft ridge fitting so precisely into the bottom center indentation.

  Her long dress was made of white lace, lavishly embroidered with tiny pearls and sparkling beads. A bride doll. . . veil and everything. Even her white shoes were lace and white satin, with sheer stockings fastened to a tiny garter belt, as I saw when I took a peak under the skirts and veil.

  "It's her. Yer ma. Luke's angel that was named Leigh," whispered Granny, "jus t'way yer ma looked when she came here afta she married up with yer pa.

  Last thin she said before she died was, 'Give what I brought with me to ray little girl . . .' An now I have."

  Yes, now she had.

  And in so doing, she'd changed the course of my life.


  The Way It

  Used To Be



  YEARS AGO TO save us all from the worst we had in us, he'd failed in our area, except on Sundays between the hours of ten A.M. and noon. At least in my opinion.

  But what was my opinion? Worthy as onion

  peelings, I thought, as I pondered how Pa had married Sarah two months after my mother died in

  childbirth—and he'd loved his "angel" so much. And four months after I was born and my mother was buried, Sarah gave birth to the son Pa had so wanted when I came along and ended my mother's brief stay on earth.

  I was too young to remember the birth of this first son, who was christened Thomas Luke Casteel the Second, and they put him, so I've been told, in the cradle with me, and like twins we were rocked, nursed, held, but not equally loved. No one had to tell me that.

  I loved Tom with his fire-red hair inherited from Sarah, and his flashing green eyes, also inherited from his mother. There was nothing in him at all to remind me of Pa, except later he did grow very tall.
r />   After hearing Granny's tale of my true mother on the eve of my tenth birthday, I determined never, so help me God, never would I tell my brother Tom any different from what he already believed, that Heaven Leigh Casteel was his own true whole-blood sister. I wanted to keep that special something that made us almost one person. His thoughts and my thoughts were very much alike because we'd shared the same cradle, and had communicated silently soon after we were born, and that had to make us special.

  Being special was of great importance to both of us, I guess because we feared so much we weren't.

  Sarah stood six feet tall without shoes. An Amazon mate very suitable for a man as tall and powerful as Pa. Sarah was never sick. According to Granny (whom Tom sometimes jokingly called Wisdom Mouth), the birth of Tom gave Sarah a mature bustline, so full it appeared matronly when she was still fourteen.

  "An," informed Granny, "even afta givin birth, Sarah would get up soon as it was ova, pick up what chore she'd left unfinished, jus as if she hadn't undergone t'most awful ordeal we women have t'suffa through without complaint. Why, Sarah could cook while tryin t'encourage a newborn baby t'suckle."

  Yeah, thought I, her robust good health must be her main attraction for Pa. He didn't seem to admire Sarah's type of beauty much, but at least she wasn't likely to die in childbirth and leave him in a pit of black despair.

  One year after Tom came Fanny, with her jet-black hair like Pa's, her dark blue eyes turning almost black before she was a year old. An Indian girl was our Fanny, browner than a berry, but very seldom happy about anything.

  Four years after Fanny came Keith, named after Sarah's long-dead father. Keith had the sweetest pale auburn hair, you just had to love him right from the beginning—especially when he turned out to be very quiet, hardly any bother at all, not wailing, screaming, and demanding all the time as Fanny had—and still did. Eventually Keith's blue eyes turned topaz, his skin rivaled the peaches-and-cream complexion lots of people said I had, though I didn't truly know since I wasn't given much to peering into our cracked and poorly reflecting mirror.