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Petals on the Wind

V. C. Andrews

  Petals on the Wind

  Dollenganger #2

  V.C. Andrews

  Copyright (c) 1980

  ISBN 13: 978-0-671-72947-9 ISBN 10:0-671-72947-0 .

  O'er the earth there comes a bloom; Sunny light for sullen gloom;

  Warm perfume for vapor cold-- I smell the rose above the mold!

  --Thomas Hood


  PART ONE Free, at Last!

  . How young we were the day we escaped. How exuberantly alive we should have felt to be freed, at last, from such a grim, lonely and stifling place. How pitifully delighted we should have been to be riding on a bus that rumbled slowly southward. But if we felt joy, we didn't show it. We sat, all three, pale, silent, staring out the windows, very frightened by all we saw.

  Free. Was ever a word more wonderful than that one? No, even though the cold and bony hands of death would reach out and drag us back, if God wasn't up there somewhere, or maybe down here on the bus, riding with us and looking out for us. At some time in our life we had to believe in someone.

  The hours passed with the miles. Our nerves grew frazzled because the bus stopped often to pick up and let off passengers. It stopped for rest breaks, for breakfast, then to pick up a single huge black lady who stood alone where a dirt road met the concrete interstate. It took her forever to pull herself onto the bus, then lug inside the many bundles she carried with her. Just as she was finally seated, we passed over the state line between Virginia and North Carolina.

  Oh! The relief to be gone from that state of our imprisonment! For the first time in years, I began to relax--a little.

  We three were the youngest on the bus. Chris was seventeen years old and strikingly handsome with long, waving blond hair that just touched his shoulders, then curled upward. His darkly fringed blue eyes rivaled the color of a summer sky, and he was in personality like a warm sunny day--he put on a brave face despite the bleakness of our situation. His straight and finely shaped nose had just taken on the strength and maturity that promised to make him all that our father had been--the type of man to make every woman's heart flutter when he looked her way, or even when he didn't. His expression was confident; he almost looked happy. If he hadn't looked at Carrie he might have even been happy. But when he saw her sickly, pale face, he frowned and worry darkened his eyes. He began to pluck on the strings of the guitar strapped to his shoulder. Chris played "Oh Susannah," singing softly in a sweet melancholy voice that touched my heart. We looked at each other and felt sad with the memories the tune brought back. Like one we were, he and I. I couldn't bear to look at him for too long, for fear I would cry.

  Curled up on my lap was my younger sister. She didn't look older than three, but she was eight years old and small, so pitifully small, and weak. In her large, shadowed blue eyes lingered more dark secrets and sufferings than a child her age should know. Carrie's eyes were old, very, very old. She expected nothing: no happiness, no love, nothing--for all that had been wonderful in her life had been taken from her. Weakened by apathy, she seemed willing to pass from life into death. It hurt to see her so alone, so terribly alone now that Cory was gone.

  I was fifteen. The year was 1960, and it was November. I wanted everything, needed everything, and I was so terribly afraid I'd never in all my life find enough to make up for what I had already lost. I sat tense, ready to scream if one more bad thing

  happened. Like a coiled fuse attached to a time bomb, I knew that sooner or later I would explode and bring down all those who lived in Foxworth Hall!

  Chris laid his hand on mine, as if he could read my mind and knew I was already thinking about how I would bring hell to those who had tried to destroy us.

  He said in a low voice, "Don't look like that, Cathy. It's going to be all right. We'll get by."

  He was still the eternal cockeyed optimist, believing, despite everything, that whatever happened was for the best! God, how could he think so when Cory was dead? How could that possibly be for the best?

  "Cathy," he whispered, "we have to make the most of what we have left, and that is each other. We have to accept what's happened and go on from there. We have to believe in ourselves, our talents, and if we do, we will get what we want. It works that way, Cathy, really it does. It has to!"

  He wanted to be a dull, staid doctor who spent his days in small examination rooms, surrounded by human miseries. I wanted something far more fanciful--and a mountain of it! I wanted all my starfilled dreams of love and romance to be fulfilled-- on the stage, where I'd be the world's most famous prima ballerina; nothing less would do! That would show Momma!

  Damn you, Momma! I hope Foxworth Hall burns to the ground! I hope you never sleep a comfortable night in that grand swan bed, never again! I hope your young husband finds a mistress younger and more beautiful than you! I hope he gives you the hell you deserve!

  Carrie turned to whisper: "Cathy, I don't feel so good. My stomach, it feels funny. . . ." I was seized by fear. Her small face seemed unnaturally pale; her hair, once so bright and shining, hung in dull, lank strings. Her voice was merely a weak whisper.

  "Darling, darling." I comforted and then kissed her. "Hang on. We're taking you to a doctor soon. It won't be so long before we reach Florida and there we'll never be locked up."

  Carrie slumped in my arms as I miserably stared out at the dangling Spanish moss that indicated we were now in South Carolina. We still had to pass through Georgia. It would be a long time before we arrived in Sarasota. Violently Carrie jerked upright and began to choke and retch.

  I'd judiciously stuffed my pockets with paper napkins during our last rest break, so I was able to clean up Carrie. I handed her over to Chris so I could kneel on the floor to clean up the rest. Chris slid over to the window and tried to force it open to throw out the sodden paper napkins. The window refused to budge no matter how hard he pushed and shoved. Carrie began to cry.

  "Put the napkins in the crevice between the seat and the side of the bus," whispered Chris, but that keen- eyed bus driver must have been watching through his rear-view mirror, for he bellowed out, "You kids back there--get rid of that stinking mess some other way!" What other way but to take everything from the outside pocket of Chris's Polaroid camera case, which I was using as a purse, and stuff the smelly napkins in there.

  "I'm sorry," sobbed Carrie as she clung desperately to Chris. "I didn't mean to do it. Will they put us in jail now?"

  "No, of course not," said Chris in his fatherly way. "In less than two hours we'll be in Florida. Just try to hang on until then. If we get off now we'll lose the money we've paid for our tickets, and we don't have much money to waste."

  Carrie began to whimper and tremble. I felt her forehead and it was clammy, and now her face wasn't just pale, but white! Like Cory's before he had died.

  I prayed that just once God would have some mercy on us. Hadn't we endured enough? Did it have to go on and on? While I hesitated with the squeamish desire to vomit myself, Carrie let go again. I couldn't believe she had anything left. I sagged against Chris while Carrie went limp in his arms and looked heartbreakingly near unconsciousness. "I think she's going into shock," whispered Chris, his face almost as pale as Carrie's.

  This was when a mean, heartless passenger really began to complain, and loudly, so the compassionate ones looked embarrassed and undecided as to what to do to help us. Chris's eyes met mine. He asked a mute question--what were we to do next?

  I was beginning to panic. Then, down the aisle, swaying from side to side as she advanced toward us, came that huge black woman smiling at us

  reassuringly. She had paper bags with her which she held for me to drop the smelly napkins in. With gestures but no words she patted my shoulder, chucked Carrie under the chin and then handed me a
handful of rags taken from one of her bundles. "Thank you," I whispered, and smiled weakly as I did a better job of cleaning myself, Carrie and Chris. She took the rags and stuffed them in the bag, then stood back as if to protect us.

  Full of gratitude, I smiled at the very, very fat woman who filled the aisle with her brilliantly gowned body. She winked, then smiled back.

  "Cathy," said Chris, his expression more worried than before, "we've got to get Came to a doctor, and soon!"

  "But we've paid our way to Sarasota!"

  "I know, but this is an emergency."

  Our benefactor smiled reassuringly, then she leaned over to peer into Carrie's face. She put her large black hand to Carrie's clammy brow, then put her fingers to her pulse. She made some gestures with her hands which puzzled me, but Chris said, "She must not be able to talk, Cathy. Those are the signs deaf people make." I shrugged to tell her we didn't understand her signs. She frowned, then whipped from a dress pocket beneath a heavy red sweater she wore a pad of multicolored sheets of notepaper and very swiftly she wrote a note which she handed to me.

  My name Henrietta Beech, she'd written, Can hear, but no talk. Little girl is very, very sick and need good doctor. I read this, then looked at her hoping she'd have more information. "Do you know of a good doctor?" I asked. She nodded vigorously, then quickly dashed off another green note. Your good fortune I be on your bus, and can take you to my own doctor-son, who is very best doctor.

  "Good golly," murmured Chris when I handed him the note, "we sure must be under a lucky star to have someone to direct us to such a doctor."

  "Look here, driver," yelled the meanest man on the bus. "Get that sick kid to a hospital! Damned if I paid my good money to ride on a stinking bus!"

  The other passengers looked at him with disapproval, and I could see in the rear-view mirror that the driver's face flushed with anger, or perhaps it was humiliation. In the mirror our eyes met. He lamely called to me. "I'm sorry but I've got a wife and five kids and if I don't keep my schedules, then my wife and kids won't eat, because I'll be out of a job." Mutely I pleaded with my eyes, making him mumble to himself, "Damn Sundays. Let the week days go by just fine, then comes Sunday, damn Sundays.

  This was when Henrietta Beech seemed to have heard enough. Again she picked up her pencil and notepad and wrote. This note she showed to me,

  Okay, man in driver's seat who hates Sundays. Keep on ignoring little sick girl, and her parents will sue big shot bus owners for two million!

  No sooner had Chris had the chance to skim this note than she was waddling up the aisle and she pushed the note into the driver's face. Impatiently he shoved it away, but she thrust it forward again, and this time he made an attempt to read it while keeping one eye on the traffic.

  "Oh, God," sighed the driver whose face I could clearly see in the mirror. "The nearest hospital is twenty miles off my route."

  Both Chris and I watched, fascinated, as the mammoth black lady made gestures and signals that left the driver as frustrated as we had been. Once again she had to write a note, and whatever she wrote in that one soon had him turning the bus off the wide highway onto a side road that led into a city named Clairmont. Henrietta Beech stayed with the driver, obviously giving him instructions, but she took the time to look back at us and shine on us a brilliant smile, assuring us that everything would be just fine.

  Soon we were rolling along quiet, wide streets with trees that arched gracefully overhead. The houses I stared at were large, aristocratic, with verandas and towering cupolas. Though in the mountains of Virginia it had already snowed once or twice, autumn had not yet laid a frosty hand here. The maples, beeches, oaks and magnolias still held most of their summer leaves, and a few flowers still bloomed.

  The bus driver didn't think Henrietta Beech was directing him right, and to be honest I didn't think she was either. Really, they didn't put medical buildings on this kind of residential street. But just as I was beginning to get worried, the bus jerked to a sudden halt in front of a big white house perched on a low, gentle hill and surrounded by spacious lawns and flower beds.

  "You kids!" the bus driver bellowed back to us, "pack your gear, turn in your tickets for a refund, or use them before the time limit expires!" Then quickly he was out of the bus and opening up the locked underbelly, and from there he pulled out forty or so suitcases before he came to our two. I slung Cory's guitar and banjo over my shoulders, as Chris very gently, and with a great deal of tenderness, lifted Carrie in his arms.

  Like a fat mother hen, Henrietta Beech hustled us up the long brick walk to the front veranda and there I hesitated, staring at the house, the double black doors. lb the right a small sign read FOR PATIENTS ONLY. This was obviously a doctor who had offices in his own home. Our two suitcases were left back in the shade near the concrete sidewalk while I scanned the veranda to spy a man sleeping in a white wicker chair. Our good Samaritan approached him with a wide smile before she gently touched him on the arm, and when he still slept on she gestured for us to advance and speak for ourselves. Next she pointed to the house, and made signals to indicate she had to get inside and prepare a meal for us to eat.

  I wished she'd stayed to introduce us, to explain why we were on his porch on Sunday. Even as Chris and I stole on cautious pussywillow feet toward him, even as I filled with fear I was sniffing the air filled with the scent of roses and feeling that I'd been here before and knew this place. This fresh air perfumed with roses was not, the kind of air I'd grown to expect as the kind deemed worthy for such as me. "It's Sunday, damn Sunday," I whispered to Chris, "and that doctor may not appreciate our being here."

  "He's a doctor," said Chris, "and he's used to having his spare time robbed . . . but you can wake him up."

  Slowly I approached. He was a large man wearing a pale gray suit with a white carnation in his buttonhole. His long legs were stretched out and lifted to the top of the balustrade. He looked rather elegant, even sprawled out as he was with his hands dangling over the arms of the chair. He appeared so comfortable it seemed a terrible pity to awaken him and put him back on duty.

  "Are you Dr. Paul Sheffield?" asked Chris who had read the sign with the doctor's name. Carrie lay in his arms with her neck arched backwards, her eyes closed and her long golden hair waving in the soft, warm breezes. Reluctantly the doctor came awake. He stared at us long moments, as if disbelieving his eyes. I knew we looked strange in our many layers of clothing. He shook his head as if trying to focus his eyes, and such beautiful hazel eyes they were, bejeweled with flecks of blue, green and gold on soft brown. Those remarkable eyes drank me in, then swallowed me down. He appeared dazzled, slightly drunk, and much too sleepy to put on his customary professional mask that would keep him from darting his eyes from my face to my breasts, then to my legs before he scanned slowly upward. And again he was hypnotized by my face, my hair. It was hair that was far too long, I knew that, and it was clumsily cut on top, and too pale and fragile on the ends.

  "You are the doctor, aren't you?" demanded Chris. "Yes, of course. I'm Dr. Sheffield," he finally said, now turning his attention to Chris and Carrie. Surprisingly graceful and quick, he lifted his legs from the railing, rose to his feet to tower above us, ran long fingers through the mop of his dark hair, and then stepped closer to peer down into Carrie's small, white face. He parted her closed lids with forefinger and thumb and looked for a moment at whatever was revealed in that blue eye. "How long has this child been unconscious?"

  "A few minutes," said Chris. He was almost a doctor himself, he'd studied so much while we were locked away upstairs. "Carrie threw up on the bus three times, then began to tremble and feel clammy. There was a lady on the bus named Henrietta Beech, and she brought us here to you."

  The doctor nodded, then explained that Mrs. Beech was his housekeeper-cook. He then led us to the door for patients only, and into a section of the house with two small examination rooms and an office, all while apologizing for not having his usual nurse available. "Take off al
l Carrie's clothes but her underpants," he ordered me. While I set about doing this, Chris dashed back to the sidewalk to fetch our suitcases.

  Full of a thousand anxieties, Chris and I backed up against a wall and watched as the doctor checked Carrie's blood pressure, her pulse, her temperature and listened to her heart, front and back. By this time Carrie had come around so he could request her to cough. All I could do was wonder why everything bad had happened to us. Why was fate so persistently against us? Were we as evil the grandmother had said? Did Carrie have to die too?

  "Carrie," said Dr. Sheffield pleasantly after I had dressed her again, "we're going to leave you in this room for a while so you can rest.. ' He covered her with a thin blanket. "Now don't be afraid. We'll be right down the hall in my office. I know that table isn't too soft, but do try and sleep while I talk to your brother and sister."

  She gazed at him with wide, dull eyes, not really caring if the table was hard or soft.

  A few minutes later Dr. Sheffield was seated behind his big impressive desk with his elbows on the blotter pad, and that's when he began to speak earnestly and with some concern. "The two of you look embarrassed and ill-at-ease. Don't be afraid you're depriving me of Sunday fun and games, for I don't do much of that. I'm a widower, and Sunday for me is no different than any other day. . . ."

  Ah, yes. He could say that, but he looked tired, as if he worked too many long hours. I perched uneasily on the soft brown leather sofa, close by Chris. The sunlight filtering through the windows fell directly on our faces while the doctor was in the shadows. My clothes felt damp and miserable, and suddenly I remembered why. Quickly I stood to unzip and remove my filthy outer skirt. I felt quite pleased to see the doctor start in surprise. Since he'd left the room when I undressed Carrie, he didn't realize that I had two dresses on underneath. When I sat again next to Chris, I wore only one dress of blue, princess styled, and it was flattering and unsoiled.

  "Do you always wear more than one outfit on Sundays?" he asked.