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Twilight's Child

V. C. Andrews




  THE VIRGINIA COUNTRYSIDE FLEW BY AS JIMMY AND I DROVE toward Saddle Creek, a suburb of Richmond. My heart was pounding in anticipation because the road signs announced that we were drawing closer and closer to our destination. Soon I would be holding my baby in my arms. I had barely had a chance to look at Christie when I gave birth to her at The Meadows, for soon after she was born she was taken away from me. It was the last in a series of horrible things Grandmother Cutler had done to me before she had died, bitter and broken, hating me right up until the end for reasons I didn't come to understand until the reading of the wills.

  "It won't be much longer now," Jimmy said, smiling at me. He was almost as excited about my retrieving Christie as I was. I was so happy that Jimmy was willing to consider Christie his own.

  While Jimmy had been in the army and away in Europe I had fallen in love with Michael Sutton, my vocal teacher at the Sarah Bernhardt School of Performing Arts, But rather than being disappointed in me for not waiting for his return, Jimmy had told me he understood how I had fallen under Michael's spell. As soon as he had learned that I had become pregnant and that Michael had deserted me, Jimmy came searching for me and rescued me from the clutches of horrid Emily Booth, Grandmother Cutler's older sister. He was truly my hero, whisking me out of that strange plantation house where I had been sent to have my baby in secret. Jimmy arrived shortly after Christie had been born. And when we found out what Grandmother Cutler had arranged—the immediate giving away of my child—we both vowed that we wouldn't rest until I had her back in my arms again.

  But joyful anticipation wasn't the only thing that made my heart pitter-patter so fast it made me dizzy. I couldn't help but be overwhelmed by the quick sequence of events that had literally changed my life and determined my future. Two wills had been read after Grandmother Cutler's death: hers and a secret letter and will left by the man I had once thought to be my grandfather and now knew had been my father. To repent for what he had considered the sin of my birth, he left me a majority interest in the family hotel. For all practical purposes, I was suddenly the true owner of Cutler's Cove.

  But did I want to be, and perhaps even more importantly, could I be? I could still hear my half-sister Clara Sue screaming at me just before we set out to retrieve Christie. Her shock and envy had been fueled by the jealousy she had always held against me.

  "You couldn't fill Grandmother's shoes!" she cried, twisting her mouth, her hands on her hips. "You'll be the laughingstock of the Virginia shore. If Grandmother was alive, she would die laughing."

  Clara Sue's words taunted me. It was almost as if the stern, vicious old woman were speaking through Clara Sue and smirking skeptically. I felt the challenge, but I also feared what inheriting the hotel and all the responsibility would do to my dreams of becoming a singer. Then again, I thought, perhaps all those dreams had died the day Michael deserted me. Maybe I wasn't meant to dwell in the show business world after all. Maybe everything that had happened had happened for the best.

  Jimmy seemed to think so. All during our trip today he had been making plans and promises.

  "As soon as I'm discharged from the army, we'll get married," he pledged.

  "And live at the hotel with my crazy family?" I asked.

  "They don't bother me. Besides, you're the real boss now, Dawn. I'll become the maintenance manager. I've learned a lot about motors and electricity and engines. . . ."

  "I don't know if I can do it, Jimmy. It frightens me thinking about it," I confessed.

  "Nonsense. Mr. Updike, the family attorney, said he would help you, and Mr. Dorfman, the hotel's comptroller, promised to do everything he could, too. No one expects you to bear all that responsibility immediately. Cutler's Cove will become your new school," he said, laughing. "And as soon as I'm discharged be there at your side, always," he promised, and he squeezed my hand.

  I believed him. He was at my side now, when I needed him the most, wasn't he? And I was tired of the lies and the deceit and the pain. I wanted my life with Jimmy and Christie to begin on a happy note, and the prospect of holding Christie in my arms promised to bring just that: music of joy, blissful, sweet, hopeful.

  But promises, like rainbows, usually come only after storms, and this was to be no different.

  When Grandmother Cutler had died unexpectedly, we feared we might never find Christie. However, Mr. Updike had been involved and knew of her whereabouts. Before we had left Cutler's Cove he had told us the couple who had Christie, Sanford and Patricia Compton, were expecting us and were fully aware of the situation. However, we found a different reality when we went calling on them.

  Saddle Creek was a prim and proper suburb of Richmond where the homes looked like dollhouses, everything perfect—the lawns fresh and green, the magnolias, roses and petunias bright and colorful. The bright late-summer day, with its fluffy white clouds pasted here and there on the soft blue sky, made it seem as if we had entered a make-believe world. Everything was clean and freshly painted. For a moment I remember thinking that maybe Christie was better off here after all. It was certainly a happier world than the one to which I would bring her.

  But then I recalled how painful it had been for me to learn about my real family. Nothing—not even wealth and high position—was worth more than the truth when it came to who you were and where you belonged. That was a lesson I had to learn at the end of a trail of pain and suffering. I was determined that my daughter would never face such a fate.

  A kind policeman sitting in a patrol car on a corner gave us exact directions to the Comptons' house. Sanford Compton owned and operated the biggest business in the area, a linen factory. The Comptons' home was one of the prettiest and largest houses on the street: a two-story, red-brick colonial with a set of triple windows on each side of the first floor front.

  After we parked we got out and walked in between two square white posts crowned with brass balls and then started up a slate walkway. On both sides were waist-high hedges. There were fountains with cupids in them and fountains with marble birds, the water streaming out of their beaks. Everywhere we looked we saw beds of roses: yellow, red, pink and white. I had never seen such perfect lawns and hedges.

  "Is this a home or a museum?" Jimmy wondered aloud. "A home like the one I hope we will live in one day," I said wistfully.

  "Home? I thought we decided we're going to live in the hotel," Jimmy reminded me.

  "Yes, but someday we'll build a house like this and live off the hotel grounds," I promised. "Wouldn't you rather we did that?"

  "Sure. Why not?" Jimmy said, smiling, his dark eyes twinkling with mischief. "I'll start building it myself."

  We both laughed. We couldn't have been in better spirits. In moments I would have Christie again.

  The door chimes seemed to go on forever and ever, playing what sounded like the Nutcracker Suite.

  "That beats any old ding-dong," Jimmy said. Finally the tall, light-oak door was opened by a butler, a thin black man.

  "My name is Dawn Cutler," I said. "And this is Jimmy Longchamp. We're here to see Mr. or Mrs. Compton."

  "That's all right, Frazer," we heard a deep male voice say. "I'll handle this."

  The butler stepped back, his eyes wide with surprise, as a tall man with short carrot-red hair appeared from behind. His face was speckled with freckles, and he looked out at us with ice-blue eyes. His nose was quite thin and a bit too long, which caused his eyes to look as if they sank deeper. Although he was easily over six feet two or three, his shoulders turned in and downward, making him appear shorter.

  He seized the door handle to pull it open farther with an abruptness that made Jimmy and I look quickly at each other.

ou're Lillian Cutler's grandchild?" he snapped at me.

  "Yes, I am," I said.

  He stared at me for a moment and nodded softly. "Well, come in, and we'll make this fast," he said, stepping back with a show of reluctance.

  A ripple of apprehension shot down my spine. I reached for Jimmy's hand, and we walked into the marble-floor entryway. The house had a perfumed, flowery scent, redolent of dozens and dozens of roses. We looked down the corridor and saw a slightly curved stairway with paintings all along the wall going up. Just about all the paintings were of children—some simply portraits, while others were pictures of children at play or children reading. The steps of the stairway were covered with a soft-looking blue velvet carpet.

  "Into the sitting room, please," Mr. Compton said in a tone of command, and he gestured toward the doorway on the right. Jimmy and I moved quickly to it.

  At first neither of us saw Patricia Compton sitting there. She was perfectly still and wore a white cotton dress that matched the silk drapes over the window behind her so that she blended into the room. All of the furniture was done in light-colored silk. To our right was a curio case at least eight feet tall containing dozens of precious figurines: glass figures of animals, hand-painted Chinese men and women, and hand-painted figures of children with mothers or with animals.

  Because the room looked so immaculate and so unused, both Jimmy and I hesitated to step in. It was like entering a pretty painting. Then I saw Patricia sitting there on the sofa, her dark eyes wide, her long, thin mouth drooping at the corners. She looked like a sad clown at the circus.

  "Go on in and sit down," Sanford Compton ordered as he walked in past us and took a seat in one of the wing-back chairs, crossing his long legs. Jimmy and I moved toward the settee. "This is my wife Patricia," Sanford said, barely nodding toward her. A tiny smile came and went on pale lips that seemed to have forgotten how to smile. She said nothing, not even mouthing a hello.

  "Hello," I said, and I smiled. Mrs. Compton did not take her eyes off us, eyes that resembled dark pools in a forest, deep, melancholy eyes, wells for tears. Her entire face looked like a nest for sadness. She was very slim, fragile and delicate-looking. I saw that she had long, lean fingers. She kept her hands clasped tightly together in her lap and sat with her back so straight it seemed she was on an invisible hanger. She swallowed nervously, her gaze glued on us.

  She had very light blond hair, so light it was nearly white, I thought, and it was pinned up softly.

  "We've come for my daughter Christie," I said quickly. I came right to the point in order to break the ice. The moment I mentioned "my daughter," Mrs. Compton moaned, her right hand lifting and fluttering to the base of her neck.

  "Easy," Sanford Compton said without turning to her. His eyes were fixed firmly on Jimmy and me.

  "This is quite outrageous," he finally said.

  "Pardon?" I looked at Jimmy, who sat up firmly, his shoulders back in military posture. "Mr. Updike spoke to you, didn't he?"

  "We received a phone call from your grandmother's attorney, yes," Sanford Compton replied. "Why didn't your grandmother call us herself?" he demanded.

  "My grandmother passed away. Unexpectedly," I added.

  "Oh, dear," Mrs. Compton said. With her left hand she brought a lace handkerchief to her eyes. She had been clutching it so tightly in her hands, I hadn't seen it before.

  "Don't start," Sanford Compton snapped under his breath. Patricia Compton stifled her sob by pressing her lips in and holding her breath. Her fragile shoulders lifted and fell, but she kept her back straight, her small bosom barely outlined in the bodice of her dress.

  "Now, then," Sanford continued, "we went through all the legal procedures. We signed papers, and signed papers were given to us. We did nothing wrong; everything we did was on the up and up."

  "I understand that, sir," I said. My heart had begun to thump against my chest, shortening my breath. "But Mr. Updike must have explained the circumstances."

  "We understood the baby was born out of wedlock," he quickly responded, a clear tone of accusation in his voice. "And it was an embarrassment to the Cutler family."

  "She wasn't an embarrassment to me," I shot back. "Only to my grandmother."

  "What's the difference?" Jimmy piped up. "It's her baby," he added, his hands out, palms turned up.

  "Whose baby it is remains to be seen," Sanford Compton replied.

  "What?" My mouth gaped open, and I sat forward. "You mean you don't have Christie ready for us to take home?"

  "Christie's name has been changed to Violet. She's been named after my mother, and Violet," he said, punctuating the name sharply, "is home."

  "Oh, no," I cried, turning to Jimmy. This couldn't be happening! I couldn't lose Christie. Not again! Especially not after finally finding her!

  "Wait a minute," Jimmy said in a controlled voice. "Are you telling us that you won't give Dawn her baby back?"

  "We did what we were supposed to do legally. Babies are not toys," Sanford Compton lectured. "They're not things you give and take back, things you exchange lightly. Violet has a home here now, a home in which she is loved and cherished, a home in which she will grow happily and have all the best things life has to offer. You can't cast her off one day and reel her in the next like some fish you throw back into the water."

  "But I didn't throw her back into the water!" I exclaimed. "My grandmother stole my baby and forged my signature on documents. Didn't Mr. Updike make that clear?" I cried out in dismay.

  "All Mr. Updike said was minds have changed; you want the baby back. I have been in contact with my lawyers, and they have advised me I have a legal position. I intend to enforce it."

  His words sent shivers down my spine. I felt as if someone had thrown a pail of ice water over me—a legal battle? For my own baby? Grandmother Cutler's revenge continued even after her death. She was still controlling my life and happiness, even from her grave.

  "Look," Jimmy said, still trying to quiet his temper, "you're making a big mistake here. Maybe you don't understand what happened. Dawn never agreed to—"

  "We were offered an infant that a mother didn't want," Sanford interrupted. "My wife and I have been trying to have our own child for years now. While we want a child desperately, other people," he said, spitting his words in my direction, "have them in a very cavalier manner and then want to get rid of them. Well, we didn't question all the details; we accepted the conditions, signed papers and were given the child.

  "Now you come here and want to undo all that has been done. Some time has passed. We love Violet, and, as unlikely as it might seem to you, Violet has taken to us, especially to my wife. You can't play with people like you play with dolls."

  "That's not fair, Mr. Compton!" I exclaimed.

  "That's stupid," Jimmy snapped back.


  "No, he has no right to talk to us this way. He doesn't know anything," Jimmy sneered.

  "I know we're not turning the baby over to you," Sanford Compton said, standing up abruptly, "and I know I would like you two to leave my house immediately."

  "You can't keep her baby!" Jimmy shouted, rising to his feet.

  "I told you," Sanford Compton said calmly, "it's not her baby anymore. Violet is our baby."

  "Like hell she is," Jimmy flared. "Come on, Dawn. We'll go to the police. These people are stealing your baby."

  "Oh, dear," Mrs. Compton said, and this time she could not hold back her sobs.

  "Now look what you've done—you've upset my wife. I must insist you leave, or I will be the one to call the police."

  "Don't worry about it," Jimmy said, reaching for my hand. "We'll see the police, and we'll be back. All you're doing is making unnecessary trouble for everyone."

  The butler appeared in the doorway as if Sanford Compton had pushed an invisible button calling for him.

  "Frazer, see these people out, please."

  I looked at Mrs. Compton before leaving.

  "I'm sorry," I said
to her, "but I never agreed to the giving away of my baby. It's not my fault. I didn't intend for this to happen."

  Patricia Compton began to sob harder.

  "Please leave," Sanford commanded.

  Jimmy and I walked out. The butler stepped back and then moved forward to open the front door for us.

  "Damn stupid people," Jimmy muttered loud enough for them to hear.

  We stepped back into the sunlight, only to me the day had turned pale gray. It might as well be raining, I thought. Would nothing be easy for me, ever? Mistakes haunted me like ghosts. I had begun to believe that because I was a child born from evil I would be cursed forever. The sins of the fathers do rest on the heads of their children. I couldn't keep my own tears back, and before we had left the portico I was sobbing hysterically. Jimmy embraced me quickly and kissed my cheek.

  "Hey, don't cry. Don't worry. This isn't going to be hard," he promised.

  "Oh, Jimmy, don't you see that everything's going to be hard? I don't know why you would want to marry me. You're only going to suffer along with me. I'm cursed, cursed!"

  "Come on, Dawn. Take it easy. It's not you; it's what that evil old lady did. Well, we'll just see it undone. That guy's stupid and asking for trouble."

  "I can't blame these people, Jimmy. He wasn't all wrong. And did you see the expression on that woman's face? She finally got a baby she could call her own, and we're here to take it away," I moaned.

  "But you want to, don't you? You want Christie back?" Jimmy asked.

  "Yes, of course I do. I just can't stand all this pain and suffering. Why was one old woman given so much power to hurt other people?" I cried.

  "I don't know. She did it, and it's over with. Now we've got to make it right. I guess we'll go to the police first," he said.

  "No, we had better check into a hotel someplace close by and call Mr. Updike. The police can't help us. Sanford Compton is right—it's going to be a legal battle."

  I looked back at the house once, trying to imagine which room Christie was in. I was sure they had bought her the finest crib and the most expensive baby clothes. Just a baby, she didn't know where she was or what had happened to her. She was probably as content as she could possibly be. In a short while I would disturb that contentment; but I had to believe that even an infant as young as Christie would sense her own mother when she was finally placed in my arms, and that would give her a deeper, more complete sense of security and love. Armed with that faith, I hurried off with Jimmy to begin our battle for custody of my own child.