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Girl in the Shadows

V. C. Andrews

  Girl in the Shadows

  Shadows #2

  V.C. Andrews

  Copyright (c) 2006




  . Most people don't think about the way night falls around them. They go along their merry way and suddenly think, Oh, it's dark outside. They are truly unaware of how the shadows thicken and begin to ooze toward each other, merging, melding, clasping their invisible hands together to unite and flow forward to surround us. They rarely notice that the birds have retreated to their quiet places within the inky corners of the forest, nesting calmly with patience and optimism. Birds don't suffer through nightmares as I often do. They believe the sun will always return and the clouds will eventually be gone. All that they know, they have inherited. They do not separate their knowledge from themselves. It is who or what they are and they are comfortable with all of it. You can see their contentment and their confidence in the way they fly.

  I envy them for that, for their comfort but mostly for their self-assurance, their wonderful trust in themselves and in the promises Nature makes, whether it is the promise of the seasons, the promise of the rain, or the promise of the sun itself. They glide and slice through their day, carving a world of beauty for themselves.

  Mrs. Westington said that even though we are the more complex and the higher form of life for which all of this supposedly has been created, we still covet the simplicity that animals, that even insects enjoy. Their lives are so uncomplicated.

  "They don't need the guidance of the Ten Commandments in order to avoid sin," she said. "But," I asked. "are they capable of real

  happiness or do they just plod along in a mechanical

  manner? Do they have ambitions? Do they dream and

  hope? Do birds, rabbits, foxes, and snakes smile? Do

  they really ever experience rapture, ecstasy.


  "Oh. I don't know if they do or if it even

  matters. More important," Mrs. Westington replied.

  "you should ask, do we? We have our moments, even

  our days," she said. "but it doesn't last. Before long,

  we're envious of others or we're upset with someone

  we love or we're bored, disgusted, and disappointed.

  Notice the coming of night?' she asked when I'd

  mentioned my thought, punctuating her reply with her

  tiny, coughlike laugh. "Most of us don't even notice

  the day, much less stop to smell the roses or look up

  at the stars in awe of their dazzling beauty. My husband was oblivious like that. He never stopped to enjoy what he had. He was always in pursuit of something more and it was never enough. I wonder if

  he found enough in the grave."

  Sometimes for hours. I listened to her ramble

  on, moving from one topic to the next, dropping her

  tidbits of wisdom with the grace and generosity of a

  loving mother feeding her newborns in the nest. She

  lectured authoritatively, like a professor in the school

  of hard knocks. When she got too despondent or

  waved a tattered flag of lifelong regrets, her loyal

  employee of fifty years. Trevor Washington, would

  just shake his head and say.

  "You c'mon now. Mrs. Westington. None of

  that doom and gloom talk or you'll scare the poor girl

  outta here."

  Most of the time she ignored him or dismissed

  him with a short wave of her hand.

  And the only other person who lived in the old

  vineyard home, her fourteen-year-old granddaughter.

  Echo, was deaf, and in many ways a birdlike creature

  herself, hovering in her private corners waiting for a

  song she would never hear sung.

  Mrs. Westington had invited me to move in and

  live, with them to help her with Echo and be Echo's companion. Echo's mother. Mrs. Westington's daughter. Rhona, had left Echo here more than ten years ago and Echo was without any brother or sister, any friends or any parent. I couldn't imagine a lonelier person than Echo, who had already been locked away

  within the four walls of silence.

  "My daughter named her Echo when the doctor

  said her baby was deaf. 'It'll be like hearing yourself

  whenever you talk to her. It's a perfect name for her,'

  she told me when I complained," Mrs. Westington

  said. "Truth is, I kinds like her name now."

  It's different. I like it. too," I told her.

  "I knew you would. I knew you would be a

  good friend to her. too. She should have a friend.

  Goodness knows, that poor girl longs for a real


  What I soon realized, however, was that Mrs.

  Westington needed me as much as Echo did. She was

  brimful of wisdom and a lifetime of experiences she

  desperately had to share with someone she loved. I

  like that. I like the feeling of being important to

  someone and loved. Even when Daddy and Mama and

  my older sister. Brenda. and I were all still together. I

  didn't feel as needed as I felt here in the old house and

  vineyard property in northern California.

  A wrong turn onto a dead-end road brought me

  to this place and to these people. After my mother's

  death, which wasn't all that long after my father's

  secret fatal illness. I had gone to live with Brenda and

  her lover. Celia. Both attended college in Memphis.

  where Brenda had won an athletic scholarship. Like

  my parents. I ignored any thoughts about Brenda's

  being gay. I had no doubts that my parents knew it to

  be true but kept it locked in their hearts. I was afraid

  to ask any questions, afraid that the same questions

  might someday be asked of me, afraid that on the back

  of my neck I would feel the breeze of all that


  My deep unhappiness after Mama's passing and

  then a traumatic sexual incident with Celia sent me

  fleeing to my uncle Palaver, my mother's brother, for

  emotional asylum. Before I came here to Mrs.

  Westington's home, I had been living and traveling for

  months with my uncle. He was a magician and an

  excellent ventriloquist who mainly went from theater

  to theater in his motor home to perform. I soon

  realized that he suffered from serious alcoholism

  brought on by his our deep sorrow over the loss of his

  beloved companion. the African American woman

  called Destiny. She had been part of his act, but more

  important, a big part of his life.

  One night after I had been with him a while, he

  died in the rear of his motor home, lying beside the

  replica of Destiny, a life- size doll he employed in his

  show after her passing. Even though I feared it would

  happen because I witnessed how much he drank and

  how often, it was still a horrible shock to find him

  dead in his bed, his arms around the naked doll. From

  the smile on his face, I was positive he died convinced

  he had found her again.

  Mrs. Westington believed all this was meant to

  be, was fated, especially my arrival here. and I must

  say she persuaded me. I felt delivered, guided, and

  directed to this place. Mrs. Westington'
s theory was

  that our loved ones who have passed away remain

  with us for a time and have an influence on our "They do their best to watch over us and lead us

  to happiness," she said. 'But only if they were good

  people." she added. "How good they were determines

  how long they can be with us to protect us. That's

  what the Bible really means when we read, 'The sins

  of the father are visited on the heads of his sons.' If he

  was a sinner, then his sons have no guardian angel,

  you see, and no one to protect and insulate them

  against the weight of all those sins and their consequences. In that sense, they suffer. Your mama and your papa must have been good people. They're

  still watching over you."

  I liked that. I liked her interpretation of

  Scripture. However, Mrs. Westington was really not a

  Bible-thumping, religion- driven woman. In fact, she

  often went into tirades about the corruption of the

  clergy and the troubles in the world that religions

  visited on each other. She said it would take a tow

  truck to get her to church and she'd dig ditches with

  her heels all the way. She was very opinionated and

  very confident of all her opinions. When she went into

  one of her diatribes, she often made me laugh.

  Sometimes, she wanted to, but sometimes, I could see

  she was surprised herself at my smile.

  "I'm serious, girl" she'd say, and widen her

  eyes, often followed by a quick, hard tap with her

  cane. That long, old hickory stick with its pearl handle

  was something Trevor -Washington had made for her.

  She told me he made it. "Two seconds after I began to


  "Oh. I know you're serious. Mrs. Westington," I

  told her, and she grunted with skepticism. "I do and

  I'm not laughing at you!" I insisted.

  I didn't want to upset her. She'd been so kind to me. She helped me with my uncle's funeral

  arrangements and supported me during the whole ordeal. Brenda, now a professional athlete, was off to Germany for a basketball tournament the day after Uncle Palaver died. It all fell on my head. I knew she thought my problems were my own making. I shouldn't have run away after she had found her girlfriend. Celia, with me, but that wasn't my fault and I couldn't stand the dark cloud of Brenda's anger hovering over me. I couldn't stomach the thought of living with her while she despised me. I felt like a lead weight on her ankles anyway. Having the responsibility for a young teenage sister just when she was developing her own promising athletic career was

  a burden she surely would rather unload.

  Even so, even after all that. when Mrs.

  Westington had asked me to move in. I was nervous

  and undecided. After all, she, Trevor, and Echo were

  complete strangers to me and I had been on the

  property less than a day. I quickly saw, however, that

  when Mrs. Westington made up her mind about

  something, she went forward "whole hog," as she

  would say, even though it was something she had not

  pondered long.

  "No one should be impulsive and fall between the devil and the deep blue sea, but we don't live long enough to waste time," she lectured at dinner, where most of her lectures took place. "When you reach my age, you realize that even more. Your heart is like one of them parking meters. God puts a few coins in and you tick away, but that expired sign is climbing and old man Death is getting ready to give me a ticket. I can see his grumpy old face forming in the fog just

  outside the windows of my very soul."

  The expression on her face, the way she

  focused her eyes, put the jitters in me. It was as if

  Death was there at the table and she really did see


  "How do you know Death is a man?" Trevor

  asked her with an impish smile in his eyes.

  "I've been introduced to him enough times to

  know," she snapped back at him. "And don't you start

  giving me some of that superstitious nonsense your

  great-aunt stuck in your head. Trevor Washington,

  superstitions passed down from your Southern slave

  ancestors. You probably wasted a ton of salt all these

  years throwing a pinch here and a pinch there over

  your shoulder. and I know you won't kill a spider.

  Don't deny it!" she added quickly, and pointed her

  right forefinger at him.

  "If it works, don't complain," he muttered

  undaunted. "I've seen you walk around a ladder to

  avoid going under it"

  "That's because you leave the darn thing right

  in a person's path."

  It was entertaining watching the two of them go

  at it. I felt sorry for Echo, who wasn't able to hear.

  When I mastered signing. I often translated their

  loving bickering for her and she would laugh with me, "Until you came here," Mrs. Westington told

  me one day not long after I had moved in. "the sound

  of that Girl's laughter was as rare as a birdsong in


  I quickly realized that in a home in which the

  young person was deaf, silence ruled the day. There

  was rarely any music and signing had replaced the

  sound of voices. Mrs. Westington had gotten into the

  habit of talking aloud to herself and for the first few

  days. I was confused by it. I wasn't sure if she was

  speaking to me or to herself, or even to someone else

  who I hadn't realized had entered. After a while she

  did it less and less if I was within earshot. but I

  suspected she still did it when she was alone and

  needed the comfort and society of only her own voice. In the short time I had lived with Uncle Palaver and had traveled with him to help with his magic and ventriloquist's road show, I had begun to understand how painful and frightening loneliness could be. It helped me appreciate why he had invented his lifesize replica Destiny doll. She had real human hair, long eyelashes, full lips, and she was soft in places where a woman should be soft. He had kept Destiny's clothing and shoes and he would dress the doll in them. He even sprayed the doll with Destiny's perfume. Instead of talking to himself, he would talk to her, to the memory of her, to the illusion and image of her he cherished in his mind. He had died with that image in his eyes and a smile on his lips. I think now that he deliberately drank himself to death so that he could join her. Behind those dying eyes he saw her and saw himself holding her hand, hearing her voice, guiding him safely through the darkness to a world in

  which their love shone brightly.

  Maybe the dead haunt us as well as guard us. I

  thought. They don't haunt us like ghosts in an old

  house: they haunt us from within ourselves. We

  encourage it, even seek it. How many nights had I lain

  awake talking to Mama or Daddy and hearing them

  talk? Have respect for the dead, we've been taught.

  We should also have respect for the bereaved, for the suffering bereaved. And now I would have poor Uncle Palaver to mourn as well. I think the reason why I liked Mrs. Westington so much was she seemed to

  understand all this and even appreciate it.

  "Your uncle was a truly troubled soul," she told

  me when I described what it was like living with him

  in the motor home and seeing how he related to his

  doll. "The only peace he found was probably when he

  was in front of those audiences you described. It

  doesn't surprise me he chose magic and illusion. It
  was a way out of this world, a way to stop the pain in

  his heart. Just don't go thinking that's the way to solve

  all your problems and follow in his footsteps. April.

  It's as good as putting your head in the sand." Of course. I knew what she meant. I still had all

  of his magic paraphernalia. Nothing had been moved

  or touched, and when I moved in, besides my Mr.

  Panda teddy bear that my father had given me years

  ago, I brought in some of Uncle Palaver's tricks with

  me. It gave me the feeling he was still there. Under his

  tutelage. I had mastered many of the illusions and

  tricks, and also had become an amateur ventriloquist

  myself. Eventually. I would use Destiny and perform

  for Echo and Tyler Monahan, her tutor, who would

  become mine as well,

  When I had run away from Brenda. I had run away from school. too. I was not yet eighteen and I wanted to get my high school equivalency. I had no idea what I would do with my life. but I knew I was at a great disadvantage without the diploma. As Mrs. Westington would say. "You have fewer roads to travel and in this world you need to have every direction available to you."

  But this and much more was all to come at the end of the new journey I had begun.

  Mrs. Westington said that even if you sit in one place your whole life, you still make many trips down many different roads.

  "And the grave is just a way station, just a place to wait for the next train. It's why I don't visit cemeteries. The dead have all gone on their way, all the ones I loved. But they'll always be here." she said, gently tapping her long, honey right forefinger against her temple. "They'll always be here. I hear their voices, even their footsteps."

  When she said things like that, we'd all be quiet. Trevor, me, and especially Echo, who saw our thoughtfulness and even though she was deaf, heard our silence.

  The four of us looked out at that advancing night from the front porch. We were not like most people when it came to the approaching darkness.

  We thought about it.

  I Amnesia

  . Filtered through the sheer white cotton curtains, the sudden sun snapped my eyelids open. For a long moment. I lay there staring up at the center ceiling light fixture, an oversized silver blue lantern with four small bulbs. My thoughts and memories spun like milk and coffee that were stirred vigorously, all of it mixing into a cup of confusion.

  Where was I? How did I get here? Had all that happened since Daddy deserted us been only a dream, a long, sticky nightmare against which I had struggled and battled into the morning? If that were only true. I thought. If I really had awakened to a second chance, how would I change my life? What would I do differently? I was afraid to think about any of it. What if I did something that would bring it all back?