Authors: V. C. Andrews
Copyright (c) 1990
Despite all the sadness and hardships of the
past, I am ready to forgive and to ask forgiveness, Pa. It has been almost two years since Tom's death--two years during which not a day has gone by I haven't missed Tom, and Grandpa, too. But now my time for mourning is over and my time for happiness and love and life is beginning. For I have wonderful news. I'm getting married. To Logan Stonewall, who you may remember was my childhood sweetheart. I've been living here in Winnerow, fulfilling my dream of being a teacher just like Miss Marianne Deale, who inspired me so to read and learn and dream and always to believe I could be whatever I wanted to be. It seems all my childhood dreams are finally coming true--all, that is, except my relationship with you. I want you and Drake and Stacie to come to my wedding, Pa, Pa, I would like you to walk down the aisle with me as my father and give me away to my husband. I am so happy, Pa, I want to put away all the bitterness of the past. I want to forgive you, and I want you to forgive me. Maybe now, at this long late date, we can act like a family should. Fanny will be my best lady. I hope you will, at last, be my father.
I SAT ON THE LONG FRONT PORCH OF THE CABIN, READING and rereading my letter to Pa. It was a warm May morning, spring already ripened into hot summer. It seemed my Willies world had awakened along with me--from the cold dark winter of death and mourning, gradually_warming with the promise of spring, finally bursting into warm, burgeoning summer. The sparrows and robins were singing, flitting from branch to branch, gently shaking the leaves. Sunlight wove its way through the woods, threading strands of gold from birch to hickory to maple, turning the leaves transparent where the light bathed them. The world looked glorious and alive.
I took a deep breath, inhaling the sweet, fresh perfume of blossoming flowers and rich green leaves. Above me, the sky was deep cerulean blue and the little candy cotton puff's of clouds stretched and curled in delicious shapes, like babies stretching in sleep.
Logan had been there from the day I returned to Winnerow. He had been there through the terrible days after Tom's death, while Pa was in the hospital. He had been there after Pa had returned with Stacie and little Drake to his own home in Georgia. He had been there when Grandpa died, leaving me alone in the cabin of my childhood, now rebuilt and refurbished into a cozy home. He had been there on the first day I began teaching my dear students at the Winnerow Grammar School. I laughed to myself now, recalling that first day, getting ready to test my competence, to see if I really could be the teacher I'd always dreamed of being.
I had come out of the cabin, just as I had this morning, intending, as I did most every day, to take a moment's pause to sit in Granny's old rocker and look out through the Willies before starting my journey down to the school. Only on this first morning, when I opened the door, there was Logan standing by the steps, a wide, happy smile on his face, his dark sapphire eyes brightening in the morning sun.
"Good morning, Miss Casteel." He performed a grand bow. "I have been sent here to escort you to your classroom. It's a fringe benefit of the Winnerow School System."
"Oh, Logan!" I cried. "You got up so early to walk up here."
"It wasn't so early. I get up this early to open the drugstore. It's three times the size it was when we were high school students," he said proudly, "and demands a lot more work. Miss Casteel," he added, holding out his hand. I walked down the steps to take it and we started down the mountain path, just the way we had when we were high school sweethearts.
It seemed so much like the old days----when Logan and I trailed behind Tom and Keith and Our Jane, with Fanny taunting us, trying to provoke and tease Logan away from me with her lewd and lascivious behavior, finally giving up and running off in a sulk when she saw that he wouldn't divert his attention from me. I could almost hear my brothers' and sisters' voices ahead. Despite how hard our lives were then, the memories brought tears to my eyes.
"Hey, hey," Logan said, seeing my eyes begin to fill with tears, "this is a happy day. I want a big smile and I want to hear your laughter echo through the Willies, just the way it used to."
"Oh, Logan, thank you. Thank you for being here, for caring."
He stopped and turned me toward him; his eyes were serious and full of love.
"No, Heaven. It's I who should thank you for being as beautiful and as lovely as I remember you. It's as if"--he looked around, searching for the words--"as if time stood still for us and everything that we thought happened since was only a dream. Now we are waking up and once again you are here, I am here with you, and I have your hand in mine. never let it go again," he vowed.
A tingle traveled through my fingers laced through his, a tingle of happiness that reached my heart and set it pounding the way it had that first day we kissed, when I was only twelve years old. I wanted him to kiss me again, I wanted to be that same innocent girl again, but I wasn't. And he wasn't, either. Why, only a few months ago rumors were flying that he intended to marry Maisie Setterton. But Maisie seemed to have disappeared from the picture of Logan's life as soon as I returned.
We walked silently along the wooded path. Red cardinals and brown speckled sparrows followed along, flitting through the shadows of the forest, moving so quickly and gracefully we barely saw a branch shake.
"I know," Logan finally said, "that both our lives took strangely different directions since the days when I walked you home from school, and all the promises we made to each other then might seem more like foolish dreams. But I would like to think that our love for each other was so strong that it has outlasted all the tragedy and all the hardship since."
We stopped to face each other again. I knew he could read all the doubt in my eyes.
"Logan. I'd like to believe that, too. I'm tired of dreams that die, dreams that were really too airy and weak to last or grow stronger as we grew older. I want to believe in someone again."
"Oh, Heaven, believe in me," he pleaded, taking my hand into both of his now. "I won't disappoint you. Ever."
"I can try," I whispered and he smiled. Then he kissed me, a kiss meant to seal a promise, but all my life I had seen promises broken. Logan sensed my hesitation, my fear. He embraced me.
"I'm going to make you believe in me, Heaven. I'm going to be all you could want in a man." He pressed his face to my hair I felt his breath on my neck, his heart beating madly against mine In this forest on the old trail, I felt myself wanting
desperately to hope again; I felt myself softening. The Heaven Leigh Casteel who had been wounded badly as a child, tormented and seduced as a young girl, heartbroken as a young woman, turned hungrily toward the promise of happiness.
"In time I think I will believe in you, Logan." "Oh, Heaven, dear Heaven, you've truly come home." Logan kissed me again and again.
Why was it then, that as he kissed me with all the love and passion in him, I thought of Troy, my forbidden fiance, my dark, dead love? Why was it Troy's lips I felt pressing against my own? Why was it Troy's taste I craved? Troy's arms I felt pressing me against him? But then Logan kissed both my eyes, and I opened them, to his young, fresh, loving face, a face that had never known the depths of anguish and despair my sad, doomed Troy had succumbed to. I knew in my heart that Logan would bring me the kind of life I and my mother before me had been deprived of--a life of calm, respect, and honor.
Logan and I courted throughout the school year, and one day he knocked on my cabin door and said, "Have I got a surprise for you, Heaven." He looked like a mischievous little boy with a frog in his pocket.
"Are you going to blindfold me?" I played along with his sweet game.
He came up behind me and put his gentle hands over my eyes. "Keep them shut, Heaven!" Then he took my hand and I stumbled along behind him on the way to his car, feeling secure being led by his boyish enthusiasm. I felt the fresh breeze on my face as we sped away, I knew not where. Then the car stopped and Logan opened my door and reached for my arm. "Come out now, we're almost there," he said as he led me from the car, onto what felt like a sidewalk.
When he opened the door to the drugstore, I immediately caught the familiar scent of perfume and toiletries mixed with cold remedies and prescription medicinal smells, but I didn't let on that I knew where I was. I didn't want to dampen his great good humor. He sat me on a stool and busied himself somewhere behind the counter. It seemed like a half hour before his cheery voice returned and almost shouted, "You can open your eyes now, Heaven!"
Before me was a rainbow castle--built of ice cream, cherries, whipped cream, and all things sweet and delicious. "Logan," I declared, "it's beautiful. But if I eat that, I'll be three hundred pounds in an hour. Then will you still love me?"
"Heaven"--his voice grew low and raspy--"my love for you is greater than youth and beauty. But this sundae isn't for eating--I wanted to build you the most beautiful, sweetest castle you had ever seen. I know I can't compete with the riches of the Tattertons and the grand mansion Farthinggale. But that mansion is made of cold gray stone, and my love for you is as warm as the first day of spring. My love will build a castle around you, a castle no stone mansion can compete with. Heaven"--he got down on his knees in front of the astonished stares of all the customers in the drugstore--"Heaven, will you be my wife?"
I looked deep into his eyes and saw the love and sweetness there. I knew he would do everything he could to make me so very happy. What was the passion I longed for--the passion that had been stolen from me with Troy's death--when compared to a lifetime of gentle love, caring, and undying
commitment? "Yes," I said, the tears already welling in my eye. "Yes, Logan, yes, I will be your wife."
Suddenly applause broke out around us, as all the customers beamed their happy smiles on us, the newly engaged. Logan turned beet red and dropped my hand, just as I was about to embrace him
"Here, Heaven," he said, popping a cherry into my mouth, trying to cover his embarrassment at the public spectacle we were making. Then he pecked me on the cheek. "I love you forever," he whispered.
So a love born years ago, like a slowly blossoming flower, finally opened completely. I felt brighter and fresher than I ever had before. I had come full circle, erasing the pain of the past, as I traveled the paths now that I had traveled as a child, only now I was clearing my own path, rather than treading one that had been marked for me. Now I could make my own fate, as the forest makes its natural trails built on the most solid ground, the firmest earth. It was as if I'd suddenly reached one of those magical clearings in the forest, and I knew enough to build my home there.
Now my childhood sweetheart was to be my lifelong sweetheart. Dreams did indeed come true and I knew that things we often think are too good and too precious to be part of the real world really could be part of the real world. I was filled with hope and happiness again. I was a young girl again, willing to believe, to be vulnerable, to open myself to someone and risk my fragile heart. In this clearing, where the sun was strong and nurturing, Logan and I would be like the sturdy saplings, growing stronger and stronger until we became mighty oak trees that could withstand any bitter storm of winter.
I spent the next few weeks planning the wedding. This wedding would be far more than merely another marriage of a Winnerow man and a woman. Even though I had remained in the hills, living in Grandpa's cabin, Iltill drove an expensive automobile, wore fine clothing, and carried myself as a cultured and sophisticated woman. I may have put aside a wealthy existence as the heir to the Tatterton Toy empire, but the townspeople still saw me as a scum-of-the-hills Casteel. They might have approved of the way I was teaching their children, but they still didn't like me sitting in the front pews of their church.
When Logan and I attended church together, that Sunday, after our engagement picture had adorned the bride's section of
The Winnerow Reporter,
all eyes followed us as we made our way to the very front pew--Logan's family's place in church--a place I had never dared sit before. "Welcome, Heaven," Mrs. Stonewall said, a little nervously, as she handed me the missal. Logan's father simply nodded his head, but when we rose to sing, I sang out proud and strong until my voice, a voice of the hills despite its patina of culture, reverberated throughout the church. And when the service was over, after I had greeted the Reverend Wise with a smile that told him I would prove all his prophecies wrong, Logan's mother said to me, "Why, Heaven, I never knew you had such a dignified singing voice. I hope you'll join our ladies' choir." I knew then and there that Loretta Stonewall had finally decided to accept me. I also knew then and there that I would make all the others do the same, that I would make them open their eyes and look at all the hill folk and see us for the honest, struggling human beings we were.
That was why I planned the kind of wedding I did. Logan tried his best to understand my
motivations, and even stood up to his parents' objections. I was ever so grateful. He was even pleased and amused by the way I planned to force the people of Winnerow to commingle with the hill people. I was determined to have the finest affair Winnerow had ever seen and when I walked down that aisle, the townspeople wouldn't see poor white trash that had come into money, but someone just as good and as refined as they thought they were. I remembered when I had come back to Winnerow years ago and walked down that church looking like a fashion plate, bedecked with rich jewels. Despite my fine raiment, the townspeople had looked down their noses at me. The hill people were supposed to take the back benches and those deemed worthiest of God were in the first rows.
My wedding would be different. I invited a number of hill families. I invited all the children in my class. I wanted my sister Fanny to be my maid of honor. I hadn't seen Fanny much in the two years since I'd returned to Winnerow, because Fanny did not seem able to put away her jealousy and resentment of me, even though I tried, as I always had, to help her in every way I could. Logan kept me up to date on Fanny's affairs and activities. Apparently, she was often the subject of conversation among the young men and women of Winnerow, and often he would overhear some of this conversation in his drugstore. Since her divorce from "Old man Mallory," the gossip was about her flirtatious involvement with a much younger man, Randall Wilcox, the lawyer's son. Randall was only eighteen years old, a first-year college student, and Fanny was a divorced woman of twenty-two.
The week after our engagement was
announced, I drove up to the house Fanny had bought with old Mallory's money--a house high on a hill, painted a gaudy pink with red trim on the windows. I hadn't spoken to Fanny in over a year, since she accused me of stealing everything that was hers, when in reality it was she who had tried to pilfer everything that was mine, especially Logan.
"Well, what a surprise this is," she proclaimed in an overly dramatic fashion when she opened the door. "Miss Heaven herself come ta visit her po' white trash sista."
"I'm not here to fight with you, Fanny. I'm too happy for you to make me angry about anything."
She sat down, on her couch quickly, her interest seized.
"Logan and I are going to be married in June."
"Is that so?" Fanny drawled, her entire posture collapsing in disappointment.
Why couldn't she be happy for me for once? Why couldn't we be real sisters and care for each other?
"You knew we had been seeing each other again." "How would I know anythin'? Yer hardly eva here and we hardly eva talk ta one anotha."
"You know what goes on in Winnerow, Fanny. Anyway, I would like you to be my maid of honor."
"Really?" Her eyes lit up on that. Then I saw the old spiteful fire return to Fanny's eye. "I just can't say yet, Heavin darlin'. I got a full schedule of ma own. What date exactly is your weddin' gonna be?
I told her.
"Well" Fanny pretended to think about it--"I had plans for that weekend, you know ma new man likes ta take me lots of places--ta college dances and such. But maybe I can change ma plans. Is it gonna be a faincy weddin'?"
"And are ya gonna buy yer lovin' sista a really fancy expensive dress? And will ya take me to the city to pick it out?"
She thought for a moment.
"Kin I bring Randall Wilcox?" she asked. "Ya probably know he's been courtin' me. I jus' know he'd look so gorgeous in a tuxedo. The men are wearing tuxedos, aren't they?"
"Yes, Fanny If you'd like that, I'll have an invitation hand delivered to his house."
"Sure, I'd like it. Why not?" she asked.
And so it was done.
My invitation to Pa was the last one I mailed. I started down the mountain trail a little earlier than usual that morning so I could go to the post oiice before going to school for my final day of class. I think I was as excited as I was the first day I had gone down the trail to begin school myself. When I got to my classroom, my students looked up at me with faces filled with expectation. Even the usually sad and tired faces of the Willies children were fresh and bright this morning. I knew they had something special planned.
Patricia Coons raised her hand.
"I have something for you, Miss Casteel," she announced shyly.
She got up slowly and came forward, proud to have been chosen as the class representative. She shuffled her feet and bit one of her already cheweddown nails