Carolina moon, p.38
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       Carolina Moon, p.38

           Nora Roberts
 

  She walked away, putting a swagger in her step.

  Margaret got immediately to her feet, walked quickly out and into the library with its towers of books and ornately plastered ceiling. She made the call first, tugging on the strings of friendship to request that Gerald Purcell come to her as soon as possible.

  Assured he would make the trip within the hour, she walked to the safe secreted behind an oil painting of Beaux Reves and took out two folders.

  She would use the hour to study the paperwork and prepare.

  Shortly, she ordered tea to be served on the south terrace, along with scones and the frosted cakes she knew Gerald had a weakness for. She enjoyed the ritual in the afternoons when she was at home, the china, the silver, the precisely cut wedges of lemon, the mix of brown and white sugar cubes in the bowl.

  As long as she was mistress of this house, she thought, it was a ritual that would be preserved. Beaux Reves, and all it stood for, would be preserved.

  It was warm for tea alfresco, but the white umbrella offered shade, and the gardens provided what Margaret considered the appropriate backdrop. The tree roses that flanked the brick in their giant white pots were heavy with bloom, and her hibiscus added an exotic touch with their crimson trumpets.

  She sat at the rippled glass table, hands folded, and looked out over what was hers. She had worked for it, nurtured it, and now, as always, she would protect it.

  She glanced over as Gerald came through the terrace doors. He'd roast in the suit and tie, she thought idly, as she lifted a hand to his.

  "I appreciate your coming so quickly. You'll have some tea?" "That would be lovely. You sounded troubled, Margaret."

  "I am troubled." But her hand was rock steady as she lifted the Wedgwood teapot and poured. "It concerns my children, and Beaux Reves itself. You were Jasper's attorney, so you understand the disposition of the farm, the properties, the interests of this family, as well as any of us. Better perhaps."

  "Of course." He sat beside her, pleased that she remembered he preferred lemon to milk.

  "Controlling interest in the farm was passed to Kincade. Seventy percent. That holds true for the factories, the mill as well. I hold twenty percent, and Faith ten."

  "That's correct. The profits are divided and dispersed annually." "I'm aware of that. The properties, such

  as our interest in the apartment buildings, the houses that are rented, including the Marsh House, are in all three names, equally. Is that also correct?"

  "Yes."

  "And, in your opinion, what impact would it have on Cade's changes to the farm, his new operating system, if I withdrew my support, used my twenty percent and my influence with the board to sway them back toward more traditional methods."

  "It would cause him considerable difficulty, Margaret. But his weight is heavier than yours, and the profits add to his end of the scale. The board has no say in the farm in any case, just the mill and the factories."

  She nodded. "And the mill, the factories, help keep the farm running. If I were able to persuade Faith to add her interest to mine?"

  "That would give you more ammunition, certainly." He sipped his tea, pondered. "Might I ask, as your friend and your lawyer, if you're dissatisfied with Cade's performance at Beaux Reves?"

  "I am dissatisfied with my son, and I believe he needs to put his mind and energies back into his inheritance without having it diverted into less worthy channels. Simply," she said, as she buttered a scone, "I want Victoria Bodeen out of the Marsh House, out of Progress. At the moment Faith is being difficult, but she will come around. She's always been a creature of the moment. I believe I can persuade her to sell me her interest in the properties. That would give me a two-thirds control. I would assume that the Bodeen girl has a year's lease on the house, and on the building on Market. I want those leases broken."

  "Margaret." He patted her hand. "You would be wise to let this lay."

  "I will not tolerate her association with my son. I will do whatever is necessary to end it. I want you to draw up a new will for me, cutting both Cade and Faith off."

  He thought of the scandal, the legal tangles, the vicious amount of work. "Margaret, please don't be rash."

  "I won't implement the will unless I have no choice, but I will use it to show Faith just how serious I am." Margaret's mouth thinned. "I have no doubt that when she realizes she stands to lose such a large sum of money, she will become very cooperative. I want my house back in order, Gerald. It would be a great favor to me if you looked over those leases and found the simplest way to break them."

  "You risk turning your son against you." "Better that than watching him drag down the family name."

  24

  I have not, since childhood, kept a diary or a journal, or written down my secret thoughts. It seems appropriate, since my childhood is so on my mind, to do so now. And to do so here, where Hope lost her life. Her childhood.

  My papa, our papa, made this place for her with its pretty statue and its sweet-smelling flowers. It is more hers than the grave where he buried her on that steamy and sick-skied summer morning. I never shared this place with her. I chose not to, out of spite, certainly, but it gave me great satisfaction at the time.

  What did I want with her silly games and her odd and unkempt friend?

  I wanted them so desperately I refused to take them when they were offered. I am a difficult person. Sometimes I like myself that way. In any case, it is my nature to be contrary, so I of all people must live with it.

  It might have been different for me, for all of us, if that night had never happened. If when I'd woken in the morning, Hope had been in the next room. I would still have been sulking over my disgrace

  the night before. That had been a minor combat over peas, which I despised then and despise now.

  I would have sulked because I found some pleasure in that activity, particularly when someone put in the effort to win me out of my pouts. I enjoyed the attention. Most any kind of attention I could manage.

  I knew, even then, that in the pecking order of siblings, I came in a lowly third out of three. Cade was the heir apparent. He, after all, possessed a penis, and I did not. This, I suppose, was no fault of his, but I did indeed envy him that member for a short time in my youth. Until, of course, I learned that it was more than possible for a woman to possess as many of those interesting appendages as she liked, and in such a pleasant variety of ways.

  I discovered sex early, and have enjoyed it without apology. In any case, at eight, the sexual connotations of men and women were still a foggy area for me. I only knew that Cade was the master-in-training of Beaux Reves because he was a boy, and this did not sit well with me. He was afforded privileges I was denied, again because of his gender. And, I suppose to be fair, the four-year difference in our ages.

  My father looked on him with such pride. Certainly he demanded quite a bit from Cade, but the look in Papa's eyes, the tone of his voice, the very posture of his body, was a study in pride. Father for son. I could never be his son.

  Nor could I be, as Hope was, his angel. He adored her. He had love for me, and he was a fair man. But it was painfully obvious that it was Hope who held his heart even as Cade held, well, his hopes. I was a kind of bonus, I imagine, the twin who came in tow with his angel.

  With my mother Cade was also, I think, a source of pride. She had produced the son, as was expected of her. The Lavelle name would carry on because she had conceived and birthed a male. She was happy enough to give the dealing with him over to my father for the most part. What did she know of boys, after all? I wonder if Cade felt this smooth and easy distance. I imagine he did, but somehow he became a whole and admirable man despite it.

  Because of it?

  Naturally, Mama schooled him in manners, saw to his cleanliness, but his education, his time, his lot in life were my father's bailiwick. I don't remember ever hearing her question Papa about Cade.

  Hope was her reward for a job well done. The daughter she could poli
sh and mold, the child she would see from babyhood through to a proper marriage. She loved Hope for her sweetness and her quiet acquiescence. And she never saw, never, the rebel inside. Had Hope lived, I believe she would have done precisely what she pleased, and somehow have convinced Mama it was Mama's own idea.

  She got around her with Tory. She could get around her with anything.

  God, I miss her. I miss that half of me that was bright and fun and eager. I miss her outrageously.

  Myself, I was a trial to Mama. How often I have heard her say so, therefore it must be true. I had none of Hope's sweetness, nor her quiet acquiescence. I questioned, and I fought bitterly over things I didn't even care about.

  Notice me. Damn you all Notice me.

  How sad and pitiful.

  Hope became friends with Tory a year before that summer. They were simply drawn together as some souls are. Even I could see the recognition between them, that click of connection. And they were, almost from the first, inseparable. More twins than my sister and I had ever been.

  For that reason alone I disliked Victoria Bodeen intensely. I turned my nose up at her and her dirty feet and poor grammar, at her big watchful eyes and white-trash parents. But it was her closeness with Hope that was at the root of it.

  I made fun of her as often as I possibly could, and ignored her the rest of the time. Pretended to ignore her. In fact, I watched her and Hope with hawklike concentration. Looking for a fissure, for some crack in their bond that I could pry wider so that their affection for each other shattered.

  They played together on the day she died, at our house, as Hope was strictly forbidden to go to Tory's. She did so, of course, in secret, but they spent most of their time together in and around Beaux Reves, or in the swamp.

  Mama didn't know about the swamp. She would not have approved. But we all wandered there, played there. Papa knew it, and only asked that we not go in after dark.

  Before supper Hope played jacks on the veranda. I was punishing her by not playing with her. When this didn't appear to spoil her pleasure in the game, I went to my room to sulk and didn't come down until I was called to supper.

  I wasn't hungry, and I was still in a vile mood over Hope's blithe acceptance

  of my anger with her. I took it out on myself by making an issue of the peas—though I continue to contend I had a right there—then ended up sassing my mother and being sent from the table.

  I hated being sent from the table. Not that I cared overmuch about the food, but it was banishment. I imagine a therapist would say that this tactic proved to me that I was not a part of the family as my brother and sister were. I was the outsider who on one hand reveled in my independence of them, and on the other wanted desperately to be part of the picture.

  I went to my room, as if that's where I wanted to be in the first place. I was determined they would think so and not suspect that I was as mortified as I was angry.

  A small hill of peas was more important than I was.

  I laid on the bed, stared at the ceiling, and surrounded myself with resentment. One day, I thought, one day I would be free to do as I liked, when I liked. No one would stop me, least of all the family who so easily dismissed me. I would be rich and famous and beautiful. I had no clear idea how I would accomplish these things, but they were my goal. I saw money and glory and beauty as a kind of prize I would win while the rest of them stayed steeped in the traditions and the restrictions of Beaux Reves.

  I considered running away, perhaps landing on my aunt Rosie's doorstep. That, I knew, would hit my mother where she lived as she considered her sister Rosie nothing more than an embarrassment Somewhat like me.

  But I didn't want to leave. I wanted them to love me, and that urgent and frustrated desire was my prison.

  Later on I heard my mother's music. She would have been in her sitting room, writing letters, answering invitations, planning the next day's menus, schedules, and whatever else she did as mistress of the house. My father would have been in his tower office, seeing to the business of the farm, and having a quiet glass of bourbon.

  Lilah snuck me in some supper, minus the peas. She didn't coax and cuddle, but simply by that one small act stroked me. Bless her, she has always been there, steady as a rock and warm as toast.

  I ate because she'd brought it to me, and because it was a rebellion both of us shared, in secret. After, I lay there as the room grew dark. I imagined Mama brushing Hope's hair as she did every night after bath time. She would have brushed mine as well, to be fair, but I wouldn't sit still for it She would have gone up to Papa after, Hope would, to say good night And all the while she was doing what was expected of her, she was planning her own secret rebellion.

  I heard her walk down the hallway, and pause at my room. I wish—it does no good to wish, but I wish I had gotten up, opened the door, and browbeat her into coming in to keep me company. It might have made a difference. She would have felt sorry for me, and she might have told me what she was going to do. In my state of mind, I might have gone along with her, just to thumb my nose at Mama. She wouldn't have been alone.

  But I stayed grimly stubborn in my bed and listened to her walk away.

  I didn't know she left the house. I might have looked out my window any time and seen her. But I didn't. Instead I scowled into the dark until I slept

  And while I slept, she died.

  I didn't feel, as it's often said twins do, a break in the thread between us. I didn't experience a premonition or dream of disaster. I didn't feel her pain or her fear. I slept on as I expect most children

  do, deeply and carelessly while the person who shared womb and birth with

  me died alone.

  It was Tory who felt that break, that pain and fear. I didn't believe it then, didn't choose to. Hope was my sister, not hers, and how dare she claim to have been such an intimate part of what was mine? I preferred to believe, as many others did, that Tory had indeed been in the swamp that night, and had run away and left Hope to face terror.

  I believed this even though I saw her the next morning. She came limping down our lane, early in the morning. She walked like an old woman, as if each step was an effort of courage. It was Cade who opened the door for her, but I had tiptoed out to the top of the stairs. Her face was pale as death itself, her eyes huge.

  She said: Hope's in the swamp. She couldn't get away, and he hurt her. You have to help.

  I think he asked her in, politely, but she wouldn't come across the threshold. So he left her there, and as I raced back to my own room, he went to look into Hope's. It all happened quickly then. Cade running back down, calling for Papa. Mama ran down. Everyone was talking at once, and paid no mind to me.

  Mama took Tory's shoulder, shook her, shouted at her. All the while, Tory just stood, a rag doll well used to, I supposed, being kicked.

  It was Papa who pulled Mama off, who told her to call the police right away. It was he who questioned Tory in a voice that wasn't quite steady. She told him of their plans the night before, and how she hadn't gone because she'd fallen and hurt herself. But Hope had gone and someone had come after her. She said all this in a dull and calm voice, an adult's voice. And she kept her eyes on Papa's face the whole time, and told him she could take him to Hope.

  I learned later that's exactly what she did, led Papa and Cade, then the police who followed, through the swamp to Hope.

  Life was forever altered, for all of us.

  Faith lowered the pad, leaned back on the bench. She could hear the twitter of birds now, and smell the perfume of dark earth and ripe flowers. Slivers of sunlight shimmered through the tangled canopy of branches and moss to dapple on the ground in pretty patterns and turn the green light into something that just hinted of gold.

  The marble statue stayed silent, forever smiling, forever young.

  It was so like Papa, she thought, to cover the hideous with the lovely. A pretense, perhaps, but a statement as well. Hope had lived, she imagined him thinking. And she was mine.
>
  Had he brought his woman here? she wondered. Had the woman he'd turned to when he'd turned from his family sat here with him while he reminisced and remembered and grieved?

  Why her, instead of me? Why had it never been me? Faith set the notepad aside, took out a cigarette.

  The tears came as a complete surprise. She had no idea they were in there, burning to be shed. Shed for Hope, for her father, for herself. For the waste of lives and dreams. For the waste of love.

  Tory stopped at the edge of a bank of impatiens. The quiet, flower-strewn park was enough of a shock. Her mind slid the image of how it had been, green and wild and dark, over the one in front of her eyes. They tangled, refused to merge, so she blinked the memory away.

  There was Hope, trapped forever in stone.

  And there was Faith, weeping.

  Her stomach muscles danced uneasily, but she made herself walk forward, shivering as images of what had happened there eighteen years before fought to take over. She sat, she waited.

  "I don't come here." Faith dug a tissue out of her purse, blew
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