Happy and innocent, Dawn's daughter Christie has grown up in the safest, most loving of homes. Yet Christie can't help feeling as if a dark cloud hovers over Cutler's Cove...a cloud whose origins lie in her family's troubled history and in the many questions that no-one, not even Dawn, will answer. Only one person can always chase away her blues: Gavin, Daddy Jimmy's young and handsome stepbrother.
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One of the most popular authors of all time, V. C. Andrews (1923-1986) is the author of the bestselling Dollanganger family saga, which began with Flowers in the Attic and includes Petals on the Wind, If There Be Thorns, Seeds of Yesterday, and Garden of Shadows.
Laurel Lefkow s many theater credits include "Look Back in Anger", "Little Foxes", "The Heiress", "A Midsummer Night s Dream", and "The Boy Next Door". On television she can be seen in "A Class Act", "Small Metal Jacket", and "The Perfect Family". An accomplished radio actress, Laurel is also a frequent narrator of audio books.
Dear Aunt Trisha,
I'm so happy you will be able to attend my Sweet Sixteen party. Mommy told me you would try, but I didn't think you would be able to break away from rehearsals, especially rehearsals for a new Broadway show!
Although Mommy always tells me she is not envious, I know she is, for I have often found her sighing and gazing longingly at a program from one of your Broadway productions. Daddy knows she's envious too, and he feels sorry for her. Singing at the hotel from time to time is not enough, especially for someone with Mommy's talent. I think it hurts more when someone comes up to her afterward and says, "You were wonderful; you should be on Broadway."
We have this wonderful hotel, which has grown more and more successful, and Mommy is highly respected as a business woman, but I think to Mommy the hotel is like a ball and chain. I have already told both Mommy and Daddy that I don't want to become a hotel executive. My brother Jefferson can be the one who steps into their shoes, not me. I want to be a pianist and attend the Bernhardt school in New York just like you and Mommy did.
I know I should be very happy. Mommy and Daddy are making my Sweet Sixteen the grandest party ever at the hotel. Everyone is coming, even Granddaddy Longchamp and Gavin. I'm so looking forward to seeing Gavin; it's been months and months since we've seen each other although we write to each other practically every week.
I bet Mommy wishes that Aunt Fern couldn't leave college and come, although she wouldn't tell Daddy that. Last time Aunt Fern was home, Mommy and she had a terrible row over her grades and a behavior report the dean sent.
Bronson will bring Grandmother Laura, but I doubt she will know where she is or whose party she's at. Sometimes when I see her, she calls me Clara. Yesterday, she called me Dawn. Mommy says I should just smile and pretend to be whoever she thinks I am.
In a few days, I will be sixteen and get mountains of wonderful presents. In so many ways, I really am a very lucky girl. My classmates tease me and call me Princess because I live high on the hill in a beautiful house and my family owns one of the most luxurious resorts on the East Coast. My mother is a beautiful and talented woman, and Daddy is more wonderful to me than my mysterious real father could ever have been, and, even though he's a brat, Jefferson is a cute little nine-year-old brother. Don't tell him I said so.
But, sometimes I can't drive away those sad feelings that sneak into my heart. It's as if there is always a dark cloud hovering, even though the rest of the sky is blue. I wish I could be more like you and always see the cheerful side of things. Mommy says you have bubbles in your blood.
Maybe I'm just being silly. Daddy says it's nonsense to believe in curses, but I can't help wondering if one wasn't put on our family. Look at the terrible thing Grandfather Cutler did to Grandmother Laura, and look at what Grandmother Cutler did to Mommy when she was just born. No wonder Aunt Clara Sue was so wild and died so young. I feel sorry for Grandmother Laura because she lives in a world of confusion as a result of all this.
People say all great families have tragedies and there's no reason to believe ours has been chosen for anything special. Yet, I can't help feeling there's something terrible waiting for me, too, a dark shadow just waiting to cast itself over me. Not all the music, all the lights, all the laughter and smiles can drive it away. It waits there, watching like some ugly, hunchbacked monster hatched in a nightmare.
I'm about to be sixteen and I still sleep with a small light on. I know I'm being ridiculous, but I can't help it. Only Gavin never laughs. He seems to know exactly what I mean. I see it in his dark eyes.
And you don't laugh at me, although you're always bawling me out for not smiling enough.
I promise, I'll try. I can't wait to see you. I can't wait to see everyone. It's going to be the greatest weekend of my life!
See, I bounce from one mood to another. No wonder Daddy calls me a ping-pong ball.
Aunt Trish, if you have a program from your new show, please bring it along. I'm so proud of you and I hope and pray that some day you will be just as proud of me.
Chapter 1: Sweet Sixteen
The thick layers of clouds that had blown in from the ocean overnight still hung in the sky when I woke early in the morning. I couldn't sleep late, not today, not the most special day of my life. I threw off my pink and white down comforter and practically leaped out of my pink polkadotted canopy bed to rush to the window and gaze out over the grounds between our house and the hotel. Most of the grounds staff were already out there trimming hedges, cutting grass and washing down walkways. Here and there, I saw a guest taking an early morning walk. Many of our guests had been coming to Cutler's Cove for years and years and were elderly.
Off to my right, the ocean looked as silver as coins and the seagulls could be seen hungrily swooping down to the beaches in search of breakfast. In the distance an ocean liner was nearly lost against the gray background. I had so wanted to wake up to a morning filled with sunshine. I wanted the sea to sparkle as it had never sparkled before, and I wanted the sunlight to stream through the petals of the roses, the daffodils, the tulips and turn the leaves of the trees into a rich spring green.
When I was very little, I used to dream that the hotel, the grounds, the beaches and ocean were my own private Wonderland into which I had fallen like Alice. I gave everything silly names and even pretended people I knew were animals dressed like people. Nussbaum the chef was an old lion and his nephew Leon, his assistant with the long neck, was a giraffe. The bellhops that scurried about were rabbits, and Mr. Dorfman who prowled about the hotel at all hours with his eyes wide looking for mistakes and inefficiency was a snooty owl. I would look up at the painting of Grandmother Cutler in the lobby and think of her as the wicked witch. Even Uncle Philip and Aunt Bet's twins, Richard and Melanie, who really did look alike, were afraid of Grandmother Cutler's picture and would try to scare each other, or me and Jefferson, by saying, "Grandmother Cutler will get you!"
Although Mommy had really never told me all the gruesome details, I knew she was treated horribly when she was brought back to Cutler's Cove. It seems impossible to me that anyone could have despised my beautiful, loving Mother. When I was little sometimes I would stare up at Grandmother Cutlet's portrait, trying to see in that lean, hard face the clues to her cruelty. When I walked past that portrait, her cold gray eyes always followed me and I had many a nightmare with her in it.
The picture of her husband, Grandfather Cutler, was different. He wore a sly smile, but one that made me look away just as quickly and make sure all my buttons were closed. I knew vaguely that he had done a very bad thing to Grandmother Laura Sue and as a result, Mommy had been born; but again, what exactly had happened had not yet been told to me. It was all part of the mysterious past, the somber and unhappy history of the Cutlers. So much of my heritage was kept under lock and key, buried in old documents stuffed away in iron boxes or sealed in photograph albums kept in dusty cartons somewhere in the attic of the hotel.
And there were fewer and fewer people working here who remembered Grandmother and Grandfather Cutler. Those who did remember never wanted to answer my questions and always said, "You should ask your mother, Christie. That's family business," as if family business were the code words for top secret. Our housekeeper Mrs. Boston had a stock reply whenever I asked her any questions. She had been Grandmother Cutler's housekeeper, but she always replied with, "It's better you don't know."
Why was it better? How bad could it have been? When was I going to be old enough to know? Daddy said it was too painful for Mommy to talk about any of it in great detail and would only bring back bad memories and make her cry.
"You don't want her to cry, do you?" he would ask me and I would shake my head and try to forget.
But it was impossible to forget a past that still lingered about in shadows and in between sentences, a past that suddenly could turn smiles into looks of sadness or fear, a past that called to me from the old paintings or from the tombstones on Randolph's and Aunt Clara Sue's graves in the old cemetery. Sometimes, it made me feel as if I were only half a person, as if I had yet to meet the other half of myself which would emerge someday from those dark shadows to introduce herself as the real Christie Longchamp.
Nothing made me feel this way more than knowing only scant details about my real father. I knew his name, Michael Sutton, and I knew from looking him up in the reference books in the school library that he was once a popular opera star who also sang in London and Broadway theater. His career had taken a very bad turn and he had disappeared from sight. Mommy wouldn't talk about him. She wouldn't tell me how they had fallen in love enough to have had me or why I never saw him. Whenever I asked, she would say, "Someday, I'll tell you all of it, Christie, when you're old enough to understand."
Oh, how I have always hated it when people said that to me. When would I ever be old enough to understand why grown-ups fell in and out of love, why they hated and hurt each other, why someone like Grandmother Laura Sue who was once young and beautiful, was now twisted and crippled and shrunken up inside? I knew early on that it wasn't my age that was the problem, it was that Mommy found the past too painful to talk about. I felt sorry for her but I had grown to feel sorry for myself, too. I had a right to know...to know who I was.
As I gazed out my window, I shivered and buttoned the top button of my pajama top because the June morning was as grey and chilly as my thoughts. Even the sparrows that usually pranced and paraded on the telephone wires outside my room seemed strangely quiet today. It was as if they knew it was my sixteenth birthday and wanted to see just how I would react to the dark skies. They fluttered their wings nervously, but remained squatting down, staring.
I frowned at them and folded my arms under my breasts, slouching my shoulders just the way Mommy hated. I couldn't help the way I felt. Daddy called me a weather vane.
"One look at your face," he said, "and I can tell whether it will be a nice day or not."
He was right. I was like a window pane, so easy to see through and read what was written inside. The weather always affected my moods. When it rained and rained, I wouldn't even look out the window. I would pretend it was nice outside and just ignore the pitter-patter of drops on the roof. But when the sunshine came pouring through my lace curtains and kissed my face, my eyes would pop open and I would spring out of bed as if sleep had been a prison and daylight was the key opening the heavy, iron door.
Mr. Wittleman, my piano teacher, said the same things about me. He deliberately chose a heavy piece, a Brahms; or Beethoven, to practice on dark, cloudy days, and something light or sweet, a Tchaikovsky or Liszt, on sunny days. He said my fingers must weigh ten pounds more whenever it rains.
"You should have been born a flower," he said, his heavy, dark brown eyebrows tilting inward. They were as thick as caterpillars. "The way you blossom and frown."
I knew he was teasing me, even though he didn't smile. He was a firm but tolerant man who tutored a number of young people in Cutler's Cove. He let me know in little ways that I was his most promising pupil. He told me he would tell Mommy that I should definitely audition for Juilliard in New York City.
I turned away from the window when I heard my little brother Jefferson come out of his room and down the corridor to mine. I watched expectantly for my door handle to turn slowly. He loved sneaking in while I was still asleep and then screaming and jumping on my bed, no matter how many times I bawled him out for it. I told Mommy that the cartoonist who made Dennis the Menace must have known Jefferson first.
This morning, since I was already up, I would surprise him. I saw the handle turn and the door opening little by little until Jefferson could tiptoe in. The moment his foot came through I grabbed the door and thrust it open.
"JEFFERSON!" I cried and he screamed and then laughed and charged to my bed, burying himself in my comforter. He was still in his pajamas, too. I slapped him firmly on the rump. "I told you to stop doing that. You have to learn to knock."
He poked his head out from under the comforter. Jefferson was so different from me. He was never depressed, never upset about the weather unless it prevented him from doing something he had planned to do. He could just as well play outside in a warm, light rain as he could play in sunshine. Once he was enveloped in his world of makebelieve, nothing mattered. It took Mrs. Boston four or five times to get him to hear her calling, and when he was interrupted, he would narrow those sapphire eyes of his into dark slits and scowl angrily. He had Daddy's temper and Daddy's eyes and build, but Mommy's mouth and nose. His hair was dark brown most of the year, but in the summer, maybe because he spent all his waking hours in the sun, his hair would lighten until it was almost the color of almonds.
"Today's your birthday," he declared, ignoring my complaints. "I'm supposed to give you sixteen pats on your backside and one for good luck."
"You are not. Who told you that?"
"Well you just tell him to slap himself sixteen times. Get out of my bed and go back to your room so I can get dressed," I ordered. He sat up, folding the blanket over his lap, and peered at me with those dark, inquisitive eyes.
"What kind of presents do you think you will get? You will get hundreds and hundreds of presents. So many people are coming to your party," he added, his hands out, palms up.
"Jefferson, it's not polite to think about your presents. It's nice enough that all these people are coming, some from very far away. Now get out of here before I call Daddy," I said, pointing toward the door.
"Will you get a lot of toys?" he asked anxiously, his eyes filled with expectation.
"I hardly think so. I'm sixteen, Jefferson, not six."
He smirked. He always hated it when he got gifts of clothing on his birthdays instead of toys. He would tear open the boxes, gaze at the garments for an instant, and then go on to the next hopefully.
"Why is sixteen so important?" he demanded.
I brushed back my hair so it fell over my shoulders and sat at the foot of the bed.
"Because when a girl gets to be sixteen, people are supposed to treat her differently," I explained.
"How?" Jefferson was always full of questions, driving everyone crazy with his "Whys" and "Hows" and "Whats."
"They just do. They treat you more like an adult and not a child, or a baby like you."
"I'm not a baby," he protested. "I'm nine."
"You act like one, sneaking in on me every morning and screaming. Now go on, get dressed for breakfast," I said and stood up. "I've got to take a shower and pick out something to wear."
"When's Aunt Trisha coming?" he asked, instead of leaving. He would ask a thousand questions first.
"This afternoon, early."
"About three or four o'clock. All right, Jefferson? Can ...
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