Read Gathering Clouds Online

Authors: V. C. Andrews

Tags: #Horror, #Young Adult

Gathering Clouds

From
New York Times

bestselling author

 

V.C. ANDREWS
®

 

GATHERING CLOUDS

 

The shocking prequel to

 

RAIN

. . . the V.C. Andrews story you will never forget.

Pocket Books, A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

 

Following the death of Virginia Andrews, the Andrews family worked with a carefully selected writer to organize and complete Virginia Andrews’ stories and to create additional novels, of with this is one, inspired by her storytelling genius.

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

Copyright © 2001, 2007 by Vanda General Partnership

 

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Pocket Books Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

 

First Pocket Books paperback edition April 2007

 

V.C. ANDREWS
®
and VIRGINIA ANDREWS
®
are registered trademarks of the Vanda General Partnership.

 

POCKET and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster.

 

Manufactured in the United States of America

PROLOGUE

 

From the age of five until now, I’ve often had the same dream. Sometimes I would have the dream repeatedly over a short period of time, and sometimes it wouldn’t return for months, even almost a year, but it always returned, and in it I was always the same age and always in the same place.

I’m a ballerina in my dream. Most people would say that came from the beautiful music box my father had bought me on my fourth birthday. A ballerina danced on top of it to
The Nutcracker Suite
. I kept it on my bedside table, and when my father was home and came in to kiss me good night, he would always turn it on and sit with me awhile, watching the little figurine move to the music.

Daddy told me he bought it for me because the tiny dancer reminded him of me, “Dainty, with two jewels for eyes, moving with the grace of angels.”

As a child it was most interesting to see and understand something or someone that reminded my father of me. My father’s image of me surprised me because I didn’t see myself that way. I never thought of myself as someone particularly graceful and certainly not as graceful as a ballerina. In fact, my mother thought I was clumsy and awkward because “You have your mind on nonsense half the time and don’t watch where you’re going or what you’re doing.”

If she had given me a music box with a figurine on top, it would probably have been of a little girl covered in bandages and surrounded by shattered glass from the plates and glasses she had dropped.

If I did bump into something or did drop something, I’d quickly look around to see if my mother was watching. The times I saw that she was, she nodded her head to clearly tell me she had expected it. She never seemed to miss an opportunity to reinforce her accusations. She wasn’t especially mean about it. I never felt she was happy about being right about me. To her credit, she was always trying to get me to improve. And she was never overly dramatic about it, either, unlike some of my girlfriends’ mothers, who would throw up their hands and cry, “I give up! You’re impossible!”

In fact, I don’t remember my mother ever giving up on anything, not even me after I had nearly sunk the boat of their successful lives and happiness. While other people, especially women I knew, wrung their hands and moaned after something tragic or disappointing occurred, my mother gritted her teeth, stiffened her resolve, and went immediately to how we solve or deal with the problem. There was no time for worrying about making excuses and certainly no time or point in rationalizing. A mistake was a mistake. Period. Fix it and stop whining. It was so difficult for me to be like that, to be like she was.

My father never went so far as to tell me to ignore her, but he did once tell me that my mother expected too much perfection and because of that, she never could enjoy herself or her children or even him. I didn’t fully understand what he meant at the time because I was only seven, but the next time I did something my mother thought was clumsy, I smugly told her that no one was perfect. I thought I would impress her by parroting my father.

“That’s a failure’s excuse, Megan, and besides, that’s not the point,” she said. “It’s what you aspire to be that matters and if you don’t aspire to be perfect, you will be insubstantial. You won’t even be average.”

According to my mother, not being average should have been added to the Ten Commandments:
Thou shalt not be average.

In Daddy’s eyes I could never be average and certainly never insubstantial, less than adequate. In Daddy’s eyes I was perfect always, even when I nearly broke his heart.

But isn’t that when love is really most tested and when love matters the most, when that someone you love has disappointed you deeply, terribly, and yet, somehow, you still cling to the feeling, the dream? That’s what it means to smile through the rain.

And so, I’m dancing in my recurrent dream. I’m pirouetting beautifully, only the floor upon which I’m dancing gradually turns into ice. I can feel it growing thinner and thinner, and when it begins to crack and I realize I’m sinking into the icy water, I reach for my sister Victoria’s hand, but she looks at it and skates on by.

Then, I wake up.

When I was younger, I would begin to cry.

Now, I just try to calm my pounding heart.

ONE

 

What bothered me at first, but then began to amuse me about my sister, Victoria, was that even though she was two years younger than I was, anyone who met us for the first time always assumed she was older. When we were much younger, Victoria loved that and I hated it. She would gloat, her face practically illuminating as if there were a bulb inside her head. Later on, when we were much older, she hated it when people thought she was older than I was, and I loved it. It was my time to gloat. It’s like what Daddy used to mutter when something unpleasant happened to someone he disliked or someone who had done something bad to him: “What goes around comes around.”

When people first met us, they would wonder if Victoria and I were really sisters. I could see the skepticism in their eyes, because we didn’t look that much alike. One of the reasons everyone thought she was older than her height. At five she was taller than I was at seven, and when she was twelve, she sprouted like a long-distance runner putting on speed at the sight of the finish line. I ended up being five feet six and Victoria reached five feet ten and a half. Her features were sharper, harder, her eyes a faded brown. Her growth spurt seemed to elongate her face, too. The skin just fell from her cheekbones to her jawline like wet bedsheets. She was always slim, boyish through her teen years and really not much different when she got into her twenties. Her face filled out a bit more, and because she kept her hair so short, it always looked plumper than it really was, but that made her ears look bigger than they were, too.

Victoria
was never interested in working at her femininity and her looks. She didn’t have the patience to spend the necessary time on her hair, her makeup, and she would never have her nails done. She clipped them like a man with an inexpensive nail clipper. She had big feet with bony-looking toes so she rarely wore thongs or even sandals and never cared to put on nail polish. I knew some of my friends thought she was a lesbian because she paid as much interest to boys as she did to jewelry, designer clothes, or anything that mattered to girls our age.

On the other hand, Victoria was always a much better student than I was, especially in math and science. Even as a child she was interested in our father’s business dealings and understood things like balance sheets and financial projections. She was always full of questions for him about any deals he made, or property he bought. His goals were important for her to understand, and she would follow him about and pepper him with questions until he threw up his hands and declared he would force her to sit in his office and listen as he talked to her just as he talked to his associates. He meant it as a threat, but she loved it. There was no place in the house she would rather be and nothing she would rather do.

Whereas I didn’t even fully understand what my father did for a living and had no desire to do so. Music, parties, boys, and clothes were far more exciting. I tried to get Victoria interested in having a social life. Whenever I could, I talked about mine, but nothing I said seemed to hold her attention long. Whenever I asked her why she wasn’t invited to parties her classmates had or interested in making a party at our house, she would shrug and say something like, “It’s not important to me right now.”

When would it be? Would it ever be? I wondered. I must admit, I didn’t spend all that much time wondering or caring about Victoria’s happiness. If she was going to be that way, let her, I thought. It wasn’t going to be my life; it was going to be hers. I was going to have a good time first and then worry about responsibilities. It made me feel good to throw that in Victoria’s face. My mother hated it when I said that.

“Where is it written that you are owed a good time first, Megan?” she would fire back at me. “You’re spoiled, Megan, you know that? Your father insists on spoiling you, but he’ll come to regret it, believe me,” she warned.

She was right, of course. My mother was always right. I suppose she intimidated me with her perfection, her stature, and her position in the community. I saw the way she commanded respect, even from the most chauvinistic of my father’s male friends. My mother was the sort of magnetic woman who drew all the attention to her when she walked into a room, and not because she was a raving beauty. She was attractive; she was always concerned about her appearance and she was always fashionable and elegant, but there was something else, a majesty. I had no doubt that my mother could have easily competed with Queen Elizabeth or any monarch, for that matter. She was never frivolous, hated gossip, and knew as much about our finances and property as my father did.

Anyone would think she would favor Victoria over me for all those reasons. Victoria was the serious one. Victoria was the efficient and the responsible one, but no matter what she did or how she tried, Victoria couldn’t get our mother and especially our father to favor her over me. She even tried telling on me whenever I did anything that broke a rule or an order. She brought home stories about my misbehavior in school or my flirtations with boys. She pointed out the neglectful way I treated some of my expensive possessions and how wasteful I was, even with my toothpaste.

But none of it won her great favor with our parents. I was reprimanded or punished as a result sometimes, but Daddy would step in and defend me or reduce my sentence from being grounded for a week to being grounded for a day and sometimes not even that. It reached a stage where Victoria gave up trying to make points by ratting on me, especially after Daddy told her that informers are never really respected even though their information might bring some benefit.

“It’s always thought to be the lowest form of rodent,” he lectured her in front of me, “because everyone knows the informer is just trying to get something for him or herself and would do the same with or to anyone, for that matter.

“Disloyalty is a disease. It strikes anyone without regard,” Daddy said. “And how can you ever trust someone who betrays another? What’s to say she or her won’t betray you when it becomes advantageous for him or her to do so? Look what Judas did to Jesus. If ratting on someone is the only way you can get ahead, stay behind.”

He brought her close tears, but my iron-eyed sister froze those drops before they dared attempt to escape over a lid. And then with her icy orbs, she turned to me to glare and shake her head.

Why, she was surely wondering, did I get away with everything? What did I have that she didn’t when it came to pleasing our father?

I couldn’t answer the question except to say Daddy loved pretty women. Although our mother never came right out and said it in front of us, I had no doubt she suspected him of being unfaithful. He had too many sudden trips, too many nights away, and too often carried the aroma of some other woman’s perfume, more than he would have merely greeting and hugging.

Daddy could be faithful only to the things that pleased him.

Maybe that was why he liked me more than he liked Victoria, I thought.

He even liked me more after I broke his heart.

Fortunately for me, Victoria never knew why I had done that or how. She would have gotten it printed in some rag gossip column just so she could discredit me enough to make it impossible for Daddy to pretend it never happened. Actually, that was exactly what my parents did, pretend it never happened, even with me. Once it was over, it could never be mentioned. I had no doubt that if it were, if even there were a small reference to it, my mother would look as puzzled as anyone who had heard it for the first time, and she would be just as incredulous.

No one had the power to see only what she wanted to see as much as my mother did. Ironically, she often accused my father of deluding himself, looking at the world through rose-colored glasses or living in his own world, for that matter. Daddy never got angry at her, however, no matter how sharply she spoke to him or how critical she would be of the things he had done or said.

“The man has skin woven out of steel,” Mother would say in frustration. “I could throw a dart at him and he’d have the same blank reaction.”

Of course, I used to wonder if they loved each other at all. Mostly, I wondered how my father romanced her, courted her, and won her heart. There must have been a time when she saw him in a far more positive way. Had he changed? Was he once more like her or did he make promises to her that he broke? Would he do the same with me? Somehow, in my heart of hearts, I cherished the belief that daddies don’t violate the promises they make to their daughters. They can’t live with themselves if they do. They can disappoint their wives, even their sons, but not their daughters. Their daughters have such a special place in their hearts, they would stop breathing if they hurt them or betrayed them in even the smallest of ways.

Victoria didn’t seem to be interested in any of this. What our parents were like when they were our age, how they met, how long they courted, their marriage and honeymoon, none of it held any fascination for her. She was even bored to death looking at family albums. I used to think she was the way she was because she was just too unhappy about herself. I couldn’t deny that if I looked into a mirror and saw her face reflected or her body, I would fall into a deep depression myself. The sunniest of days would be cloudy and everything that was fun and exciting would lose some or most of its attraction.

But the worst thing I could do was show Victoria I pitied her in any way. The truth was it was just the opposite. Somehow she managed to pity me. When I was invited to my first high school dance and I spent hours and hours styling my hair, picking out clothes and shoes and jewelry to wear, she watched me with the face of a dour preacher. I caught her shaking her head and snapping her lips in disgust.

“What is it, Victoria?” I finally screamed at her. “Why do you come into my room and look at me like I had just come down with the worst skin disease or something?”

“I feel sorry for you, Megan,” she said.

I was fourteen and she was twelve.

“You feel sorry for me? Why?”

“Because everything that’s important to you will age and wilt and pale and die. When you’re old and wrinkled, you’ll spend most of the time crying.”

I didn’t know how to respond. Who at our ages worried about being old and wrinkled?

All I could do was laugh, and like always, Victoria nodded and said, “You’ll see. Someday, you’ll see and you’ll know I was right.”

When she said that, she tried very hard to look and act like our mother. At times, I would catch Victoria watching Mother closely, her eyelids narrowed into coin slots, her gaze just that intense as if she were trying to memorize every breath Mother took, every gesture she made. Perhaps she thought if she did a good imitation, Daddy would like her more.

Now that I think back to our childhood and our lives after, I realize Victoria was constantly in competition with me for our parents’ attention. She would never admit to such a thing, of course, but she was. At one point, she actually began to think about and do something about her appearance, only I could see she was terrified that she would somehow, in some way, be imitating me and that would be like admitting defeat.

Her attempts were pathetic, anyway, and even humorous at times. She wore the wrong shade of lipstick for her complexion and put on too thickly. She let her hair grow longer, but brushed it and pinned it too severely, which made her look even worse. She even tried eyeshadow and mascara but quickly gave that up when it ran into her cheeks or she smudged it. She wouldn’t ask me for any help, of course. She tried learning about it from a book she took out of the library. She did improve her wardrobe somewhat and suddenly began wearing more colorful clothing, prettier shoes, but I could see she was always uncomfortable. She was like a snake who had put on the wrong skin. She looked like she was irritated, itchy, always pulling and tugging on her garments, kicking off her shoes, and washing any makeup off her face as soon as she could.

Finally, I saw her reach the conclusion that if our parents, Daddy especially, didn’t like her for herself, it was too bad. She would win his respect and admiration another way. She would someday be better at what he did than he was and he would appreciate her then.

Why were we always trying to win the love and respect of our parents?? I wondered, and still do. Shouldn’t that be given to us at birth? They decided to bring us into this world. They had an obligation to give us all the love they could. We shouldn’t have to earn it.

And most important of all, I thought, they shouldn’t try to turn us into younger and smaller versions of them.

We had a right to be ourselves.

I was more determined about that than Victoria was and of course, years late, when I got into trouble, Mother would remind me.

“Independence and self-confidence is worthless, a waste if it’s misdirected, Megan. A horse can break out of the pack and go off on his or her own direction, but the key word there is
direction
, Megan. Just flaring out, being headstrong and wild for its own sake, will always have one result, the same result, disaster.

“You know what life teaches you, Megan,” she added. Her voice was softer, full of concern, so much so that I perked up to really listen. “It teaches you that you don’t own yourself and your destiny.

“You own precious little of yourself, actually.”

“Who owns it then?” I asked, amazed that she would admit to such a lack of control.

“Everyone whose love and respect you need to survive. That’s the coin, the payment, the cost for it.”

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