Whitefern (Audrina #2)@V.C. Andrews

Prologue

Papa died with my name on his lips. I would have thought his final words would be a call for my sister, Sylvia, or for Lucietta, our mother, who had died giving birth to Sylvia. For years afterward, I would think about the way he had said my name in those final moments. Was his call to me a plea for help, or was he begging for forgiveness? Was it merely pleasure at having his last thoughts be about me? Did he see my much younger face before him?

Arden, Sylvia, and I were there in his bedroom when he took his last breath. Sylvia and I were sitting beside the bed. Sylvia held his hand, and my husband, Arden, standing beside me, had his hand on my shoulder, his fingers drumming with impatience. He had been on his way out the door to go to work when Papa took a sudden turn for the worse. Of course, he’d thought it was another false alarm, but he quickly returned and saw that this time, it was very, very serious.

The ticking of the dark oak miniature grandfather’s clock on the dresser seemed to grow louder and louder, impressing us with every passing moment. I imagined it was like Papa’s heartbeat. I would swear that it paused when Papa took his final breath. A cloud passed over the sun, and a shadow rushed in through the windows and fell like a dark sheet over his body and his face. I felt a shawl of ice slip over my shoulders as Arden lifted his hand away.

The week before, Papa had nearly passed out going up the stairs. His eyes had closed, and he’d swayed almost at the top step. Sylvia had been following him up, just as she often followed at his heels, eager to do his bidding, and that had kept him from falling backward. A fatal accident on those stairs would come as no surprise. They’d already had too much tragic history. Sylvia’s scream had brought me running. I’d seen her hands on his back. Before I could reach them, he had regained his composure, the color coming back into his pale face.

“I’m all right,” he had said, but without admitting that something wrong with him had caused him to lose his balance, he also declared that Sylvia had saved his life.

“We should call the doctor,” I had said.

“Nonsense, no need. Everyone loses his balance occasionally. Maybe a little too much blackberry brandy.”

It was futile to contradict him or insist. Papa never changed his mind about anything once he had made it up. My aunt Ellsbeth would say, “He’s as stubborn as a tree stump when he digs his roots into an argument.”

Nevertheless, at his insistence, we had celebrated Sylvia as a heroine at dinner that night. I was told to make her favorite cake, vanilla with chocolate icing. We had champagne and, later, music so Papa could do a little dance with her. While I’d watched them, I’d been reminded of how he would waltz with my mother sometimes after dinner when they were young, and our world would look like a world of eternal spring. Momma’s peals of laughter and joy would echo off the walls. The only one who scowled would be Aunt Ellsbeth.

Sylvia had been so happy when Papa called her “my little heroine.” She’d loved repeating, “I saved Papa,” every morning for days afterward; it was the first thing she’d say to me when I roused her to dress and come down for breakfast. Compliments and applause were rare birds in her nest. Perhaps she thought she could do it again the day he died, save him and keep him from falling into the inevitable grave. She clung so tightly to his hand.

Arden often called her “your father’s extra shadow,” but he wasn’t saying that because he thought what she was doing was cute or loving. No, he thought it was both annoying for Papa and embarrassing for us, mainly for him, whenever anyone he knew from work saw this grown woman still so attached to her father, sensitive to his every move, eager to do the simplest things for him, like fetching his slippers or lighting his pipe.

“He can’t even go to the bathroom without her waiting for him at the door like a puppy. Can’t you make her see how foolish she looks? Do something!” Arden had demanded. “You’re the one she’ll listen to.”

“Papa doesn’t mind,” I’d said in Sylvia’s defense, “so you shouldn’t, either.”

Papa never