Gates of Paradise
ONE Family Secrets
Oh no!” Drake exclaimed, coming up behind me without my realizing it because I was so involved in my painting. “Not another picture of Farthinggale Manor with Luke, Jr. gaping out a window at the rolling clouds.” Drake rolled his eyes and pretended to go into a faint.
Luke sat up quickly and brushed the strands of hair off his forehead. Whenever anything embarrassed or unnerved him, he always went to his hair. I turned slowly, intending to scowl at Drake the way Miss Marbleton, Luke’s and my English teacher, would every time anyone misbehaved or spoke out of turn; but Drake wore his impish smile, and his coal-black eyes glimmered like two dew-covered stones. I couldn’t make myself angry at a face like that. He was so handsome, but no matter how often he shaved, he had a dark cloud in his complexion. My mother was always running her hand over his cheeks affectionately and telling him to shave away the porcupine quills.
“Drake,” I said softly, practically pleading with
him not to say anything more that might embarrass Luke and me.
“Well, it’s true, Annie, isn’t it?” Drake persisted. “You must have done a half dozen pictures like this with Luke inside of Farthy or walking about the grounds. And Luke wasn’t ever there!” He raised his voice to clearly remind us that he had been. I tilted my head to the side the way my mother did when something suddenly occurred to her. Was Drake jealous of my using Luke as an artistic subject? It never occurred to me to ask him to pose because he rarely sat still long enough for me to paint his likeness.
“My pictures of Farthy are never the same,” I cried defensively. “How can they be? I’m working only from my own imagination and the little tidbits I’ve been able to pick up here and there from Daddy and Mommy.”
“You would think anyone would realize that,” Luke remarked, his eyes remaining fixed on his English literature textbook. Drake widened his smile.
“What, has the great Buddha spoken?” Drake’s eyes danced with glee. Whenever he could get Luke to rise to one of his taunts, he was happy.
“Drake, please. I’m losing my mood,” I pleaded, “and an artist has to seize the moment and hold it the way you would hold a baby bird . . . softly, but firmly.” I didn’t mean to sound so pretentious, but there was nothing I hated more than Luke and Drake getting into an argument.
My beseeching eyes and pleas worked. Drake’s face softened. He turned back to me, his posture relaxed. Mother always said Drake strode through Winnerrow with a Casteel’s pride. Because he was six feet two with broad shoulders, a narrow waist, and muscular arms, that wasn’t hard to imagine.
“I’m sorry. I just thought I could wrench Plato
here away for a while. We need a ninth man for softball over at the school,” he added.
Luke looked up from his textbook, genuinely surprised at the invitation, his eyes small and inquiring. Was Drake sincere? Since he had come home for his spring break, he had spent almost all his time with his older friends.
“Well, I . . .” Luke looked to me. “I had to study for this unit test,” Luke explained quickly, “and I thought while Annie was painting me . . .”
“Sure, sure, I understand, Einstein. Einstein,” Drake repeated, gesturing toward Luke, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “It’s not all books, you know,” he said, spinning to face him again. This time his face was serious. “A lot of it has to do with getting to know people, getting them to like you, respect you. That’s the secret of success. More executives are coming off the playing fields than out of the classrooms,” he lectured, waving his long, right forefinger. Luke said nothing in response. He ran his fingers through his hair and fixed that stoical, yet piercing, analytical gaze on Drake, something Drake couldn’t stand. “Ah . . . why I am wasting my breath?”
Drake turned to my painting again.
“I told you that Farthy was gray, not blue,” he corrected softly.
“You were only five at the time you were there and you said yourself, you were hardly there. Maybe you forgot,” Luke said, quickly coming to my defense.
“You don’t forget the color of a building as big as that!” Drake exclaimed, pulling in the corners of his mouth. “No matter how young you are at the time or how short you stay.”
“Well, you once told us there were two outside pools and then Logan finally corrected that, telling us there was only one outside, but one indoors,” Luke continued.
When it came to Farthy, both he and I were as exacting as we could be, cherishing whatever small details and truths we knew. So little had been given to us about it.
“Is that so, Sherlock Holmes?” Drake replied, his eyes growing smaller, colder. He didn’t like being corrected, especially by Luke. “Well, I never said there were two outside pools; I just said there were two pools. You just don’t listen when I tell you something. It amazes me you’re doing so well in school. What’dya do, cheat?”
“Drake, please!” I exclaimed, grasping his wrist and squeezing softly.
“Well, he doesn’t listen. Unless it’s you who does the talking,” he added, smiling, content because he had struck a sensitive spot. Luke blushed, his blue eyes swinging my way briefly before he turned away, his face turning sad.
I looked beyond him, just over the first rise in the Willies at a wisp of a cloud that the wind had molded into the shape of a tear. Suddenly I felt like crying myself and it wasn’t only because of the conflict between Drake and Luke. It wasn’t the first time this melancholy mood had come over me like a dark cloud passing over the sun. What I did realize was that the sad feelings often stimulated my desire to paint. Painting brought me relief, a sense of balance and peace. I was creating the world I wanted, the world I saw with inner eyes. I could make it forever spring or make winter dazzling and beautiful. I felt like a magician, conjuring something special in my mind and then bringing it to life on the empty canvas. While I was sketching in my latest image of Farthy, I felt my heart grow lighter and the world around me grow warmer and warmer, as if I were lifting a shadow off myself. Now because Drake had really interrupted the mood, my sadness returned.
I realized Drake and Luke were both staring at me, their faces troubled by my gray expression. I fought back the urge to cry, and smiled through the shadow over my face.
“Maybe each of my paintings of Farthinggale Manor are different because it changes,” I finally said in a voice barely above a whisper. Luke’s eyes widened and a smile rippled across his soft lips. He knew what that tone in my voice meant. We were about to play the fantasy game, to let our imaginations wander recklessly about and be unafraid to say what other seventeen- and eighteen-year-old teenagers would find silly.
But the game was more than that. When we played it, we could say things to each other that we were afraid to say otherwise. I could be his princess and he my prince. We could tell each other what we felt in our hearts, pretending it wasn’t us but imaginary people who were speaking. Neither of us blushed or looked away.
Drake shook his head. He, too, knew what was coming. “Oh no,” he said, “you two don’t still do this.” He covered his face in mock embarrassment.
I ignored him, stepped away and continued.
“Maybe Farthy is like the seasons—gray and dismal in the winter and bright blue and warm in the summer.” I was looking up as if everything I thought was suggested to me by the patch of blue sky. Then I shifted my eyes toward Luke.
“Or maybe it becomes whatever you want it to become,” Luke said picking up the thread. “If I want it to be made of sugar and maple, it will be.”
“Sugar and maple?” Drake smirked.
“And if I want it to be a magnificent castle with lords and ladies-in-waiting and a sad prince moping about, longing for his princess to return, it will be,” I responded, lifting my voice above his.
“May I be the prince?” Luke asked quickly and stood up. “Waiting for you to come?” Our eyes seemed to touch and my heart began to pound as he stepped closer.
He took my hand, his fingers soft and warm, and stood up, his face only inches from me.
“My Princess Annie,” he whispered. His hands were on my shoulders. My heart pounded. He was going to kiss me.
“Not so fast, Twinkle Toes,” Drake suddenly said, leaning over and pulling up his shoulders to make himself look like a hunchback. He folded his fingers into claws and came toward me. “I’m Tony Tatterton,” he whispered in a low, sinister tone, “and I’ve come to steal the princess from you, Sir Luke. I live in the darkest, deepest bowels of the castle Farthy and she will come with me and be forever shut up in my world to become the princess of the darkness.” He pealed off an evil-sounding laugh.
Both Luke and I stared at him. The look of surprise on both our faces made Drake self-conscious. He straightened up quickly.
“What drivel,” Drake said. “You’ve even got me doing it.” He laughed.
“It’s not drivel. Our fantasies and our dreams are what make us creative. That’s what Miss Marbleton told us in class recently. Didn’t she, Luke?” Luke only nodded. He looked upset, deeply wounded, his eyes down, his shoulders turned in the way Daddy’s would be when something disturbed him. Luke had so many of Daddy’s gestures.
“I’m sure she didn’t mean making up stories about Farthy,” Drake responded and smirked.
“But don’t you always wonder what Farthy is really like, Drake?” I asked.
“One of these days, I’ll take off some time from college and just go there. It’s not far from Boston,” he added nonchalantly.
“Will you really?” The idea filled me with envy.
“Sure, why not?”
“But Mommy and Daddy hate to talk about it,” I reminded him. “They would be furious if you went there.”
“So . . . I won’t tell them,” Drake said. “I’ll only tell you. It’ll be our secret, Annie,” he added, looking pointedly at Luke.
Luke and I looked at each other. Drake didn’t have our intensity when it came to talking about the past and Farthy.
Occasionally I would sneak a look at the wonderful pictures of Mommy and Daddy’s fabulous wedding reception held at Farthinggale: pictures of so many elegant people, men in tuxedoes and women in stylish gowns, tables and tables of food and servants rushing about everywhere, carrying trays of champagne goblets.
And there was a picture of Mommy and Tony Tatterton dancing. He looked so debonair, like a movie star; and Mommy looked so vibrant and fresh, her cornflower-blue eyes, the eyes I inherited, dazzling. When I looked at that picture, it was hard to believe that he could do anything so terrible to turn her against him. How sad and mysterious it all was. It was what often drew me back to the pictures, as if studying them would reveal the dark secret.
“I wonder if I will ever see how elegant and fabulous it really is,” I said, half as a question and half as a wish. “I’m even jealous that you were there at the age of five, Drake. At least you have that memory, as distant as it is.”
“Sixteen years,” Luke said skeptically.
“Still, he can close his eyes and remember something, see something,” I insisted. “What I see of Farthy is only what I create out of my imagination. How close have I come? If only my mother would be willing to talk about it. If only we could visit. We could ignore Tony Tatterton; we wouldn’t even look at the man. I wouldn’t say a word to him, if she forbade it, but at least we could wander about and . . .”
Luke jumped to his feet as my mother stepped around the corner of the house where she had obviously been listening to our conversation. Drake nodded as though he had expected her to make such an abrupt appearance.
“Yes, Mommy?” I retreated behind my easel. She looked at Luke, who quickly shifted his eyes away, and then she approached me, avoiding any look at my canvas.
“Annie,” she said softly, her eyes filled with a deep, inner sorrow, “haven’t I asked you not to torment yourself and me by talking about Farthinggale?”
“I warned them,” Drake said.
“Why don’t you listen to your uncle, honey. He’s old enough to understand.”
“Yes, Mother.” Even as sad as she looked, she was beautiful, her complexion rosy, her figure as firm and as youthful as it was the day she and my father were married. Everyone who saw us together had the same reaction, especially men. “You two look more like sisters than mother and daughter.”
“I’ve told you how unpleasant it is for me to remember my days there. Believe me, it is no fairytale castle. There are no handsome young princes waiting to swoon at your feet. You and Luke shouldn’t . . . pretend such things.”
“I tried to stop them,” Drake said. “They play this silly fantasy game.”
“It’s not so silly,” I protested. “Everyone fantasizes.”
“They act like grade-school children sometimes,” Drake insisted. “Luke encourages her.”
“What?” Luke looked at my mother, his eyes lighting with fear. I knew how important it was to him that she like him. “No he doesn’t,” I cried. “It’s just as much my fault.”
“Oh, please, let’s not dwell on it,” Mother pleaded. “If you must pretend, there are so many wonderful subjects, places, things to think about,” she added, changing her tone of voice to a lighter, happier one. She smiled at Drake. “You look so collegiate in your Harvard sweater, Drake. I bet you’re anxious to get back,” she said, and then turned to Luke. “I hope you’ll be as excited about college as Drake is, Luke.”
“I will. I’m looking forward to going.” Luke glanced at my mother and then quickly turned back to me. For as long as I could remember, there was that shyness in Luke whenever he was in my mother’s company. He was normally shy anyway, but he was afraid to have her catch him staring at her, and I couldn’t remember him having long conversations with her, or with Daddy for that matter, even though I knew how much he admired them.
“Well, it’s wonderful how well you have done in school, Luke,” she told him, hoisting her shoulders back and raising her head with what some in town called “her defiant Casteel pride.” I knew most of the women in Winnerrow were jealous of her. Besides being beautiful, she was a successful businesswoman. There wasn’t a man who didn’t adore her and respect her for being as efficient as she was sweet. “We are all proud of you.”
“Thank you, Heaven,” he replied, brushing his hair back and pretending interest in his textbook while his heart was bursting with happiness.
Suddenly he looked at his watch.
“Didn’t realize the time,” he said. “I’d better be heading home.”
“I thought you were going to eat with us tonight,” I protested before he could step away.
“Of course you should eat with us tonight, Luke.” My mother looked with adoration at Drake. “It’s Drake’s last night home before his return to college,” she said. “Would Fanny mind?”
“No.” A subtle, sarcastic smile appeared at the corners of Luke’s mouth. “She won’t be home tonight.”
“Okay then,” my mother said quickly. She didn’t want to hear the details. All of us knew about Fanny’s escapades with younger men, and I knew how much it embarrassed and bothered Luke. “It’s settled. I’ll have another place set.”
She turned, her eyes resting for a long moment on my canvas. I looked at it and then quickly turned to her to see if there was any sign of recognition in her face. She tilted her head slightly, her eyes suddenly far off as if she had been serenaded by a distant song.
“It’s not finished yet,” I said quickly, afraid she might say something critical. Even though both she and Daddy had been very supportive of my painting ever since I had begun, paying for all the lessons, providing me with the best brushes and paints, I couldn’t help but feel insecure. Daddy had such wonderful artisans in his factory, some of the most talented people in the country. He knew what real art was.
“Why don’t you paint a picture of the Willies, Annie?” She turned and pointed toward the mountains.
“I’d love to hang something like that in the dining room. The Willies in spring with its blossoming forests full of birds; or even in fall with the rainbow colors of the leaves. You do so well when you paint a scene in nature.”
“Oh Mommy, my work isn’t good enough to be displayed. Not yet anyway,” I said, shaking my head.
“But you have it in you, Annie.” Her blue eyes softened with love and reassurance. “It’s in your blood,” she whispered, as though she were saying something blasphemous.
“I know. Great-grandpa whittled wonderful rabbits and forest creatures.”
“Yes.” My mother sighed, the memories bringing a soft smile to her face. “I can still see him, sitting on the porch of the shack, whittling away for hours and hours, taking a shapeless piece of wood and turning it into a lifelike little forest creature. How wonderful it is to be artistic, Annie, to come to a blank canvas and create something beautiful on it.”
“Oh, Mommy, I’m really not that good yet. Maybe I’ll never be,” I cautioned, “but I can’t stop wanting to be.”
“Of course you will be good, and you can’t stop wanting to do it because . . . because of your artistic heritage.” She paused as if she had just told me some great secret. Then she smiled and kissed me on the cheek.
“Walk in with me, Drake,” she said. “I have some things I’d like to discuss before I forget and you’re off to college.”
Drake stepped over first and gazed at my painting.
“I was just kidding you before, Annie. It’s good,” he said, practically under his breath so my mother wouldn’t hear. “I know how you feel, wanting to see bigger and better things than Winnerrow. Once you
leave this one-horse town,” he added, turning a little toward Luke, “you won’t have to spend your time pretending you’re somewhere else.”
With that he joined my mother. She threaded her arm through his and they started toward the front of Hasbrouck House. Something Drake said made her laugh. I knew Drake occupied a special place in her heart because he reminded her so much of her father. She loved walking through Winnerrow with him, arm in arm.
Sometimes I would catch Luke staring at them together, a look of longing in his face, and I understood how much he wanted to have a real and complete family. It was part of the reason he loved coming over to Hasbrouck House, even if he only sat quietly and watched us. Here there was a father, the father he never had, but should have had, and here there was a mother he would have rather had.
I felt Luke’s eyes on me and I turned around. He was staring at me, a troubled, sad look on his face, as if he could read my thoughts and knew how sad I felt for all of us sometimes, despite our wealth and position in Winnerrow. Sometimes, I found myself envying much poorer families because their lives seemed so much simpler than ours . . . no secret pasts, no relatives to be ashamed of, no half brothers and half uncles, not that I would trade away anyone in my family. I loved them all. I even loved Aunt Fanny. It was as if we were all victims of the same curse.
“Do you want to continue with your painting, Annie?” Luke asked, his blue eyes bright, hopeful.
“You’re not tired?”
“No. Are you?” he asked.
“I never get tired of painting and I never get tired of painting you,” I added.