I enjoyed immensely Bart and Cindy in Lifetime’s Seeds of Yesterday, the 4th and final installment in their Flowers in the Attic/Dollanganger movie series, adapted from the book series by V.C. Andrews.
I had not read beyond the first book, but the movie adaptations did such a good job of making the series appeal to me more than it ever had before that I’ve recently read them all.
Lamentably, Bart and Cindy are not canon in the book the way they are in the movie adaptation (four for you, Lifetime), but it’s still a very suggestive relationship and I kept track of quotes about their relationship as I was reading along.
(Of course I immensely enjoyed Cathy and Chris as well, but that’s for another time.)
If you’re interested in more Bart/Cindy, here is my tag for them on my tumblr.
Chris and I had joined Melodie and Jory in Boston, and in the huge auditorium of Harvard Law School we’d watched Bart receive his law degree. Only Cindy, our adopted daughter, was not there. She was at her best friend’s house in South Carolina. It had given me new pain to know that Bart could not let go of his envy of a girl who’d done her best to win his approval—especially when he’d done nothing to win hers. It gave me additional pain to know that Cindy couldn’t let go of her dislike of Bart long enough to help him celebrate.
“No!” she’d shouted over the telephone, “I don’t care if he did send me an invitation! It’s just his way of showing off. He can put ten degrees behind his name and I still won’t admire or like him—not after all he did to me. Explain to Jory and Melodie why, so their feelings won’t be hurt. But you won’t have to explain to Bart. He’ll know.”
Always he had to force himself to speak Chris’s name. “We’ll invite Jory and his wife down, too, and, of course, Cindy.” He’d grimaced just to say her name. It was beyond me how anyone could dislike a girl as pretty and sweet as our beloved adopted daughter.
Our eye contact held. I swallowed nervously, plucked invisible lint from my clothes. “Cindy’s coming tomorrow.”
He shut his eyes briefly, gripped the arms of his chair harder, but otherwise showed no expression. “I disapprove of that girl,” he finally managed.
“I hope you won’t be unkind to her while she’s here. Can’t you remember the way she used to tag around, adoring you? She loved you before you turned her against you. She’d still adore you if you’d stopped teasing her so unmercifully. Bart . . . aren’t you sorry for all the ugly things you said and did to your sister?”
“She’s not my sister.”
“She is, Bart, she is!”
“Oh, God, Mother, I’ll never think of Cindy as my sister. She’s adopted, not truly one of us. I’ve read a few of those letters she writes to you. Can’t you see what she is? Or do you only read what she says, and not what she means? How can any girl be that popular and not be giving out?”
I jumped to my feet. “What’s wrong with you, Bart?” I yelled. “You deny Chris as your father, Cindy as your sister, Jory as your brother. Don’t you need to have anyone but yourself—and that hateful old man who trails you about?”
Her full and heavy long golden hair was casually styled. It blew wild in the wind as we went out to watch Jory and Bart fighting it out on the new tennis courts. “Oh, gosh, Momma, you do have two beautiful sons,” she whispered as she stared at their bronzed, strong bodies. “I never thought Bart would grow up to be just as handsome as Jory, not when he was such an ugly little brute.”
Amazed, I stared at her. Bart had been too thin, always with scabs and scars on his legs, and his dark hair had never been tidy, but he’d been a good-looking little boy, certainly not ugly-looking— only ugly acting. And once upon a time, Cindy had worshipped Bart. A knife twisted in my heart as I realized so much of what Bart had said last night was true. I had put Cindy ahead of him. I had thought she was perfect and incapable of doing wrong, and still did.
“Do try to be kind and thoughtful to Bart,” I whispered, seeing Joel coming our way.
“Who’s that funny-looking old man?” asked Cindy, turning to stare at Joel as he bent stiffly to pull up a few weeds. “Don’t tell me Bart has hired somebody like him for a gardener—why, he can hardly straighten up once he’s crooked.”
Before I could answer, Joel was upon us, smiling as broadly as his false teeth would allow. “Why, you must be Cindy, the one Bart talks about all the time,” he said with some faint leftover charm, taking Cindy’s reluctantly offered hand and putting it to his thin, crooked lips.
Dropping the packages onto a lawn chair, Chris held his arms open. Cindy hurled herself into his welcoming embrace. She covered his face with a rain of small kisses, leaving her lip marks all over his face. Staring up into his face, she pleaded. “This is going to be the best summer of my life. Daddy, can’t we stay here until school starts in the fall, so I can know what it’s like to live in a real mansion, with all those beautiful rooms and fancy bathrooms? I already know which one I want, the one with all those pink and white and gold girlish things. He knows I just adore pink, really love pink, and already I adore and love this house! Just love it, love it!”
“It does so count!” bellowed Bart. “What the hell do we care whether or not Cindy’s here? You just used that to quit before my score topped yours.”
“Have it your way,” answered Jory. In a moment he was swinging Cindy off her feet, whirling her around and around, making her blue skirt fly and reveal skimpy bikini panties. It amused me to see that Cindy still dressed from the skin out in one color.
Melodie rose from a marble garden seat where she’d been watching the tennis game, until now half hidden by high shrubbery. I saw her lips tighten as she observed Cindy’s too affectionate greeting.
“Like mother like daughter,” mumbled Bart from behind me.
Cindy approached Bart warily, with so much decorum she didn’t seem like the same girl who had kissed Jory. “Hello, brother Bart. You’re looking very fit.”
Bart stared at her as if he’d never seen her before. It had been two years, and at fourteen, Cindy had still worn her hair in pigtails, or ponytails, and she had braces on her teeth. Now her gleaming white teeth were perfectly spaced. Her hair was a loose-flowing mass of molten gold. There wasn’t a girl in the skin magazines that had a better figure or more perfect complexion, and only too unhappily I realized that Cindy knew she looked sensational in her tight blue and white tennis dress.
Bart’s dark eyes lingered on her ripe, unfettered breasts that jiggled when she walked, their peaks jutting out clearly. His eyes measured her hand-span waist before he stared at her pelvic area; then he lowered his eyes to take in very pretty long legs that ended in white sandals. Her toenails were painted bright red to match her fingernails and lipstick. She was breathtakingly lovely in a sweet, fresh, and innocent way that strove unsuccessfully to appear sophisticated. I didn’t believe for a moment that that long, intense look she gave Bart meant what apparently he took it to mean.
“You’re not my type,” he said scornfully, turning away. When he did, he stared long and meaningfully at Melodie. Then again he turned to Cindy. “You have a certain cheap quality, despite all your expensive clothes—you don’t possess nobility.”
It hurt to hear him deliberately try and squelch Cindy’s youthful pride. Her radiant expression faded. Like a tender flower without the admiration of rain to nourish her faith in herself, she wilted before me as she turned into Chris’s waiting arms.
“Apologize, Bart,” ordered Chris. I cringed, knowing Bart would never apologize. Bart curled his lips, his scorn so apparent, even as he acted indignant and angry. His lips parted to insult Chris as he’d done so many times, but then he glanced at Melodie, who’d turned to look at him in a detached, curious way. A deep flush heated Bart’s face. “I’ll apologize when she learns how to dress and act like a lady.”
Already Foxworth Hall’s charm was palling.
But if it palled for me, for Jory and Melodie, it worked its charm on Cindy, who adored her room, her fancy French furniture, her ultrafeminine bath with its pink decor enhanced with gold and mossy pale green. Hugging herself, she danced around. “So he doesn’t like me,” she laughed, spinning around before the many mirrors, “and yet he decorates a room exactly the way I’d want. Oh, Momma, how can either of us understand Bart?”
Who could answer that?
Cindy ran to throw her arms about Jory. “Jory, let me dance the role of Delilah, I can! I just know I can.”
“I don’t want your amateurish attempts!” shouted Bart.
Ignoring him, Cindy tugged pleadingly on both of Jory’s hands. “Please, please, Jory. I’d love to do it. I’ve kept up my ballet classes, so I won’t be stiff and awkward and make you look unskilled, and between now and then you can help me gain better timing. I’ll rehearse morning, night, and noon!”
“There’s not enough time to rehearse when the performance is two days away,” complained Jory, throwing Bart a hard, angry look. “Good lord, Bart, why didn’t you tell me before? Do you think just because I choreographed that particular ballet that I can remember all the difficult routines? A role like that needs weeks of rehearsing, and you wait until the last moment! Why?”
“Cindy’s lying,” said Bart, looking longingly at the door through which Melodie had disappeared. “She was too lazy to keep up her classes before, so why should she when Mother’s not there to force her?”
“I have! I have!” cried Cindy with great excitement and pride, when I knew she hated violent exercises. Before the age of six, she’d loved the pretty tutus, the cute little satin slippers, the little sparkling tiaras of fake jewels, and the fantasy of the fanciful productions had put her in a spell of beauty I’d once believed she’d never abandon. But Bart had ridiculed her performances just one too many times, and she’d let him convince her she was hopelessly inadequate. She’d been about twelve when he stole her pleasure in the ballet. From then on she’d never gone to classes. Therefore I was doubly amazed to hear she’d never really given up on the dance, only on allowing Bart see her perform.
She turned to me, as if pleading for her life. “Really, I am telling the truth! Once I was in the private girl’s school, and Bart wasn’t around to ridicule me, I started again and ever since have kept up my ballet classes, and I tap dance as well.”
He wasn’t listening, just staring beyond me, frowning slightly. “You know, Mother,” he said in a low voice, “I’m going to rattle around here after you and your brother go, and Melodie and Jory leave. It’s a good thing I’ve got my Uncle Joel, who will stay on until he dies.”
I heard this with a sinking heart.
Cindy’s name wasn’t mentioned, for obviously he’d never miss her.
“Oh, Momma, don’t be so stodgy. Times have changed. Nudity is in, Momma, IN. And compared to some I could have chosen, this dress is modest, absolutely prudish.”
Just one glance at Bart told me he didn’t think Cindy’s gown was modest. He stood as if dumbstruck until this very moment, with his face flame red, his dark eyes bulging as he stared at her mincing around, because the skirt was so tight she could hardly move her legs. Bart stared at us, looked again at Cindy. Bart’s rage was so furious he couldn’t speak. In those few seconds I had to think quickly of how to appease him. “Cindy, please, run back and change into something decent.”
Cindy had her eyes fixed on Bart. Obviously she was challenging him to do something to stop her.
She seemed to be enjoying his reaction, his bulging eyes, his gaping lips that showed his indignation and shock. She made more of a show of herself by sashaying around like a prancing pony in heat, swishing those hips in an undulating, provocative way.
“I am old enough to choose what I want to wear.” she said in a quivery voice, refusing to move. “Bart likes red, so I wear red!”
Obviously Jory didn’t know what to say or where to look, so he looked away, then looked back. A slow blush rose from the neckline of his tucked formal shirt. “And you look like . . . Marilyn Monroe . . .”
Bart’s dark head snapped around. His fiery gaze raked over Cindy again. His face flamed even redder so it seemed he might go up in smoke. He exploded, all control vanished. “You go straight back to your room and put on something decent! INSTANTLY! MOVE before you get what you deserve! I won’t have anyone in my home dressing like a whore!”
“Get lost, you creep!” she snapped back.
“WHAT DID YOU SAY?” he yelled.
“I said, GET LOST, CREEP! I will wear exactly what I have on!” I saw her tremble. But for once Bart was right.
Bart ignored both Chris and me as he strode to seize Cindy, but she pranced away out of his reach, turning to teasingly mock him for being slow and not as agile as she was, even hobbled as she was in that slim, straight, tight skirt. I could have slapped Cindy when I heard her say silkily, “Bart, darling, I was so sure you’d love this scarlet gown . . . since you think I’m a cheap, trashy thing, anyway, I’m just living up to your expectations—and playing the role you wrote for me.”
In one flashing bound he reached her. His open palm slammed against her cheek. The pain in his hard slap rocked Cindy backward so that she sat down very hard on the second stair step. I heard the skirt of her red gown rip down the midback seam. Moving quickly, I hurried to help her up. Tears came to Cindy’s eyes.
Hurriedly standing, Cindy backed up the stairs, struggling to maintain dignity. “You are a creep, brother Bart. A weird pervert who doesn’t know what the real world is about. I bet you’re a virgin, or else gay!”
The rage on Bart’s face sent her scurrying up the stairs in a hurry. I moved to prevent Bart from following Cindy, but he was too quick. Ruthlessly he shoved me aside, so I, too, almost fell. Crying like a chastised child, Cindy disappeared with Bart close at her heels.
In a distant hall, I faintly heard Bart shout, “How dare you try to embarrass me? You’re the trashy one I’ve had to protect from all the dirty stories I hear about you. I used to think they lied. Now you’ve proved yourself exactly what they said you were! As soon as this party is over, I don’t ever want to see you again!”
“AS IF I WANT TO SEE YOU!” she screamed. “I HATE YOU, BART! HATE YOU!”
I heard her scream, the wailing cries . . . I started to head up the stairs while Chris tried to restrain me. Tugging free, I had climbed five steps when Bart appeared with a satisfied smirk on his handsome but momentarily evil face. He whispered as he passed, “I just gave her what you never did —a thorough spanking. If she can sit for a week comfortably, she’s got at ass made of iron.”
I was so absorbed in watching Bart perform that I was startled when someone tugged on my arm. It was Cindy, wearing the modest little blue silk sheath I’d chosen for her. She looked sweet-sixteen-and-never-been-kissed. I scolded, “Really, Cindy, you can’t blame Bart. This time you deserved a spanking.”
She choked out, “Damn him to hell! I’ll show him! I’ll dance ten times better than Melodie has ever danced! I’ll make every man at this party want me tonight, despite this deadly mousey gown you chose.”
“You don’t mean that, Cindy.”
Softening, she fell into my arms. “No, Momma, I don’t mean that.”
Bart saw Cindy with me, raked his eyes over her girlish gown, smiled sarcastically, and then came our way.
Cindy stood taller.
“Now, listen, Cindy. You’ll put on your costume when the time comes and forget anything happened between us. You’ll perform your part to perfection—okay?”
Playfully he pinched her cheek. So playfully his pinch left a deep red indentation on her face. She squealed and kicked out. Her high heel dug into his shin. He yelped and slapped her.
“Bart!” I hissed, “stop! Don’t you hurt her again! You’ve done enough for one night!”
She came to sit cross-legged on the floor near my feet. “I don’t want to hurt Jory’s feelings by leaving, but I’m going crazy here. Melodie stays in her room all the time with her door locked and refuses to let me in. Joel dries me up with his mean old eyes. Bart pretends he doesn’t see me.
“Momma! You make me feel that being a woman is a trap! I don’t want them to trap me—I want to trap them! But I have to confess, I’m not good about resisting. Bart’s made me feel so insecure about myself that I keep wanting the boys to convince me differently.
Joel frowned, then faintly smiled, as if he had to remember to appear friendly. “Bart is off in some bar drinking himself under the table, as he put it.”
I’d never known Bart to do such a thing. Regret for setting up the performance that ruined his brother’s legs, and cost him his career? Regret for driving Cindy away? Did Bart know how to feel regret?
“You see,” she said proudly, “I don’t waste all the allowance you send me on myself. I save to buy wonderful gifts for my family . . . and Momma, Daddy, you just wait until you see what I bought for you both. And I certainly hope Jory likes his gift. As for Bart, he can take what I give and like it or not.”
I already knew Cindy considered any boy less than two years older too young for her. The older and more experienced the better was the way she liked to tease me.
I stood so Chris could introduce the boyfriend Cindy had met in South Carolina as Lance Spalding. The young man had considerable poise as he shook hands with me, with Jory, with Bart, who glowered.
Cindy, very full of herself, pulled her boyfriend closer to the very one who was least likely to be hospitable to her guest. “Bart, I knew you wouldn’t mind if I invited Lance. His father is president of the chain of Chemical Banks of Virginia.”
Magic words. I smiled at Cindy’s cleverness. Instantly Bart’s hostile attitude changed into interest. It was embarrassing to see the way he tried to milk every bit of information he could from the young man, who was obviously very much infatuated with Cindy.
Cindy was lovelier than ever, glowing like a winter rose in her tight white sweater banded with stripes of rose to match her tight knit pants. She had a wonderful figure she was determined to display.
Laughing and full of joy, she caught hold of Lance’s hand and tugged him away from Bart. “Lance, you just wait until you see all of this house. We have authentic suits of armor—two of them—and they would be too small for me to wear. Momma, maybe, but not me. And just think, knights were supposed to be big, powerful men, and they weren’t big. The music room is larger than this room, and my room is the prettiest room of all. The suite my parents share is incredible. I’ve not been invited to view Bart’s rooms, but I’m sure they must be fabulous.” Here she half turned to toss Bart a wicked, teasing smile. His scowl deepened.
“Stay out of my rooms!” he ordered harshly. “Don’t go near my office. And Lance, while you are here, you will remember you are under my roof and I expect you to treat Cindy with honor.”
The boy’s face turned red before he meekly said, “Of course. I understand.”
The second the two of them were out of sight, though we could still hear Cindy singing the praises of Foxworth Hall, Bart hurled at me his opinion of Cindy’s boyfriend. “I don’t like them. He’s too old for her and too slick. She or you should have told me. You know I don’t want unexpected guests just dropping in.”
“Bart, I agree with you entirely. Cindy should have warned us, but perhaps she was fearful that if she did, you would say no. And he seems a very nice young man to me. Remember how sweet Cindy has been since Thanksgiving. She hasn’t given you one second of trouble. She’s growing up.”
“Let’s hope she continues to behave herself,” he grumbled before he smiled faintly. “Did you see him looking at her? She’s got that poor kid snowed under.”
“I met Cindy upstairs,” said Melodie huskily, her forlorn eyes avoiding contact with Jory’s. She sat down near the fire and stretched forth her hands to warm them. “Her boyfriend seems very pleasant and well bred, and also very handsome.” She kept her eyes on the fire while Jory diligently tried to force her to look at him. His heart was in his eyes as he wistfully gave up and turned back to his book. “It seems Cindy likes dark-haired men who look like her brothers,” she went on in a vague, distant way, as if nothing mattered and she was only making an effort, for a change.
I was about to say something cruel to Melodie when Cindy and Lance came strolling back, both with starry eyes and flushed faces. Bart wasn’t long in following them in. He raked the room with his eyes, saw that Melodie was still there, and turned to leave again. Instantly Melodie rose and quickly disappeared. Bart must have seen her leave, for shortly he returned and sat down and crossed his legs, looking relieved now that Melodie was gone.
The boyfriend spoke up, looking at Bart and smiling widely. “I hear all this belongs to you, Mr. Foxworth.”
“Call him Bart,” ordered Cindy.
“Bart . . . ,” began Lance hesitatingly, “truly this is a remarkable house. Thank you for inviting me.” I glanced at Cindy, who stood her ground as Bart threw her an angry look, even as Lance went on innocently, “Cindy didn’t show me your suite of rooms, or your office, but I hope you will do that. Someday I hope to own something like this . . . and I have a passion for electronic gadgets, as Cindy tells me you have.”
Instantly Bart was on his feet, seemingly proud to show off his electronic equipment. “Sure, if you want to see my rooms, and my office, I’ll be delighted to show you. But I’d rather Cindy didn’t accompany us.”
I showed Lance into a lovely room with its own connecting bath. It was in the eastern wing, not so far from Bart’s own rooms, while Cindy’s was near my own. Cindy smiled sweetly and kissed the cheek of Lance Spalding. “Good night, sweet prince,” she whispered. “Parting is such sweet-sweet sorrow.”
His arms folded over his chest, as Joel folded his, Bart stood back and watched this tender scene with scorn. “Let it be a true parting,” he said meaningfully, looking directly at Lance, then at Cindy, before he stalked off toward his rooms.
Another gasped. I whirled around to see Bart, who was staring at Cindy, who’d rolled on top of Lance and was lustily riding him, crying out four-letter word vulgarities in between her moans of ecstasy, entirely unaware of anything but what she was doing and what was being done to her.
Bart had no indecision.
He strode directly to the bed and caught hold of Cindy around the waist. With a mighty heave he tore her off the boy, who seemed helpless in his nakedness and the bliss of what had been going on. Bart ruthlessly hurled Cindy to the floor. She screamed as she fell face downward on the carpet. Bart didn’t hear.
He was too busy handling the youth. Again and again his fists slammed into Lance’s handsome face. I heard the crack of his nose as blood spurted everywhere. “NOT UNDER MY ROOF!” he roared, repeatedly battering Lance’s face. “NO SINNING UNDER MY ROOF!”
A moment ago I felt like doing the same thing. Now I ran to save the boy. “Bart, STOP! YOU’LL KILL HIM!”
Cindy kept screaming hysterically even as she tried to cover her nudity with the clothes she’d dropped on the floor. They were all mixed up with Lance’s discarded garments.
“You’ll see it my way eventually, Bart,” said Joel in his softest, most sanctimonious tone. “Corrine got what she deserved. Just as your mother will get hers one day. And if justice and right still rule in this world, and God is in his Heaven, that indecent, naked girl on the floor trying to cover herself will meet her end in fiery flames, as she deserves.”
“Don’t you say anything like that again!” bellowed Bart, so furious with Joel he forgot all about Cindy and Lance, who were both hastily pulling on the night clothes they’d abandoned. He hesitated, as if shocked to find himself defending the girl he incessantly denied was his sister. “This is my life, Uncle,” he said sternly, “and my family more than it is yours. I will deal out what justice is demanded, and not you.”
The moment Joel was out of sight, Bart turned his furious temper on me. “YOU SEE!” he roared. “Cindy has just proven what I suspected she was all along! She’s no good, Mother! NO GOOD! All the time she played the game of being sweet, she was planning how she’d enjoy herself when Lance came. I want her out of this house and out of my life forever!”
“Bart, you can’t send Cindy away—she’s my daughter! If you have to punish someone more than you have, send Lance away. You’re right, of course, Cindy shouldn’t have done what she did, nor should Lance have taken advantage of our hospitality.”
Somewhat mollified, he managed to simmer down a little. “All right, Cindy can stay since you insist on loving her no matter what. But that boy is going tonight!” He yelled at Lance, “Hurry and pack your things—for in five minutes I’m driving you to the airport. If you ever dare touch Cindy again, I’ll break the rest of your bones! And don’t think I won’t know. I have friends in South Carolina, too!”
The next morning as I dressed, Cindy came running into my room, crying out hysterically, “Momma, please don’t let Bart force me to leave too. I’ve never had a happy Christmas when Bart was around. I hate him! Really hate him! He’s ruined Lance’s face, ruined it.”
More than likely she was right. I had to teach Bart how to hold back his rage. How terrible for such a good-looking boy to have his beautiful nose broken, to say nothing of his black eyes and many cuts and bruises.
However, after Lance was gone, something peculiar laid a ghostly hand on Bart and turned him very quiet. Lines I hadn’t seen before etched from his nose to his beautiful shaped lips, and he was too young for face lines. He refused to look or talk to Cindy. He treated me as if I weren’t there, either. He sat sullen and quiet, staring at me, then rested his dark eyes fleetingly on Cindy, who was weeping, and I couldn’t remember another time when Cindy had allowed any of us to see her cry.
“Happy days?” she asked bitterly. “Have you forgotten all the nasty, mean things Bart did to me? Maybe I wasn’t locked up, starved, or beaten, but I’ve had my problems, and don’t think I haven’t. Bart makes me feel so unsure about my femininity that I have to test all the boys I meet . . . I just can’t help it.”
Suddenly Bart was there, yelling at Cindy. “You don’t have to stay. You’re just the bastard my mother had to have.”
Cindy blushed deeply red. “Are you trying to hurt me again, jerk? You can’t hurt me now! I’m through with that!”
“Don’t you ever call me jerk again, bastard!”
“CREEP, JERK, CREEP, JERK!” she taunted, backing up and dodging behind chairs and tables, deliberately baiting him to give chase, and in this way, give her dull day a bit of excitement.
“Cindy!” I stormed, furious now. “How dare you talk to Bart that way? Now, say you’re sorry . . . say it!”
“No, I won’t say it, for I’m not sorry!” she yelled not at me but at Bart. “He’s a brute, a maniac, a crazy, and he’s trying to drive us all as batty as he is!”
“STOP!” I yelled, seeing Bart’s face go very pale. Then he lunged forward and caught her by her hair. She tried to run, but he had her held too securely. I rushed forward to prevent him from striking her by clinging onto his free arm. Above her he towered. “If you ever so much as speak to me again, little girl, you’ll rue the day. You’re very proud of your body, of your hair, of your face. One more insult and you’ll hide in closets and break all the mirrors.”
His deadly tone of voice said he was serious. I moved to help Cindy stand. “Bart, you don’t mean that. All your life you’ve tormented Cindy. Can you blame her for wanting her revenge?”
“You take her side, after what she said to me?”
“Say you’re sorry, Cindy,” I pleaded, turning to her. Then I turned appealing eyes on Bart. “You say it, too, please.”
Indecision flashed in Bart’s fiery dark eyes as he saw how upset I was, but it vanished the moment Cindy screamed out, “NO! I’m not sorry! And I’m not afraid of him! You’re just as creepy and senile as that old jerk who wanders around muttering to himself. Boy, do you have a thing for old men!
Maybe that’s your hang-up, brother!”
“Cindy!” I whispered, very much shocked, “apologize to Bart.”
“Never, never, NEVER!—not after what he did to Lance!”
The anger on Bart’s face frightened me.
Cindy fell into my arms and began to cry. “Momma, what’s wrong with me, with Bart? Why do I say such hateful things to hurt him? Why does he say them to me? I want to hurt Bart. I want to pay him back for every ugly thing he’s done to hurt me.”
“Oh, glory hallelujah!” cried Cindy, whirling around the room in a small dance. “People, hordes of people, all dressed in their best—I can hardly wait for tomorrow night! Laughter, how I long to hear it. Jokes and small talk, how my ears crave that. I’m so tired of being serious, looking at grim faces that don’t know how to smile, hearing sad talk. I hope all those old fuddy-duds bring along their college-aged sons—or any son as long as he’s over twelve. I’m that desperate!”
Bart wasn’t the only one of us to throw her disapproving looks, which Cindy ignored.
All of a sudden, falling into a chair, Cindy sagged as limp as Melodie had, looking sad and near tears. “I wish Lance could have stayed. I’d rather have him than any other.”
Bart threw her a furious look. “That particular young man will never enter this house again.”
As a boy he’d loved being not just dirty, but filthy. Now he took several showers a day, kept himself immaculately groomed.
While Chris went in to say a few words to Jory, I waited for Cindy to come from her bath. Another shower (at least two a day with shampoos) brought her fresh and bright from the bath, wearing the briefest little red nightie. “Momma, don’t you lecture me again. I just can’t take any more. When I first came to this house, I thought it like a fairy tale palace. Now I think of it as a gloomy fortress to keep us all prisoners. As soon as this ball is over, I’m leaving—and to hell with Bart! I love you and Daddy and Jory, but Melodie has turned into a boring pain in the neck and Bart will never change. He’ll always hate me, so I’m going to stop even trying to be nice to him.”
“Sorry I’ve acted ugly. I’ve been thinking, there’ll be boys here tonight, and lots of handsome rich men. Oh, maybe this house can give more than misery after all.”
“Of course it can,” Bart said as he came in to stand between us, his eyes shining as he surveyed all that had been done. He seemed thrilled by his expectations. “You just be sure and wear a decent dress, and don’t do anything outrageous.” Then he was following the workmen and giving directions, laughing often, even including Jory, Cindy, Melodie, and me, as if all were forgiven now that it was Christmas.
Cindy began her own search on the other side of the room.
“Oh,” she cried out. “Here it is, behind this red sofa.” She carried it to Bart and put it on the floor near his feet, bowing in mocking obeisance. “For our lord, our master,” she said sweetly, backing away. “I think Jory’s a fool to give it to you after all the hard work he put into this thing, but maybe you’ll be appreciative, for once.”
In a louder tone Chris addressed Bart. “What’s done is done, and I’m sure it’s not Jory’s fault the clipper ship was broken. He meant well. All along he told us he was putting that ship together for your office mantel.”
“I’m sure Jory did mean well,” said Bart evenly, his control regained. “But there is my dear little adopted sister who hates me and no doubt wants to punish me for giving her boyfriend what he deserved. Next time it will be her I punish.”
“Maybe Jory dropped the box,” said Joel in a saintly way. I stared at that old man with his glittering weak eyes and waited my opportunity to say what I had to when no one else was around.
“No,” denied Bart. “It had to be Cindy. I have to admit my brother has always given me fair treatment, even when I didn’t deserve it.”
“The old son of a bitch,” murmured Cindy, watching him slip out of the room with the same stealth as he had entered.
“Cindy, don’t you ever let me hear you say anything like that again!” fired Bart. “Nobody uses obscenities under my roof.”
“Well, I’ll be damned!” flared Cindy. “Just the other day I overheard you calling Joel the same thing. And what’s more, Bart Foxworth, I’ll call a spade a spade—even under your roof!”
“Go to your room and stay there!” bellowed Bart.
“Hooray for you, Jory!” cried Cindy, jumping to her feet and applauding.
“STOP!” I yelled, seizing Cindy by the arm while Chris grabbed her other arm and we dragged her away from Bart. Still she twisted and fought to free herself. “You damned freaky hypocrite!” she yelled back at Bart. “I heard at your birthday party that you do your share of using the local brothel . . .”
Thank God the elevator door closed behind us and we were on our way up before Bart could reach Cindy.
“Learn to keep your mouth shut,” said Jory. “You only make him worse, Cindy—and I regret what I just said. Did you see his face? I don’t think he’s pretending about religion. He’s deadly serious. He seems to truly believe. If Joel is a hypocrite, Bart is not.”
Chris fixed his strong regard on both before he stepped out of the elevator. “Jory, Cindy, you listen to me carefully. I want you both to do your best tonight to see that Bart’s party is successful. Forget your enmity, at least for one night. He was a troubled little boy, and he has grown into a more troubled man. He needs help, and badly. Not from more sessions with psychiatrists, but help from those who love him most—and despite everything, I know you both love him.”
“I’m concerned about Cindy,” said Chris when we were lying on our wide bed, trying to catch a short nap. “I have the feeling Cindy is not stingy with her favors.”
“Chris, don’t you dare say that! Just because we caught her with that boy Lance doesn’t mean she is loose. She’s looking, looking all the time at each young man she meets, hoping he’s the one. If one says he loves her, she believes because she needs to believe. Don’t you realize Bart has stolen her confidence? She’s afraid she is exactly what Bart thinks she is. She’s torn between being as wicked as he thinks and being as nice as we want her to be. Cindy’s a beautiful young woman . . . and Bart treats her like filth.”
Down the stairs drifted Cindy in a crimson hooped-skirted gown, so elaborate it put my delicately beaded gown to shame. Hers had a tight bodice, with a flounce of fluted ruffles to cover a little of her upper arms, displaying her shoulders to advantage and creating a magnificent frame for her creamy, swelling breasts. The red gown was cut very low. The skirt was a masterpiece of ruffles, caught with white silk flowers rain-dropped with iridescent crystals, A few of these white silk blossoms were tucked in her upswept hair, duplicating something Scarlett O’Hara might have liked.
“Where’s everybody?” she asked, looking around, her radiant expression fading. “I waited and waited to hear the music playing, then sort of dozed off, thinking when I woke that I was missing out on all the fun.”
he paused and glanced around before a look of dismay flooded her expression. “Don’t tell me nobody’s going to come! I just can’t stand another disappointment!” Dramatically she threw her hands about.
“No one has as yet arrived, Miss,” said Trevor tactfully. “They must have lost their way, and I must say you look a dream of loveliness, as does your mother.”
“Thank you,” she said, floating his way and brushing his cheek with a daughterly kiss. “You look very distinguished yourself.” She dashed past Bart’s look of astonishment and ran to the piano.
“Please, may I?” she asked a young, good-looking musician who seemed delighted to have something happening, at last.
Cindy sat down beside him, put her hands on the keys, threw back her head and began to sing: “Oh, holy night, Oh, night when stars are shining.”
I stared, as did all of us, at the girl we thought we knew so well. It wasn’t an easy song to sing, but she did it so well, with so much emotion even Bart stopped pacing the floor to turn and stare at her in amazement.
Tears were in my eyes. Oh, Cindy, how could you keep that voice a secret for so long? Her piano playing was only adequate, but that voice, the feeling she put into her phrasing. All the musicians then joined in to drown out her piano playing, if not her voice.
I sat, stunned, hardly believing that my Cindy could sing so beautifully. When she’d finished, we all applauded enthusiastically. As Jory called out, “Sensational! Fantastic! Absolutely wonderful, Cindy! You sneak—you never told us you continued with your voice lessons.”
“I haven’t. It’s just me expressing the way I feel.”
She cast her eyes down, then took a sly, hooded look at Bart’s astonished expression, which showed not only his surprise but some pleasure as well. For the first time he had found something to admire about Cindy. Her small smile of satisfaction fleeted quickly by, kind of a sad smile, as if she wished Bart could like her for other reasons as well.
My second son was talking to me as he’d never done before. Liquor was loosening his tongue.
“Stupid, aren’t I?” he went on. “Cindy’s right when she calls me a jerk and a creep.I look in my mirrors and see a handsome man, very much like my father, whom you say you loved more than any other man. But I don’t feel I am handsome inside. I’m uglier than sin inside. Then I wake up, feel the fresh morning mountain air, see the dew sparkling on the roses, see the winter sun shining on the snow, and that tells me maybe life is going to offer me my chance after all. I have hopes of one day finding the real me—the one I can like, and that’s why, months ago, I decided to make this the happiest Christmas of all our lives, not only for Jory, who deserves it, but for you and for myself. You think I don’t love Jory, but I do.”
He bowed his head into his waiting hands and sighed heavily. “Confession time, Mother. I hate Jory too, I don’t deny that. But I hold no love at all for Cindy. She’s done nothing but steal from me— and she isn’t even one of us. Jory’s always had the largest portion of your love, the part you’ve got left over after giving your brother the best. I’ve never had the major portion of anyone’s love. I thought that Melodie had given me that. Now I know she’d have taken any man just to replace Jory. Any man at all who was available and willing, and that’s why I hate her now, just as much as I hate Cindy.”
“I thought for a while that Melodie and I had it made. She seemed to me so perfect, and then she began to turn fat and ugly. She whined and nagged, and complained about my home. Even Cindy was more appreciative. I took her to the best restaurants, to plays and movies, and tried to take her mind off Jory, but she wouldn’t let it go. She kept talking of the ballet and how much it means to her, and that’s when I found out I was only a substitute for Jory and she never loved me, never loved me at all. She used me as a way to forget her loss for a while. Now she doesn’t even look like the girl I fell in love with. She wants pity and sympathy, not love. She took my love and turned it around, so now I can’t stand to look at her.”
Sighing, he lowered his eyes and said in such a low voice I could hardly hear him, “I see that kid, Cindy, and realize she must look the way you used to, and a little bit of me knows why Chris fell in love with you. That makes me hate her worse. She teases me, you know. Cindy would like to creep under my skin and make me do something as wicked as what Chris does with you. She strolls around in her bedroom wearing nothing but bikini bra and bottoms. And she knows I check her rooms before I retire. Tonight she had on a nightgown so transparent I could see right through it. She just stood there and let me stare. Joel tells me she’s nothing but a whore.”
“Then don’t go to her bedroom,” I said with control. “Lord knows we don’t have to see anyone who lives here if we don’t want to—and Joel is a bigoted, narrow-minded fool. All Cindy’s generation wears next-to-nothing undergarments. But you’re right, she shouldn’t parade around in them. I’ll speak to her about that in the morning. You’re sure she displayed herself deliberately?”
“You must have done the same thing,” he said, dully accusing. “All those years locked up with Chris—did you show him your body—deliberately?”
His unsmiling face showed no expression. “Congratulations, Melodie,” he said calmly. “Cindy made me drive her to the hospital to see your twins. They’re very . . . very . . .” He hesitated and finished—“small.”
We celebrated Jory’s birthday with a family party; Cindy flew home to stay two days, happy to celebrate with Jory. Her suitcases were full of gifts meant to keep him busy. “When I meet a man like you, Jory, I’m going to grab him so quickly! I’m just waiting to see if any other man is half as wonderful. So far Lance Spalding hasn’t proved to be half the man you are.”
She bathed and showered so often I thought she’d shrivel into a dried prune.
One evening she came from her luxurious bath and dressing room looking radiantly fresh and alive, smelling like an exotic flower garden. “I love twilight,” she gushed, twirling around and around. “Just adore strolling the woods when the moon is on the rise.”
By this time we were all seated on our favorite terrace, sipping drinks. Bart pricked up his ears and glared at her. “Who’s waiting for you in the woods?”
“Not who, dear brother, but what.” She turned her head to smile at him in an innocent, charming way. “I’m going to be nice to you, Bart, no matter how nasty you are to me. I’ve decided I cannot win friends by tossing out rude and nasty remarks.”
He glared suspiciously. “I still think you’re meeting some boy in the woods.”
“Thank you, brother Bart, for only thinking of punishing me with nasty suspicions. I expected more —and worse. There’s a boy in South Carolina that I’ve fallen madly for, and he’s a nature lover. He’s taught me how to appreciate all that money can’t buy. I adore sunrises and sunsets. When rabbits run, I follow. Together we catch rare butterflies and he mounts them. We picnic in the woods, swim in the lakes. Since I’m not allowed to have a boyfriend here, I’m going to stand alone at the top of a hill and try just strolling down. It’s fun to challenge gravity and try not to run all breathless and out of control.”
“By what name do you call gravity? Bill, John, Mark, or Lance?”
“I’m not going to let you annoy me this time,” she said arrogantly. “I like to stare up at the sky, count the stars, find the constellations, watch the moon play hide-and-seek. Sometimes the man in the moon winks at me, and I wink back. Dennis has taught me how to stand perfectly still and absorb the feel of the night. Why, I’m seeing wonders I didn’t even know existed because I’m in love—madly, passionately, ridiculously, insanely in love!”
Envy flashed through his dark eyes before he growled, “What about Lance Spalding? I thought you felt that way about him. Or did I ruin his pretty face permanently so you can’t bear to look at him?” Cindy paled. “Unlike you, Bart Foxworth, Lance is beautiful inside and out, like Daddy, and I do still love him, and Dennis, too.”
Bart’s frown deepened. “I know all about your nature loving! You want to sprawl on your back and spread your legs for some village idiot—and I won’t have it!”
“What’s going on here?” asked Chris, appearing dumbfounded to come back from the telephone and find all the peace gone. Cindy jumped to her feet, took her stance, and put her hands on her hips. She glared down into Bart’s face, struggling to hold fast to that adult control she was determined to have with him. “Why do you always presume the worst about me? I just want to walk in the moonlight, and the village is ten miles away. What a pity you don’t understand what it’s like to be human.”
Her answer and her glare seemed to infuriate him more. “You’re not my sister, just a smart-ass little bitch in heat—the same as your mother!”
This time it was Chris who jumped up from the table and slapped Bart hard. Bart drew back and raised his fists, as if ready to punch Chris in the jaw—when I jumped to my feet and placed myself in front of Chris. “No, don’t you dare ever hit the man who’s tried to be the best father possible! If you do, Bart, you and I are through forever!” That was enough for him to turn his dark, fiery eyes on me, so furious his look could have started a blaze.
“Why can’t you see that little whore for what she is? You both see everything wrong about me, but you close your eyes to the sins of your favorites! She’s nothing but a tramp, a god-damned tramp.” He froze, his eyes wide and startled.
He’d taken the Lord’s name in vain. He looked around to see Joel, who for once was out of sight and hearing. “You see, Mother, what she does to me? She corrupts—and in my own home, too.”
Looking at Bart disapprovingly, Chris sat down again. Cindy disappeared into the house. I stared forlornly after her, as Chris spoke harshly, confronting Bart. “Can’t you see that Cindy is doing her best to please you? She’s been trying since she came home to do her utmost to appease you, but you won’t let her. How can you take a stroll in these lonely woods as anything but innocent? From now on, I want you to treat her with respect—for if you don’t you may well drive her into doing something rash. Losing Melodie is quite enough for one summer.”
It was just as if Chris had no voice and Bart had no ears, from all the effect those words had. Chris ended by giving Bart an even harder look and more reprimanding words before Chris stood and disappeared inside the house. I suspected he would follow Cindy upstairs and do what he could to comfort her.
Alone with my second son, I tried to rationalize, as I always did. “Bart, why do you talk so ugly to Cindy?” I began. “She’s at a very vulnerable age and is a decent human being who needs to be appreciated. She’s not a tramp, a whore, or a bitch. She’s a lovely young girl who is very thrilled to be pretty and attracting so much attention from the boys. That doesn’t mean she’s giving in to every one. She has scruples, honor. That one episode with Lance Spalding has not corrupted her.”
“Mother, she was corrupted long ago, only you don’t want to believe that. Lance Spalding wasn’t the first.”
“How dare you say that?” I asked, really enraged. “What kind of man are you, anyway? You sleep with whom you please, do what you please, but she’s supposed to be an angel with a halo and wings on her back. Now you go upstairs and apologize to Cindy!”
“An apology is something she’ll never get from me.” He sat down to finish his meal. “The servants talk about Cindy. You don’t hear them, for you’re too busy with those two babies you can’t leave alone. But I hear them as they clean and dust. Your Cindy is a red-hot number. The trouble is you think she’s an angel. You think that just because she looks like one.”
I sank down to lean my elbows heavily on the glass-topped wrought-iron white table, feeling overwhelmingly tired, just as Jory did, and he hadn’t said one word for or against Cindy. To be for any length of time around Bart was so exhausting; the tension of saying one wrong thing kept you wired tight.
My eyes fixed on the crimson roses that were this evening’s centerpiece. “Bart, has it ever occurred to you that Cindy may feel she’s been contaminated, so that now she doesn’t care? And certainly you don’t give her any reason to value her self-esteem.”
“She’s a wanton, loose slut.” Said with absolute conviction.
Cindy was face down on her bed. Small grunts and groans came from her throat. “He ruins everything,” she wailed. “I never knew my own father and mother—and Bart wants to chase me away from you and Daddy,” she sobbed as I perched on the side of her bed. “Now he’s determined to spoil my summer, drive me away like he did Melodie.”
Half drunk on too much wine, intoxicated, too, with the expertise of his foreplay, Cindy’s efforts to resist his lovemaking were weak, ineffectual. Soon her own passionate nature was responding, and eagerly she helped him to undress as he unzipped her dress and soon had it off, along with everything else. He fell upon her—and that’s when Bart showed up.
Bellowing like an enraged bull, Bart rushed the parked car, catching Cindy and Victor in the very act of copulating.
Seeing their naked bodies with arms and legs entwined on the backseat confirmed all his suspicions and enraged him more. Bart threw open the door and yanked Victor out by the ankles, forcefully dragging him off the top of Cindy so he fell face downward upon the rough gravel of the roadside.
Not giving the body a chance to recover, Bart attacked, using his fists brutally.
Screaming her anger, disregarding her nudity, Cindy hurled her dress directly into Bart’s face, blinding him momentarily. This gave Victor the chance to jump to his feet and deliver his own blow that momentarily gave Bart pause, but already Victor’s nose was bleeding and he had a black eye.
In the moonlight his nakedness seemed blue in Cindy’s eyes. “And Bart was so ruthless, Momma! So awful! He seemed like a madman—especially when Victor managed to smash a good right hook into his jaw. Then he tried to kick Bart in the groin. It did hit him there, but not hard enough. Bart doubled up, cried out, then rushed Victor with so much fierce anger that I was scared he’d kill him! He came out of that pain so fast, Momma, so fast—and I’d always heard that stopped a man cold.”
Cindy sobbed with her head on my lap.
“He was like the Devil straight from hell, screaming abuse at Victor, using all the obscene words he never wants me to use. He knocked Victor down, then beat him into unconsciousness. Then he came at me! I was terrified he’d batter my face and break my nose and make me ugly, like he’s always threatened to do. Somehow I’d managed to pull on that dress, but the zipper was wide open down the back. He grabbed me by the shoulders, shook me so hard the dress fell to my ankles and I was naked —but he didn’t look to see anything. He kept his eyes on my face as he slapped one cheek and then the other and my head was rocked from side to side, until I felt dizzy and faint. My head was reeling before he picked me up like a sack of grain, threw me over his shoulder and took off through the woods, leaving Victor lying on the ground.
“It was awful, Momma, so humiliating! To be carried like that, as if I were cattle! I cried all the way, pleading with Bart to call an ambulance in case Victor was seriously hurt . . . but he wouldn’t listen. I begged him to put me down and let me cover myself, but he ordered me to shut up or else he’d do something terrible.
The beautiful summer days dragged by while Cindy sulked in her room, angry at Bart, at me, even at Chris. She refused to eat at the table if Bart or Joel were there. She stopped showering two and three times a day and allowed her hair to become just as stringy and dull as Melodie’s, as if proving to us she was now on her way to abandoning us as Melodie had, and it was Melodie’s manner she tried to duplicate as much as possible. However, even in sullenness her eyes still sparked with fire, and she managed to look pretty even when she looked messy.
She sat on the bed, staring at me resentfully. “You just let me go, Momma. You go and tell Bart to let me go and I’ll never bother him again. I’ll never come back to this house again! NEVER!”
“Where will you go and what will you do, Cindy?” I asked with concern, afraid she’d slip out one night and we’d never hear from her again. And I knew she didn’t have enough money saved to see her through longer than two weeks.
“I’LL DO WHAT I HAVE TO!” she screamed, tears of self-pity streaking her pale face, which was already losing its rosy tan. “You and Daddy gave to me generously, so I won’t have to sell my body if that’s what you’re thinking. Unless I just want to. Right this moment I feel like being everything Bart doesn’t want me to be, and that would show him, really show him.”
“Before you decide to do something rash, let’s sit down with your father, with Jory, and then you have your say, and let us know what you want for yourself. And if it is at all reasonable, we will do what we can to see that you obtain your goals.”
“You won’t let Bart in on any of this?” she asked suspiciously.
“No, darling. Bart has proven he doesn’t reason when it comes to you. Ever since the day you joined our family he’s resented you, and at this late date there doesn’t seem to be much any of us can do about that. As for Joel, I don’t like him, either, and he has no place in our family discussion about your future.”
Suddenly she flung her arms about my neck. “Oh, Momma, I’m so ashamed I said so many ugly things. I wanted to hurt you the other day because Bart had shamed me so much. Save me from Bart, Momma. Find a way, please, please.”
“Cindy,” I called despite myself, wanting to protect her again, “write at least once a week. We care about what happens to you. We’ll be here to do what we can when you need us. And sooner or later, Bart will find what he’s looking for. He’ll change. I’ll see to it that he changes. I’ll do anything I have to so we can be a family again.”
“He won’t find his soul, Momma,” she called back coolly, backing away even farther. “He was born without one.”
This was my moment. He was vulnerable, touched by something he saw on my face. “Yes, of course you do, but Bart, don’t you feel just a little sorry that Cindy is gone?”
His dark eyes grew hard, remote. “No, not sorry. I’m glad she’s gone. Did I prove to you what she really was?”
“You proved just how hateful you can be.”
Somehow or other, Cindy gave me the feeling we were, after all, a real family . . . and that was enough to make me very happy. Once she was in the grand foyer, Toni and Bart, with Jory holding the twins on his lap, were all waiting to sing out greetings. Only Joel hung back and refused to welcome out daughter home. Bart shook her hand in a warm fashion, and that gave me such relief and pleasure.
Cindy laughed. “Someday, brother Bart, you are going to be really overjoyed to see me, and maybe then you can allow your chaste lips to kiss my unholy cheek.”
He flushed and glanced uneasily at Toni. “I’ve got a confession, Toni. In the past, Cindy and I haven’t always gotten along.”
“To say the least,” said Cindy. “But rest easy, Bart, I’m not here to make trouble. I didn’t bring a boyfriend. I’m going to behave myself. I’ve come because I love my family and can’t stand being away during the holidays.”
“Mom,” whispered Cindy when she came back to our table, “I think Bart has changed. He’s a much warmer person now. Why, I’m even beginning to think he’s human.”
“I think she sincerely loves him, but I’m not sure how long her love will last, or his. It seems when they went with Cindy to New York for New Year’s Eve, Bart scolded Cindy ruthlessly again, humiliating her in a nightclub, and Cindy’s letter said he later on jumped on Toni for dancing with another man. He so shocked Toni with his brutal accusations that she hasn’t been the same since. I think she’s afraid of his jealousy.”
Daily arguments between Bart and Toni concerning his attitude toward Cindy, whom Toni really liked, as well as his suspicions of her loyalty to him and only him.
“Do you think of Bart as beautiful?”
Her expression changed and grew hard. “I used to. Now I’m seeing that he’s very handsome, but not beautiful in the way that Jory is. Once I thought he was perfect, but during our stay in New York, he showed so much ugliness toward me and Cindy that I began to see him differently. He was nasty and cruel to both of us. Before I knew what was happening, he embarrassed me in a nightclub by jumping on me about my dress, when it was a perfectly nice dress. Maybe it was cut a little low, but all the girls wear dresses like that.
Bart’s powerful singing voice drew to the end of the hymn. Oh, if only Cindy could have heard him. If only they could both sing together, the two of them friends at last, joined by their equal talents.
The instant we were inside the grand foyer, she raced up the stairs, hurling herself into Jory’s arms with such abandon I thought she might tip over his chair. “Really,” he laughed, “you weigh more than a feather, Cindy.” He kissed her, looked her over, then laughed. “Wow! What kind of outfit is that, anyway?”
“The kind that is going to fill the eyes of a certain brother named Bart with horror. I picked this out just to annoy him and dear Uncle Joel.”
Jory turned solemn. “Cindy, if I were you, I’d stop deliberately baiting Bart. He’s not a little boy anymore.”
“Oh,” said Cindy, turning to see Toni. “I thought after that terrible scene Bart made in New York that you’d see him for what he really is and leave this place.”
Again Cindy was staring at Toni. “What about Bart?”
“What about me?” asked a baritone voice from the open doorway.
Only then did we all notice that Bart was in the doorway, lounging insolently against the frame, taking in all we said and did as if we were specimens in his special zoo of family oddities.
“Well,” he drawled, “as I live and breathe, our breathless little imitation Marilyn Monroe has come to thrill us all with her stagey presence.”
“That’s not how I’d describe my feelings on seeing you again,” Cindy said with her eyes flashing.“I’m chilled, not thrilled.”
Bart looked her over, taking in her skin-tight gold leather pants, her striped cotton knit sweater of white and gold. The horizontal stripes emphasized her breasts, which jiggled freely each time she moved, and knee-high gold boots decorated her feet and legs.
“When are you leaving?” asked Bart while he stared at Toni sitting on Jory’s bed and holding his hand. Chris sat next to me on a love seat, trying to catch up on some mail that had been delivered to the house and not to his office.
“Dear brother, say what you will, I don’t care. I’ve come to see my parents and the rest of my family. I’ll be leaving soon enough. Chains of steel couldn’t keep me here longer than necessary.” She laughed and stepped closer and looked up his face. “You don’t have to like me, or approve of me.
And even if you open your mouth and say something insulting I’ll just laugh again. I’ve found a man to love me that makes you look like something drug up from the Dismal Swamp!”
“Cindy!” said Chris sharply, putting down his unopened mail. “While you are here, you will dress appropriately, and you will treat Bart with respect, as he will treat you. I’m sick of these childish arguments about nothing.”
Cindy looked at him with hurt eyes, making me say apologetically, “Darling, it is Bart’s home. And sometimes I would like to see you in clothes that aren’t too small.” Her blue eyes changed from those of a woman to those of a child. She wailed, “You’re both taking his side—when you know he’s nothing but a crazy creep out to make us all unhappy!”
Toni sat uncomfortably until Jory leaned to whisper something in her ear, and then she was smiling. “It doesn’t mean anything,” I heard him say in an undertone. “I believe Bart and Cindy enjoy tormenting one another.”
Unfortunately Bart’s attention was drawn from Cindy to take notice of Jory with his arm about Toni’s shoulders. He scowled, then beckoned to Toni. “Come with me. I want to show you the inside of the chapel with all its new additions.”
“A chapel? Why do we need a chapel?” asked Cindy, who had not been informed of the newest room transformed.
“Cindy, Bart wanted a chapel added to this house.”
“Well, Mom, if anybody ever needed a chapel close at hand, it’s the creep of the hill and the Hall.”
My second son didn’t say a word.
I watched him covertly at the dinner table as Cindy taunted Bart in rather ridiculous ways that might have made the rest of us laugh if he could only see the humor she displayed. However, Bart had never been able to laugh at himself, more the pity. He took everything so seriously. Her grin was triumphant. “You see, Bart,” she teased, “I can put away my childish foibles, even physical ones. But you can’t put away anything that sours your guts and chews away on your brain. You’re like a sewer, ready to hold all that’s sinking and rotten and never give it up.”
Still he said nothing.
“Cindy,” spoke up Chris, who’d remained quiet during our evening meal, “apologize to Bart.”
“Then get up and leave the table, and eat in your room until you can learn to speak pleasantly.”
Her eyes flashed balefully again, this time at Chris. “ALL RIGHT! I’ll go to my room—but tomorrow I’m leaving this house and I’m never coming back! NOT EVER!”
Finally Bart had something to say. “The best news I’ve heard in years.”
Cindy was in tears before she reached the dining room archway. I didn’t jump up to follow her this time. I sat on, pretending nothing was amiss. Always in the past I’d shielded Cindy, chastised Bart, but I was seeing him with new eyes. The son I’d never known had facets that weren’t all dark and dangerous.
“Why don’t you go to Cindy, as you always have in the past, Mother?” asked Bart, as if challenging me.
“I haven’t finished my dinner, Bart. And Cindy has to learn to respect the opinions of others.”
He sat staring at me as if completely taken off guard.
“If ever you decide to live somewhere far from Bart, maybe you’ll see me again . . . maybe.”
“Oh, Cindy!” I cried, rushing to embrace her. “don’t leave!”
Chris wiped his face free of shaving lather and came to hug her close. “I can understand how you feel, Cindy. Bart can be irritating, but you did go too far last night. In a way you were very funny, but sadly, he can’t see that. You have to judge whom you can tease, and whom you cannot. You’ve outgrown Bart, Cindy.”
Sobbing, she clutched Chris. “I’m sorry, Daddy. I was nasty to him, but he always says such mean things to me, and I have to hit back or feel like a doormat. I don’t like for him to wipe his feet on me —and he is like a sewer, he is.”
“Someday I hope you’ll see him differently,” said Chris softly, tilting up her pretty tear-stained face and kissing her lightly.
I helped Cindy pack the clothes she’d just unpacked. And even as we did this together, I saw that she was undecided and wanted to stay on if only I’d plead. Unfortunately we’d left her door open, and I looked around to see Joel standing in the doorway watching us.
Joel turned pale eyes on Cindy. “Why are you red-eyed, little girl?”
“I’m not a little girl!” she screamed. She turned wrathful eyes on him. “You’re in league with him, aren’t you? You help make him what he is. You stand there and gloat because I’m packing my bags, don’t you? Glad I’m leaving—but before I go, I’m telling you off, too, old man. And I don’t care if my parents scold me for not showing respect for old age.” She stepped closer, her posture dominating his cringing form. “I hate you, old man! Hate you for preventing my brother from being normal, and he could have been without you! I HATE YOU!”
“I expect now you want me to apologize to him—well, I won’t! I meant every word! That time in New York, when Bart was so happy with Toni, and they seemed so much in love, we were at a party, when suddenly an old man appeared that looked like Joel—and instantly Bart changed. He turned mean, hateful, like a spell had been cast, he began to criticize my clothes, Toni’s pretty dress that he said was shameless . . . and only a few minutes before, he’d complimented the way she looked in that very same dress. So don’t tell me that Joel doesn’t have a great deal to do with Bart’s nutty behavior.”
Instantly I was with Cindy. “You see, Chris. Cindy believes just as I do. If Joel weren’t here using his influence, Bart would straighten out.”
“Momma, remember the night when Bart beat up Victor Wade? He carried me home naked—and he took me up to Joel’s room. He held me so Joel could look me over, and that old man spat on me, cursed me. I couldn’t tell you then. The two of them scare me when they get together. Alone, Bart might straighten out. With Joel there to influence him, he could be dangerous.”
He looked up at me and smiled. A genuine smile of welcome.
“When Joel told me Cindy had decided to leave, it cheered my whole day, and I still feel that way.” Yet what was that oddness behind the darkness of his eyes? Why did he look at me as if soon he’d cry?
“Bart, if ever you want to confide in me—”
“I have nothing to confide, Mother.”
Finally, at long last, Bart found his niche in the scheme of what had to be. All I had to do was turn on the TV on any Sunday morning and sometimes during midweek and I could see and hear my second son singing, preaching, acknowledged as the most mesmerizing evangelist in the world. Rapier-sharp, his words stabbed into the conscience of everyone, causing money to pour into his coffers by the millions. He used the money to spread his ministry.
Then came the surprise one Sunday morning of seeing Cindy rise and join Bart on the podium. Standing beside him, she linked her arm through his. Bart smiled proudly before he announced, “My sister and I dedicate this song to our mother. Mother, if you are watching, you’ll know exactly how much this song means not only to both of us, but to you, as well.”
Together, as brother and sister, they sang my favorite hymn . . . and a long time ago I’d given up on religion, thinking it wasn’t for me when so many were bigoted, narrow-minded, and cruel. Yet, tears streaked my face . . . and I was crying. After all the months since Chris had been struck down on that highway, I was crying dry that bottomless well of tears.