Cinnamon, p.1
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         Part #1 of Shooting Stars series by V. C. Andrews
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Cinnamon


  Cinnamon

  Shooting Stars #1

  V.C. Andrews

  Copyright (c) 2001

  ISBN: 9780671039936

  .

  Prologue

  "Cinnamon Carlson." I was just as surprised as everyone else to hear Miss Hamilton call out my name. Edith Booth, the student hall monitor and everyone's candidate for this year's Miss Goody Two-shoes, had just interrupted our English literature class. She had opened the door and tapped her perfect little steps across the hardwood floor while walking with flawless posture. Her shoulders were pulled back firmly, and an invisible book was on top of her clump of dull brown hair, hair that everyone knew her mother trimmed unevenly at the base of her neck and around her ears.

  She had looked in my direction as soon as she had entered the classroom and then handed Miss Hamilton the note from the principal's office as if it were a speeding ticket or an eviction notice. I wanted to crack an egg over that smug, arrogant little smile she had pasted on her face.

  Miss Hamilton's face was already flushed with crimson frustration at the interruption. She had just gotten into the flow of Desdemona's pathetic defense right before Othello was about to smother her to death with a pillow. Even some of the zombies in class, as Clarence Baron and I liked to refer to them, were glued to her performance. What could you expect? It was practically the only live theater some of them had ever experienced.

  After having once made a futile effort to become an actress. Miss Hamilton had fallen back into a teaching career like someone who had tried to ski professionally and quickly found herself on her rear end Eliding down into mediocrity. She spent the rest of her young adult life gazing wistfully at the skiers who went gracefully beyond her. Now, in the role of the schools drama coach, she dreams of being the inspiration, the greatest influence on the next Meryl Streep or Jodie Foster. Lately, she's been eyeing me, urging me to try out for the school play, which was something Mommy thought I should do as well because of the role-playing she and I often perform in the attic of our house.

  "You're so good at it. Cinnamon," she would tell me. "Someday, you'll be a wonderful actress."

  You have to be a wonderful actress or actor to survive in this world. I thought. Controlling your face, your voice, your posture and most of all being able to invent reasons and excuses to answer questions are the real skills of self-defense. To me, especially lately, going out in the world with honesty on your lips was the same as going out naked.

  I looked up when I heard the door open and Miss Hamilton pause. While she had been reciting her Desdemona. I had kept my eyes glued to the top of my desk. Her over-the-top histrionics was

  embarrassing to watch, and I really liked Othello. Listening to Miss Hamilton read it was similar to being forced to observe someone ruin a good recipe for creme brillee. Everyone who hadn't eaten the dessert before would think this was it, this terrible tasting stuff was it? They would never ask for it again.

  I knew instinctively that Desdemona at this point in the play should still not believe it was possible Othello would kill her. Her voice should ring with disbelief, innocence, love and faith. Why didn't Miss Hamilton know that, or if she did, why couldn't she express it?

  How many times had Shakespeare spun in his grave?

  I liked Miss Hamilton, probably more than any of my other teachers. but I was never good at overlooking faults. I always flip over the brightest coin and look at the tarnish.

  "Your grandmother is waiting for you at Mr. Kaplan's office," Miss Hamilton said.

  I looked back at Clarence Baron who was practically the only one my age with whom I communicated these days. I hesitated to call him my boyfriend. We hadn't crossed that line vet and I was still not sure at the time if we ever would. That wasn't because I thought he was unattractive. Quite the contrary. He had an interesting face with dark, lonely eyes that revealed not only his sensitivity but also his intelligence. He kept his chocolate brown hair long and unruly, full of wild curls. I knew he thought it made him resemble Ludwig van Beethoven, not that Clarence had any interest in composing music. He just enjoyed classical music and knew more about it than anyone else I knew.

  He was slim, almost too thin for his six feet one inch height, but I liked his angular jaw and nearly perfect nose over a strong full mouth. I've overheard girls often commenting about him, always saying things like "Too bad he's so weird. He's sexy."

  I knew why they thought he was weird. He admitted that he couldn't help doing what he called his rituals. For example, Clarence was in the last seat in the first row. It was a very important thing for him to take the same seat in all of his classes, if he could. I suppose it was really compulsion. Another ritual was never leaving a building on an odd step. He counted his steps toward the exit and always made sure he walked out on an even number. I've often seen him stop and go back just to be sure. He also eats everything on his dinner plate from left to right, no matter what it is, and he's right-handed! He even manages to do it with pasta. I don't ask him why he does these strange things anymore. If I did, he would just say. "It feels right," or he would shrug and say. "I don't know why, Cinnamon. I just do it."

  Clarence raised his heavy, dark brown eyebrows into question marks and I sucked in my breath and shook my head.

  I had no idea why my grandmother was coming to take me out of school, but I did have fears boiling under the surface of my confusion.

  Two days ago. Mommy had suffered her second miscarriage. After the first miscarriage eight years ago, she and Daddy seemed to have given up on having another child. I even harbored the belief that they had stopped having sex. Rarely did I see them express any passion toward each other, especially after Grandmother Beverly had moved in with us. A peck on the cheek, a quick embrace or a brush of hands was generally all I witnessed, not that I spied on my parents or anything. It was just an observation of something that had settled into their lives and mint, seeping through our days like a cold, steady rain.

  So I was just as surprised as my grandmother when one day a little more than six months ago. Mommy made the announcement at dinner.

  After swallowing a piece of bread, she released a deep sigh and said. "Well. I'm pregnant again.."

  Grandmother Beverly, who had moved in with us shortly after Grandfather Carlson had died, dropped her fork on the plate, nearly breaking the dish. She turned and looked at my father as if he had betrayed some trust, some agreement in blood they had signed.

  "At her age?" she asked him. "She's going to have another child now?" She turned to my mother, who had always had the ability to ignore Grandmother Beverly, to seem not to hear her or see her whenever she wanted, even if she was sitting or standing right in front of her. She could go as deaf and as stony as a marble statue. Of course, that made Grandmother Beverly even angrier.

  "You're forty-two years old. Amber. What are you thinking?" she snapped with her same old authority.

  Grandmother Beverly has never hesitated to express her opinions or make her demands. My grandfather had been a meek, gentle man whose strongest criticism or chastisement of her was a shaking of his head and only twice at that. He went left to right, left to right and stopped with a shrug and that was always the extent of his resistence. No arguments, no pouts, no rants or raves or anything added. Once, when I tried to describe him to Clarence, I dryly said. "Think of him as Poland after Hitler's invasion."

  It was not difficult for me to think of

  Grandmother Beverly as a ruthless dictator.

  "What I'm thinking," Mommy replied slowly to Grandmother Beverly's question, "is that I'll give birth to a healthy child. Besides, it's not so uncommon these days for a woman my age to give birth. I recently read where a woman in her fifties got pregnant. And not as a surrogate mother either." she quickly added.

 
Grandmother Beverly's eyes darkened and narrowed with disapproval. She picked up her fork and returned to her methodical eating, gazing furiously at my father who busied himself with cutting his steak. After that, silence boomed in our ears as loudly as Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

  However, silence was no sign of surrender when it came to my grandmother. She never missed an opportunity to express her disapproval. All through Mommy's months of pregnancy, Grandmother Beverly nagged and nipped at her like a yapping poodle. As soon as Mommy started to show. Grandmother's complaints intensified.

  "A woman your age walking around in maternity clothes," she barked. "What a sight you must make. You even have some strands of gray in your hair, and now you have to watch what you eat more than ever. Women at your age gain weight more easily. You'll end up looking like my sister Lucille who popped children out Eke a rabbit and ended up resembling a baby elephant. Her hips grew so big, she once got stuck in a chair," Grandmother emphasized, looking at me and nodding.

  Whenever she couldn't get a reaction from Mommy, she would try directing herself at me as if I were a translator who would explain what she had said.

  "Aunt Lucille has only three children, doesn't she?" I asked.

  "That's too many." Grandmother Beverly replied so quickly anyone would have thought she and I had rehearsed the dialogue. "Children are expensive and difficult nowadays. They make you years older than you are in short order. They need, need, need. When I was a child, the word want did not exist. My mouth was stuffed with 'please' and 'thank you' and 'no sir' and 'yes ma'am' and that was that. I can't even imagine my father's reaction to my asking him for a new dress or a car or money to waste on silly jewelry. Why if he was alive today and saw some of those... I don't know what you call them... walking around with rings in their noses and in their belly buttons, he'd think the world had come to an end and rightly so."

  "Well, they'll be only two children in this house," I said and looked at Mommy. She was trying hard not to pay attention, but Grandmother Beverly was wearing her down, her snipping words coming at her from every direction like a pack of hyenas. By now Mammy was full of aches and pains and too pale. I thought.

  And then she suffered the miscarriage. She started to hemorrhage one night and had to be rushed to the hospital. I woke to the sounds of her screams and panic. Daddy wouldn't let me go along. He came home alone hours and hours later and announced she had lost the baby.

  Grandmother Beverly felt no guilt or sorrow. Her reaction was to claim it was Nature's way of saying no to something that shouldn't have been begun in the first place. When they brought Mommy home the day after. Mommy couldn't bear to look at her. She didn't look at anyone very much for that matter, not even me. Her eyes were distant, her sorrow shutting her up tightly, a prisoner in her own body.

  Now I trembled inside imagining the possible reasons for my grandmother's very unexpected arrival at school.

  Quickly closing my copy of Othello and my notebook, I gathered all of my things and rose. I knew everyone in the class was watching me, their eyes loyally following my every gesture, but most of my life I've felt people's eyes on me. It doesn't bother me anymore. In fact, it probably never did or at least never as much as it should. That indifference, or that dramatic fourth wall, as Miss Hamilton likes to call it, was always up, always between me and the rest of the world whenever I wanted it to be. In that sense I'm really like Mommy, although I must say. Daddy can be deaf and dumb at the drop of a nasty word. too. He certainly was that way more often around

  Grandmother Beverly these days.

  I know that people, including some of my teachers and especially my grandmother, would say I deliberately attract attention because of the way I dress and behave. My auburn hair is thick and long, down to my shoulder blades. I won't cut it any shorter than that and barely trim my bangs. Sometimes, strands fall over my eyes or over one eye and I leave them there, looking out at the world, my teachers, other students, everything and everyone through a sheer, rust-tinted curtain. I know it unnerves some people and especially drives Grandmother Beverly to the point where her pallid face takes on crimson blotches at the crests of her bony cheeks.

  "Cut your hair or at least have the decency to brash it back neatly. I can't tell if you're looking at me or what when I speak to you," she often carped. One criticism led to another. She was a spider weaving its web. "And don't you have anything cheerful to wear to school?'

  Like Mommy. I favor dark colors. I'm always dressed in black or dark blue, often dark gray. and I put on a translucent white lipstick and black nail polish. I darken my eyebrows and wear too much eyeshadow, and I keep out of the sun, not only because I know it damages your skin, but I like having a light complexion. My skin is so transparent. I can see tiny blue veins in my temples. and I think about my blood moving through these tiny wires to my heart and my brain.

  At the moment, my heart felt as though it had been put on pause.

  Edith Booth waited for me at the classroom door. She was performing her role as hall monitor, which meant she would escort me out and to the principal's office like some military parade guard. She pressed her thin, crooked lips together and pulled her head up, tightening her neck and her chin. She held the door open, but as I walked through it. I reached back, seized the knob and pulled it hard out of her hands, slamming it behind me.

  I could hear the class roar at the sight of her staring into the shut door, her jaw probably dropped, her perfect posture definitely ruined. I heard her fumbling with the knob and then come charging out, flustered, rushing to catch up with me, her heels clicking like an explosion of small firecrackers on the tile corridor floor.

  "That wasn't very nice," she said. I turned and glared at her.

  Everyone who knows us and who has seen our house thinks the spirits inside the house will eventually drive us all mad. They think it's haunted. They call it "The Addams Family House." The outside is so dark and it does have this foreboding presence. I actually believe Daddy is ashamed of his house. Grandmother Beverly certainly didn't want him to buy it, but that was one time Mommy won out over her when it came to having Daddy decide something. Mommy was determined.

  It's a grand Second Empire Victorian house about ten miles northwest of Tarrytown. New York. The original owner was a former Civil War officer who had served under General Grant. His name was Jonathan Demerest and he had five children, two boys and three girls. Both his wife Carolyne and his youngest son Abraham died of smallpox less than a year apart. Their graves, as well as Jonathan's, are on our property, up on a knoll from where you could once see miles and miles in any direction. At least that's what Mommy claimed. She said when they first moved into the house, the forest wasn't anywhere as (Frown as it is today: of course. there weren't all those houses in one development after another peppering the face of the landscape like pimples.

  "It was a peaceful place, a wonderful place to be buried." she told me. "It still is. actually. Maybe I should be buried here, too," she added and I cried because I was only nine at the time and I didn't want to hear about such a thing as my own mother's death.

  "We all die. Cinnamon," she said with that soft, loving smile that could always bring my marching heart back to a slow walk. She would touch my cheek so gently, her fingers feeling like a warm caressing breeze, and she would smile a smile full of

  candlelight, warm. mesmerizing, "It's not that bad when our time comes. We just move on." she said looking out at the world below us as if she already had one foot in the grave. "We just move on to somewhere quieter. That's all."

  "Quieter? How could it be any quieter than this?" I wondered aloud.

  "It's quieter inside you," she replied. I didn't understand what that meant for years, but now I do.

  I really do.

  Anyway. Mommy told me she had fallen in love with our house before she had fallen in love with Daddy, and she got him to buy it after only a year of marriage.

  The house appears larger than it really is because it was built on a
hill and looms over the roads and homes below us. It has three stories with a cupola that looks like a great hiding place for a monster or a ghost. Some of the kids think I crawl up into it every night and send spells and curses down on unwary travelers below. Whenever I hear these kinds of things about myself. I laugh, toss back my hair and say what Mommy told me Katharine Hepburn once said about publicity: "I don't care what they say about me, as long as it isn't true."

  Very few people understand what that means. They think it's just more proof of my weirdness. They don't understand that when people invade your life and uncover the truth about you, they expose things you want to keep private, keep personal so you can keep your self- respect. It's why we lock our doors and close our windows and pull down our shades, especially in my house.

  I don't care what impression my house makes on people. I love it as much as Mommy does. Second Empire houses have what are known as mansard roofs, which are roofs having two slopes on all sides with the lower slope steeper than the upper one. The house itself is square, and it has elaborate decorative iron cresting above the upper cornice. The front of the house has paired entry doors with glass in the top half and a half-dozen steps leading up and under the onestone porch. All of the windows are paired. The downstairs ones are all hooded. Mommy loves talking about it, lecturing about the architecture to anyone who will listen.

  Grandmother Beverly thought it was a dreadful place to live, even though she readily moved in with us. Mommy said it was Grandmother Beverly's sole idea to move in. despite Daddy's telling me and everyone else that he asked her to move in with us since we had so much room and there was no reason for a woman of her age to have to live alone.

  "No reason." Mammy told me. "except to give us peace of mind."

  Anyway people often look at me as if they expect that any day now-- because we live in the eerie looking, supposedly haunted house-- I'll become a raving lunatic and maybe even try to hurt myself. Even when some of my teachers talk to me, I notice they stand a foot or so farther away from me than they stand away from their other students. All I have to do sometimes is stare at someone the way I was staring at Edith Booth and I can see him or her suddenly become overwhelmed with small terrors. The truth is. I've begun to enjoy it. It gives me a sense of power.

 
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