Dark Shines My Love
By Alexis Hart
Love can transpose to form and dignity.
Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is wing'd Cupid painted blind.
Shakespeare ~ Midsummer Night's Dream
December 24, 1971
Dark Garden Plantation, Louisiana
Venomous shrieks filled the Louisiana night. "Why are you doing this to me?"
Patric covered his ears and struggled to block out the angry shouts of his parents.
"I swear to you, Lucia. Nothing happened. This is all a huge misunderstanding," his father said.
"How can you deny what I saw with my own eyes?"
"I am not having an affair with her. She came out here and just as I told her to go back into the party, she kissed me. I have no feelings for her."
The tumbler his mother had been holding sailed through the air and Patric ducked. It crashed against the wall over his head. Shards of glass rained over him and slid down inside his flannel shirt. He covered his face with his hands and fought back tears. No matter how much he wanted to cry out, he couldn't let his father catch him spying.
"Why do you always have to resort to violence when you don't get your own way?"
His father's voice boomed and Patric wanted to make him stop yelling. He listened to his mother's sobs and longed to run out and comfort her, but that would earn him a beating.
"Don't you dare try to make this out to be my fault. I'm not the one who's doing God knows what with the entire town."
Boot heels clicked on the brick pathway and the smell of his father's cologne lingered after he passed. Fearing punishment, Patric held himself perfectly still.
"Lucia, your melodrama bores me. I told you nothing was going on, and I meant it."
"Liar! How many times have you told me the same thing?"
"Lucia. Enough! Go back in to the party and we'll discuss this later. You have a son who needs his mother at Christmas."
To Patric, the silence said more than the hurtful words. He waited for his mother to say something, but she remained silent. A chill crept the length of his spine and he shivered. He closed his eyes and curled up tighter against himself. Silently, tears fell from his eyes as slivers of the shattered glass scraped against his flesh. The cool night air blew across the balcony and cooled the moisture on his back. He waited.
"This is it, Michael. After tonight you will never do this to me again. I'm taking Patric and we're leaving."
Patric's sadness turned to joy. "Oh, Mother!" He gave up his hiding place behind a shrub and ran to his mother.
Both his parents heads turned to him, but Patric only noticed the woman standing in the shadows.
"Go inside, Paddy." The pain quivering in his mother's voice drew him toward her like a magnet.
He ran to her side and hugged her waist. "Can we really leave, Mother?"
"No. Go inside." His father's voice echoed as the palm of his hand made contact with Patric's head. He fell hard onto the ground.
The corner of a square terra cotta planter dug into his forehead and blood trickled down into his eye. Patric held in the fear as his father advanced on him.
Temples visibly throbbing, anger flashed in his father's eyes. "Get up!"
"I'm sorry, Father, I didn't mean to hear. I was trying to see the other guests and you came out."
His mother stepped between them and Patric sighed. "It's all right, Paddy. No one is angry with you. Just run inside and Mama will be in soon." She leaned forward and extended her hand to help him up.
"No, you won't make him a sissy. You coddle him like a fragile little girl. He's a boy and if you take him away he'll never become a man."
"I will take him away and he'll be whatever he wants."
"You are so wrong, Lucia. Neither of you will ever leave Garden View. You'll never leave me."
Unable to stand the cruelty of his father's words, Patric climbed to his feet and ran. He ran as fast as his legs would carry him and as far as they could. It wasn't until he reached the bank of the river that he collapsed onto the damp grass. The cool moisture soaked through his blue jeans and he shivered.
He rolled onto his back and hundreds of tiny nerve points prickled. He stared up at the vast darkness of the sky. Where are the stars? Why couldn't he find the moon? These and so many more questions cluttered his mind, pushing in between the blocks of throbbing and haziness. Closing his eyes, he fought against the pain wearing him down. Patric lay on the bank of the Mississippi River and willed the night to disappear.
How could his parents be so cruel, and at Christmas? Why had his father said such horrible things to his mother? His beautiful, kind and loving mother, the belle of New Orleans.
Pain spread down his neck and throbbed in his back. His shoulders stung for reasons he didn't understand. His body ached, from pain and loneliness. Fear. Never in his eight years could he remember being so afraid. The fear made him angry. He could hear his father's voice in his mind, "Fear is unacceptable."
Clenching his fists, Patric lay in the wet grass and prayed for the last time. Please God make it all disappear.
November 30, 2000
Dark Garden Plantation, Louisiana
"Get the hell out of my house," Patric raged, his heart racing.
"Mr. LeClerc, I didn't know it wasn't allowed."
He sucked in a deep breath trying to find some control. None came, so he forged on. "How could you think I would pay you to do God knows what with your boyfriend in my house?" Patric LeClerc fought against the crushing press of pain rising inside him. He collapsed into the dining room chair and lowered his head to rest against his forearms.
"Are you all right, sir?"
"Get me my damn pills and then get out. Tell the service to send the next incompetent wretch over." He listened to the retreating footsteps growing softer as the nurse hurried down the long corridor. He cursed the hardwood floors and the echoing of every little noise in the God forsaken house.
She weighed considerably more than the last nurse they'd sent and the rapid clicking of her heels indicated her to be shorter as well. The scent of her lilac perfume lingered in the air, its cloying fragrance intensifying the pounding in his temples. Clutching his head, he struggled to gain control of his pain. Calm. He had to calm down or the throbbing would only increase.
Clicking heels echoed in his head, only they weren't in his head. Patric sensed the nurse as she entered the room. He gritted his teeth and waited for her to hand him his pills. The shadow of a hand passed in front of him then moved back and forth before disappearing.
"Don't play games with me. Just put the damn things down and leave me alone." He waited for the tapping of the prescription bottle hitting the table. Silence. "Are you deaf?"
"Sir, I was told not to leave you alone. I'll lose my job if I go."
Patric clenched his jaw against the hum her annoying voice caused in his ears. "That's where you're wrong. I pay your salary and you've already lost your job. Now give me the pills!"
She slammed the pill bottle against the table, the sound ringing out like a gunshot in his head. Groping with trembling hands, Patric fumbled with the bottle. Several of the tiny pills scattered onto the table. Damn it! He scanned the marred wood table with his palms, searching desperately for his relief.
Finally, his fingertip brushed against a tablet; he picked it up and shoved the pill into his mouth. Patric swallowed against the bitter aftertaste, then laid his head back down on his arms, and waited for his reprieve, limited as it would be. Peace never came for long. He slipped away to a different place as he waited. The place was never better or happier, just different. Again he wondered what he had done to be so cursed.
As the agonizing moments passed, his mood dipped dangerously low. His mind continuously replayed the moans of his former nurse engaged in some sexual act in his house. What the hell right did she have enjoying herself? What right did anyone have? God, he couldn't even remember what a woman's body felt like. He drifted to sleep, bored with his own self-pity and loathing.
What he assumed had to be several hours later, Patric awoke. Alone. Before he could get his bearings the shrill ringing of the phone startled him. He let it ring. If Alexander Graham Bell were still alive, he'd gladly strangle him.
* * *
The windshield wipers on Callie's old model Volvo scraped across the window. The scratching noise grated on her already taut nerves. I must be insane. The wind and rain whipped about outside, casting eerie shadows down over the secluded road. She gripped the steering wheel until her knuckles turned cold and white, struggling to keep the car under control.
The path curved and without warning she saw the monstrosity, standing ominously dark in the middle of a strand of trees. Dark Gardens Plantation. Home. The single word struck her as peculiar; she'd never called anyplace home, and yet in some twisted way, this came naturally.
Lightning flashed up toward the sky and she got a better look at the hell house, as her boss had referred to it. Dark shutters covered floor to ceiling windows along the front of the house. She counted ten just on one side of the front door. The double entry stood dead center in the middle of the house, at the top of a ridiculously long flight of stairs.
Why would anyone build a house you had to walk up so many steps to get into? At least she didn't have much to carry. Callie pushed her remaining questions aside and shifted the car into gear. The answers didn't matter. She wasn't here to like it. She was here because she didn't have anywhere else to go. As she got closer to the house, her apprehension only grew worse.
"Geez, I think I took a wrong turn and ended up in Transylvania." Weeds choked down the trees and bushes, obviously ignored for too long. She hoped with all her soul that things would look better in the light of a sunny day-and not only for her sake.
A small gray kitten purred a vague response and poked its nose out of the hole Callie had cut for him in the top of the box. When her life had fallen apart, she'd only been able to save two things. She looked down at Mardi and smiled. The curious feline had managed to get locked out of her apartment while everything was going on, and was so saved from a fate worse than-well he was just saved. Now she had her clothes and two priceless treasures.
She glanced up at the house. Shaking her head, Callie concentrated on navigating the gravel driveway. She peered out the window and looked at the surrounding landscape. "Kinda dark out here, Mardi. You gonna be okay?"
"I am not afraid of the dark. How could you say that?"
"I know it's just a house. But have you seen how big it is?" Callie laughed for the first time in weeks. "Of course you haven't. I've stuffed you in a box like some kind of animal."
"Soon, baby. We're almost there, and then I'll let you out. No more boxes for you. With a house this size, it's party time for Mardi Gras." She rubbed the small pink nose poking from inside the box.
By the time she parked the car in front of the house the rain had lessened to little more than an annoying drizzle. Not enough to matter, only enough to get you wet. Callie stepped out of the car and leaned against the roof. Her black and white polka dotted slicker kept her arms dry, but cold drops of rain slid down inside the collar and made her shiver.
The house looked more like an over-sized mausoleum than a plantation. All she knew about Dark Gardens was that its owner was blind and obsessively reclusive. Her report said he hadn't been out of his house in over eight years. Thankfully, he was mostly self-sufficient. Her job would entail cleaning, cooking, and companionship. She would make good money and they'd have a roof over their head.
"Well, Mardi. Lets go."
"Yeah, I hope he's awake too."
* * *
Callie rang the bell again. She'd been standing on the porch for ten minutes and hadn't even heard a rustle from inside. Finally, she twisted the knob, thankful when it turned.
"Hello. Mr. LeClerc? Are you home?" Of course he's home. He's a recluse. "My name is Callie Carpenter. I'm the new nurse."
Callie stepped into the vestibule and waited for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. The front foyer held no decoration or furniture. She saw a doorway directly to the left and another directly to the right. Both doors hung slightly ajar, but no light came from either. Several more steps in and she saw it.
Lightning flashed and the grandest staircase she'd ever seen blinked before her. The wide steps ascended to a platform that branched off in either direction. Then she realized the lightning flashed above the staircase. She set her box down on the floor next to her.
"I'll be right back, Mardi."
When her foot landed on the first step, an odd sense of foreboding seized her. Attributing it to nerves, she continued. When she reached the landing, she looked up. Centered above the stairs, hung an enormous crystal chandelier. Suspended from beams under a magnificent skylight it dangled in ominous brilliance. "Incredible." Her breath caught in her throat and she couldn't tear her eyes away.
She jumped at the sound of a thump behind her. "Mr. LeClerc is that you? I'm the new nurse."
"Stop yelling. I'm blind, not deaf."
The cold brusqueness of his voice sent a shiver creeping up her spine. She could barely discern his shadow at the foot of the stairs. He began to retreat as she moved closer. By the time she reached the last step, she caught only a glimpse of his back before he disappeared into a room. Hurriedly, she checked on Mardi then followed her new employer.
Like the main room, this one held no light. A few steps into the parlor she bumped into a small table. "Do you mind if I turn on a light?"
"Yes, I do," he snapped. "What do you want?"
"I'm the new nurse. The agency told me I needed to be out here tonight. I tried to call before I came, but no one answered, so I packed-my things and drove out."
"Bully for you, Mrs. Cartwright."
Sarcasm swam around her as he spoke. "My name is Callie Carpenter, and its Miss."
"Whatever your name is, I don't need a damn nurse. So you can take your self and your things and go home." She heard him move in the far corner of the room, but still couldn't see him.
"I wish I could," she whispered softly.
"Then do it!"
She gasped at his harshness, surprised he'd heard her. "I'm sorry I said that. It's just-I don't have anyplace to go."
"That's not my problem. Now get out."
Callie could almost hear his teeth grinding against one another. His words sounded so clipped that she wondered if he weren't in pain. Her sympathetic nature justified his rude behavior, and she chalked it up to loneliness.
"Sir, I need this job. I don't have any family and I don't have an apartment anymore. I'd appreciate it if you'd at least give me a chance to prove I can do this job."
She stood in the darkness, listening to the silence for several minutes. Finally, she heard him move.
"Miss Carson, I've lived in this house for most of my life and I assure you I can take care of myself."
"I have no doubt about that, Mr. LeClerc. I'm not actually here to take care of you. I guess I am more of a housekeeper than a nurse. The fact of the matter is, I need this job."
Callie knew she didn't need to beg. If he made her leave she could get another assignment, it may not offer her a place to live, but she'd manage. She found herself wanting to stay and find out more about this mysterious man. He ex-husband, Jason, would accuse her of living in another of her Florence Nightingale fantasies. Maybe because she hadn't actually seen her new boss yet, or maybe because of the house he lived in, whichever, she'd convince him to let her stay.
"I really would like to stay."
"You seem to be under the mistaken impression that I'm the Salvation Army and that I care what you want."
He hesitated before he went on, and Callie cut in. "No, Sir, you are not a charity organization." You'd need a heart to be that. "I only hope-"
"Lets get something straight right now, Miss Carter. This is my house and you will stay the hell out of my way.
"If you so much as breath in my space, you're out of here," he snarled.
Callie sighed a breath of relief. She could stay. "It will only take me a minute to bring my belongings in." How sad was that statement? Nearly everything she owned fit into a few small boxes and her car.
"Your room will be at the top of the left stairs. Second door. If you need anything, get it yourself."
"I'll have to go back into town in the morning to pick up a few more things and take care of some business. Is it okay if I bring my-"
"Bring whatever you have to. Just remember, you have the left side of the stairs and I have the right. Stay out of my way."
Callie stepped forward to thank him-a door closed across the room-and then she closed her mouth. He'd walked out and left her standing alone. She hadn't even seen his face. Switching on a lamp, she looked around the room. Upon noticing the sparse furnishings, she justified the reason. Maybe since he's sight impaired he doesn't like a lot of things in the way. He just doesn't like anything. "And it's Carpenter," she whispered.
"I know," he whispered softly. Patric stood inside the tunnel listening to her move around the room. He saw the shadow of the table light she'd turned on. Leaning against the panel, he let the cool wood ease his tension.
She was different. He couldn't quite figure out how, but he sensed she wouldn't be as easily bullied as the others before her. He'd definitely heard fear in her voice, but he perceived it as a confident fear. A week or two would do little to interfere with his hectic schedule. Yeah right.
His body acknowledged her presence on the other side of the slide panel and he remained perfectly still. The secret door vibrated as her hand rested on against it. None of the other idiots had discovered the locations of his hidden panels, but he had a feeling he'd need to be more careful with Miss Callie Carpenter. He'd tried to get more of a sense of her, but she hadn't gotten close enough. He hadn't let her get close enough.
When he heard the study door click shut, he made his way down the narrow corridor and up the stairs to his room. Not bothering to turn on the light, he undressed and climbed into bed. He lay on top of the crisp sheets, listening to the house. Timbers creaked, shutters rattled, and even from across the expanse of the house, he could hear her moving around in her quarters. The floorboard at the foot of her bed creaked and she stopped. He knew she'd stopped because the next six boards also creaked. He'd meant to get them repaired-for nearly six years-but hadn't bothered. He'd seen no point in it.
Her bedroom door opened and she walked down the hallway. Where was she going? Probably snooping around the other rooms in the west wing. They all did it. One nurse had even stolen from him, but a few years in prison would cure her of that mistake.
Patric dozed off to sleep while listening for his new companion to return to her room.