This is only a sample of The Last Darling. To read the entire book, purchase it from Amazon, Smashwords, or B&N.
She was a pretty girl - still a girl her mother reminded her, even at the supple age of twenty-four - her breasts perky, her legs long. Suitors presented gifts and songs, chocolates and jewelry though none of them made it past the diligent screenings of her mother. And so it came to be that the young Clover Collette was struck by a troublesome bout of depression.
She was alone - always alone, with the exception of her scheming mother.
Her mother refused to call her Clover; instead she summoned her with the term Honey or soothed her with Sugar or, when angry, she called her by her father's last name, Collette.
It was her father who had given her the name Clover due to the simple fact that she was conceived in a field of clover. Her mother hated the name and the memory of her one indiscretion.
Clover's father had died suddenly on account of a fast moving train and a bag of particularly potent acid, which he had taken all at once after fearing the police were following him. The police were in fact following him, but only to return his dropped wallet.
On the brighter side, the police were able to use the photo on his driver's license to identify his mutilated body - an act of efficiency which they prided themselves on later.
Ellie, claiming the body with a slur of curses, thought Clover's father had jumped to his death out of desperation after discovering he was a parent. Her fears could not have been farther from the truth. For on learning of his fatherhood, Jackson was overjoyed and invigorated with a hunger for life. He was on his way to sell and swear-off his drugs.
With his mix of misdemeanors and parking tickets, he feared jail time might keep him from his daughter. It was through this painful twist of fate that Clover Collette lost her father forever - a loss she could not describe or comprehend having never met him.
Ellie, thinking a man would rather die than be with her, developed an abandonment complex which she often enacted on her daughter. Clover did not leave the proximity of the house without her mother's hand, nor did she speak outside of her mother's presence. The children of the neighborhood had come to the conclusion that Clover was either deaf or dumb and avoided her except to tease her misunderstood silence.
Her shapely breasts and curving legs soon transformed their laughter into bumbling applause. Her silence became a mystery every young boy hoped to solve, which they would not, even if they penetrated her mother's fortifications. For though Clover had the beauty of a playboy bunny, she lacked the social skills to match.
Her time was spent invested in books or speaking to the plants in her garden. She did not know the friendship and love that she lacked - she simply felt a cold and heavy depression cover her body and weigh down her heart. She could not explain the uneasiness and slowness that every day brought. For twenty-four years she allowed the coldness to cover her spirit until she could bare it no longer.
She gathered her things and planned her escape.
Her exodus brought her as far as the detached garage. A noise startled her curiosity.
A man, covered in blankets, was curled in the back of their broken Chevy pickup. He struggled and stretched but could not sleep.
Clover was transfixed by the unaware man. It was the first time she had seen a man outside the presence of her mother, especially one in such a vulnerable position. She stayed the whole night watching him through the window.
As the sun rose, Clover hurried back to the house, fearing her mother's wrath. As soon as she was able, which was not until late afternoon, Clover rushed back to the detached garage. She peered through the window but found the truck empty. She cautiously unlatched the door and entered.
The man was gone and his absence tied a knot in her stomach. She searched the bed of the truck. A small note was tucked into the rusted metal corner. It was addressed to her.
She opened it.
The words rushed over her like burning coals melting the ice surrounding her soul. The poetry was pure and beautiful, and she began to cry realizing someone had written the words specifically for her.
She could not explain the connection she felt with the crumpled note, but she held it tightly to her chest. She thought about the man she had seen the night before and she smiled.
She ran back to the house and spent the rest of the day lying in bed thinking of him. She did not, nor would she ever, know that the note had been written by her father only minutes before his death.
The news of her birth had spurred his inner muse and he scrawled a poem before leaving to dispose of his drugs. Unaware of his soon demise, he did not think to sign his name and so, twenty-four years and eight months later, Clover Collette found herself madly in love with a complete stranger, a result of a poem anonymously written by her father.
She waited until night fell and the sound of her mother's snoring echoed through the house; then, cautiously, she tip-toed to the detached garage and hid in the darkest corner. There she waited; her head and eyes drooping as hours passed.
Suddenly the side door creaked and she fluttered awake. The excitement beat through her chest and shook her arms with adrenaline. Her breathing was shallow and her eyes alert.
The man set down his backpack and his plastic bags. He pulled out and unfurled a blue tarp and a thick blanket. He laid both in the bed of the truck. He slid off his shoes and took off his hat, then curled in-between the tarp and the blanket, his head resting on his arm.
Clover watched him carefully.
Like all the times before, she could not speak, nor did she know the proper way to greet him, so she simply stood and hoped he might notice her. When he did not, she took a step closer - again nothing.
She stepped closer and closer, but he did not stir.
She began to feel warm and nervous, as if she had gone about this in all the wrong ways. She shook her head and fortified her courage. She stepped into the bed of the truck and slid under the covers next to the man.
The man, suddenly feeling a draft, turned to discover the unnatural beauty of the young Clover Collette. She did not think to smile or move in any way for she had never been so close to a man, not even in her mother's presence.
The man screamed so loud and shrill the window glass shook. He frantically pushed himself away from her and fell from the truck. He ran out the side door and into the darkness faster than Clover could turn her head to see the direction he ran.
Stunned, she laid in the truck bed thinking that perhaps the current events had not gone in her favor. She did not, nor would she ever, know the circumstances of the man she had startled.
He had once been a professor, renowned in certain circles for his dry but profound essays. This slight fame only served to bolster his less agreeable habits. For though he was an exceptional teacher, he had a certain affluence for young female students insatiably homesick and eager to please.
After bedding them, they suddenly became less interesting and, like most intellectuals, his vanity pushed them out of his head and house. After one such evening, a brunette left his house and this life after guzzling a bottle of sleeping pills.
Her death brought his extracurricular activities to light and he was stripped of his position just months shy of tenure. When he could not remember the girl's name, an overwhelming sadness constricted his heart and he suffered from a mild heart attack.
Waking up in the hospital, he rediscovered his morality. He got out of bed and, wearing only a hospital gown, left the city, walking for days, living how he felt, like a wounded animal.
When he turned to see young Clover Collette, her beauty pierced his soul. He had never seen such magnificence - it was angelic. And, in fact, he thought she was an angel sent to exact revenge for all the girls he had taken advantage of.
Her silence was like a death sentence, and so he ran. The panic and exhaustion mixed into a bow of thorns that wrapped tightly around his heart. A mile from her house he collapsed, dying face down in a puddle of warm mud. His body would not be discovered until a week later when a truck driver nearly ran it over.
She waited in the truck until morning, but when the man did not return, she snuck back into her room and tried not to think of him. Her patience lasted three days and then she rummaged through his things.
She found smelly clothes and canned food, a metal spoon and a used toothbrush, two books, neither of which she had read, a small radio with a broken antenna, a deck of playing cards which she later learned were missing a queen of hearts and a three of clubs, a broken tape, and a bag of stale peanuts which she later regretted eating. These objects she linked to her first love, but, having no use for them, she threw them out.
The poem she kept, but, fearing her mother would discover and take it, she hid it in the rusted metal corner of the truck bed.
Late at night she would sneak out and, with a dim flashlight, she would read it over and over. She did not know why the man had fled from her, but she began to search for the grotesque feature she feared was hidden on her face.
It was this insecurity that led her one night to the large covered mirror stored in the attic of the house. She pushed away the cobwebs and the dust and slid off the cover.
She stared at the reflection of her face, and neck, and chest.
She could not see anything wrong, but she also knew that her knowledge of such things was very small. She took off her shirt and pants then examined the reflection.
Still, she could not see any blemish.
She took off her bra and panties. She turned and twisted, but she could not understand why a man would write such beautiful words about her only to flee upon seeing her.
She reached up, pulling the cover down when a large, fat spider sunk its fangs into her hand. She stumbled back.
Her vision blurred.
Her legs trembled and lost their strength.
She tried to grab hold of something, but she fell, half her body hanging out of the small attic opening.
If it had been any other time, her mother would have scolded her for being both naked and in the attic; however, her mother was at her monthly Bible study and would not be home for another two hours, so Clover hung, upside down and quite delirious, for nearly an hour before a neighborhood boy spotted her voluptuous and defenseless breasts swaying like a pair of pinatas.
He entered through an open window and slunk through the hall.
He licked his lips at the sight of her nipples. He reached up and palmed them, snickering as she remained half-conscious, but still very helpless. He squeezed until dark red marks remained in place of his fingers.
She mumbled and tried to raise her arms. The spider toxin kept them paralyzed.
The boy's eyes widened with excitement. He leaned forward and stuck a nipple in his mouth. He took a step closer and as he did the floor creaked. His paranoia overtook him and he fled, knocking over the hall table as he ran.
By the age of seventeen, he would overcome his paranoia and rape seven women before the year was out, the last of which would accidentally die due to an undiagnosed and forceful case of asthma. Her father, rich and well connected, instigated a manhunt lasting three days until the rapist's body was found with a bullet in his head and crotch.
The police could not determine which bullet had entered the boy's body first, though the amount of blood suggested the latter. On hearing the news, her father was quoted in the media as saying the justice was swift, but disappointing.
No one knew, nor would they ever know, that his $10,000 had paid for the two bullets used in the murder - nor did the police find, or exert much effort to find the assassin. Clover Collette knew nothing of these events and, in fact, remembered very little of the nipple sucking incident.
She awoke in the hospital with a strong but gentle hand holding her own. It belonged to one Francis Darling who, after seeing his young brother mischievously flee from the Collette house, decided to investigate. Upon seeing the naked and seemingly lifeless body of the beautiful Clover Collette, he wrapped her in a blanket and immediately drove her to the hospital, waiting with her until the doctors could examine and stabilize her.
The capable doctors found no trace of venom in her body, but there was a contusion on the side of her head and five red stripes on her breast. She could explain neither and Francis Darling, suspecting his younger brother, said nothing.
His omission came, not from a fear of his brother's safety, but from a desire to avoid his mother's grief, for though he loved his mother, he hated seeing her upset, which, given his troublesome brother, happened quite often. In fact, the veins on her neck and forehead were in a perpetual state of excitation.
Francis, unable to stand the barrage of yelling and thrown cutlery, was making his escape out the second story window when he spotted his rascal brother leaving the Collette house. He did not know, nor had he seen the stunning Clover Collette for work kept him outside the realm of rumors and romance, but upon seeing the pure and enchanting beauty of the young Clover Collette, he made a silent oath that she would one day be his wife. This thought, like all his future thoughts, came out immediately and without hesitation, though the words were not in the order he had intended.
The abruptness and volume of his voice startled her, but something about his proximity made her feel extremely good. This sensation, which she later described as love, did not originate from the awkward Francis Darling, but from the Vicodin in her IV drip which the doctors had just then administered.
When Clover smiled and clutched his hand tighter, Francis, thinking his gibberish to be the equivalent of the greatest sonnet, kissed her - her first kiss - then she drifted into a euphoric sleep. She would forever associate her euphoria with the touch of his lips.
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