Set in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, Dreams of Falling is a story about lifelong friends who share a devastating secret.
A moss-draped oak tree on the banks of the North Santee River was the repository of three young girls’ dreams. The tree stood on the grounds of the home of generations of Margaret Darlington’s family. She urged her two best friends, Ceecee and Bitty, to join her in writing down their hopes and dreams on ribbons that they deposited into the tree’s trunk for safekeeping, along with their pledge: Friends forever, come what may.
Nine years ago, Larkin Lanier left Georgetown, South Carolina for good. At least that’s what she believed at the time. But when notified that her mother, Ivy, is missing, Larkin must return to the home she both loves and despises. When found, Ivy has sustained catastrophic injuries and is unconscious. She fell in the burned-out wreckage of the Darlington plantation home. No one knows why Ivy was there, but as Larkin searches for answers, she uncovers secrets that have been kept for nearly fifty years about love, sacrifice, and betrayal by three girls whose friendship and loyalty were tested, but endured.
Fans of best-selling author Karen White will be delighted by Dreams of Falling in which White employs her signature writing style to tell the story of lifelong friends, the secrets they maintained, and their motivations for doing so.
Growing up in South Carolina, the beautiful, charismatic Margaret Darlington was the center of Ceecee and Bitty’s universe. Wealthy, privileged, and unaccustomed to being denied her every whim, Margaret’s Southern charm and sophistication stood in contrast to Ceecee’s conservative upbringing as the daughter of a local pastor. Bitty was reared by working-class parents. But the three of them were devoted to each other. Into the Tree of Dreams, a towering oak on the Darlington property, the three girls dropped, at Margaret’s urging, ribbons upon which they wrote their hopes and desires. They also swore that their friendship would withstand any challenges.
During one glorious two-week vacation following their 1951 high school graduation, Ceecee and Margaret believed the tree had fulfilled their identical desires. They met a pair of handsome brothers — one a veteran who was finishing up his education and about to commence upon a successful career as a doctor, and the younger of the two who aspired to be President of the United States. But he was determined to serve his country first, despite Margaret’s attempts to convince him to stay with her and begin their life together. The long-revered Darlington luck had finally run out. Margaret was rendered bereft and Ceecee was heartbroken when duty and honor came into play. Soon after, a devastating fire destroyed the Darlington plantation and set into motion events that would have far-reaching consequences for generations.
Now, in 2010, Margaret’s granddaughter, Larkin, has returned from New York City to care for her injured mother, Ivy. Larkin fled South Carolina in search of a life free from the humiliations and delusions of her youth. Ivy was raised by Ceecee after Margaret died tragically in the fire when Ivy was just two years old. Ivy, an artist, mostly entrusted Larkin’s upbringing to Ceecee and her husband, who played an enormous role in Larkin’s upbringing and were extremely influrential in Larkin’s life. Larkin was an overweight girl upon whom Ceecee doted, never criticizing, and leading Larkin to have an inflated sense of her abilities, accomplishments, and appearance. Larkin studied and analyzed dreams as a direct result of Ivy’s recurring nightmares about fire. She wanted to help her mother understand them so they would stop recurring, but notes that she never believes them to be “memories from her past.” After she moved to New York, Larkin became fit and trim, realizing, through two years of therapy, that “[a]ll my life Ceecee had been stuffing me with food, trying to feed my disappoints and insecurities and fill the void left by my mother’s absences.” Crusity, pragmatic Bitty serves as a voice of reason, urging Larkin to understand that Ceecee was always motivated by “a heart so big you could park a shrimp boat in it and still have room for a kayak or two.” Ceecee’s whole life was devoted, as Bitty observes, to Ivy and Larkin, who has been estranged — apart from the annual birthday message — from Ivy for the full nine years she has been away. In light of her mother’s injuries, however, Larkin’s return home provides the impetus for resolution of old hurts, resentments, and the discovery of the truth about Margaret’s untimely death, as Ivy hovers between life and death.
Throughout our lives we are all falling. Falling down, falling out, falling away. Falling in love. The trick is finding someone to catch us. And sometimes we surprise ourselves by finding out that person is us.
White employs multiple voices to relate current-day events, as well as those set in motion back in 1951 that altered all of their lives. Ivy, in a comatose state, observes what is transpiring around her, as well as her motivations for her actions. She sees her long-lost love, killed in the Vietnam War, urging her to join him for eternity. Ceecee narrates the youthful adventure of three hopeful 1951 graduates, describing the meeting and ensuring romances of Margaret and Ceecee with the handsome brothers, as well as the heartbreak each suffered and the circumstances surrounding the fire that destroyed the Darlington plantation. Larkin relates her journey toward the realities of her childhood experiences, current circumstances, and the options she selected, as well as those before her. Larkin comes to understand what her friend has always said is true: “Sometimes we think we’ve changed when really all we’ve done is grow into the person we were always meant to be.”
The result is a powerful tale of familial choices, secrets, and relationships within an intricately-plotted mystery that will keep readers guessing until the very end of the story. Dreams of Falling is pure Karen White-style storytelling, infused with Southern charm and values, and an exploration of the nuances and intricacies of female friendship with an intriguing mystery at the center of it all. Dreams of Falling is a perfect summer beach read!
Excerpt from Dreams of Falling
Caol Ait: Thin Places.
Gaelic for where this world and the next are said to be too close. According
to legend, heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in thin places,
that distance is even closer. Carrowmore, in County Sligo, Ireland, is one
of many such thin places found throughout the world, a place where time
stands still and the secular world brushes against the sacred.
Georgetown, South Carolina
I am dead. Yet I smell the blooming evening primrose and hear the throaty chirps and creaky
rattles of the purple martins flitting home across the marsh. I see their sleek iridescent bodies glid-
ing against the bloodred sunset sky, through the blackened Corinthian columns and crumbling
chimneys of Carrowmore. The house is named after a legendary thin place, far away in Ireland.
I can hear Ceecee’s voice again in my head, telling me what the name means, and why I should
stay away. But as with most things Ceecee has ever told me, I didn’t listen.
Carrowmore and I are both in ruins now, with wrinkles in our plaster and faults in our founda-
tions. It’s oddly fitting that I should die in this house. I almost died here once before, when I was
a little girl. I wonder if the house has been waiting for its second chance.
The thrum of Ellis’s 1966 Mustang rumbles in the distance. If I could move, I’d run out the
front door and down the walk before he can honk the horn and irritate Daddy. There’s nothing
Daddy dislikes more than Ellis’s long hair and that car.
But I can’t move. All I remember is stepping on a soft spot in the old wooden floor, then
hearing the splintering of ancient, rotten wood. Now I’m lying here, broken in so many pieces.
My brain reminds me that Ellis has been gone forty years. His precious car sold before he
shipped out to Fort Gordon in 1969. Still, the acrid scent of exhaust wafts over me, and I wonder
with an odd hopefulness whether it’s Ellis, coming for me after all this time.
There’s something soft and silky crumpled in my fist. My fingers must have held tight when
I first felt the ancient floor give way beneath my feet.
A hair ribbon. I’d pulled it from Larkin’s dresser drawer. My sweet baby girl. The daughter
who’d always desperately wanted to be just like me. Almost as desperately as I wanted her to be
different. I wanted her to be happy. Not that Larkin is a girl anymore. She’s too old for ribbons,
but I kept everything in her room just the same as she left it, hoping one day she’d come home
for good. Decide it was time to forgive all of us. To forgive herself.
I remember now using a black marker to write down the length of the ribbon, the letters bold
and big, shouting my anger with silent strokes. But that’s the only clear memory I have. I can’t
feel that anger anymore. Nor remember the reason for it. I must have driven here, but I don’t re-
member. Just me writing on that ribbon, and then here, falling. My brain is playing tricks on me,
recalling things from long ago with the clarity of hindsight, yet leaving what happened only thirty
minutes ago in a dark closet behind a locked door.
Bright pops of air explode inside my skull. Streaks of light like shooting stars flit past my
line of vision. I think they’re the purple martins of my past, constant as the moon and stars in my
memories. And then the pain comes, white-hot and precise, settling at the base of my head, then
traveling upward, a large hand slowly constricting my brain.
Then darkness covers me like a mask, and everything fades away. Except for the engine fumes of
an old car, and the raucous chirp of a thousand martins coming home to roost.
The introductory notes to an old song distracted me for a moment, causing me to glance up from
my computer and look around with an oddly satisfying appreciation. I loved my desk. Not be-
cause it was beautiful or rare—it was neither—but because of its simple functionality.
It was no different from the metal desks of the other copywriters at Wax & Crandall, the ad
agency where I’d worked for the past five years, except mine was devoid of all personal effects.
No frames, no kitschy knickknacks or rubber-band balls. Nothing tacked up on the walls of my
cubicle, either, or mementos of my four years spent at Fordham earning my undergraduate de-
gree. My one concession to my past was a gold chain with three charms on it that I never removed
but kept tucked inside my neckline.
I loved that nobody asked me why I seemed to have no past. This was New York, after all,
where people seemed to care only about where you were going, not where you’d been. They just
assumed that I had no husband or significant other, no children or siblings. Which was correct.
The people I worked with knew I was from somewhere down south only because every once
in a while, a long consonant or dropped syllable found its way into my sentences. I never men-
tioned that I was born and raised in Georgetown, South Carolina, or that if I closed my eyes long
enough, I could still smell the salt marshes and the rivers that surrounded my hometown. My
coworkers probably believed that I hated my home and that was why I left. And in that assump-
tion, they’d be wrong.
There are reasons other than hating a place that make a person leave.
I turned to see Josephine—not “Jo” or “Josie,” but “Josephine”—standing at the entrance to
my cubicle. The lack of a door meant people had to improvise when they wanted to enter. She
was one of our account executives, a nice enough person if she liked you but someone to avoid
if she didn’t.
“Are you busy?” she asked.
My fingers were at that moment poised above my keyboard, which made her question un-
necessary, but Josephine wasn’t the type to notice such things. She was one of those women who
commanded attention because of the way she looked—petite, with sun-streaked brown hair, and
perpetually tanned—so it had become customary for her to get what she wanted with just a smile.
I was streaming Pandora on my computer, and the song playing would distract me until I
could name it. It was an old habit I’d never been able to break. “Dream On.” Aerosmith. I smiled
“Excuse me?” Josephine said, and I realized I’d spoken aloud.
I thought back to her question. “Actually . . . ,” I said, but as I began, the vague feeling of
disquiet that had been hovering over me since I’d awakened exploded into foreboding.
Ceecee would have said it was just somebody walking over my grave, but I knew it was the
dream I’d remembered from the night before. A dream of falling, my arms and legs flailing, wait-
ing to hit an invisible bottom.
Ignoring my body language, Josephine stepped closer. “Because I wanted to ask you about a
dream I had last night. I was running, but it felt as if my feet were stuck in glue.”
I let my wrists rest on the edge of my desk but didn’t swivel my chair, hoping she’d take the
hint. “You can Google it, you know. You can find out a lot about dreams on the Internet. It’s handy
that way.” I kept my hands poised near the keyboard.
“Yes, I know, but I just thought it would be quicker if I asked you. Since you’re the expert.”
She beamed a smile at me.
With a sigh, I turned around to face her. I wasn’t an expert—only well-read on the subject
after years spent trying to analyze my mother’s dreams in an attempt to understand her better. As
my delusional childhood self, I’d thought knowing what was in my mother’s head would help me
unlock the reasons for the sadness and restlessness behind her eyes. I’d hoped she would be so
grateful, she’d include me in her various quests for peace and beauty. I’d failed, but in the process,
I’d discovered an avid interest in these windows into our subconscious. It gave me something to
talk about at the rare parties I attended, a parlor trick I could pull out when conversation faltered.
“There are probably a million interpretations, but I think it might mean that some ambition
in your life, like your career or love life, isn’t progressing as you’d like it to be, and you feel as if
something were holding you back.”
Josephine blinked at me for several seconds, and I wasn’t sure whether she either didn’t un-
derstand or was in complete denial that anything could ever hold her back. “Thanks,” Josephine
said, smiling brightly again, any self-doubt quickly erased. “You going with the group from sales
to the Hamptons for the weekend?”
I shook my head, eager to get back to work. I was at the gym every afternoon at five thirty,
meaning I had to leave at five. Though it kept me in shape, the habit didn’t allow for much after-
hours socializing. Not that I didn’t like my coworkers—I did. They were a fun, creative, and
young group, including a smattering of millennials who didn’t act too much like millennials. I
just found that I preferred socializing with them in an office setting, making it easier to escape
back to my desk if any question went beyond which apartment I lived in and whether I preferred
the subway or cabbing it.
“No,” I said. “I think I’ll stay in the city.” It never ceased to amaze me that people who com-
plained about the crowded city always seemed to gravitate toward the same beaches at the same
time with the same people from whom they were trying to escape. “The water will be ice-cold,
anyway. It’s still only April.”
Josephine scrunched up her nose, and I noticed how nothing else wrinkled. She said she used
Botox only as a preventative measure, but from what I could tell, she was well on her way to
looking like one of the gargoyle women I saw shopping in the high-end stores on Fifth Avenue.
As Ceecee would say, it just wasn’t natural.
“Not any colder than usual,” Josephine insisted. “Come on. It’ll be fun. We’ve got a huge
house in Montauk. There’re two queen beds in my room, if you don’t mind sharing with me. You
could analyze everyone’s dreams.”
I was tempted. I’d never been part of a group or hung out with girls who rented houses to-
gether and took trips on the weekends. For a brief time in elementary school, I’d had a cluster
of friends my age, but by the time we reached middle school, they’d formed their own smaller
groups, none of which included me. I’d always had Mabry and her twin brother, Bennett, though.
Our mothers were best friends, and we’d been bathed in the same bathtub when we were babies.
That right there made us best friends, whether or not we ever acknowledged it. At least until our
senior year in high school, when we’d stopped being friends at all.
The memory made it easier for me to shake my head. “Thanks for the invite, but I’ll stay
home. I might rearrange my furniture. I’ve been thinking about it.”
Josephine gave me an odd look. “Sure. Oh, well, maybe it’s for the best. I don’t want to be
the one standing next to you wearing a bikini—that’s for sure.”
“For the record, I don’t own a bikini.” I was more a T-shirt-and-boy-shorts type girl. “But
thanks for asking. Maybe next time, okay?”
My cell phone buzzed where it lay faceup on my desk. I didn’t have a picture or a name stored
in the directory, but I didn’t need to. It was the first cell phone number I’d ever memorized. When
I didn’t move to pick it up, Josephine pointed to it with her chin. “Aren’t you going to get that?”
It was oddly telling that she didn’t excuse herself to give me privacy. I reached over and si-
lenced it. “No. I’ll call him back later.”
“Him?” she asked suggestively.
“My father.” I never took his calls, no matter how many times he tried. When I’d first come
to New York, the calls were more frequent, but over the past year or so, they’d tapered down to
about one per week—sprinkled across different days and times, as if he were trying to catch me
off guard. He wasn’t giving up. And neither was I. I’d inherited the Lanier bullheadedness from
him, after all.
“So, you have a father.” Josephine looked at me expectantly.
The phone started buzzing again. I was about to toss it in my drawer, when I noticed it was
a different number, another number that I knew and received calls from frequently, but never
when I was at work. It was Ceecee, the woman who’d raised my mother, who was pretty much
my grandmother in standing. She was too in awe of my working in New York City to ever want
to interrupt me during office hours. Unless there was a good reason.
I picked up the phone. “Please excuse me,” I said to Josephine. “I need to take this.”
“Fine,” Josephine said. “Just know that if your body is ever found behind some Dumpster in
Queens, we won’t know who to call.”
Ignoring her, I turned my back to the cubicle opening. “Ceecee?” I spoke into the phone. “Is
everything all right?”
“No, sweetheart. I’m afraid it’s not.” Her voice sounded thick, as if she had a cold. Or had
been crying. “It’s your mama.”
I sat up straighter. “What’s wrong with Mama?” I tried to prepare myself for her answer. Ivy
Lanier was anything but predictable. But anything I could have imagined couldn’t have prepared
me for what Ceecee said next.
“She’s missing. Nobody’s seen her since yesterday morning. Your daddy said when he got
home from work yesterday that she and her car were gone. We’ve called all of her friends, but
nobody’s seen her or heard from her.”
“Yesterday morning? Have you called the police?”
“Yes—the minute I heard. The sheriff has filed a report, and he’s got people looking for her.”
My mind filled and emptied like the marsh at the turning of the tides, enough stray bits cling-
ing that I could form my first question. “Where was she yesterday morning?”
A pause. “She was here. She’s been here just about every day for the last month, refinishing
her daddy’s old desk out in the garage. She’d come inside—I only know that because she left the
kitchen a mess, the drawers yanked out. Like she was looking for something.”
“And you have no idea what?” The thread of panic that had woven into my voice surprised
There was a longer pause this time, as if Ceecee were considering the question. And the pos-
sible answer. “I thought she might have wanted more spare rags for the refinishing. I keep a bag
on the floor of the pantry. It’s empty, though. She must have forgotten she’d used them all.”
“But she was looking through the drawers and cabinets.”
“Yes. When I saw her car pull away, I thought she was just running to the hardware store. But
the police have checked—she didn’t go there. Your daddy and I are beside ourselves with worry.”
I closed my eyes, anticipating her next words.
“Please come home, Larkin. I need someone here. I’m afraid . . .” Her voice caught, and she
“Ceecee, you know Mama is always off in one direction or another. You’ve always called her
a dandelion seed—remember? This wouldn’t be the first time she’s run off without explanation.”
The words sounded hollow, even to me. My dream returned to me suddenly, jerking me backward
as if I’d finally hit the ground, the air knocked from my lungs.
“She always comes back the same day,” Ceecee said fiercely. “They’ve checked all the roads
within a hundred miles of here. Your daddy’s driven Highway Seventeen all the way up to Myrtle
Beach, as far south as Charleston.” She paused again. “I wasn’t going to tell you this, but I had a
dream last night. I dreamed I was falling.”
I stared at the black letters against the white background on my computer screen, lines and
symbols that suddenly meant nothing at all. “Did you land?” I asked.
“I don’t remember.” There was a long silence and then, “Please, Larkin. Something bad has
happened. I feel it. I need you to come home. We need you to come home.”
I closed my eyes again, seeing the place I was from, the creeks and marshes of my childhood
that fed into the great Atlantic. When I was a little girl, my daddy said I bled salt water; it was
in my veins. Maybe that was why I didn’t go back more than once a year, at Christmas. Maybe I
was afraid I’d be sucked in by the tides, my edges blurred by the water. There was more than one
way a person could drown.
“All right,” I said. I opened my eyes, disoriented as I imagined the brush of spartina grass
against my bare legs, but saw only my metal desk under fluorescent lights. “I’ll take the first flight
I can find into Charleston and rent a car. I’ll call you to let you know when to expect me.”
“Thank you. I’ll let your daddy know.”
“And call me if you hear anything about Mama.”
“Have you called Bitty?” I asked.
Her voice had a sharpness to it. “No. I’m not sure if she’s really needed—”
I cut her off. “Then I’ll call her. If something’s happened to Mama, she’ll want to be there.”
“She’ll just make a fuss.”
“Probably,” I agreed. But despite her own flurried wind, Bitty always helped me find the calm
in the eye of whatever storm I found myself. “But she loves Mama as much as you do. She needs
to know what’s happened.”
I could hear the disapproval in Ceecee’s voice. “Fine. Call her, then. But please get here as
soon as you can.”
As soon as I hit the “end” button, my phone buzzed with another incoming call. I recognized
the 843 area code, but not the rest of the number. Thinking it might have something to do with
my mother, I answered it. “Hello?”
A deep male voice, almost as familiar to me as the sound of rain in a flood-swollen creek,
spoke. “Hello, Larkin. It’s Bennett.”
I quickly ended the call without answering, and put my phone on “silent.” I felt as if I were
back in my dream, falling and falling into a dark abyss and wondering how long it would take
before I hit the bottom.
Ceecee stood halfway between her kitchen door and the detached garage, retracing Ivy’s steps
and trying to figure out what Ivy had been searching for. She’d studied the antique desk, now
stripped of its finish, the drawers pulled out and stacked—a gutted fish with only skeletal re-
mains. She reexamined the pantry and the open kitchen drawers, trying to see whether anything
was missing. To find any message Ivy had been trying to leave her.
The more Ceecee didn’t see, the more worried she became. She’d turned to head back into
the garage when she heard the cough of an exhaust pipe and saw a plume of black smoke bil-
lowing down her long driveway. She knew who it was before she caught sight of the outrageous
orange hair reflecting the afternoon sun, or the faded and peeling paint of a once–powder blue
Volkswagen Beetle, circa 1970.
Bitty had been too old to own a Beetle in the seventies and was definitely too old for it now.
She’d always said it was the only car built to her small scale, but she looked ridiculous, especially
with that hair and her penchant for rainbow-hued flowing robe things that made her look like
she’d been in a preschool finger paint fight. Perpetually single but with a swath of brokenhearted
suitors left in her wake, retired art teacher Bitty lived her bohemian lifestyle on Folly Beach,
earning her living as a painter, with occasional intrusions into Ceecee’s life.
They’d known each other too long for the intrusions to be all unwelcome. Once, according
to Ceecee’s mother, they’d been thick as thieves, she and Bitty and Margaret, inseparable since
they were schoolgirls in smocked dresses and patent leather Mary Janes. But time changed all
things, oxidizing friendships like old copper pots, so they no longer saw their reflections in one
As Bitty drew near, the clownlike horn of the car beeped twice, making Ceecee jump, as she
was sure Bitty had intended. She heard the crank of the parking brake, and then Bitty was run-
ning toward her, nimble as a teenager, her arms outstretched. It wasn’t until she was in Bitty’s
embrace that Ceecee remembered the security of an old friendship. Like an ancient sweater with
moth holes that you still wear because you remember how it once kept you warm.
Bitty looked up into Ceecee’s face. “You look tired,” she said.
“And you smell like cigarette smoke.” Ceecee frowned at the bright blue eye shadow and
round spots of rouge on Bitty’s cheeks. Her makeup hadn’t changed since the sixties. “If I wore
as much makeup as you, I’d still look awful, but I’d at least cover up my tiredness.”
Bitty dropped her hands. “Good to see you, too. What do you think has happened to our Ivy?”
Our Ivy. Those two words stirred up the old anger. Ivy didn’t belong to Bitty, no matter how
much she wished she did. Some would argue that Ivy didn’t belong to Ceecee, either, but Ceecee
disagreed. She’d raised Ivy, and Ivy called her Mama. That was as much proof as she’d ever need.
“You’ll be wanting coffee, I suspect,” Ceecee said, walking back toward the kitchen and
leaving Bitty to handle her bags. Bitty was the only person their age who still drank fully leaded
coffee and could fall asleep and stay asleep at will. She’d been that way since high school, when
they’d all started drinking coffee just because Margaret did, and it was as irritating then as it was
now. “And no smoking inside.”
She was at the kitchen door before she heard the sound of another car. “It’s Larkin,” she
said, although it was obvious from Bitty’s vigorous arm waving that she’d already recognized
the driver. Ceecee said it again, as if to claim ownership, and moved to stand next to Bitty. When
Larkin’s tall form unfolded from the driver’s side, she wished she’d kept walking toward the car
so she didn’t seem to be making Larkin choose between them.
Then Bitty was running toward the beautiful young woman with the honey gold hair that was
just like her grandmother Margaret’s, and both Bitty and Larkin were laughing and crying, as if
at a joke Ceecee hadn’t been part of.
But then Larkin turned toward Ceecee and smiled, and Ceecee put her arms around her be-
fore holding her at arm’s length and shaking her head.
“You’re too thin,” she said. “A strong wind might blow you away. I’m going to make some
of your favorites while you’re home—my sweet corn bread and fried chicken.”
“It’s good to see you, too, Ceecee. Any word from Mama?”
Her bright blue Darlington eyes searched Ceecee’s face, and again Ceecee felt like she was
looking at Margaret. Dear, sweet, impossibly beautiful Margaret. Never “Maggie” or “Mags” or
“Meg”—always “Margaret.” Margaret Darlington of Carrowmore, the former rice plantation on
the North Santee River. The Darlingtons were as shrewd as they were good-looking, their luck
legend. Until it wasn’t.
Ceecee squeezed Larkin’s shoulders, feeling the bones, sharp as blades, beneath her hands.
“No, honey. I’m so sorry. Nothing yet. Let’s go inside and get you something to eat, and I’ll call
your daddy to let him know you got here safely.”
“I’ve already eaten, but can I have some coffee?”
Bitty came up on the other side of her and slipped her arm around Larkin’s waist. “A girl after
my own heart. I knew I taught you something.”
Larkin leaned her head against the top of Bitty’s. “You taught me a lot. Like how to drive a
Their strained reminiscences did nothing to hide the worry they all felt about Ivy. Her Ivy.
Without checking to see whether they followed, Ceecee let herself into the kitchen and made a
strong pot of coffee. Then she picked up the phone to call Mack to invite him to dinner. She knew
Larkin would stay with her and not her daddy. Not that she blamed her. It was hard to forgive a
father who’d fallen rapidly and spectacularly from hero status in the eyes of his only child.
She held the phone absently, still scanning the tidy kitchen counters and her pretty antique
teacup collection, which she dusted daily. She bent to straighten the dish towel on the handle of
her oven, but stopped.
An unidentifiable object had fallen in the space between the oven and the edge of the cabinet
and was peeping out at her from where it had wedged itself near the floor.
Ceecee left a brief voice message, letting Mack know about Larkin’s arrival, then ended the
call. Her knees popped and cracked like breaking glass as she squatted. Reaching her fingers into
the small space, she grasped the object and pulled it out.
“Are you stuck?” Bitty asked, standing over her, one of the rare occasions when Ceecee had
to look up at her friend.
Ceecee started to say something but stopped, the thought lost the moment she realized what
she held in her hand. Holding the counter, she pulled herself up, ignoring Bitty’s outstretched
hand.“What is that?” Bitty asked.
They both looked down at the white cardboard spool, the Hallmark price tag faded but still
legible. A small section of gold foil ribbon was stuck to the inside, held in place by yellowed tape.
Their eyes met in mutual understanding.
“What are you looking at?” Larkin asked.
Ceecee and Bitty turned toward Ivy’s daughter, unable to speak. Larkin stepped forward and
took the spool. “Is this for ribbon?”
Finally, Ceecee found her voice. “Yes. I think it might have been in the kitchen junk drawer.
Your mother must have dropped it.”
Larkin screwed up her face the same way Ivy did when she was confused or angry. Margaret
had done the same thing in her day. “So, what? Why are you both looking like that?”
Bitty spoke before Ceecee could. “We think we know where your mama is.”
“Come on,” Ceecee said, grabbing her flip phone and the keys to her Cadillac off the counter.
“We’ll tell you about it on the way.”
“On the way where?” Larkin plucked the keys from her hand. “I’ll drive—you talk. Just tell
me where we’re going, and I’ll get us there as fast as I can.”
The three girls—or “women” as Ceecee’s mother insisted on calling them now that they were
all eighteen—sat on top of the eyelet bedspread on Margaret’s four-poster rice bed, a fluffy tulle
petticoat and three manicure scissors between them. Graduation from Winyah High School was
only a month away, and Margaret had invited Ceecee and Bitty to Carrowmore for the weekend,
promising a big surprise.
“Won’t your mama mind?” Ceecee asked, knowing with her whole heart that her mother
would mind—very much. As the wife of the Methodist church’s pastor, Mrs. Tilden Purnell was
all about doing her best to be an example of piety, propriety, and poverty. Not that they lived in
poverty, Ceecee’s father would never have allowed that, but Ceecee and her two younger brothers
knew their mother took frugalness to a level her Scottish ancestors would have greatly admired.
Her proudest achievement was reusing the same soup base for an entire week, adding scraps from
previous meals each day. Lloyd, the older of Ceecee’s brothers, insisted that only her husband’s
position with God allowed all five Purnells to get through that particular week without dying of
Her frugalness extended to her shows of affection toward her children, although Ceecee and
her brothers never doubted that their mother loved them fiercely. She simply had a quiet way of
showing it—a squeeze on the hand, a smile behind their father’s back as he was sermonizing after
some small infraction, an extra slice of cake when no one was looking.
Margaret arched her eyebrow over her left eye—the only one of the three best friends to ac-
complish that feat. They’d practiced for hours in a mirror after watching Gone with the Wind. It
made her appear even more regal and aristocratic than usual. “Mother wants me to do whatever
makes me happiest. Even if it means cutting up a petticoat I haven’t worn yet so we have some-
thing to send to the Tree of Dreams.”
Ceecee and Bitty exchanged a glance, then picked up their scissors and began cutting the un-
dergarment into strips. Nobody—including Margaret—knew when or how a narrow opening in
the trunk of an old oak tree on the river at the edge of the property had become known as a special
place for storing dreams, a kind of thin place that acted as a conduit to the other side. All Margaret
knew was that it had been called that since the Revolutionary War when the first Mrs. Darlington
had placed a ribbon in a small opening in the tree’s trunk with messages for her absent soldier
husband. It had been used in the Civil War (their history teacher refused to let them refer to it
by any other name, even if this was South Carolina and Margaret’s recently passed grandmother
had refused to call it anything besides the “Late Unpleasantness”) and ostensibly for any crisis in
which the Darlingtons had found themselves since.
Margaret’s mother called the tree divine, placed on the property as a gift from their Creator,
a symbol of the family’s good fortune. After all, the Revolutionary War ancestor had come home
to father fourteen children, and the family and property had seen nothing but good health and
good fortune ever since, even being spared during the Civil War because the Darlington at the
time was a Mason.
Ceecee’s father called it pagan, this writing notes on ribbons as a sort of good luck token
instead of good on-your-knees prayer. But Margaret stubbornly called it the Tree of Dreams, the
place she went when she needed some of the Darlington good fortune to shine on her.
Whatever people called it, it seemed to work. Everything the Darlingtons touched turned
to gold. Their men were handsome, their women beautiful, their children brilliant. They were
always a little bit more than others. If Ceecee hadn’t loved Margaret so much, she might have
And Ceecee’s mother knew that, and that’s why she’d tried to discourage their friendship.
Jealousy was one of the seven deadly sins, and whether you disguised the green-headed monster
with admiration or friendship, it would always be a sharp-toothed beast waiting to pounce.
“I brought my paints and brushes, like you asked,” Bitty said. Her father was the school prin-
cipal, and her mother the art teacher. Ceecee was pretty sure that neither her parents nor Marga-
ret’s approved of their friendship with a girl whose mother worked, but the bond that had formed
in first grade couldn’t be broken, no matter how much their parents tried.
“Good,” said Margaret, sliding off the side of the bed. “After we’ve thought long and hard,
we need to paint our dreams on our ribbons. Whatever you want your life to be.”
She smiled beatifically. Ceecee looked at the ribbon in her lap and frowned. Bitty’s parents
were allowing her to study art after graduation, and Margaret had been bombarded with marriage
proposals from eligible young men with pedigrees and social standing since her debut the previ-
ous season. She’d been accepted at Wellesley, too, but only because a senator’s wife (her goals at
least were hand-in-hand with her parents’) needed a good education.
But Ceecee’s future hadn’t been discussed. Not because it didn’t matter, but because it was
a forgone conclusion. She would marry, hopefully someone she could tolerate, someone who
wasn’t too hard on the eyes—and not the overeager, Brylcreem-slicked Will Harris who was ten
years older and already giving her meaningful glances during Sunday church services. But so far,
he was the only potential candidate, any other possible suitors being shy of approaching the pas-
tor’s daughter and passing muster under the hawkish eye of her mother.
Margaret must have seen Ceecee’s frown. She leaned forward, put her hand over hers, and
squeezed. Ceecee’s mother called Margaret superficial, but at times like this, Ceecee knew it
wasn’t true. Just because a person was born perfect didn’t mean she didn’t see or sympathize
with the imperfections in others. “Don’t think of the realities, Ceecee. Think of possibilities and
dreams. Of things you can’t even imagine yet. And write those down.”
“That’s easy,” Bitty said, uncapping a jar of red paint and settling herself on the wide-planked
pine floor, a ribbon stretched out in front of her. They watched as the tip of her brush formed
precise red letters: I dream of being a significant artist.
“Don’t you mean a great artist?” Margaret asked, the bridge of her perfect nose wrinkling.
“No,” Bitty said. She was never afraid to disagree with Margaret. Despite her stature, she’d
been raised to have an opinion and not to be afraid to voice it. And Margaret was smart enough
to realize that she needed someone like that in her life.
Bitty continued. “‘Great’ is subjective, and I’d never know if it were true. But if my art has
meaning to me and to others, then it will be significant.” She balled up two blank petticoat strips
and slid them away from her. “That’s all I want.”
Margaret turned to Ceecee. “Then it’s your turn. Think hard. Remember—consider the pos-
sibilities of the rest of your life.”
Ceecee stared at her friend, pinpricks of anger tightening her jaw. It was so easy for Marga-
ret. She was a Darlington. Their world was a tidal basin full of oysters, each containing a perfect
pearl. Ceecee, no matter how much she might choose to dream, had been born into a life as pre-
dictable as the tides.
With a smug burst of defiance, Ceecee began to paint the words with the brush Bitty handed
her, keeping the letters only as big as her dreams allowed.
I dream of marrying the perfect man—handsome, kind, and with good prospects, and my love
for him will be endless.
Ceecee placed the brush in the empty jar Bitty slid in front of her, then glanced up at Marga-
ret. Her friend gave her an odd look but didn’t criticize. “It’s your turn,” Ceecee said.
“I’ve already done mine,” Margaret said with a sly grin.
She waited until Bitty and Ceecee were once more sitting on the side of the bed, the paint on
their ribbons drying on the floor. When she was sure she had their full attention, she cleared her
throat dramatically. “And now for my big graduation present for both of you.”
She watched their faces with her bright blue eyes, until Ceecee couldn’t take the suspense
anymore. When the three of them went to the movies, she was always the one with her hands over
her eyes during the scary parts.
“What, Margaret? Tell us!” she shouted.
“I’ve gotten permission from Mama and Daddy and my aunt Dorothy for us to stay with
my aunt and uncle Milton for a whole two weeks at their house in Myrtle Beach the day after
we graduate! Mama said she’ll smooth it over with your parents—you know how good she is at
that—and we can take her Lincoln Cosmopolitan convertible!”
They squealed with excitement and jumped around the room, avoiding the wet paint, their
arms thrown around one another. This would be the trip to say good-bye to their girlhoods,
Ceecee thought. To embrace the women they’d someday become. And maybe have some fun
along the way.
Margaret ran to her dresser drawer and pulled out a rolled-up ribbon. “Hurry, y’all. It’s going
to rain, and we need to get this done before Mama makes her phone calls.” She stopped, facing
them with a solemn expression. “This marks the beginning of the rest of our lives. I want you
both to always remember this moment.”
They raced down the curving front stairs, through the wide central hall to the back door,
which had been left open, a screen filtering in the scent of rain and the tidal river at low tide.
Angry clouds sat on the horizon, casting out the sun and dulling the colors of the river and marsh.
As they ran, Ceecee looked back—just once. She loved seeing the great house of Carrow-
more from a distance and never tired of its graceful lines and perfect symmetry. But the clouds
had dimmed the vivid brightness of its white paint, making the old house and familiar landscape
appear as a fading memory.
Hollowed-out gourds hung from the limbs of the river birches, elms, and oaks that dotted the
lawn past the formal gardens. It was near sunset, and a large flock of purple martins dipped and
swirled as they returned to the gourds, their nests for the night. Ceecee stopped for a moment to
look up, hearing the chirps and rattles. She realized she’d never hear them again without remem-
bering right now, this threshold they were all crossing.
The ancient oak tree, with its sweeping drapes of moss, waited at the end of the lawn near the
river, its arms seemingly outstretched in welcome. Margaret walked right up to the opening in the
trunk and stuck her ribbon inside.
“Hurry—the rain’s going to start any minute, and I’ve just washed and set my hair.”
“But won’t somebody be able to reach in and take ours out and read them?” Bitty said.
Margaret shook her head. “The birds will come and take them and use them in their nests.
Granddaddy used to say they were the go-betweens from this world and the next. You want them
to take your words and bring them where they need to go.”
“What does yours say?” Bitty said.
As she spoke, a streak of lightning flitted across the sky, and a fat drop of rain landed on her
“Hurry,” Margaret said, already taking two steps back toward the house.
Bitty and Ceecee rolled up their ribbons and stuck them inside the tree, neither indicating
how crazy this was. Margaret Darlington had the kind of power that made sane people do insane
The sky opened up with a sudden, drenching downpour as they ran back across the lawn to
the old white house.
“What did you put on your ribbon?” Ceecee called again, her voice nearly drowned out by
the loud bark of thunder above.
Margaret laughed her laugh that always turned heads, throaty and melodic like a movie star’s.
“The same thing you did!” Her long legs helped her overtake her two friends, so that she made
it to the back porch first, her blond hair darkened by the rain to the color of sea oats in autumn.
A strong wind pushed at Ceecee’s back, and an odd sound floated through the rain toward her.
She stopped and turned, saw the birdhouse gourds swaying from their tethers, their round holes
like tiny mouths opened in surprise as they keened in the wind.
Shivering, Ceecee began to run again, spotting Margaret on the porch, dripping with water.
She looked more beautiful than ever, her hair slicked back, revealing the fine bones of her face.
Ceecee felt anger again, at the “more” Margaret always seemed to achieve without trying. Angry,
too, that the wish she’d carefully written on the ribbon had to be shared.
It didn’t occur to Ceecee until much, much later that all legends and myths have a drop of
truth in them. And that she should have listened to her mother about being careful what she
Excerpted from Dreams of Falling copyright © 2018 Karen White. All rights reserved.