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Bittersweet Dreams

V. C. Andrews

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  For Gene Andrews,

  who so wanted to keep his sister’s work alive


  Beverly Royal School System

  18 Crown Jewel Road

  Beverly Hills, California

  Dear Mr. and Mrs. Cummings:

  As you know, the school has been conducting IQ tests to better address the needs and placement of our students. We always suspected that we were going to get extraordinary results when Mayfair was tested, but no one fully understood or anticipated just how extraordinary these results would be.

  To put it into perspective, this is a generally considered scale by which most educational institutions judge these results.

  IQ scores of 115 to 129 indicate a bright student who should do well with his or her educational pursuits.

  We consider those with scores of 130 to 144 moderately gifted and those with 145 to 159 highly gifted. Anyone with scores between 160 and 179 is recognized as exceptionally gifted.

  Rare are those whose scores reach 180. We consider such an individual profoundly gifted. To put it into even better perspective for you, statistically, these students are one in three million; so, for example, in the state of California, with a population of approximately 36 million, there are only eleven others who belong in this classification with Mayfair.

  Needless to say, we’re all very excited about this, and I would like to invite you in to discuss Mayfair’s future, what to anticipate, and what to do to ensure that her needs are fully addressed.

  Sincerely yours,

  Gloria Fishman, Psychologist


  “For what you did, you belong in a juvenile home, maybe a mental clinic, but certainly not a new school where you’ll undoubtedly be coddled and further spoiled, an even more expensive private high school than Beverly Royal,” my father’s new wife, Julie, muttered bitterly.

  Even though they had been married for years, I didn’t want to use the word stepmother, because it implied that she filled some motherly role in my life.

  Her lips trembled as anger radiated through her face, tightening her cheeks. If she knew how much older it made her look, she would contain her rage. I did scare her once by telling her that grimacing too much hastened the coming of wrinkles.

  It was the morning of what I thought would be my banishment from whatever family life I once could have claimed, something that had become a distant memory even before all this. I knew that few, least of all Julie, would think that mattered much to me. They saw me as someone who lived entirely within herself, like some creature who moved about in an impenetrable bubble, emerging only when it was absolutely necessary to say anything to anyone or do anything with anyone. But family did matter to me. It always had, and it always would.

  I didn’t have to go on the internet and look it up to know that a family wasn’t just something that brought you comfort and security. It provided some warmth in an otherwise cold and often harsh and cruel world. It gave you hope, especially when events or actions of others weighed you down with depression and defeat. All the rainbows in our lives originated with something from our families.

  In fact, all I was thinking about this morning was my mother, the softness in her face, the love in her eyes, and the gentleness in her touch whenever she had wanted to soothe me, comfort me, or encourage me, and how my father glowed whenever we were with him. How I longed for that warmth to be in my life again. Yes, family mattered.

  True friends mattered, too, even though I had few, if any, up to now. Just because I was good at making it seem like I was indifferent and uncaring about relationships, that didn’t mean I actually was. Students in the schools I had attended thought I was weird because of what I could do and what I had done, most of it so far above and beyond them that they didn’t even want to think about it. I didn’t need to give them any more reasons to avoid me, especially adding something like being a social misfit, which in the minds of most teenagers was akin to a fatal infectious disease.

  I knew most avoided me because they believed I was too arrogant to care about anyone but myself. I mean, who could warm up to someone who seemed to need no one else? From what they saw or thought, I didn’t even require teachers when it came to learning and passing exams. I was a phenomenon, an educational force unto myself.

  Maybe I didn’t need a doctor or a dentist or a parent, either. I already knew as much as, if not more than, all of them put together. It wasn’t much of a leap to think I didn’t need friends. I’m sure most wondered what they could possibly offer someone like me anyway. Besides, being around me surely made them feel somewhat inferior. They were afraid they would say something incorrect, and who likes to worry about that, especially when you’re with friends? I would have to confess that I didn’t do all that much to get them to think otherwise. Perhaps it really was arrogance, or maybe I simply didn’t know how to do it. I didn’t know how to smile and be warm just for the sake of a friendship. One thing I couldn’t get myself to do was be a phony. I was too bogged down in truth and reality.

  Julie moved farther into my room, inching forward carefully, poised to retreat instantly, like someone approaching a wild animal, even though the wild animal was in a cage. Thinking that was where I was made sense. If anyone should feel trapped and in a cage right now, it was I.

  In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that wasn’t much of an exaggeration. That was what I felt I was, and not just because of what I had done and what was happening today. I’d always felt this way. Deep down inside, despite my superior intellect, I sensed that people, especially educators and parents of other students, believed I was like some new kind of beast that needed to be kept apart from the rest of humanity, a mistake in evolution or the final result of it, and because of that, I was chained to something I’d rather not be, especially at this moment: myself.

  As she drew closer, the sunshine streaming through my bedroom windows highlighted every feature of her face. I wished it hadn’t. I was sorry I had opened the fuchsia curtains, but I had needed to bring some light in to wash away the shadows gripping my heart. I had no desire to look into Julie’s hateful, jealous, dull hazel eyes. Sometimes they followed me into dreams, those envious, vicious orbs floating on a black cloud, invading my sleep like two big insects that had found an opening in my ordinarily well-locked and guarded brain.

  I hoisted my shoulders and stiffened my neck as if in anticipation of being struck. My abrupt action stopped her, and she retreated a few steps. She fumbled with her cowardice. She never, ever wanted to look like she didn’t have the upper hand in this house, especially when it came to confronting me. However, she never seemed to get the satisfaction she sought—at least, not until now, when I was most vulnerable, practically defenseless, but with no one to blame for that but myself.

  “I don’t care how smart people say you are. You never fooled me with your complicated excuses and fabrications concerning things you have done and said. Right from the beginning, I could see right through you as if you were made of clear glass,” she said, more like bragging, to give the impression that she had some special insight that neither my teachers, my counselors, nor even my father had. She was always trying to get my father to believe that, to believe he couldn’t be as objective about me as she could and thus was blind to my serious faults.

  To emphasize the point, she narrowed her eyes to make herself look more intelligent,
inquisitive, and perceptive. I nearly laughed at her effort, because she was so obvious whenever she did that and whenever she spoke with a little nasality and used multisyllabic words like fabrications instead of lies. She was the queen of euphemisms anyway, always trying to impress my father with what a lady she was, never without a perfumed handkerchief, the scent of her cologne whirling about her, her head held high and her posture regal. She loved giving off that aristocratic air, practically tiptoeing over the floors and carpets as if she floated on a private cloud.

  I think Julie had long ago convinced herself that somewhere in her background and lineage there really was royal blood. She believed she was born with class and had inherited elegance and stature. Heaven forbid she heard any profanity out of my mouth or her daughter’s. Didn’t we know it was unladylike, made us look cheap and unsophisticated? She would go into hyperventilation and have to sit quickly, especially if it happened in front of my father, who would rush to her side to apologize for me, because he knew I wouldn’t. He couldn’t see that small smile of satisfaction sitting on her lips, but I could.

  Why were men so easy to fool or so willing to tolerate phoniness just to sail on smooth water? What wouldn’t they compromise to keep the pathways to their beds unobstructed? Were women really the superior sex? Was sex, in fact, a big disadvantage for men? Ironically, I had been thinking about writing a paper on that topic. Women seemed more able to avoid sex, hold off longer than men, and certainly use it as a weapon when necessary or a device to get what they wanted. I had read a theory that developed the idea that women craved sex with nearly the same intensity as men only when they were ovulating, while men craved it continually.

  “I always knew you were very capable of being mean, evil, and selfish,” Julie ranted. “Your intelligence doesn’t make you any sort of angel. In fact, in your case especially, it’s just the opposite. You’re sly and conniving. We already know how effective you are at manipulating people, especially someone younger than you. You’re just better at these evil ways than most people.”

  She waited for my reaction, but I just continued to stare at her as if she was some sort of curious form of life. It was getting to her, despite her claims of invulnerability.

  “You don’t intimidate me with that ‘I’m better than you’ look. It hasn’t happened to you yet, in my opinion, despite what others might think, but someday you’ll get your just desserts,” she concluded.

  I finally had something to say. “From the way you’re saying it, I have a feeling that you would spell that expression wrong,” I said.

  “What? What on earth are you talking about now? What expression?”

  “ ‘Just desserts.’ Deserts in the sense you mean is actually spelled with one s, not two. You’re using that expression to mean I’ll get my proper punishment.”

  She continued to glare at me but now with her mouth fallen slightly open, her salmon-pink tongue looking like a dead fish.

  I straightened up, and I’m sure it looked to her like I was in front of a classroom, my classroom. I was a good inch and a half taller than she was, a little broader in the shoulders, but with just as small a waist, long legs, and just as ample and firm a bosom. Despite the fact that we had no facial resemblances or similar hair color, I was always afraid that someone who didn’t know us might make the wrong assumption that we were actually related.

  “Dessert with two s’s is the course in the meal that gets people excited and happy. And getting what you deserve might also mean you’re finally receiving the accolades and rewards you’ve earned. That’s certainly nothing to fear. But the expression does come from a playbook called A Warning for Fair Women. The exact quote in question is ‘Upon a pillory—that the world may see, a just desert for such impiety.’ It’s spelled with one s, coming from deserts in the sense of things deserved. Understand?”

  “Understand? That’s how you treat what I say even after all you’ve done? Do you think I’m one of your dumb high-school classmates? Why, you pedantic little bitch,” she said, spitting the words out through clenched teeth. “I bet you think you’re so superior to the rest of us because of that computer you have for a brain and those bureaucratic school administrators who fawn over you as if you were the next Albert Einstein or something. They’re just as much a cause of all this as you are, by encouraging you to think of yourself as . . . as someone who doesn’t need to go to the bathroom or something.”

  I didn’t change expression, even though I was laughing at her on the inside. My father wasn’t home. He had an errand to do before we left, so he didn’t hear her say all this, not that I thought he would have done much to reprimand her for saying any of it anyway at this point. I recalled the expression on his face yesterday when he didn’t think I saw him looking at me. It was soaked in disappointment. Vividly recalling that look, I thought he might even agree with her now, every nasty and mean word. I imagined him nodding and putting his hand on her shoulder, not mine, to bring her comfort and whisper something to make her feel better and show her how concerned he was for her welfare. “Don’t get yourself too upset,” he might tell her. “It doesn’t do anyone any good for you to get sick, especially now, in the middle of all this.”

  “I don’t mean to be condescending,” I said, with just the quiet, matter-of-fact tone that irritated her heart. “You use the expression so often, Julie, that I thought you might want to know about it. I know how important it is for you not to look like a fool in front of your friends. Not that any of your so-called friends would know the difference anyway. If you surround yourself with mediocrity, you become mediocre,” I added. “You probably think you stand out, but believe me, they pull you down, not that you had all that far to fall.”

  Her eyes widened, and her face reddened, with cheeks that looked like fully ripe red apples. She balled her fists and readied her vocal cords for screaming. I loved the way I was getting inside her and tying her already twisted little heart into tighter knots. For me, it was sweet revenge, and for the moment, it took my mind off the pool of trouble in which I was swimming, maybe drowning.

  “It’s not unlike another favorite expression of yours,” I continued. I felt like I was on a roll, like a contestant on Jeopardy. “ ‘The icing on the cake.’ I notice you’re always using it for negative remarks, like ‘His wife’s suing him for divorce is the icing on the cake.’ It really is used more for positive comments. Think about it. Who doesn’t like licking the icing on a cake?”

  She continued to glare at me, as if hoping her fiery eyes would make me explode and drop into a pool of dust at her feet. She could do that so easily to her daughter.

  “Is that what you do? You analyze all my expressions?” she asked, amazed. “You judge my every word and do a critique behind my back?”

  I shrugged and turned away. “Believe me, it’s not brain surgery,” I said, hiding my smile.

  “What else have you criticized about me? Well? Let me have the whole bag of ugliness you’re so capable of filling and flinging in my direction before you leave us. We already know some of the distortions and lies about me that you spread, and don’t think I was ever unaware of what you told your father about me. You never understood how important I’ve become to him and how much we trust each other now. Well? Go on. What else? What other things have you told my daughter? You might as well get it all out before you leave.”

  I acted as if I didn’t hear her anymore. I knew that was one of the things she hated the most. A woman like Julie couldn’t tolerate being made to feel as if nothing she said or did mattered. She couldn’t stand being ignored. Her ego would stamp its feet, pull its hair, and scream.

  The truth was that most of the time, I didn’t really listen to the things she said, even if I gave her the satisfaction of pretending I was listening. I didn’t only do it to her. I could shut people out as quickly as I could shut off a light, especially someone like her. I didn’t go into a trance. There was no faraway look in my eyes that would reveal that I was gone. It was almost
impossible to know when I was listening and when I wasn’t. Sometimes I imagined that I had two sets of ears and two brains. You know, like an extra hard drive in the computer that she thought was my brain? My mind had a zoom lens. I could just focus on some interesting thing and cut out the distraction.

  But this morning, unfortunately, I did hear her every mean-spirited word. To be truthful, I welcomed her verbal whipping, even though she was certainly no one to accuse anyone else of being mean and selfish and had no right to assume the role of judge and jury. If there ever was someone who should be restrained by being without sin before casting the first stone, it was my father’s wife, Julie. It was lucky she didn’t have a twin. She would have smothered him or her in her mother’s womb just to be sure she would get all of her parents’ attention.

  But despite what she thought, I wasn’t feeling particularly superior this morning. She was at me like this because she knew I was down and incapable of defending myself very much. That was usually when someone like her would pounce. I call them coyote cowards. They’re parasites who will only swoop down on the small, wounded, or handicapped. Otherwise, they hover in the shadows, feeding their green faces on envy with hopes for your failures, waiting for you to become crippled and weaker but too frightened to challenge or compete when you weren’t.

  “I don’t know how you will live with yourself,” she continued. “If I were inside you, I’d scratch and kick my way out.”

  I turned and glared at her. Despite what she claimed, I knew I could frighten her with a look like the one I had now. I had practiced it in the mirror. It was a look I often employed at school. My eyes were like darts. I had the face of someone capable of sending out curses like emails.

  Fear began to overtake her in small ways. She embraced herself quickly, swallowed hard, and took another step back.