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Orphans 02 Crystal

V. C. Andrews


  Orphans #2

  V.C. Andrews

  Copyright (c) 1998

  ISBN: 0671020307



  One night Mr. Philips forgot his keys. It was as simple as that. Even though I was just a little over eleven, I had been helping in the administrative office as usual, filing purchase orders, receipts, and repair orders. I had left Molly Stuart's watch in Mr. Philips's bathroom when I had taken it off to wash my hands. I didn't have a watch, and she let me borrow hers once in a while. When she saw I didn't have it on my wrist, she asked me about it, and I remembered. This was after supper, when we were all in our rooms doing homework. I told her not to worry. I knew where it was. She fumed and fumed until blood flooded her face. She was positive someone would have stolen it by now because Mr. Philips's office door was never locked. So I left my room and hurried downstairs. I entered, put on the lights, and looked in the bathroom. There it was on the sink where I had left it.

  I turned to leave, and that was when I saw Mr. Philips's keys on his desk. I knew they were the keys to the secret files, the files that held information about each of us. Other kids were always asking me if I had ever seen the files out while I was working there. I never had.

  My heart skipped a beat. I looked at the door and back at those magical keys. It was close to impossible for an orphan to learn about his or her biological past, at least until he or she turned eighteen. All I had ever been told was that my mother had been too sick to keep me and that I had no father.

  I had never done a dishonest thing in my life, but this was different, I thought. This was not stealing. This was merely taking something that really belonged to me: knowledge about my own past. Quietly, I closed the front door, and then I went to the desk, picked up the keys, and found the one that would open the drawers containing the secret files.

  Funny, how I stood there, afraid to touch the file that had my name on its tab. Was I afraid to break a rule or afraid to learn about myself? Finally, I got up enough nerve and pulled out my file. It was thicker than I had imagined it could be. I turned off the office lights so I wouldn't attract any attention and sat on the floor by the bathroom with the door only slightly ajar. A thin shaft of light escaped and provided enough illumination for me to read the pages.

  The first few were filled with information I already knew about myself: medical history, school records. But the bottom stack of pages opened the dark doors of my past and revealed information that both surprised and frightened me.

  According to what I read, my mother, Amanda Perry, had been diagnosed as a manic-depressive when she was only in her mid-teens. She was institutionalized at seventeen after repeated efforts to commit suicide, once cutting her wrists and twice trying to overdose with sleeping pills.

  I read on and learned that while my mother was in a mental facility, she was impregnated by an attendant. Apparently, they never knew which attendant, so I realized that some degenerate out there was my father, unless I wanted to believe that my mother and this attendant had the most romantic and wonderful love affair between her drug therapies, cold baths, and electric shock treatments.

  Anyway, when they realized my mother was pregnant, someone made the official decision not to abort me. After I was born, obviously neither my paternal nor my maternal grandparents wanted anything to do with me, and Mr. Degenerate Attendant wasn't going to come out and claim me, so I was immediately made a ward of the state. My reports didn't say who had named me Crystal. I like to think it was the one and only thing my poor mother had been able to give me. I had nothing else, not even the slightest idea who I was, until I managed to sneak into these files.

  I saw a simple statement about my mother's death at the age of twenty-two. Her last attempt at taking her own life was a successful one. I would never meet her, even years from now when I was on my own.

  I remember the revelations made my hands shake and gave me a hollow feeling at the base of my stomach. Would I inherit my mother's mental problems? Would I inherit my father's evil ways? After I put the file back, locked up the cabinet, returned the keys to the desk, and left, I had to go right to the bathroom because I felt as if I had to throw up.

  I managed to keep my supper down but washed my face with cold water just to calm myself. When I looked in the mirror then, I studied myself, searching my eyes, my mouth, looking for some sign of evil. I felt like Dr. Jekyll searching for a glimpse of Mr. Hyde. From that day forward, I've had nightmares about it. In them I see myself become mentally ill and so sick that I would be put in some clinic and locked away forever.

  I suppose it was just natural that any

  psychologist who knew about my past would wonder if I shared any characteristics with my parents. From what I had read, I understood that my mother apparently acted out in school often and was a very difficult student for all the teachers. She was constantly in trouble. I've never been like that, but I recently read that this sort of behavior is considered a call for help, just as attempting suicide is.

  With all these calls for help, the world seemed like a great big ocean with many people drowning and lifeguards whimsically choosing to help this one or that one. Naturally, the richer ones always were saved or at least tossed a lifeline. Those like me were shoved into mental institutions, group foster homes, orphanages, and prisons. We were swept under the rug with so many others. It made me wonder how anyone could walk on it.

  I never told anyone what I had learned, of course, but I began to understand why it was that few prospective parents ever showed interest in me. They probably were given information about my past and decided not to take a chance on someone like me.

  Once, when I was at a different orphanage, I was sitting outside and reading The Diary of Anne Frank. (I was always two or three reading grade levels above other kids my age.) Suddenly, I felt a shadow move over me, and I looked up to see a balloon drifting in the wind, the string dangling like a tail. Some little child had loosened his or her grip, and it had escaped. Now, however, it drifted aimlessly, attached to no one, doomed never to return to its owner. It disappeared over a rim of treetops, and I thought, that's what we're all like here, balloons that someone released willingly or unwillingly, poor souls lost and sailing into the wind, waiting and hoping for another hand to take hold of us and bring us back to earth.

  Three more years went by without my being adopted or given a foster home. I was still helping Mr. Philips in his office, and about a year ago, he started calling me Little Miss Efficiency. I didn't mind it, even when he used me to rankle his assistants. He always said things like, "Why can't you be as responsible or as careful as Crystal?" He even said that occasionally to his secretary, Mrs. Mills.

  Mrs. Mills always looked as if she were drowning in carbon copies. Her fingers were usually blue or black because of ribbons, ink cartridges, and toner she had to change. In the morning, she came to work looking as well put together as a work of classical art, not a strand of her blue-gray hair out of place, her makeup perfect, her clothing clean and unwrinkled, but by the end of the day, her bangs were always dangling over her eyes, her blouse usually had a smudge somewhere on it, maybe two, her lipstick had somehow spread onto a cheek, and she had become a work of abstract art. I know she's one person who never resented me. She was always happy to greet me and appreciated the work I did, work she would probably have had to do otherwise.

  For someone my age, I know a lot about human psychology. I got interested in it after I read about my mother. Now I'm thinking I might be a doctor someday, and anyway, it's good to know as much as you can about psychology. It comes in handy, especially around orphanages.

  But it's not always an asset to be smarter than other people or more responsible. Thi
s is especially true for orphans. The more helpless you seem, the better your chances are for being adopted. If you look as if you can take care of yourself, who wants you? At least, that's another one of my theories for why I was a prisoner of the system for as long as I was.

  Prospective adoption parents don't like feeling inferior to the child they might adopt. I've seen it firsthand.

  There was this couple who asked specifically for me. They wanted a child who was older. The woman, whose name was Chastity, had a silly little grin on her face. Her husband called her Chas, and she called him Arn, short for Arnold. I suppose they would have ended up calling me Crys. Completing words was difficult for them. They had the same problem with sentences, always leaving a part dangling, like when Chas asked me, "What do you want to be when you . ."

  "When I what?" I forced her to say.

  "Get older. Graduate from . . ."

  "College or high school or the armed services

  or secretarial school or computer training?" I cataloged. I had taken an immediate dislike to them. She giggled too much, and he looked as if he wanted to be someplace else the moment he walked into the room.

  "Yes," she said, giggling.

  "I suppose I want to be a doctor, but I might want to be a writer. I'm not absolutely sure. What do you want to be?" I asked her, and she batted her eyelashes with a smile of utter confusion.


  "When you . ." I looked at Am, and he smirked.

  Her smile wilted like a flower and gradually evaporated completely. Her eyes were forbidding and soon filled with a nervous energy. I couldn't count how many times she gazed longingly at the door.

  They looked quite relieved when the interview ended. I didn't have another interview until just a week ago, but I was happy to meet Thelma and Karl Morris. Apparently, my background didn't frighten them, nor did my being precocious annoy them. In fact, afterward, Mr. Philips told me I was exactly what they wanted: an adolescent who promised to be no problem, who wouldn't make a major demand on their lives, who had some independence, and who was in good health.

  Thelma seemed convinced that whatever damage she believed I'd suffered as an orphan would be corrected after a few weeks of life in her and Karl's home. I loved her cockeyed optimism. She was a small woman in her late twenties with very curly light brown hair and hazel eyes that were as bright and innocent as a six-year-old's.

  Karl was only a few inches taller, with thin dark brown hair and dull brown eyes. He looked much older but was only in his early thirties. He had a soft, friendly smile that settled in his pudgy face like berries in cream. He was stout. His hands were small, but his fingers were thick.

  He was an accountant, and she said she was a housewife, but they had long ago decided that was a job, too, and she should be paid a salary for it. She had even gotten raises when they had good years. They couldn't stop talking about themselves. It was as if they wanted to get out their entire lives in one meeting.

  The best thing I could say about them was that there was absolutely nothing subtle, contrived, or threatening about them. What you saw was what you got. I liked that. It made me feel at ease. At times during the interview, it was more as if I was there to decide if! would adopt them.

  "Everything is just too serious here," Thelma told me toward the end of our session. She grimaced, folding her mouth into a disapproving frown. "It's just too serious a place for a young person to think of as any sort of home. I don't hear any laughter. I don't see any smiles."

  Then she suddenly grew very serious herself and leaned toward me to whisper. "You don't have a boyfriend yet, do you? I'd hate to break up a budding romance."

  "Hardly," I told her. "Most of the boys here are quite immature." She liked that and was immediately relieved.

  "Good," she said. "Then it's settled. You'll come home with us, and we'll never speak of anything unpleasant again. We don't believe in sadness--if you don't think about the bad things in life, you'll find they all just go away. You'll see."

  I should have known what that meant, but for once in my short life, I decided to stop analyzing everyone and just enjoy the company of someone, especially someone who wanted to be my mother.

  I A New Beginning

  Going home with the Morrises was like taking a guided tour of their lives on a sightseeing bus. They drove a moderately priced sedan chosen, Karl said, for its gas efficiency and for its high rating in Consumer Reports.

  "Karl makes the decisions about everything we buy," Thelma explained with a light laugh that punctuated most of what she said. "He says an informed consumer is a protected consumer. You can't believe in advertisements. Advertisements, especially commercials, are just full of a lot of misinformation, right, Karl?"

  "Yes, dear," Karl agreed. I sat in the rear, and Thelma remained turned on an angle so she could talk to me all the way to their home--my new home--in Wappingers Falls, New York.

  "Karl and I were childhood sweethearts. Did I tell you that?"

  She continued before I could tell her she had.

  "We started to go together in the tenth grade, and when Karl went to college, I remained faithful to him, and he remained faithful to me. After he graduated and was appointed to his position at IBM, we planned our wedding. Karl helped my parents make all the arrangements, right down to the best place to go for flowers, right, Karl?"

  "That's true," he said, nodding. He didn't take his eyes off the road.

  "Ordinarily, Karl doesn't like to have long conversations in the car when he's driving," Thelma explained, gazing at him and smiling. "He says people forget how driving a car is something that requires their full attention."

  "Especially nowadays," Karl elaborated, "with so many more cars on the road, so many more teenage drivers and older drivers. Those two age groups account for more than sixty percent of all accidents."

  "Karl has all sorts of statistics like that floating around his mind," Thelma said proudly. "Just last week, I was thinking about replacing our gas stove with a new electric range, and Karl converted BTUs . . is that it, Karl? BTUs?"


  "BTUs into pennies of cost and showed me how the gas stove was more efficient. Isn't it wonderful to have a husband like Karl who can keep you from making the wrong decisions?"

  I smiled and gazed out the windows. The orphanage wasn't much more than fifty or so miles from where my new parents lived, but I had never traveled this far north. Other than some school field trips, I hadn't been to many places at all. Just leaving the orphanage and going twenty miles by car was an adventure.

  It was late summer, and the cooler autumn winds had already begun to descend from the north. Leaves were turning rust and orange, and when I could see far into the distance and look over the heavily wooded mountains, I thought the ripple of colors was breathtakingly beautiful. This was a bright, sunny day, too. The sky was a deep, rich blue, and the clouds that flowed across it in a stream of wind stretched themselves until they became as thin as gauze. Way off to the south, an airplane turned into a silver dot and then disappeared into the clouds.

  I was happy and full of hope. I would have a home, a place to call my own, and someone else to care about besides myself, as well as, I hoped, someone to care about me. How simple that was and how taken for granted by most people, but how wonderful and new and precious it was for orphans like myself.

  "Karl is the oldest of three brothers and the only one married. His middle brother, Stuart, is a salesman for an air-conditioner manufacturer in Albany, and his younger brother, Gary, has graduated from a culinary institute in Poughkeepsie, where Karl's father lives. Gary was hired to cook on a cruise ship, so we don't hear from him or see him much at all.

  "Karl and his brothers are not far apart in age, but they're not all that close. No one is in Karl's family, right, Karl?"

  Karl nearly turned to look at her. His head started to move and then stopped when an automobile about fifty yards in front of us emerged from a driveway and he had to slow down.

/>   "If they didn't speak to each other on the phone occasionally, they wouldn't know who still existed in the family and who didn't. Karl's father is still alive, but his mother passed away, what, two years ago, Karl?"

  "A year and eleven months tomorrow," Karl said mechanically.

  "A year and eleven months," she repeated like a translator.

  So I have two uncles and a grandfather on Karl's side, I thought. Before I could ask about her side, she volunteered the information.

  "I don't have any brothers or sisters," Thelma said "My mother wasn't supposed to have any children. She had breast cancer when she was only seventeen, and the doctors advised her not to have children. Then, late in life, when she was in her early thirties, she became pregnant with me. My father was forty-one at the time. Now my mother is fifty-eight and my father is sixty-nine.

  "I bet you're wondering why we don't have any children of our own. Before you, I mean," she added quickly.

  "It's none of my business," I said.

  "Oh, sure it is. Everything that's our business is your business now. We're going to be a family, so we have to share and be honest with each other, right, Karl?"

  "Absolutely," he said, signaling to change lanes and pass the car ahead of us.

  "Karl's sperm count is too low," she said with a smile, as if she were delighted about it.

  "I don't know if we should talk about that, Thelma." The back of Karl's neck turned pink with embarrassment.

  "Oh, of course we can. She's old enough and probably knows everything there is to know. Kids today are very advanced. How can they not help it, with all that's on television? Do you watch television much, Crystal?"

  "No," I answered.

  "Oh," she said, the excitement fading in her face for the first time since we had met. Her eyes looked like tiny flashlights with weakened batteries. Then she thought of something and smiled again. "Well, that's probably because you didn't have much opportunity in a home with so many other children. Anyway, we did try to have children. As soon as Karl determined it was financially sensible for us, we tried, right, Karl?"