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Hudson 02 Lightning Strikes

V. C. Andrews

  Lightning Strikes

  Hudson #2

  V.C. Andrews

  Copyright (c) 2000

  ISBN: 0671007696




  Sometimes in the early evening when the

  shadows deepened and thickened in the corners of rooms within Grandmother Hudson's mansion, I would hear soft whispering. It wasn't something I heard when I first arrived, but it was something I was hearing more and more now. The whispers sounded like voices warning me, but about what, I wondered. What?

  Back in Washington, D.C., Mama had finally revealed the truth of my birth: my real mother was a rich white woman who had gotten pregnant with me in college. Her boyfriend at the time was a black man named Larry Ward, and after I was born my real mother's father had made the arrangements for me to live with Ken and Latisha Arnold. Ken had been paid well for it. I grew up thinking Beni Arnold was my younger sister and Roy Arnold was my older brother.

  After Beni had been murdered by gang members and Mama had told me the truth about myself, she forced my white mother Megan Randolph to meet with us and then pleaded with her to help her get me out of the ghetto world. I thought Mama was trying to get me to live with my real family because she was worried more than ever about the drugs and the gang violence, but there was another reason, one I wouldn't learn until much later. Mama was dying from cancer and she wanted to be sure I was safe and had the opportunities she would never be able to give me.

  My real mother was reluctant. She simply wanted to give Mama more money. She said it was the worst time for all this because her husband was being considered for political office. Finally, as a compromise which would still keep my tile identity a secret, my real mother arranged for me to come here and live with her widowed mother, Frances Hudson. As far as the rest of the world was concerned, it was supposed to be an act of charity: taking in a poor girl who showed academic promise. Rich people had so many charitable causes and organizations to list under they names that adding one more, fictional or otherwise, was no problem.

  In the beginning I thought I wouldn't last long in this rich, rural Virginia world attending Dogwood, a private school populated mostly by wealthy kids, but not because I wasn't up to the academic challenge. I had, despite my poor school, always been a good student, a reader. And I wasn't worried about being treated badly. None of these snobby kids could stare me down or make me feel bad with their remarks and looks. I had been through far worse.

  No, what worried me was my real grandmother. She was a stern elderly woman who liked to lecture and rail at her doctor, her lawyers and accountants, and especially my mother's younger sister Victoria who had taken over management of the family businesses. Grandmother Hudson and I confronted each other like two prize fighters during those early days and weeks. I refused to permit her to get away with even a single innuendo, a single nasty remark about my life with Mama, Roy, Beth and even my adoptive father Ken Arnold.

  Although we had lived in the projects of Washington, D.C., Mama had never given up her high hopes for all of us. She wanted me to have an education and become something. I was no slum girl, no ghetto bad girl, and Grandmother Hudson wasn't going to be allowed to paint me into that stereotyped picture.

  She realized it soon enough, and soon enough we agreed to a truce and then, after time, we even developed a warm affection for each other. One day I learned she had even included me in her will. It enraged her younger daughter Victoria who didn't find out the truth about me until I was nearly finished with my school year at Dogwood. She wanted to blackmail my mother and force her to help get me out of the will.

  I suspected this was the real reason I was given the opportunity to attend a prestigious drama school in London. It was just a way to get rid of me, a sort of compromise. However, Grandmother Hudson insisted that wasn't so.

  "Do you think I would ever let my daughter dictate an important decision to me?" she bellowed at me when I so much as suggested it.

  "No," I said.

  "You're right about that. Not as long as there is still breath in these old lungs, she won't, so don't go feeling sorry for yourself or for me," she warned. "People who accept pity have thrown in the towel. On my tombstone, I want it written that here lies a woman who never accepted pity. Understand?"

  "Yes," I said, laughing at her. She muttered and fumed but kept a smile under that mask of outrage, a smile only I could see.

  Now, with the school year over, I was days away from leaving for England. Mama had died. Ken was in prison where he belonged. Roy was in the army, and poor Beni was gone. I really had no one but myself, for my real mother had managed to keep intact the secret of who I was, and now it looked like she would be able to continue keeping me without a name just to maintain peace in her own precious, perfect world. Her excuse was always the same--that she had to protect her husband Grant who was trying to become a politician.

  Her own children, Brody and Alison, had no idea they were my half brother and half sister. I really didn't want to be related to Alison anyway, but Brody had become too attentive and my mother was worried that he was developing a romantic attachment. Brody was a football star and an advanced-placement student. My grandmother worried about the way he took to me, too.

  I suspected that was another reason she was so eager to have me go off to London. She made plans to accompany me on the initial journey, but her doctor, who had managed, with my help, to have a pacemaker implanted in her, strongly advised against her making the trip. The pacemaker wasn't quite right yet. Naturally, Grandmother Hudson threw a tantrum and vowed to defy her doctor. I had to stand up to her and tell her that I wouldn't go if she came along.

  "I'm not going to be responsible for what might happen to you," I told her firmly. She could bluster and wave her hands at the air between us, and I wouldn't flinch.

  "That's nonsense." She paced the room, gesticulating wildly. "And just whom do you think you're speaking to?"

  "I was hoping a mature adult," I said. Her lips moved for a moment without a sound emerging. Her tongue was so eager to lash out her words.

  "You know you are an infuriating young lady, don't you?" she finally managed.

  "I wonder from whom I've inherited that," I replied.

  "Not your mother, that's for sure," she said. "Give her a crisis and she'll go out and buy a new dress."

  She flopped in the big chair in her bedroom and sat back with her arms over the cushioned sides.

  "I'm warning you. My sister Leonora, who agreed to let you live with her, is not anything like me."

  "That's a relief?'

  "Don't be rude," she snapped. She took a breath, looked out the window, and turned back to me. "She's very stuffy. She and her husband Richard are quintessentially English. Their lives are filled with codes of behavior that make the rules I live by look like chaos. On top of that, you'll be living like one of her domestics, fulfilling chores. You might not be able to face them alone. Every day they'll remind you of how lucky you are to be able to serve them."

  I retorted, "Lucky. I wonder every day what I did to be this lucky."

  "You are a sassy child. Well," she said with a sigh, "they can't expect that I purged you of all your willful ways in the short time you've been living here with me. There is only so much a person can accomplish, even someone like me."

  "Why, Grandmother, you are admitting limits?"

  "Do you want to give me a heart attack? Is that why you're being so impudent?"

  I smiled.

  She turned away to hide her own smile behind her hand and then shook her head.

  "I just can't imagine you living with Leonora. It was a bad idea."

  "I'm sure it will be nothing compa
red to where I lived in Washington, D.C., Grandmother. Are there people being shot on the street in front of her home? Does she have dope addicts in the hallways and gang members standing on the corner ready to terrorize me?"

  "She has her own hurdles for you to jump," she countered. "She believes she belongs with English royalty. All right," she said, nodding, her eyes small. "You'll see for yourself." She sighed deeply. "You'll be spending most of your time at the school, anyway, I suppose. After my ogre of a doctor signs me off, join you and see that you're not being exploited."

  "I think I can see to that myself," I said.

  "Don't be arrogant, Rain. It's not becoming, and it will only lead to trouble."

  "I'm not being arrogant. I'm being ...confident," I said. "Do you think it's easy for me to agree to pick up and go to another country?" I asked, holding my hands out.

  She laughed.

  "I suppose you have a point. All right, let's not beat a dead horse. Get me my pills, please," she said, gesturing toward the nightstand by her bed. I got one of her tablets out and gave it to her with a glass of water. "Your mother claims she will be here tomorrow to say good-bye. Don't hold your breath," she told me. "I'm sure she'll come up with some convenient excuse like she has to attend some political function with Grant."

  "When it comes to my mother," I said, "I've grown accustomed to disappointment."

  She nodded sadly.

  "On the other hand," she said, suddenly smiling, "Victoria would be eager to help load your suitcases and see you off."

  "I know?'

  Her smile softened and disappeared.

  "Maybe you're the lucky one after all. I have to stay here with my children and grandchildren, not that they'll visit me much. I don't expect see much of Brody with you gone," she added with a suspicious look in her eyes.

  "He hasn't called or written to me if that's what you're asking, Grandmother."

  "Good," she said. She shook her head. "Your mother has to face up to the truth one of these days."

  'Why?" I asked dryly.

  She stared at me. I wanted her to say because it was the right thing to do, despite the danger and the consequences. Blood used to be thicker than water.

  When I first met my real mother, I had hoped we would become close. I had looked forward to having a mother-daughter relationship. However, she was still quite a stranger to me and the chance of that ever changing seemed unlikely.

  "I'm taking a short nap," Grandmother said rather than continue the discussion.

  I fetched a blanket and put it over her legs and she closed her eyes. I hated seeing her so weak and fatigued. In a strange turn of circumstances, she had become my only real family. Six months ago, she wouldn't have even noticed me on the street nor I her, How fate toyed with us, I thought as I left

  Grandmother Hudson's room.

  When I walked through the house, I heard the whispers grow louder in the corners. Perhaps they came from the ghosts of Grandmother Hudson's ancestors, wondering what their world had become to have someone with my background living here. Maybe the warnings I imagined came from that. Here a girl with black blood, a girl who had an AfricanAmerican for a father, was living like a true

  grandchild, given the best of everything and was even included in this old, distinguished white family's legacy. The ghosts of this family's past might think we were tempting fate with such behavior.

  I left the house and went down to the lake. Two rather large crows were perched on a rock. They stared at me with cautious interest. I wondered if any other species but man made a thing of color. Did other birds look down at the crows because they were black? They were quite beautiful, more glossy ebony than black, and their eyes looked bejeweled in the twilight sun. Roy had beautiful dark eyes like that, I thought, remembering.

  I wondered how he was doing in the army. He had already been transferred to Germany and we had talked about his coming to see me in England. Surely, I thought, Roy must feel like an orphan too, for he was never close to his father and now, with his father in prison and his mother gone, he had only the army. At least I had Grandmother Hudson.

  The sound of a car's horn sent the crows skyward. They passed over me, their wings flapping simultaneously making them seem almost like one bird. With their beaks slightly open, they looked like they were laughing as they sailed over the lake toward the safety of the pockets of darkness in the woods.

  "Good-bye," I whispered and turned to wave to Jake, my grandmother's chauffeur. He had picked up my airline ticket and was holding it up like the winning lottery ticket. I hurried up the path.

  "You're all set," he said, handing me the packet. "You're leaving the day after tomorrow. England. Wow!, I bet you're excited, huh?"

  "Nervous, more than excited, Jake."

  He smiled and nodded. Jake was tall, lean and balding, yet he had bushy eyebrows. I loved his happy-go-lucky personality. Nothing seemed to get to him. Just before the end of the school year, he had taken me to see his horse, a newly born colt. He had named it after me.

  Grandmother Hudson was lucky she had someone like Jake, I thought. He had been with her a long time and they had known each other even before he'd become an employee. In fact, his father had once owned this property. In some ways he felt more like family to me.

  "You'll do just fine, Rain," he said. "Just send me some English toffee from time to time. Speaking of the English, how's our own queen?' he asked eyeing the house.

  "Mrs. Hudson is still threatening to come along, if that's what you mean."

  "Don't be surprised if she's on the plane," he warned, nodding.

  "If she is, jump out. I told her so."

  He laughed and headed for his car.

  "I'll be here bright and early."

  "Don't expect me to be bright," I called. He waved, got in and drove off.

  It seemed to get dark quickly. The great house loomed behind me, the lights burning in Grandmother Hudson's bedroom window. I had been here only a short time, but at least I had begun to understand what it meant to have a home again. Now I was to go off on an uncertain adventure. I had been a success in the school play and people who supposedly knew about these things thought I might have what it takes to become an actress.

  Why shouldn't I have what it takes to pretend? I thought. Most of my life I had to do that: I had to pretend we had a safe home life, a father who cared about us, a future for myself and my family. Now, I was pretending to be an orphan when I knew I had a real mother who still denied me. Illusions were as much a part of me as anything.

  How simple it should be to step off one stage and onto another, I thought.

  If I have to live like this and be like this, isn't it better to have an audience applauding and to take curtain calls?

  The moon looked like a spotlight being fired up. The world around me was a great theater.

  A wave of whispering rose from my imaginary audience and reached me in the darkness behind the curtain. "Don't be afraid," Mama was saying.

  "Take your position, Rain," the director ordered. "Everyone ready?"

  "Mama...1 can't help it. I'm frightened," I cried toward the dark wings.

  "It's too late, baby," she whispered. "Look. The curtain's opening."

  I nodded. It was too late.

  "Let's begin," I told myself and stepped forward into the light, onto the stage, as if I expected to be reborn.


  A Grand Adventure


  Grandmother Hudson sat there with an I-toldyou-so smile on her face at the breakfast table after I returned from speaking with my mother on the phone.

  "Well?" she asked when I sat in silence. I knew she wanted to hear she had been right. Spitefully, I wanted to keep her waiting. Actually, my reluctance to speak was more out of my own pain. No matter how brave a face I put on, I was still disappointed.

  "She's not coming," I said quickly, my eyes downcast. "She says the attorney general is having them over for dinner. I'm supposed to call her if you dare mak
e plans to go with me to England."

  "I should go just for that," Grandmother Hudson said like a petulant little girl. "Have you packed everything?"

  "Yes." She slid a long white envelope over the table to me. "What's this?"

  "Extra spending money. I don't expect my sister will buy you anything you need. It's a bank draft, so soon after you arrive, ask Leonora to direct you to her bank and have it deposited. You know, of course, all the money will be changed to English pounds?"


  "You'll have to learn the exchange rate so you understand what things will cost. Of course you'll speak the same language," she continued, "but there are many differences. My sister has become an Anglophile. She has an accent and all, although there were times even recently when I caught her sounding more like an American. It will take a little getting used to, but that will be part of the adventure?' She paused, sat back and sighed. "I wish I was your age, going off somewhere. I feel like I've been chained to this chair and imprisoned by my own traitorous heart," she moaned.

  "You've told me many times that you did a great deal of traveling and that you enjoy not having to drag off somewhere," I reminded her.

  "Yes, we did travel quite often until Everett became ill." She paused, looking thoughtful for a moment and then smirked at me. "No one told you that you have to memorize every last word I utter in this house and then throw them back at me."

  I laughed at her and she smiled, wagging her head. Then she grew serious again.

  "I should tell you a little about my sister Leonora and her husband Richard," she said sitting forward. "You already know he is a barrister, and Leonora will be the first to tell you how important he is. They live in a fancy part of London, Holland Park. I've actually only been there twice, once for a visit and once... for a funeral."


  "They lost their only child Heather. She was seven at the time."

  "How horrible. How did she die?"

  "She was born with a defective heart valve and corrective surgery didn't solve the problem. One morning, they found she'd died in her sleep. It was very sad."

  "What did you tell your sister about me?" I asked.