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Secrets of the Morning

V. C. Andrews


  As we descended through the billowing clouds, New York suddenly appeared below me. New York! The world's most exciting city, a city I had only read about and heard about and seen pictures of in magazines. I gazed through the window and held my breath. The tall skyscrapers seemed to go on forever and ever, past anything I could have imagined.

  When the stewardess began telling us to fasten our seat belts and pull up the backs of our seats, and the no smoking sign was flashed, my heart began to thump so hard I thought the nice old lady beside me would hear it. She smiled at me as if she did.

  I sat back and closed my eyes.

  It had all happened so fast—my discovering the truth about my abduction and confronting Grandmother Cutler with the lies, a confrontation that forced her to promise she would get Daddy Longchamp, the man I had mistakenly believed to be my father, paroled quickly. In exchange, I had to agree to go to the Bernhardt School for Performing Arts in New York, something Grandmother Cutler arranged so she wouldn't have to put up with a grandchild who she claimed wasn't really a Cutler. My mother confessed to having had an affair with a traveling singer, my real father, and then conveniently, she fell into one of her nervous states and retreated from any responsibility. Grandmother Cutler could do anything she wanted with me, just as she could do with anyone else at Cutler's Cove, including her son, my mother's husband Randolph.

  What a horror life at the hotel had been after I had been returned to what was considered my real family. How would I ever forget Philip's forcing himself on me and Clara Sue's spite that eventually resulted in poor Jimmy's being carted off by the police after he had run away from a horrible foster home? Now I was caught between two worlds—the ugly world back at the hotel where there was no one I could turn to or depend upon, and the frightening prospect of New York City where there was no one I knew.

  Even though I was going to do what I had always dreamt of doing: train to be a singer, I was terrified of setting foot in a city so big. No wonder my breath was caught in my throat and my heart threatened to drum through my chest.

  "Is someone coming to meet you at the airport, dear?" asked the old lady sitting next to me. She introduced herself as Miriam Levy.

  "A taxi cab driver," I muttered and fumbled for the instructions I had been given and had placed in my purse. I must have looked at them twenty times during the flight, but still had to gaze at them again to confirm what was to happen. "He's going to be down by the luggage carousel and he's going to hold up a card with my name on it."

  "Oh yes, many people have that done. You'll see," she said, patting me on the hand. I had told her that I was to live in an apartment house with other Bernhardt students. She said the location was in a very nice neighborhood on the East Side. When I asked her what she meant by the "East Side," she explained how the streets and avenues were divided into east and west and so I would have to know whether 15 Thirty-third Street, for example, was East or West Thirty-third. It seemed frighteningly complicated. I envisioned myself getting terribly lost and wandering forever through the long, wide avenues with thousands of people rushing by and not caring.

  "You mustn't be afraid of New York," she said as she adjusted her hat. "It's big, but people are friendly once you get to know them. Especially in my neighborhood in Queens. I'm sure a nice girl like you will make friends quickly. And just think of all the wonderful things there are for you to see and do."

  "I know," I said, putting my brochure about New York City back in my carry-on bag.

  "What a lucky girl to be flying to New York to attend a famous school," she said. "I wasn't that much younger than you when my mother brought me over from Europe." She laughed. "We thought the streets were really paved with gold. Of course, it was a fairy tale."

  She patted my hand again.

  "Maybe for you, the streets will be paved in gold, for you fairy tales will come true. I hope so," she added, her eyes twinkling warmly.

  "Thank you," I said, even though I no longer believed in fairy tales, especially fairy tales coming true for me.

  I held my breath again as the plane's wheels were lowered and we approached the runway. There was a slight bump and we were rolling along. We had touched ground.

  I was really here.

  I was in New York.



  We filed out of the plane slowly. When we entered the airport, Mrs. Levy spotted her son and daughter-in-law and waved at them. They came forward and hugged and kissed her. I stood back watching them for a moment, wishing that I had some family anxiously awaiting my arrival, too. How wonderful it must feel to arrive after a big trip and have people who love you waiting there to throw their arms around you and tell you how much they've missed you, I thought. Would ever have that?

  Once Mrs. Levy found her family, she forgot about me. I started after the crowd of passengers since we were all headed for the same place—the luggage carousels. But I was like a little girl at a circus for the first time. I couldn't stop looking at everything and everyone. On the walls there were large, colorful posters advertising New York shows. The kind of musicals I had only dreamt about seeing were loudly announced all around me. These stars and these shows, could they be only minutes away? Was I foolish to dream that someday I would be featured on one of these beautiful posters?

  I continued down the corridor gazing up at the huge sign advertising a perfume by Elizabeth Arden. The women in all the advertisements looked like movie stars with their glamorous clothing and jewels and beautiful, radiant faces. As I spun around, I heard a voice over the public address system announcing arrivals and departures.

  A family went by me speaking in a foreign language, the father complaining about something and the mother pulling her little wards by the hand as quickly as she could. Two sailors strolled past me and whistled and then laughed at my surprise. Farther down the corridor, I saw three teenage girls in a corner smoking cigarettes, none of them much older than I was, and all wearing sunglasses even though they were inside. They glared at me angrily when I stared, so I looked away quickly.

  Never had I seen so many people in the same place at once. And so many rich people! The men in soft dark suits and polished black and brown leather shoes, the women in elegant silk dresses and coats, their diamonds glittering on their ears and necks as they clicked down the corridors in their high heels.

  After a while I began to be afraid I'd gone in the wrong direction. I stopped and stared hard around me and realized that none of the other people from my plane were nearby. What if I got lost and the taxi driver who had come to fetch me left? Who would I call? Where would I go?

  I thought I saw Mrs. Levy hurrying down the corridor. My heart jumped for joy and then plunged when I realized it was just another elderly lady wearing similar clothing. I wandered to my left until I spotted a tall policeman standing by a newspaper booth.

  "Excuse me," I said. He peered down at me, over his open newspaper, his forehead creasing in tiny folds under his wavy brown hair.

  "And what can I do for you, young lady?"

  "I think I'm a little lost. I just got off the airplane and I'm supposed to go to the luggage carousel, but I started looking at posters and . . ."

  A light sprang into his blue eyes.

  "You're all by yourself?" he asked, folding his paper.

  "Yes, sir."

  "How old are you?" he asked, squinting with scrutiny.

  "I'm almost sixteen and a half."

  "Well, you're old enough to get about by yourself if you pay attention to directions. You're not very lost. Don't worry." He put his hand on my shoulder and turned me around and explained how to get to the luggage carousels.

  After he finished, he wav
ed his right forefinger at me.

  "Now don't go looking at all the signs, you hear?"

  "I won't," I said and hurried off, his light laughter trailing behind me.

  By the time I got to the place where the baggage was the passengers were all squeezing and crowding around to get their bags. I found a small opening between a young soldier and an elderly man in a suit. Once the soldier saw me, he pushed to the right so I would have more room. He had dark brown eyes and a friendly smile. His shoulders looked so broad and firm under the snug uniform jacket. I saw the ribbons over his right breast pocket and couldn't help but stare.

  "This one's for marksmanship," he pointed proudly.

  I blushed. One thing Mrs. Levy had advised me on the plane was not to stare at people in New York and here I was doing it again and again.

  "Where are you from?" the young soldier asked. Above his other breast pocket was his last name, WILSON.

  "Virginia," I said. "Cutler's Cove."

  He nodded.

  "I'm from Brooklyn. That's Brooooklyn New York," he added, laughing. "The fifty-first state, and boy did I miss it."

  "Brooklyn's a state?" I wondered aloud. He laughed.

  "What's your name?" he asked.


  "Dawn, I'm Private First Class, Johnny Wilson. My friends call me Butch because of my haircut," he said, wiping his right palm over his closely cut hair. "I wore it like this even before I joined the army." I smiled at him and then noticed one of my blue bags go by.

  "Oh, my luggage!" I cried, reaching out in vain.

  "Hold on," Private Wilson said. He slipped around some people to my left and scooped out my bag.

  "Thank you," I said when he brought it back. "I have one more. I'd better keep my eyes on the luggage."

  He reached over and lifted his duffle bag out from between two black trunks. Then I saw my second bag. Once again, he stabbed into the pile and got it for me.

  "Thank you," I said.

  "Where are you heading, Dawn? Any place in Brooklyn?" he asked hopefully.

  "Oh no, I'm going to New York City," I said. He laughed again.

  "Brooklyn's in New York City. Don't you know your address?"

  "No. I'm being picked up," I explained. "By a taxi driver."

  "Oh, I see. Here, let me carry one of your bags to the gate for you," he offered and before I could say anything, he lifted it and started away. At the gate there was another crowd of people with many holding up signs with names written on them, just as Mrs. Levy had predicted. I searched and searched, but I didn't see my name. A lump came to choke my throat. What if no one was here for me because they got my flight mixed up? Everyone else seemed to know where he or she was going. Was I the only one arriving in New York for the first time?

  "There it is," Private Wilson said, pointing. I looked in the direction and saw a tall, dark-haired man who looked unshaven and tired and very bored standing with the card: DAWN CUTLER.

  "With a name like Dawn, that could only be for you," Private Wilson remarked. He led me forward. "Here she is," he announced.

  "Good," the taxi driver said. "I got my cab out front but there's an airport cop on my back. Let's get movin'," he said, hardly looking at me. He took both my suitcases and lunged forward.

  "Thank you," I said to the soldier. He smiled.

  "Have a good tour of duty, Dawn," he cried as I followed the lanky cab driver out of the airport. When I looked back, Private Wilson was gone, almost as if he had descended like some sort of protective angel to help me in a moment of need and then disappeared. For a few moments, I had felt secure, safe, even in this huge place with crowds and crowds of strangers. It was almost as if I had been with Jimmy again, with someone strong to look after me.

  As soon as the taxi driver and I burst out of the airport, I had to shade my eyes to see where I was going. The sun was that bright. But I was glad it was a warm, summer day. It made me feel hopeful, welcome. The taxi driver showed me co the cab, put my suitcases in the trunk, and opened the rear door.

  "Hop in," he said. A policeman was approaching rapidly, his face glum. "Yeah, yeah, I'm goin'," the taxi driver cried and moved around the car quickly to get behind the wheel.

  "They don't let you make a livin' here," he explained as he pulled away from the curb. "They're on your back, day and night." He drove so fast I had to hold onto the handle above the window, and then he came to a quick stop behind a line of cars. A moment later, he shot out of the line, found a space, and wove our cab in and out with an expertise that made me gasp. We nearly collided a number of times, but soon we were on open highway.

  "First time in New York?" he asked without turning around to look at me.


  "Well I have heartburn every day, but I wouldn't live anywhere else. Know what I mean?"

  I didn't know if he was waiting for a reply or not.

  "Just live and let live and you'll be all right," he advised. "I'll tell you what I tell my own daughter—when you walk in the streets, keep your eyes straight ahead and don't listen to nobody. Know what I mean?" he asked again.

  "Yes, sir."

  "Aaa, you'll be all right. You look like a smart cookie and you're going to a nice neighborhood. When someone mugs you there, they're polite about it," he said. "They say, 'Excuse me, but do you have ten dollars?'

  He gazed into the rearview mirror and saw my look of shock.

  "Just kiddin'," he added, laughing.

  He turned on his radio and I gazed out at the approaching skyscrapers, the traffic, and the hustle and bustle. I wanted to save and savor all of this ride, my entrance into New York, and ponder the memories later. It did seem overwhelming. What did Grand-mother Cutler really hope would happen to me when she arranged for me to come here? I wondered. Did she think I would panic and beg her to let me return? Or did she hope I would run off and she would never have to lay her watchful, suspicious eyes on me again?

  I felt something tighten in my heart. I wasn't going to turn and run away, I told myself. I would be determined and strong and show her I was just as strong as she was, even stronger.

  We went over a bridge and into the heart of the city. I couldn't stop looking up. The buildings were so tall and so many people were on the streets, going in and out of them. Car horns blared, other cab drivers shouted at each other and at other drivers. People rushed across streets as if they thought drivers were deliberately aiming for them.

  And the stores! All the stores in the world were here, famous ones I had read about and heard about like Saks Fifth Avenue and Macy's.

  "You're going to give yourself a neck ache, you keep doin' that," the cab driver said. I felt myself redden. I hadn't realized he was watching me. "Know when you're a New Yorker?" he asked, gazing at me through the rearview mirror. I shook my head. "When you don't look both ways crossing a one-way street." He laughed at what I imagined was a joke, but I didn't understand it. I guess I had a long way to go before I would be a New Yorker.

  Soon we were going up very nice streets where the people seemed to be dressed better and the sidewalks were a lot cleaner. The fronts of the buildings looked newer and better cared for, too. Finally, we stopped in front of a brownstone house with a cement stairway and a black iron railing. The double doors were tall and looked like they were made of fine dark oak wood.

  We pulled to a stop and the cab driver got out and put both of my bags on the sidewalk. I stepped out of the car and gazed about slowly. This was to be my new home for a long time now, I thought. Overhead I saw two airplanes climbing into the deep blue sky speckled with small, fluffy clouds. Across from us was a small park and beyond that, just visible between some trees was water, that I guessed was the East River. I couldn't stop looking at everything and, for a moment, forgot the taxi driver was still standing beside me.

  "The fare's taken care of," he declared, "but not the tip."


  "Sure, honey. You always tip a New York cabby. Don't forget that. You can forget anything e

  "Oh." Embarrassed, I opened my purse and fumbled through the change. How much was I supposed to give him?

  "A buck will be enough," he said.

  I plucked one out and handed it to him.

  "Thanks. Good luck," he said. "I gotta get back to the grind," he added and hurried around the cab just as quickly as he had at the airport. In moments, he drove off, his horn groaning as he cut in front of another car and spun around a corner.

  I turned and looked up the small cement stairway. Suddenly it looked so high and forbidding. I took hold of the handles of my luggage and began my slow ascent. When I reached the landing, I put the bags down and pushed the buzzer. I wondered if it worked or anyone heard it inside because nothing happened. After a long moment, I pushed the buzzer again. Seconds later, the doors were pulled open dramatically by a tall, stately looking woman. I thought she was at least in her late fifties. She stood straight with her shoulders back like the women in the textbook pictures demonstrating perfect posture, the ones who parade about with a book balanced on their heads, and her brown hair had streaks of gray throughout it.

  She wore an ankle-length, navy blue skirt, and pink ballerina slippers. Her ivory blouse had billowing sleeves and a wide collar with the two top buttons undone so her necklace filled with large, colorful stones was clearly visible. She wore a heavy-looking earring with smaller versions of the same imitation or precious stones on her left earlobe, but none on her right. I wondered if she knew one was missing.

  Her face was heavily made up, her cheeks streaked with rouge as if she had put it on in the dark. She wore dark eye liner and had such long eyelashes, I knew they just had to be false. Her lipstick was a bright crimson.

  She stared at me, drinking me in from head to toe. Then she nodded to herself as if to confirm a thought. "I suppose you're Dawn," she said.

  "Yes, ma'am," I replied.

  "I am Agnes, Agnes Morris," she declared.

  I nodded. That was the name on my instruction sheet, but she looked like she expected a bigger reaction from me.