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V. C. Andrews


  Orphans #3

  V.C. Andrews

  Copyright (c) 1998

  ISBN: 0671020323



  When I first set eyes on Pamela Thompson, I thought she was a movie star. I was twelve, and I had shoulder-length hair the color of wheat. Most of the time, I kept it tied with the faded pink ribbon my mother had tied around it just before she dropped me off at the children's protection service and disappeared from my life. I wasn't quite two years old at the time, so I can't really remember her, but I often think of myself then as a top, spinning and spinning until I finally stopped and found myself lost in the child welfare system that had passed me from institution to institution until I wound up one morning staring wideeyed at this tall, glamorous woman with dazzling blue eyes and hair woven out of gold.

  Her husband, Peter, tall and as distinguished as a president, stood beside her with his arms folded under his camelhair overcoat and smiled down at me. It was the middle of April, and we were in a suburban New York community, Monroe, but Peter was as tanned as someone in California or Florida. They were the most attractive couple I had ever met. Even the social worker, Mrs. Talbot, who didn't seem to think much of anyone, looked impressed.

  What did two such glamorous-looking people want with me? I wondered.

  "She has perfect posture, Peter. Look how she stands with her shoulders back," Pamela said.

  "Perfect," he agreed, smiling and nodding as he gazed at me. His soft green eyes had a friendly twinkle in them. His hair was rust colored and was as shiny and healthy as his wife's.

  Pamela squatted down beside me so her face was next to mine "Look at us side by side, Peter."

  "I see it," he said, laughing. "Amazing"

  "We have the same shaped nose and mouth, don't we?"

  "Identical," he agreed. I thought he must have poor eyesight. I didn't look at all like her.

  "What about her eyes?"

  "Well," he said, "they're blue, but yours are a little bit more aqua."

  "That's what it always says in my write-ups," Pamela told Mrs. Talbot. "Aqua eyes. Still," she said to Peter, "they're close."

  "Close," he admitted.

  She took my hand in hers and studied my fingers. "You can tell a great deal about someone's potential beauty by looking at her fingers. That's what Miss America told me last year, and I agree. These are beautiful fingers, Peter. The knuckles don't stick up. Brooke, you've been biting your nails, haven't you?" she asked me, and pursed her lips to indicate a no-no.

  I looked at Mrs. Talbot. "I don't bite my nails," I said.

  "Well, whoever cuts them doesn't do a very good job."

  "She cuts her own nails, Mrs. Thompson. The girls don't have any sort of beauty care here," Mrs. Talbot said sternly.

  Pamela smiled at her as though Mrs. Talbot didn't know what she was talking about, and then she sprang back to her full height. "We'll take her," she declared. "Won't we, Peter?"

  "Absolutely," he said.

  I felt as if I had been bought. I looked at Mrs. Talbot. She wore a very disapproving frown. "Someone will be out to interview you in a week or so, Mrs. Thompson," she said. "If you'll step back into my office and complete the paperwork . . ."

  "A week or so! Peter?" she whined.

  "Mrs. Talbot," Peter said, stepping up to her. "May I use your telephone, please?"

  She stared at him.

  "I think I can cut to the chase," he said, "and I know how eager you people are to find proper homes for these children. We're on the same side," he added with a smile, and I suddenly realized that he could be very slick when he wanted to be.

  Mrs. Talbot stiffened. "We're not taking sides, Mr. Thompson. We're merely following procedures."

  "Precisely," he said. "May I use your phone?"

  "Very well," she said. "Go ahead."

  "Thank you."

  Mrs. Talbot stepped back, and Peter went into her inner office.

  "I'm so excited about you," Pamela told me while Peter was in the office on the phone. "You take good care of your teeth, I see."

  "I brush them twice a day," I said. I didn't think I was doing anything special.

  "Some people just have naturally good teeth," she told Mrs. Talbot, whose teeth were somewhat crooked and gray. "I always had good teeth. Your teeth and your smile are your trademark," she recited. "Don't ever neglect them," she warned. "Don't ever neglect anything, your hair, your skin, your hands. How old do you think I am? Go on, take a guess."

  Again, I looked to Mrs. Talbot for help, but she simply looked toward the window and tapped her fingers on the table in the conference room.

  "Twenty-five," I said.

  "There, you see? Twenty-five. I happen to be thirty-two years old. I wouldn't tell everyone that, of course, but I wanted to make a point."

  She looked at Mrs. Talbot.

  "And what point would that be, Mrs. Thompson?" Mrs. Talbot asked.

  "What point? Why, simply that you don't have to grow old before your time if you take good care of yourself. Do you sing or dance or do anything creative, Brooke?" she asked me.

  "No," I answered hesitantly. I wondered if I should make something up.

  "She happens to be the best female athlete at the orphanage, and I dare say, she's tops at her school," Mrs. Talbot bragged.

  "Athlete?" Pamela laughed. "This girl is not going to be some athlete hidden on the back pages of sports magazines. She's going to be on the cover of fashion magazines. Look at that face, those features, the perfection. If I had given birth to a daughter, Brooke, she would look exactly like you. Peter?" she said when he appeared. He smiled.

  "There's someone on the phone waiting to speak with you, Mrs. Talbot," he said, and winked at Pamela.

  She put her hand on my shoulder and pulled me closer to her. "Darling, Brooke," she cried, "you're coming home with us."

  When you're brought up in an institutional world, full of bureaucracy, you can't help but be very impressed by people who have the power to snap their fingers and get what they want. It's exciting. It's as if you're suddenly whisked away on a magic carpet and the world that you thought was reserved only for the lucky chosen few will now be yours, too.

  Who would blame me for rushing into their arms?

  1 A Whole New Ball Game

  In my most secret dreams, the sort you keep buried under your pillow and hope to find waiting in the darkness for you as soon as you close your eyes, I saw my real mother coming to the orphanage, and she was nothing like the Thompsons. I don't mean to say that my mother wasn't beautiful, too, wasn't just as beautiful as Pamela, because she was. And in my dream she never looked any older than Pamela, either.

  The mother in my dreams really had my color hair and my eyes. She was, I suppose, what I thought I would look like when I grew up. She was beautiful inside and out and was especially good at making people smile. The moment sad people saw her, they forgot their unhappiness. With my mother beside me, I, too, would forget what it was like to be unhappy.

  In my dream, she always picked me out from the other orphans immediately, and when I looked at her standing there in the doorway, I knew instantly who she was. She held her arms open, and I ran to them. She covered my face with kisses and mumbled a string of apologies. I didn't care about apologies. I was too happy.

  "I'll just be a few minutes," she would tell me and go into the administrative offices to sign all the papers. Before I knew it, I would be walking out of the orphanage, holding her hand, getting into her car, and driving off with her to start my new life. We would have so much to say, so many things to catch up on, that both of us would babble incessantly right up to the moment she put me to bed with a kiss and a promise to be there for me always.

  Of course, it was just a dream, and
she never came. I never talked about her, nor did I ever ask anyone at the orphanage any questions about her. All I knew was she had left me because she was too young to take care of me, but in the deepest places in my heart, I couldn't help but harbor the hope that she had always planned to come back for me when she was old enough to take care of me. Surely, she woke many nights as I did and lay there wondering about me, wondering what I looked like, if I was lonely or afraid.

  We orphans didn't go to very many places other than to school, but once in a while there was a school field trip to New York City to go to a museum, an exhibition, or a show. Whenever we entered the city, I pressed my face to the bus window and studied the people who hurried up and down the sidewalks, hoping to catch sight of a young woman who could be my mother. I knew had as much chance of doing that as I had of winning the lottery, but it was a secret wish, and after all, wishes and dreams were really what nourished us orphans the most. Without them, we would truly be the lost and forgotten.

  I can't say I ever even imagined a couple like Pamela and Peter Thompson would want to become my foster parents and then adopt me and make me part of their family forever. People as rich and as important as they were had other ways to get children than coming to an ordinary orphanage like this. Surely, they didn't go searching themselves. They had someone to do that sort of thing for them.

  So I did feel as if I had won the lottery that day, the day I left the orphanage with them. I was wearing a pair of jeans, sneakers, and a New York Yankees Tshirt. I had traded a Party of Five poster for it. Pamela saw what the rest of my wardrobe was like and told Peter, "Just leave it. Leave everything from her past behind, Peter."

  I didn't know what to say. I didn't have many important possessions. In fact, the only one that was important to me was a faded pink ribbon that I was supposedly wearing the day my mother left me. I managed to shove it into the pocket of my jeans.

  "Our first stop," Pamela told me, "is going to be Bloomingdale's."

  Peter brought his Rolls-Royce up to the front of the orphanage, and though I had heard of them, I had never actually seen one of them before. It looked gold- plated. I was too awestruck to ask if it was real gold.

  The interior smelled brand-new, and the leather felt so soft, I couldn't imagine what it must have cost. Some of the other kids were gazing out the windows, their faces pressed to the glass. They looked as if they were trapped in a fishbowl, I waved and then got in. When we drove away, it did feel as if I was being swept away on a magic carpet.

  I didn't think Pamela literally meant we'd be going straight to Bloomingdale's, but that is exactly where Peter drove us. Everyone knew Pamela at the department store. As soon as we stepped onto the juniors floor, the salesgirls came rushing toward us like sharks. Pamela rattled off requests with a wave of her hand and paraded down the aisles pointing at this and that. We were there trying on clothes for hours,

  As I tried on different outfits, blouses, skirts, jackets, even hats, Pamela and Peter sat like members of an audience at a fashion show. I had never tried on so many different articles of clothing, much less seen them, Pamela was just as concerned about how I wore the clothes as she was about how they fit. Soon I did feel as if I were modeling.

  "Slowly, Brooke, walk slowly. Keep your head high and your shoulders back. Don't forget your good posture now, now that you're wearing clothes that can enhance your appearance. When you turn, just pause for a moment. That's it. You're wearing that skirt too high in the waist." She laughed. "You act like you hardly ever wear a skirt."

  "I hardly do," I said. "I'm more comfortable in jeans."

  "Jeans. That's ridiculous. There are no feminine lines in jeans. I didn't know the hems were that high this year, Millie," she said to the salesgirl helping me.

  "Oh, yes, Mrs. Thompson. These are the latest fashions."

  "The latest fashions? Hardly," Pamela said. "For the latest fashions, you would have to go to Paris. Whatever we have in our stores now is already months behind. Don't hold your arms like that, Brooke. You look too stiff. You look," she said, laughing, "like you're about to catch a baseball. Doesn't she, Peter?"

  "Yes," he said, laughing along.

  She actually got up to show me how to walk, to hold my arms, to turn and hold my head. Why was it so important to know all that when I was trying on clothes? I wondered. She anticipated the question.

  "We really can't tell how good these garments will look on you unless you wear them correctly, Brooke. Posture and poise, the two sisters of style, will help you make anything you wear look special, understand?"

  I nodded, and she smiled

  "You've been so good, I think you deserve something special. Doesn't she, Peter?"

  "I was thinking the same thing, Pamela. What would you suggest?"

  "She needs a good watch for that precious little wrist. I was thinking one of those new Cartier watches I spotted on the way into the store."

  "You're absolutely right. As usual," Peter said with a laugh.

  When I saw the price of what Pamela called a good watch, I couldn't speak. The salesman took it out and put it on my wrist. It felt hot. I was terrified of breaking or losing it The diamonds glittered in the face.

  "It just needs a little adjustment in the band to fit her," Pamela said, holding my hand higher so Peter could see the watch on my wrist.

  He nodded. "Looks good on her," he said.

  "It's so much money," I whispered. If Pamela heard me, she chose to pretend she hadn't.

  "We'll take it," Peter said quickly.

  What was Christmas going to be like? I wondered. I was actually dizzy from being swept along on a buying rampage that took no note of cost. How rich were my new parents?

  I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the house Pamela and Peter called home. It wasn't a house; it was a mansion, like Tara in Gone with the Wind, or maybe like the White House. It was taller and wider than the orphanage, with tall columns and what looked like marble front steps that led to a marble portico. There was a smaller upstairs porch as well.

  The lawn that rolled out in front of the house was bigger than two baseball fields side by side, I thought. I saw fountains and benches. Two older men in white pants and white shirts pruned a flower bed that looked as wide and as long as an Olympic swimming pool. When we turned into the circular driveway, I saw that there was a swimming pool behind the house, and what looked like cabanas.

  "How do you like it?" Pamela asked

  expectantly. "Just you two live here?" I asked, and they both laughed.

  "We have servants who live in a part of the house, but yes, until now, just Peter and I lived here."

  "It's so big," I said.

  "As you know, Peter is an attorney. He practices corporate law and happens to be active in state politics, too. That's why we were able to bring you home so soon," she explained. "And you already know that I was nearly Miss America," she added. "For many years, I was a runway model. That's why I know so much about style and appearance," she added without a tidbit of modesty.

  "I think we've overwhelmed her, Pamela," Peter said.

  "That's all right. We have so much to do. We don't have time to spoon-feed our lives to her, Peter. She's going to get right into the swing of things, aren't you, sweetheart?"

  "I guess," I said, still gawking as we came to a stop.

  Instantly, the front door opened, and a tall, thin man with two puffs of gray hair over his ears came hurrying out, followed by a short brunette in a blue maid's uniform with a lace white apron over the skirt.

  "Hello, Sacket," Peter called when he stepped out of the car.

  "Sir," Sacket replied. He looked to be in his fifties or early sixties. He had small, dark eyes and a long nose that looked as if it was still growing down toward his thin mouth and sharply cut jaw. The paleness in his face made the color in his lips look like lipstick.

  "Welcome back, Mr. Thompson," he said in a voice much deeper than I had anticipated. It seemed to start in his stomach and echo throug
h his mouth with the resonance of a church organ.

  The maid flitted about the car like a moth, nervously waiting for Pamela to give her orders. She didn't look much older than thirty herself, but she was very plain, no makeup, her nose too small for her wide, thick mouth. Her nervous brown eyes blinked rapidly. She wiped her hands on her apron and stood back when Pamela stepped out of the car.

  "Start bringing the packages in the trunk up to Brooke's room, Joline."

  "Yes, ma'am," she said. She glanced at me quickly and moved around the vehicle to join Sacket at the rear. They began to load their arms with my packages.

  "Peter, could you show Brooke the house while I freshen up?" Pamela asked him. She turned to me. "Traveling and shopping can make your skin so dry, especially when you go into those department stores with their centralized air. All that dust, too," she added.

  "No problem, dear," Peter said. "Brooke," he said, holding out his arm. At first, I didn't understand. He brought it closer, and I put my arm through. "Shall we tour your new home?" he said, smiling.

  I looked at the servants rushing up with my packages, the grounds people pruning and manicuring the flowers, hedges, and lawn, the vastness of the property, and my head began to spin. It all made me feel faint.

  My new home?

  All my life, I had lived in rooms no bigger than a closet, sometimes even sharing the space with another orphaned girl. I shared the bathroom with a half dozen other children most of the time. I ate in a cafeteria, fought to watch what I wanted to watch on our one television set, and protected my small space like a mother bear protecting her cubs.

  Then, in almost the blink of an eye, I was brought to what looked like a palace. I couldn't speak. The lump in my throat was so hard, I felt as if I had swallowed an apple. I leaned on Peter's arm for real, and he led me up the stairs to the grand front door through which Pamela hurried as if the house were a sanctuary from the evil forces that would steal away her beauty.

  "Voila," he said, standing back so I could step inside.

  Once within the long entryway with tile floors that resembled chocolate and vanilla swirled ice cream, I turned in slow circles, gaping at the big oil paintings that looked as if they were taken from some European museum. I gazed at the large gold chandelier above us and the grand tapestry on the wall above the hallway, beside the semicircular stairway with steps covered in thick eggshell-white carpet that looked as fluffy as rabbit fur.