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V. C. Andrews


  Orphans #1

  V.C. Andrews

  Copyright (c) 1998

  ISBN: 0671020293



  I was alone in Mrs. McGuire's office, waiting to meet the couple who had asked to see me. Sitting "properly" on the straight-back chair next to Mrs. McGuire's desk was making my back ache but I knew from past experience that I had better be on my best behavior. Mrs. McGuire was the chief administrator of our orphanage and pounced on us if we slouched or did anything else "improper" in front of visitors.

  "Posture, posture," she would cry out when she passed us in the cafeteria, and we all would snap to attention. Those who didn't obey her had to walk around with a book on their heads for hours, and if the book fell off, they would have to do it over again the next day.

  "You children are orphans," she lectured to us, "looking for some nice people to come snatch you up and make you members of their families. You must be better than other children, children with parents and homes. You must be healthier, smarter, more polite, and most certainly more respectful. In short," she said in a voice that often turned shrill during her endless speeches, "you must become desirable. Why," she asked, sweeping her eyes over each and every one of us critically, her thin lips pursed, "would anyone want you to be their daughter or son?"

  She was right. Who would ever want me? I thought. I was born prematurely. Some of the boys and girls here said I was stunted. Just yesterday, Donald Lawson called me the Dwarf.

  "Even when you're in high school, you'll wear little-girl clothes," he taunted.

  He strutted away with his head high, and I could tell it made him feel better to make me feel bad. My tears were like trophies for him, and the sight of them didn't make him feel sorry. Instead, they encouraged him.

  "Even your tears are tiny," he sang as he walked down the hall. "Maybe we should call you Tiny Tears instead of the Dwarf."

  The kids at the orphanage weren't the only ones who thought there was something wrong with me, though. Margaret Lester, who was the tallest girl in the orphanage, fourteen with legs that seemed to reach up to her shoulders, overheard the last couple I'd met talking about me and couldn't wait to tell me all the horrible things they had to say.

  "The man said he thought you were adorable, but when they found out how old you were, they wondered why you were so small. She thought you might be sickly and then they decided to look at someone else," Margaret told me with a twisted smirk on her face.

  No potential parents ever looked at her, so she was happy when one of us was rejected.

  "I'm not sickly," I whispered in my own defense. "I haven't even had a cold all year."

  I always spoke in a soft, low voice and then, when I was made to repeat something, I struggled to make my voice louder. Mrs. McGuire said I had to appear more self-assured.

  "It's fine to be a little shy, Janet," she told me. "Goodness knows, most children today are too loud and obnoxious, but if you're too modest, people will pass you over. They'll think you're withdrawn, like a turtle more comfortable in his shell. You don't want that, do you?"

  I shook my head but she continued her lecture.

  "Then stand straight when you speak to people and look at them and not at the floor. And don't twist your fingers around each other like that. Get your shoulders back. You need all the height you can achieve."

  When I had come to her office today, she had me sit in this chair and then paced in front of me, her high heels clicking like little hammers on the tile floor as she advised and directed me on how to behave once the Delorices arrived. That was their names, Sanford and Celine Delorice. Of course, I hadn't set eyes on them before. Mrs. McGuire told me, however, that they had seen me a number of times. That came as a surprise. A number of times? I wondered when, and if that was true, why had I never seen them?

  "They know a great deal about you, Janet, and still they are interested. This is your best opportunity yet. Do you understand?" she asked, pausing to look at me. "Straighten up," she snapped.

  I did so quickly.

  "Yes, Mrs. McGuire," I said.

  "What?" She put her hand behind her ear and leaned toward me. "Did you say something, Janet?"

  "Yes, Mrs. McGuire."

  "Yes what?" she demanded, standing back, her hands on her hips.

  "Yes, I understand this is my best opportunity, Mrs. McGuire."

  "Good, good. Keep your voice strong and clear. Speak only when you're spoken to, and smile as much as you can. Don't spread your legs too far apart. That's it. Let me see your hands," she demanded, reaching out to seize them in her own long, bony fingers.

  She turned my hands over so roughly my wrists stung.

  "Good," she said. "You do take good care of yourself, Janet. I think that's a big plus for you. Some of our children, as you know, think they are allergic to bathing."

  She glanced at the clock.

  "They should be arriving soon. I'm going out front to greet them. Wait here and when we come through the door, stand up to greet us. Do you understand?"

  "Yes, Mrs. McGuire." Her hand went behind her ear again. I cleared my throat and tried again. "Yes, Mrs. McGuire."

  She shook her head and looked very sad, her eyes full of doubt.

  "This is your big chance, your best chance, Janet. Maybe, your last chance," she muttered and left the office.

  Now I sat gazing at the bookcase, the pictures on her desk, the letters in frames congratulating her on her performance as an administrator in our upstate New York child welfare agency. Bored with the things decorating Mrs. McGuire's office, I turned around in my chair to stare out the windows. It was a sunny spring tray. I sighed as I looked out at the trees, their shiny green leaves and budding blossoms calling to me. Everything was growing like weeds because of the heavy spring rain, and I could tell Philip, the groundskeeper, wasn't very happy to be mowing the endless lawns so early in the season. His face was screwed up in a scowl and I could just imagine him grumbling about the grass coming up so fast this year, you could watch it grow. For a moment I drifted away in the monotonous sound of Philip's lawnmower and the dazzling sunlight streaming in through the windows. I forgot I was in Mrs. McGuire's office, forgot I was slouching with my eyes closed.

  I tried to remember my real mother, but my earliest memories are of being in an orphanage. I was in one other besides this one, then I got transferred here when I was nearly seven. I'm almost thirteen now, but even I would admit that I look no more than nine, maybe ten. Because I couldn't remember my real mother, Tommy Turner said I was probably one of those babies that doctors make in a laboratory.

  "I bet you were born in a test tube and that's why you're so small. Something went wrong with the experiment," he'd said as we left the dining hall last night. The other kids all thought he was very clever and laughed at his joke. Laughed at me.

  "Janet's mother and father were test tubes," they taunted.

  "No," Tommy said. "Her father was a syringe and her mother was a test tube."

  "Who named her Janet then?" Margaret asked doubtfully.

  Tommy had to think.

  "That was the name of her lab technician, Janet Taylor, so they gave her that name," he answered, and from the look on their faces, I could tell the other kids believed him

  Last night, like every night, I had wished with all my heart that I knew something about my past, some fact, a name, anything that I could say to Tommy and the others to prove that once upon a time I did have a real Mommy and Daddy. I wasn't a dwarf or a test tube baby, I was . . well, I was like a butterfly--destined to be beautiful and soar high above the earth, high above troubles and doubts, high above nasty little kids who made fun of other people just because they were smaller and weaker.

  It's just that I h
adn't burst from my cocoon yet. I was still a shy little girl, curled up in my quiet, cozy world. I knew that someday I would have to break free, to be braver, speak louder, grow taller, but right now that seemed all too scary. The only way I knew how to keep the taunts and teasing of the other kids from bothering me was to stay in my own little cocoon--where it was warm and safe and no one could hurt me. But someday, someday I would soar. Like a beautiful butterfly, I would climb higher and higher, flying high above them all. I'd show them.



  " Janet!" I heard Mrs. McGuire hiss, and my eyes snapped open. Her face was filled with fury, her mouth twisted, her gray eyes wide and lit up like firecrackers. "Sit up," she whispered through her clenched teeth, and then she forced a smile and turned to the couple standing behind her. "Right this way, Mr. and Mrs. Delorice," she said in a much nicer tone of voice.

  I took a deep breath and held it, my fluttering heart suddenly sounding like a kettle drum in my chest. Mrs. McGuire stepped behind me so that the Delorices could get a good look at me. Mr. Delorice was tall and thin with dark hair and sleepy eyes. Mrs. Delorice sat in a wheelchair and was pretty, with hair the color of a red sunset. She had diminutive facial features like my own, but even more perfectly proportioned. Her hair floated around her shoulders in soft undulating waves. There was nothing sickly or frail looking about her, despite her wheelchair. Her complexion was rich like peaches and cream, her lips the shade of fresh strawberries.

  She wore a bright yellow dress, my favorite color, and a string of tiny pearls around her neck. She looked like every other potential mommy I had seen except for the wheelchair and the tiny little shoes she wore. Although I'd never seen ballet shoes before, I thought that was what they were. If she was in a wheelchair, why was she wearing ballet shoes? I wondered.

  Mr. Delorice pushed her right up to me. I was too fascinated to move, much less speak. Why would a woman in a wheelchair want to adopt a child my age?

  "Mr. and Mrs. Delorice, this is Janet Taylor. Janet, Mr. and Mrs. Delorice."

  "Hello," I said, obviously not loud enough to

  please Mrs. McGuire. She gestured for me to stand

  and I scrambled out of the chair.

  "Please, dear, call us Sanford and Celine," the

  pretty woman said. She held out her hand and I took it

  gingerly, surprised at how firmly she held her fingers

  around mine. For a moment we only looked at each

  other. Then I glanced up at Sanford Delorice. He was looking down at me, his eyes opening a

  bit wider to reveal their mixture of brown and green.

  He had his hair cut very short, which made his skinny

  face look even longer and narrower. He was wearing a

  dark gray sports jacket with no tie and a pair of dark blue slacks. The upper two buttons on his white shirt were open. I thought it was to give his very prominent

  Adam's apple breathing space.

  "She's perfect, Sanford, just perfect, isn't she?"

  Celine said, gazing at me.

  "Yes, she is, dear," Sanford replied. He had his

  long fingers still wrapped tightly around the handles

  of the wheelchair as if he was attached or afraid to let


  "Did she ever have any training in the arts?"

  Celine asked Mrs. McGuire. She didn't look at Mrs.

  McGuire when she asked. She didn't look away from

  me. Her eyes were fixed on my face, and although her

  staring was beginning to make me feel creepy, I was

  unable to look away.

  "The arts?"

  "Singing, dancing . . . ballet, perhaps?" she


  "Oh no, Mrs. Delorice. The children here are

  not that fortunate," Mrs. McGuire replied.

  Celine turned back to me. Her eyes grew

  smaller, even more intensely fixed on me.

  "Well, Janet will be. She'll be that fortunate,"

  she predicted with certainty. She smiled softly. "How

  would you like to come live with Sanford and myself, Janet? You'll have your own room, and a very large and comfortable one, too. You'll attend a private school. We'll buy you an entirely new wardrobe, including new shoes. You'll have a separate area in your room for your schoolwork and you'll have your own bathroom. I'm sure you'll like our house. We live just outside of Albany with a yard as large, if not

  larger than you have here."

  "That sounds wonderful' Mrs. McGuire said as

  if she were the one being offered the new home, but

  Mrs. Delorice didn't seem at all interested in what she

  said. Instead she stared at me and waited for my


  "Janet?" Mrs. McGuire questioned when a long

  moment of silence had passed.

  How could I ever refuse this, and yet when I

  looked up at Sanford and back at Celine, I couldn't

  help feeling little footsteps of trepidation tiptoeing

  across my heart. I pushed the shadowy faces out of

  my mind, glanced at Mrs. McGuire, and then nodded. "I'd like that," I said, wishing I was as good as

  Mrs. McGuire at faking a smile.

  "Good," Celine declared. She spun her chair

  around to face Mrs. McGuire. "How soon can she


  "Well, we have some paperwork to do.

  However, knowing all that we already know about

  you and your husband, your impressive references, the

  social worker's report, et cetera, I suppose . . ." "Can we take her with us today?" Celine demanded impatiently.

  My heart skipped a beat. Today? That fast? For once Mrs. McGuire was at a logs for words. "I imagine that could be done," she finally


  "Good," she said. "Sanford, why don't you stay

  with Mrs. McGuire and fill out whatever paperwork

  has to be filled out. Janet and I can go outside and get

  more acquainted in the meantime," she said. It was

  supposed to be a suggestion, I guess, but it sounded

  like an order to me. I looked at Mr. Delorice and

  could see the muscles in his jaw were clenched, along

  with his fingers on the wheelchair handles.

  "But there are documents that require both

  signatures," Mrs. McGuire insisted.

  "Sanford has power of attorney when it comes

  to my signature," Celine countered. "Janet, can you

  push my chair? I don't weigh all that much," she

  added, smiling.

  I looked at Mrs. McGuire. She nodded and Sanford stepped back so that I could take hold of the


  "Where shall we go, Janet?" she asked me. "I guess we can go out to the garden," I said

  uncertainly. Mrs. McGuire nodded again.

  "That sounds wonderful. Don't be any longer

  than you have to, Sanford," she called back as I

  started to push her to the door. I went ahead and

  opened it and then I pushed her through.

  I started down the hallway, overwhelmed and

  amazed with myself and what was happening. Not

  only was I going to have parents, but I had found a

  mother who wanted me to take care of her, almost as

  much as I wanted her to take care of me. What a

  strange and wonderful new beginning, I thought as I

  wheeled my new mother toward the sunny day that

  awaited us.

  "Has it been difficult for you living here, Janet?" Celine asked after I had wheeled her outside. We followed the path to the garden.

  "No, ma'am," I said, trying not to be distracted by the kids who were looking our way.

  "Oh, don't call me ma'am, Janet. Please," she said, turning to place her hand over mine. It felt so warm. "Why don't you call m
e Mother. Let's not wait to get to know each other. Just do that immediately," she pleaded.

  "Okay," I said. I could tell already that Mrs. Delorice didn't like to be argued with.

  "You speak so softly, darling. I suppose you've felt so insignificant, but you won't feel that way anymore. You're going to be famous, Janet. You're going to be spectacular," she declared with such passion in her voice it made the breath catch in my throat.


  "Yes, you, Janet. Come around and sit on this bench," she said when we had reached the first one along the pathway. She folded her hands in her lap and waited until I sat. Then she smiled "You float, Janet. Do you realize that? You glide almost as if you're walking on a cloud of air. That's instinctive. Grace is something you're either born with or not, Janet. You can't learn it. No one can teach that to you.

  "Once," she said as her green eyes darkened, "I had grace. I glided, too. But," she said quickly changing her expression and tone back to a happier, lighter one, "let's talk about you first. I've been watching you."

  "When?" I said, recalling what Mrs. McGuire had told me.

  "Oh, on and off for a little more than two weeks. Sanford and I came here at different times of the day. Usually we sat in our car and watched you and your unfortunate brothers and sisters at play. I even saw you at your school:' she admitted.

  My mouth widened with surprise. They had followed me to school? She laughed.

  "When I first set eyes on you, I knew I had to have you. I knew you were the one, Janet. You remind me so much of myself when I was your age."

  "I do?"

  "Yes, and when Sanford and I went home, I would think about you and dream about you, and actually see you gliding down our staircase and through our home. I could even hear the music," she said, with a faraway look in her eyes.

  "What music?" I asked, starting to think that Mrs. Delorice might be a little more than just bossy.

  "Music you'll dance to, Janet. Oh," she said, leaning forward to reach for my hand, "there is so much to tell you and so much to do. I can't wait to start. That's why I wanted Sanford to cut right through all that silly bureaucratic paperwork and take us both home. Home," she repeated, her smile softening even more. "I suppose that's a foreign word to you, isn't it? You've never had a home. I know all about you," she added.