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Secret Brother

V. C. Andrews

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  For Gene Andrews,

  who so wanted to keep his sister’s work alive


  I don’t think I shall ever forget the exact time and what I was doing that second Saturday in October. It wasn’t unusual for us to have an Indian summer in Virginia, but this one promised to linger longer than the others we had enjoyed. Six days before, we’d had an early frost, so no one had expected this change in weather. Of course, I was only sixteen years old then and hadn’t experienced many weather surprises compared with someone like my grandfather, who was fifty-eight, or our nanny, Myra Potter, who was sixty-three. The lush green leaves on the trees and bushes on our property and other estates nearby hadn’t even begun to show a hint of the brown and yellow to come. People, especially young people like me, returned to wearing short skirts, short-sleeved blouses, and shorts on weekends and after school. The day before, our grandfather had decided to reheat our pool for us to use on the weekend.

  I remember the weather that day so well because it seemed out of place for what was to come. There should have been more clouds, even an overcast, dreary sky. If it had rained, what happened wouldn’t have happened, because my nine-year-old brother, Willie, wouldn’t have been out there. That day, the nice weather was our bad luck.

  I was up in my room, sitting at my desk and gazing out the windows that faced the front of my grandfather’s estate. It was one of those lazy mornings when, instead of flying about, birds would rather sit on branches and doze to the point where they looked stuffed. Even clouds were reluctant to move. As usual by ten thirty on a Saturday, I was on the phone with my newest best friend, Lila Stewart, planning what we would do with our afternoon and evening. I was thinking of having a pool party.

  The Stewarts had recently bought the property next to my grandfather’s on the north side. Because our property and theirs were at least ten acres each, their house wasn’t exactly close by. If either of us walked to the other’s front gate, it would take about fifteen minutes. Lila’s house, like ours, had a long driveway with gates, so you had to buzz the house to get in and start up the drive. If we rode our bikes, we could do it in about five minutes.

  Willie was very anxious to master riding his new bike on the street outside our grandfather’s estate. Grandpa Arnold had bought it for him on his last birthday, but he had been permitted to ride it off the property only twice before, both times short rides accompanied by me. There was an immaculately kept sidewalk outside our property on both sides of the street. Nevertheless, people hardly ever walked there, which made it all right for Willie to ride his bike safely. At least, that was what we all believed.

  I had my bedroom windows open to catch any cool breeze. Myra demanded that the maids air out the house at least twice a week even in cooler weather, and her orders were followed as if my grandfather himself had issued them. Lila was running through a list of boys and girls I should invite to a pool party when, suddenly, I heard what was clearly a man screaming for help. Jimmy Wilson, who was the head of Grandpa’s maintenance staff, came out of nowhere and ran down the driveway to the front gate, where I could now see a man in a dark blue suit and tie grasping the bars like someone locked in a prison cell, shaking them as he screamed. I remember he had cotton-white hair, the strands of which looked like they were dancing every time he shook the gate.

  Jimmy opened the gate. The man spoke to him, gesturing wildly, and Jimmy turned and shouted to one of his staff to call an ambulance. Then he charged out with the stranger and turned right, disappearing behind the tall, thick evergreen hedges that lined Grandpa’s estate. They were so thick they seemed as impenetrable as the Berlin Wall.

  “Something’s wrong,” I told Lila, interrupting her ramble. “Something bad just happened.”


  “Right in front of our property. I’ll call you back,” I said. I hung up before she could utter a syllable, threw on my sneakers, and rushed out of my room and down the stairs. I had no reason to suspect something involving any of us, but my heart was thumping so hard it felt like it might burst out of my chest. Grandpa was outside the house, charging down the driveway, too. I shouted to him, but if he heard me, he didn’t want to pause to turn, so I started after him.

  When I stepped out of the front door and turned right, I saw the red pickup truck on the sidewalk. The driver was bent over the steering wheel, his head down. And lying on the sidewalk was my brother, Willie. Beside him, barely able to sit up, was Myra. Only a short while ago, she had agreed to let Willie ride his bike slowly beside her while she walked up to the Qwik Shop. Grandpa, Jimmy, and the stranger, whose car was stopped on the street, were beside Myra and my brother. I saw his new bicycle against the fence and the hedge, bent into an L shape.

  “Grandpa! Is Willie all right?” I called.

  He was kneeling beside Willie. “Stay back, Clara Sue,” he said, putting his right palm up like a traffic cop. “Just stay back.”

  I stopped and stood there, frozen by the uncharacteristic hysteria in his voice. Grandpa was talking to Jimmy, who was holding Willie’s head off the sidewalk. The stranger was kneeling down now and talking to Myra. Then he rose and went to the truck and started yelling at the driver, who didn’t so much as lift his head from the steering wheel. A siren sounded, and I looked behind me as paramedics leaped out of a truck and hurried to Willie’s side. Carefully, they lifted him and put him on a stretcher. There was blood running down the left side of his face, and his eyes were shut. I gasped. My throat closed so quickly I couldn’t swallow. My whole body was shaking now.

  “Grandpa!” I shouted, unable to contain myself any longer. He didn’t turn to me. He just held up his hand again and watched as they brought out a second stretcher and helped Myra onto it. She glanced back at me and closed her eyes; she was obviously in great pain. Moments later, they had both been loaded into the ambulance, and the doors were being closed. Grandpa and Jimmy Wilson hurried past me.

  “Come on, Clara Sue,” Grandpa called, and I ran behind them. All the maids and grounds people were out front looking at us. As Jimmy started to explain to them what had happened, I got into Grandpa’s car. He drove away so quickly I was still struggling to close my door. We sped down the driveway, turned, and shot off after the ambulance, neither of us speaking. By now, there were two police cars at the scene of the accident, and the pickup driver was sitting up and talking to the officers. I looked back and then looked forward again as we made the turn, the tires squealing. I had never seen my grandfather drive like this.

  “Is Willie going to be all right, Grandpa?”

  “I don’t know,” he said.

  All my life, when something bad happened or seemed about to happen, adults would tell me everything would be all right. Grandpa Arnold was never someone who would lie to me or to Willie, but he certainly would do and say everything he could to make us less afraid and less sad. He tried to do this after our parents were killed in a boating accident off Naples, Italy, four years ago while we were staying with him and Grandma Arnold. It was supposed to be a very special holiday for our parents.

  “That man was drunk,” Grandpa suddenly muttered, his teeth clenched. I never knew any other man who had a face as strong and as hard as Grandpa Arnold’s. It looked chiseled in granite. Anger didn’t make him redden; it made him gray. When he turned his
hazel eyes on people, they could feel the rage so quickly that it would start them stuttering.


  “Drunk! This early in the day. Drunk!”

  “What did he do?”

  “Do? He lost control and hit the sidewalk, and instead of pressing down on his brakes, he apparently pressed down on his accelerator and smashed right into them. He couldn’t have done worse if he had done it on purpose,” he said.

  “Who is he?” I asked. I just wanted to keep on talking and keep my grandfather talking. My heart was still beating so hard I was sure that if we were silent, he would hear it, too.

  “Some rover. Jimmy says he works for Mackingberry’s Plumbing Supply,” he said, and took a breath. “He’ll never work again if I have any say about it,” he added. “And that company won’t do another thing in any home around here if he isn’t immediately fired.”

  Grandpa drove so fast that we were only about a minute behind the ambulance. The paramedics and hospital personnel had just carried Willie and Myra into the emergency room. Grandpa pulled into a no-parking zone and bolted out, barely closing his door. I ran to keep up with him. He looked like he would walk right through the emergency room’s glass door rather than take a second to open it. In fact, when he did open it, he nearly ripped it off its hinges. The sight of him, his face flushed, his eyes still burning with rage, stopped people talking.

  There were many other adults in the lobby, mostly patients waiting to be seen because of minor accidents or illnesses and some of their relatives or friends. We could see there was a great deal of commotion in the hallways. My grandfather was never one to stand and wait for someone to ask if he needed help. He marched in past the admittance nurse despite her protests, and I followed in his wake.

  When one of the doctors stepped out of an examination room and looked at us, Grandpa simply said, “It’s my grandson.”

  “Which one?” the doctor replied.


  “We have two little boys just brought here. One brought by ambulance and one left here by some idi—” He sucked in what he was going to say when he saw me standing there, too. “Someone who left without giving any information.”

  “My grandson was in the ambulance. He was hit by a drunk driver, and his nanny was also brought in.”

  “Okay. Just give me a minute to check on your grandson. The nanny is in the far right exam room,” he said, and went down the hallway to a room where some doctors and nurses had gathered.

  When a fancy-looking machine was wheeled into that room, Grandpa looked at me gravely. “Stay here,” he ordered, and walked ahead, even though the doctor had told him to wait. He looked into the busy room and then took a step in.

  I waited, holding my breath. No one seemed to notice me. I think everyone was simply too busy to waste time inquiring about my presence. Nurses rushed by. Another doctor appeared, this one in a suit and tie but with a stethoscope around his neck. He went quickly into the room Grandpa had entered. I had no idea how much time had passed; to me, every second was a minute, and every minute was an hour. When I finally saw my grandpa emerge, he had his head down, and the doctor in the suit was standing beside him, talking to him softly, his hand on Grandpa’s shoulder. The doctor stepped away, but Grandpa remained there, looking down.

  I know anyone would think I made it up, but there was the same high whistle I’d heard when I was told our parents had been killed in a freak boating accident thousands of miles away on a blue sea with the sun shining and excitement and laughter whirling about them. It was as if all the air was being sucked away from me. I could hear it seeping off—the whistling sound. I heard the same sound years later, when Grandpa returned from the hospital to tell me Grandma Arnold had died from a massive stroke. I didn’t think I was breathing either time, and I didn’t think I was breathing now.

  When Grandpa Arnold finally lifted his head and looked at me, I knew: Willie was gone.

  But I would soon learn in a strange way that he would not be gone forever.


  Just like when I heard the terrible news about our parents and the news years later about Grandma Arnold, I didn’t cry immediately. Something inside me wouldn’t let me understand what I was being told. The words kept floating away like tiny bubbles caught in a breeze and bursting before I could bring them back. Nevertheless, I knew. Deep inside, where I went to find love and hope, where my best dreams were on shelves waiting to be plucked like books and opened during sleep, a cold, dark realization boiled and threatened to spill over and into every part of me. I fought it back, but it was oozing in everywhere. Despite my effort, I knew I would be soaked in the dark sadness in moments and be unable to deny it.

  We had retreated to the lobby in silence, Grandpa resting his large right hand over the back of my neck and me clutching his shirt with my left hand. We needed to keep touching each other, comforting each other.

  We sat on a pair of chairs facing the exam rooms. He held my hand and stared ahead; his face had never been more stone-cold. Somehow all the noise around us seemed to disappear. It was as if I had lost my hearing. We were waiting now to learn about Myra. She was having an X-ray. Would she die, too? Suddenly, my grandfather looked up. The doctor he had first spoken to was out in the hallway again, this time talking to a nurse. Grandpa rose and walked over to him. I couldn’t imagine what he was asking, but whatever he said interested the doctor. Moments later, he was leading my grandfather back toward the exam rooms. I saw them disappear around a turn. Maybe Grandpa was finding out about Myra, I thought.

  I certainly didn’t move. I didn’t know if I could even stand. My legs were still trembling. I was afraid to look at anyone, even though I could feel people staring at me. Had they heard about Willie? Were they waiting to see me crumple up in uncontrollable sobs? Some looked terrified themselves.

  For some reason, I began to wonder what my friends were doing at that moment. Were they planning lunch, watching television, talking on the phone and giggling about silly things? What were Willie’s teachers doing? Was anyone else anywhere thinking about him? How tense was the atmosphere around my grandfather’s estate? Was anyone laughing or smiling? Were they all holding their breath, waiting for a phone call? Did someone call the hospital?

  I looked at a little boy who was holding his mother’s hand and had the thumb of his other hand in his mouth while he bounced against her. Most people avoided looking at one another. A look might bring bad news. Everyone’s eyes appeared shut down, as if they had turned to glass.

  Finally, my grandfather came back around the corner, obviously having realized he had left me sitting there. He beckoned to me, and I hurried to join him. Maybe what we were told was untrue. Maybe Willie didn’t die after all.

  “They’re putting a cast on Myra’s left arm. It was broken, and she has three fractured ribs, a few bruises, and a slight concussion. It’ll be a while,” he said.

  Our concern was no surprise. Myra was part of our family now. Grandpa Arnold and Grandma Arnold’s housekeeper of many, many years, Myra Potter became our nanny the day the terrible news arrived from Italy. She had also been a nanny for my mother and her younger brother, Uncle Bobby. A business associate of my grandpa had recommended Myra, who had been working for a Lord and Lady Willowsby in London. She came to America to work for my grandparents after Lady Willowsby died and Lord Willowsby moved to Cornwall to live with his son and daughter-in-law. Neither Grandpa nor I could imagine the house without Myra. She treated everything in it like her personal possessions and was, according to my grandmother, “more protective of it and your grandfather than I am.”

  Myra was barely five feet four but had gray-black eyes that seemed to double in size when something annoyed or angered her. She had a habitually stern, lean face on which smiles seemed to bubble up from some hidden place whenever she permitted them. I knew the maids my grandparents had were terrified of her, most not lasti
ng more than six months; the grounds people, the gardeners, the pool man, and anyone who came onto the property to do any work made sure she was happy with what they were doing, even before my grandpa had a look at it.

  “But what about Willie?” I asked now, hoping to hear a different answer.

  He shook his head. His face was still ashen gray. When my grandfather was deeply upset about something, he seemed to close up every part of himself through which rage or emotion could escape. The steam built up inside him and made him look like he might explode. The only indication came in the way his hands and lips trembled slightly. Anyone who didn’t know him well would probably not notice or would notice when it was already too late, especially if he was angry. And then, as Grandma Arnold used to say, “Pity the fool who got his engine started!”

  Grandpa Arnold was always the biggest and strongest man ever in my eyes. He was six feet three and at least two hundred twenty pounds of mostly muscle. He owned one of the country’s biggest trucking companies. He had been a truck driver himself, and because he hated the long days and weeks of separation from his family, he had put together his own company and built it to where it was today. It was even on the stock market now. I had no idea how rich my grandfather was, but to most people who knew us, he seemed to be the richest man in the country. Wherever he went, people practically leaped out of their skin to please him.

  He put his hand on my shoulder and then brought me into a hug. We stood while nurses and doctors went around us as if we weren’t there, which made it feel more like a dream.

  “Come on,” he said when he stopped hugging me. He took my hand and led me down the hallway to another room, where a nurse and a doctor were working around a very small boy. Despite the scary-looking equipment and the wires and tubes attached to him, the boy didn’t even whimper. He didn’t cry, and unlike any other child his age, he didn’t call for his mother. He was lying there with his cerulean-blue eyes wide open but looking as glassy and frozen as the eyes of the worried people in the lobby. His pale face seemed to be fading into the milk-white pillow, making his flaxen hair more golden. I thought he looked like a fallen cherub, an angel who had floated onto the hospital bed and was still too stunned to speak.