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Secrets 02 Secrets in the Shadows, Page 2

V. C. Andrews

  No matter what she told me, I couldn't imagine not remembering you were pregnant and had given birth. She must be pretending she can't remember, I thought. According to my aunt Zipporah, my mother was so good at pretending that. I imagined she could even fool brilliant doctors.

  My grandmother decided to call me Alice. When I once asked her why, she said, "Because maybe like Alice, you'll fall into a Wonderland someday."

  Consequently, Alice in Wonderland was one of the first books I ever read and soon after, escaping into another world became my dream. I couldn't help feeling that no one, not even my aunt Zipporah, was all that happy to see me in this one. Darlene Pearson was certainly not happy about it. It was the final straw, sending her fleeing into the night.

  Of course, I wondered almost as much about my maternal grandmother as I did about my mother. How could she have no interest at all in her own flesh and blood? How could she not have at least some curiosity? Later, when I was older, it gave me pause to wonder if the details of my mother's tragic story were true after all. Perhaps she wasn't so crazy when she killed Harry Pearson and the things she had claimed he had done to her were really done to her. I didn't know specific details, but I knew it had to do with sexual abuse. Perhaps Darlene Pearson was running away from that as much as running away from anything because she felt responsible, guilty since it happened in her home to her daughter.

  Of course, I had a selfish reason to hope this was possible. If it had all happened as my mother had first alleged, I wouldn't have evil to inherit. I'd be the daughter of a victim not a mad person, and people would owe me sympathy, not disdain. They could be cordial, not fearful. I'd have lots of friends. I'd be invited to parties and sleepovers, and the gloomy cloud that hovered always over my head would be blown away. I would walk in sunshine. I could smile and laugh and, most important, not be so afraid of the shadows that spilled out of the moonlight and edged farther and farther, closer and closer toward the Doral House and toward me. When they arrived, I'd be like Dr. Jekyll and turn into Mr. Hyde, unless I really was the victim's daughter.

  But without ever meeting my mother or my grandmother, how would I ever know what was true and what was not? It was truly as if I had no maternal family. I knew only the relatives on my father's side, and even they were distant and impersonal. Because I saw him from time to time, I at least knew something about my father. I snuck peeks at his high school and college yearbooks, and there were all the pictures in my grandfather's office, of course.

  I knew my father was bright and handsome and had once been a very good athlete, a college baseball star, but he moved away after he achieved his law degree, and my contact with him became infrequent. I understood that my grandfather and my father had dreamed of opening their own law firm here in upstate New York someday but the events that led to my birth pretty much made that impossible. A so-called wise business decision was made and my father took the California state bar exam and put as much distance between himself and the past, which included me, as possible.

  Not long after that, he had married Rachel Petersen, another attorney in the firm he had joined in Los Angeles, and she had given birth to twin boys, Justin and Austin, who were now five. They were my half brothers, of course, but to keep peace in his marriage and new family, my father and my grandparents, as well as Rachel, had decided that in front of the twins, they would treat me as if I were my grandparents' child. Otherwise, they would be just too confused. Justin and Austin were growing up believing I was their aunt.

  They lived far enough away and were never exposed to the truth.

  When I was older, I understood the fabrication was created more for Rachel than it was for the twins. My father's wife didn't want to think about him having had a child with a woman out of wedlock, a woman who had committed murder and had gone into a mental institution. Of course, none of their friends or business associates back in California had any idea. She was adamant about keeping the secret buried.

  "I don't ever want Jesse to think of you as his daughter," Rachel told me on one of their recent visits when we were alone. "It's better for all of us if we continue forever to pretend what happened never happened, better especially for my children."

  "I know. I just appeared magically," I told her. "One day my mother had a headache and then I popped out of her head, just like Athena popped out of Zeus's head." I had just read the myth in English class.

  She wasn't looking at me when she had spoken, but her head sure snapped around when I replied. I had never taken that tone with her. Her eyes were wide with both anger and fear. My stepmother, which was who she really was even though she never acknowledged it, always was uncomfortable around me. I once overheard her tell my father that she thought I stared at her in a very unnatural way because of how I narrowed my eyes and stiffened my lips.

  "I feel her resentment," she told him.

  "That's silly, Rachel. How could she? She doesn't understand all this."

  I was only about five then myself, not that it mattered to her. I could have been two. She wanted me to be unnatural; she wanted me to be weird.

  "Oh yes, she does," she insisted. "Yes, she does."

  I thought that if anyone believed I inherited evil, it was Rachel.

  She was a tall, thin, dark brunette with hazel eyes and that light toast California complexion. I could see why she would be a successful attorney. She had a careful exactness about everything, as if she had a built-in editing machine to trim her dialogue so as never to waste words. No one had to wonder what she meant when she spoke. She was even that way with the twins, and especially with my father.

  I wondered if they had fallen in love or simply fallen into marriage.

  It was easy to see that he was at a disadvantage every time they visited us. I was sure that before they arrived, all sorts of promises had been made, stipulations, as she might refer to them. It wasn't difficult for me to imagine what they were. In my mind, my father practically had them printed on his forehead or had agreed to them by signing in blood. Even before they arrived, I heard them whispered in the wind.

  Don't spend very much time alone with Alice, time without the boys, too.

  Don't show any more interest in her than you do in them.

  Don't permit them to call her anything but Aunt Alice and don't let them spend too much time alone with her either.

  Don't ever take the twins up to the attic.

  Don't ever ask any questions about Karen Stoker or her mother in front of me or the boys.

  And remember, we don't stay too long and we must never, ever give Alice even the slightest reason to hope that she might come to live with us someday.

  It occurred to me that my father would never stop paying for his sins. It also occurred to me that he deliberately married a woman who would see to that because he never wanted to stop punishing himself for disappointing his own parents.

  At least I had a purpose. I made my father's pain everlasting.

  How would you like that to be your reason for being born?

  2 Tell Me Everything

  . I turned from the window when I heard voices and laughter, and the squeals of delight from the twins below. I was sure my grandfather had swept them both up in his arms and was bouncing them about, pretending to decide which one weighed more and then playfully squeezing their biceps to see who looked to be stronger. Against my grandmother's wishes, he always teased them to make them competitive with each other. I knew he was afraid that Rachel was making them too docile; sometimes he went so far as to accuse them of being little spoiled princes without a castle or a kingdom.

  "They'll be at a disadvantage if they're too soft," he said when Rachel complained.

  "They need to compete with other people, not each other," Rachel countered. She wasn't afraid to challenge anyone, which was a strength I admired in her and wished for myself, but I once overheard my grandfather tell my grandmother, "That woman never shows any weakness, never cries. She has no tear ducts."

  "You train at h
ome for the wars to come," Grandfather told Rachel. "And believe me, they will come." He never backed away from an argument either.

  Rachel got along better with my grandmother, which I thought was odd since both Rachel and my grandfather were attorneys. Anyone would think they would have more in common, more to share. Lately, however, I began to suspect he was not happy with the way she treated me. He was far more protective of me than my own father was.

  But then again, except for the biological reasons, he might as well be my father. The twins could go on believing it forever, for all I cared.

  Of course, I knew they were all coining during the spring holiday break. Their visit had been planned for months. I just didn't know that there would be a bigger reason for their coming than just another family visit and that reason had to do with me. Although I heard them below, I didn't rush right down to greet them, I liked the twins, but because of Rachel, and because of my father, I was always on pins and needles, afraid I might say something to them or do something that would bring a cascading waterfall of criticism and reprimand.

  I knew that the arrival of my father and his family was supposed to be a time to celebrate and do fun things, but the truth was that as soon as I had heard they were coming to visit, I went into a deeper withdrawal and spent more time in the attic. Whenever they were here, I sought every opportunity I could to avoid spending time with them. I could tell that my grandmother, who was always more nervous when they came, wasn't terribly unhappy about that, but my grandfather sensed it and usually insisted I was included in everything possible, sometimes when it wasn't even necessary, simply to make a point.

  "She has just as much right to be here as any of us," he muttered.

  To make sure further that I wasn't ignored, he usually paraded whatever of my achievements he could, starting with my report card and then going to the latest pictures I had painted. When I was twelve, and he was told by the art teacher in school about my artistic ability, he immediately went out and bought materials and easels and then, without my

  grandmother's blessing, turned the attic into a makeshift art studio for me, even improving the lighting.

  "She spends too much time up there as it is, Michael," my grandmother complained

  "Why waste the space? Besides, up there she can have the privacy an artist needs to create," he insisted.

  "Yes, we know too well about that sort of privacy and the creative things that went on up there," she replied.

  She was far less forgiving, but my grandfather ignored her and went ahead anyway. He even bought me an artist's smock and a French artist's hat. Sometimes, I thought he was more excited about it all than I was. I know that often I tried harder because of him, because I wanted to please him. I knew that he wanted me to be good and successful in anything I attempted as a way to ease his own conscience. Good came from bad. Parents, no matter what, blame themselves for the actions of their children.

  I began with simple watercolors of the scenery around us and then one day decided to try to do a painting of the Doral House itself. Early on, I understood the difference between a photograph and a painting. I never simply tried to put a picture on a canvas. I let whatever was at work in me at the time turn the lines, add the shadows and the light. In the picture I did of the Doral House, I had a shadow in the attic window that was unmistakably in the shape of a girl looking out. My grandmother was very unnerved by it. She made sure I didn't bring it down from the attic. She referred to the picture as proof as to why my grandfather shouldn't have made the attic my studio.

  "There's just something about that attic," she insisted, making it sound truly supernatural.

  He thought that was ridiculous. However, I couldn't help feeling my grandmother wasn't all wrong. Whatever connection I felt with my mother, I felt more vividly up here. Something lingered. Something lived on in these attic walls.

  "Alice!" I heard my grandfather calling to me. "Come on down. Everyone's here."

  I took a deep breath as if whenever I left the attic and went downstairs, I was going under water. It was only up here that I could breathe and think freely. Did that make me more like my mother, too?

  Despite my attempts to make things easier for my father by trying to remain as indifferent to him as I could, I couldn't help but steal glances, wondering what it was of him I had inherited. My hair was more the light brown I saw in the pictures of my mother, but I had my father's blue eyes. We both had high cheekbones, too. And we had the same-shaped ears.

  Actually, I was more interested in knowing if he was at all curious about me. Did he ask my grandfather questions about me when they could talk to each other without Rachel knowing? Had he kept up on my schoolwork, my interests? Was he at all worried about me? Would he ever, ever take me aside to tell me about my mother and him, especially how it had all begun? In short, would he ever, even for fifteen minutes, be my father?

  Rachel was taking the twins to their bedroom for a nap as I came down the stairway. The drive up from the airport had tired them out, and when they were tired, they were usually cranky and restless. Putting them to sleep was always her method of reprimanding them. They hated taking naps and whined and shrieked all the way down the hall, pausing only to look up at me as I descended. I knew they were hoping that my entrance would somehow put off their banishment, but Rachel was relentless about something whenever she had made up her mind to do it. She practically lifted them off their feet as she dragged them by the hand. I imagined she was a formidable advocate in any courtroom. For me she was precisely the sort of person I admired and disliked simultaneously.

  And I knew she knew it, too.

  "Hello, Alice," she said. "I'll be out after I put the two terrors to sleep for a while."

  I nodded and continued to the living room, where my father sat with my grandmother and my grandfather. For as long as I could remember, I was always shy about going to my father to give him a kiss, and he, especially in front of my grandmother, was as shy about kissing me as well. Our compromise was usually his hugging me hello and brushing my cheek with his lips. This time, he didn't even do that. He remained sitting, smiled and said, "How you doing, Alice?"


  "You're a few inches taller than you were the last time I was here."

  "She's not at all taller," my grandmother said. Despite the resemblances between my father and myself, she liked to emphasize and stress the ones between me and my mother, as if she was trying to convince herself I was cloned and her son didn't have anything to do with the sinful mess that followed. Height was one of the characteristics I shared with my mother, and from what I could tell from the pictures, I was molding into a figure similar to hers as well.

  "Well," my father said, "she must be thinner then or something. She looks taller."

  "She's lost any traces of baby fat; that's for sure," my grandfather said, smiling.

  "Ridiculous," my grandmother muttered. "A girl this age is not supposed to have any baby fat, Michael. She's over sixteen."

  "Precisely. A young lady," my grandfather replied, nodding. "Working on a new painting?" he asked quickly, knowing I had been up in the attic all day. "She's doing some remarkable work," he told my father, who flashed a smile.

  How sad, I thought, to think that a smile was such a risk. I wondered if Rachel counted how many times he did smile at me while he was here, as well as how many times he touched me. She surely counted any kisses, lip brushes included.

  "You'll have to show everyone the one you did of the tree in the meadow. I swear. Every time I look at it, it seems to have changed. It's almost alive on the canvas!" my grandfather said.

  I could see from the expression on my grandmother's face that she didn't like to hear him talk about my art like that. She actually looked a little frightened, as if my art was some sort of witchcraft. Did she really believe my mother was speaking through me in my art? I wondered myself if that was at all possible.

  "Well, you couldn't have a better public relations man, Alice. I gue
ss I'll have to see it then," my father said.

  "See what?" Rachel asked, coming into the living room.

  "Dad was just telling me about one of Alice's new pictures and itiiw wonderful he thinks it is."

  She smirked. "They put up a fuss, but the moment both hit the bed, they closed their eyes and were out," she told my grandparents, as if nothing had been said about me. Then she turned to my father. "Are you taking me to the drugstore now, Jesse, or what?"

  "We just got here," he protested.

  "I'd like to go while they're asleep," she said, "and I don't want the store to close. I need my things."

  "Well, okay, I guess," he said, rising. Was he reluctant to take her because he was taking her to what had once been my mother's stepfather's drugstore? Rachel was either unaware of it or simply didn't care.

  "They should sleep a while," she told my grandmother, "but if they wake up . ."

  "Don't worry about them. I'll listen for them," my grandmother said.

  My father glanced at me.

  "I'll see your picture later, Alice."

  I shrugged and turned away until they left. For a moment it was as if all the air had gone out of the room with them.

  "I'll look in on the twins," my grandmother said, rose and went off toward the guests' bedrooms.

  Why had I bothered coming down?

  My grandfather was staring at me, a very thoughtful, if not painful, look on his face. He slapped his knees and rose.

  "Come take a walk with me, Alice," he said. "A walk? Where?"

  The Doral House was on a nearly deserted rural road with the next property being a good half mile or so east of us.

  "Just a walk. It's a rather nice day and you haven't been out to enjoy any of it," he said. "Come on. You'll get an idea for a new painting perhaps. I do my best thinking when I'm just walking."

  I followed him out of the living room and then out of the house.

  "I didn't think we'd stay here this long," he said, pausing on the porch and gazing at the road. He was still a very handsome, physically fit man and looked years younger than he was. He loved golf but had taken up racquet ball to keep his weight in check. He told me most of the attorneys he knew were overweight. "Too many free lunches," he said. "And martinis."