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If There Be Thorns, Page 2

V. C. Andrews

  Shame? Why?

  He hadn't even known her when she was fourteen. I frowned, trying to think back to when and where they'd first met. Mom and her younger sister, Carrie, had run away from home soon after Mom's parents were killed in an auto accident. They'd gone south on a bus and a kind black woman named Henny had taken them to her employer Dr. Paul Sheffield, who had generously taken them in and given them a good home. My mom had started ballet classes again and there she had met Julian Marquet--the man who was my father. I was born shortly after he was killed. Then Mom married Daddy Paul. And Daddy Paul was Bart's father. It had been a long, long time before she met Chris, who was Daddy Paul's younger brother. So how could he have loved her when she was fourteen? Had they told us lies? Oh gosh, oh gosh . . .

  But now that the dance was over, the argument began again: "Okay, you're feeling better, yourself again," Dad said. "I want you to solemnly promise that if anything ever happens to me, be it tomorrow, or years from now, you swear that you will never, so help you God, hide Bart and Jory in the attic so you can go unencumbered into another marriage!"

  Stunned, I watched my mom jerk her head upward before she gasped: "Is that what you think of me? Damn you for thinking I am so much like her! Maybe I did put the beds together. Maybe I did bring the basket up here. But never once did it cross my mind to to . . . Chris, you know I wouldn't do that!"

  Do what, what?

  He made her swear. Really forced her to speak the words while her blue eyes glared hot and angry at him all the while.

  Sweating now, hurting too, I felt angry and terribly disillusioned in my dad, who should know better. Mom wouldn't do that. She couldn't! She loved me. She loved Bart too. Even if she did look at him sometimes with shadows in her eyes, still she would never, never hide us away in this attic.

  My dad left her standing in the middle of the attic as he strode forward to seize the picnic hamper. Next he unlatched, then pushed open the screen and hurled the basket out the open window. He watched it fall to the ground before once more turning to confront my mom angrily:

  "Perhaps we are compounding the sins of our parents by living together as we are. Perhaps in the end both Jory and Bart will be hurt--so don't whisper to me tonight when we're in bed about adopting another child. We cannot afford to involve another child in the mess we've made! Don't you realize, Cathy, that when you put those beds up here you were unconsciously planning what to do in case our secret is exposed?"

  "No," she objected, spreading her hands helplessly. "I wouldn't. I couldn't do that . . ."

  "You have to mean that!" he snapped. "No matter what happens, we will not, or you will not, put your children in this attic to save yourself, or me."

  "I hate you for thinking I would!"

  "I am trying to be patient. I am trying to believe in you. I know you still have nightmares. I know you are still tormented by all that happened when we were young and innocent. But you have to grow up enough to look at yourself honestly. Haven't you learned yet that the subconscious often leads the way to reality?" He strode back to cuddle her close, to soothe and kiss her, to soften his voice as she clung to him

  desperately. (Why did she have to feel so desperate?)

  "Cathy, my heart, put away those fears instilled by the cruel grandmother. She wanted us to believe in hell and its everlasting torments of revenge. There is no hell but that which we make for ourselves. There is no heaven but that which we build between us. Don't chip away at my belief, my love, with your 'unconscious' deeds. I have no life without you."

  "Then don't go to see your mother this summer."

  He raised his head and stared over hers, pain in his eyes. I slid silently on the floor to sit and stare at them. What was going on? Why was I suddenly so afraid?



  "And on the seventh day God rested," read Jory as I finished patting the earth nice and firm over the pansy seeds that were meant to honor my aunt Carrie's and uncle Cory's birthday on May fifth. Little aunt and uncle I'd never seen. Both been dead a long, long time. Dead before I was born. People died easy in our family. (Wonder why they liked pansies so much? Silly little nothing flowers with pudding faces.) Wish Momma didn't think honoring dead people's birthdays was so darn important.

  "You know what else?" asked Jory, like nine was a dumb age, and he was a big adult. "In the beginning, when God created Adam and Eve, they lived in the Garden of Eden without wearing any clothes at all. Then one day an evil talking snake told them it was sinful to walk around naked, so Adam put on a fig leaf."

  Gosh. . . naked people who didn't know naked was wicked. "What did Eve put on?" I asked as I looked around, hoping to see a fig leaf. He went on reading in a singsong way that took me to olden times when God was looking out for everyone--even naked people who could talk to snakes. Jory said he could put Biblical stories into "mind" music, and that made me mad and scared--him dancing to "mind" music I couldn't hear! Made me feel stupid, invisible, dumber than crazy. "Jory, where d'ya find fig leaves?"


  "If I had one, I'd take off all my clothes and wear it."

  Jory laughed. "Good golly, Bart, there's only one way for a boy to wear a fig leaf--and you'd be embarrassed."

  "I would not!"

  "You would too!"

  "I'm never embarrassed!"

  "Then how do you know what it's like? Besides, have you ever seen Dad wear a fig leaf?"

  "No . . ." But I figured since I'd never seen a fig leaf, how could I know whether or not I had? I said this to Jory. "Boy, you'd know!" he answered, with another laugh to mock me.

  Then he was grinning, jumping up to leap up all the marble steps in one long bound that I couldn't help but admire. Me, I had to trail along behind. Wish I was graceful like him. Wish I could dance and charm everybody into likin me. Jory was bigger, older, smarter--but wait a minute. Maybe I could make myself smarter if not bigger. My head was big. Had to have a big brain inside. I'd grow taller by and by, catch up with Jory, bypass him Why, I'd grow taller than Daddy; taller than the giant in "Jack and the Beanstalk"--and that giant was taller than anybody!

  Nine years old . . . wish I was fourteen.

  There was Jory sitting on the top step, waitin for me to catch up. Insultin. Hateful. God sure hadn't been kind to me when he passed out coordination. Remembered five years ago when I was four and Emma gave each of us a baby chick, all soft yellow fuzz, making chirps and cheeps. Never felt nothin so good before in my whole livelong life. There I was lovin it, holdin it, sniffin its baby smell before I put it kindly on the ground--and darn if that chick didn't fall over dead.

  "You squeezed," said Daddy, who knew about stuff like that. "I warned you not to hold it too tight. Baby chicks are fragile and you have to handle them with care. Their hearts are very near the surface--so next time, gentle hands, okay?"

  Thought God might strike me dead then and there, even though most of it was His fault anyway. Wasn't my fault he didn't make my nerve endings go all the way to the surface of my skin. Wasn't my fault I couldn't feel pain like everybody else--was His! Then I'd shivered, fearful He might do somethin. But when He was forgivin I went an hour later to the little pen where Jory's live chick had been walkin around lonesome. I picked him up and told him he had a friend. Boy, we had a good time with me chasin him and him chasin me, when all of a sudden, after only two hours of havin fun--that chick keeled over dead too!

  Hated stiff cold things. Why'd it give up so easily? "What's the matter with you?" I shouted. "I didn't squeeze! My hands didn't hold you! I was careful--so stop playin dead and get up or my daddy will think I killed you on purpose!" Once I'd seen my daddy haul a man out of the water and save his life by pumpin out the water and blowing in air, so I did the same things to the chick. It stayed dead. Next I massaged its heart, then I prayed, and still it stayed dead.

  I was no good. No good for nothin. Couldn't stay clean. Emma said clean clothes on me were a waste of her good time. Couldn't hold onto a dish when I dried
it. New toys fell apart soon after they came my way. New shoes looked old in ten minutes after knowin my feet. Weren't my fault if they scuffed up easily. People just didn't know how to make good, unscuffable shoes. Never saw a day when my knees weren't scabby or covered with bandaids. When I played ball I tripped and fell between bases. My hands didn't know how to catch right, so my fingers bent backwards and twice I'd had fingers broken. Three times I'd fallen from trees. Once I broke my right arm, once my left arm. Third time I only got bruises. Jory never broke anything.

  Was no wonder my mom kept tellin me and him not to go next door to that big ole house with so many staircases, 'cause sooner or later she knew I'd fall down steps and break all my bones!

  "What a pity you don't have much

  coordination," mumbled Jory. Then he stood up and yelled, "Bart, stop running like a girl! Lean forward, use your legs like pumps. Put your heart in it and let go! Forget about falling. You won't if you don't expect to. And if you catch me I'll give you my superspeed ball!"

  Boy, wasn't nothin I wanted in this whole wide world more than I wanted that ball of his. Jory could throw it with a curve. When he pitched at tin cans setting on the wall, he'd hit 'em one after another. I never hit anything I aimed for--but I did hit a lot I didn't even see, like windows and people.

  "Don't want yer ole speedball?" I gasped, though I did want it. It was a better ball than mine; they were always givin him better than me.

  He looked at me with sympathy, making me want to

  cry. Hated pity! "You can have it even if you don't win the race, and you can give me yours. I'm not trying to hurt your feelings. I just want you to stop being afraid of doing everything wrong, and then maybe you won't--sometimes getting mad enough helps you win." He smiled, and I guess if my momma had been around she would have thought his flash of white teeth was charmin. My face was born for scowlin. "Don't want yer ole ball," I repeated, refusing to be won over to someone handsome, graceful and fourteenth in a long line of Russian ballet dancers who'd married ballerinas. What was so great about dancers? Nothin', nothin'! God had smiled on Jory's legs and made them pretty, while mine looked like knobby sticks that wanted to bleed.

  "You hate me, don't you? You want me to die, don't you?"

  He gave me a funny, long look. "Naw, I don't hate you and I don't want you to die. I kinda like you for my brother even if you are clumsy and a squealer."

  "Thanks heaps."

  "Yeah . . . think nothing of it. Let's go look at the house."

  Every day after school we went to the high white wall and sat up there, and some days we went inside the house. Soon school would be over and we'd have nothin to do all day but play. It was nice to know the house was there, waitin for us. Spooky ole house with lots of rooms, jagged halls, trunks full of hidden treasures, high ceilings, odd-shaped rooms with small rooms joinin, sometimes a row of little rooms hidin one behind the other.

  Spiders lived there and spun webs on the fancy chandeliers. Mice ran everywhere, havin hundreds of babies to put droppins all over. Garden insects moved inside and climbed the walls and crept on the wood floors. Birds came down the chimneys and fluttered about madly as they tried to find a way out. Sometimes they banged against walls, windows, and we'd come in and find 'em dead and pitiful. Sometimes Jory and I would arrive in the nick of time and throw open windows and doors so they could escape.

  Jory figured someone must have abandoned the ole house quickly. Half the furniture was there, settin dusty and moldin, givin off smelly odors that made Jory wrinkle his nose. I sniffed it and tried to know what it was sayin. I could stand real still and almost hear the ghosts talkin, and if we sat still on a dusty ole velvet couch and didn't talk, up from the cellar would come faint rustlins like the ghosts wanted to whisper secrets in our ears.

  "Don't you ever tell anybody ghosts talk to you, or they'll think you're crazy," Jory had warned. We already had one crazy person in our family--our daddy's mother, who was in a nuthouse way back in Virginia. Once a summer we went East to visit her and ole graves. Momma wouldn't go in the long brick building where people in pretty clothes strolled over green lawns, and nobody would have guessed they were crazy if attendants in white suits hadn't been there too.

  Every summer Momma would ask, when Daddy came back from seein his mother, "Well, is she better?" And Daddy would look sad before he'd say, "No, not really much progress . . . but there would be if you would forgive her."

  That always shook Momma up. She acted like she wanted that grandmother to stay locked up forever.

  "You listen to me, Christopher Doll" my momma had snapped, "it's the other way around, remember! She's the one who should go down on her knees and plead--she should ask for our


  Last summer we hadn't gone East to visit anybody. I hated ole graves, ole Madame Marisha with her black rusty clothes, her big bun of white and black hair--and I didn't care even now if two ole ladies back East never had a visit from us again. And as for them down in those graves--let 'em stay there without flowers! Too many dead people in our lives, messin it up.

  "C'mon, Bart!" called Jory. He had already scaled the tree on our side of the wall, and he was sittin up there waitin for me. I managed the climb, then settled down next to Jory, who insisted I sit against the tree trunk--just in case. "You know what?" said Jory wistfully. "Someday I'm gonna buy Mom a house just as big. Every once in a while I overhear her and Dad talking about big houses, so I guess she wants one larger than the one we've already got."

  "Yeah, they sure do talk a lot about big houses."

  "I like our house better," said Jory, while I set about drummin my heels against the wall, which had bricks under the crumblin white stucco. Momma had mentioned once she thought the bricks showin through added "interesting texture contrast." I did what I could to make the wall more interestin.

  But it was sure true that in a big house like that one over there you could get lost in the dark and ramble on and on for days on end. None of the bathrooms worked. No water. Crazy sinks with no water and stupid fruit cellar with no fruit, and wine cellar with no wine.

  "Gee, wouldn't it be nice if a big family moved in over there?" Jory said, wishin like me we could have lots and lots of nearby friends to play with. We didn't have anybody but each other once we came home from school.

  "And if they had two boys and two girls it would be just perfect," went on Jory dreamily. "Sure would be neat to have all girls living next door."

  Neat, sure. I'll bet he was wishin Melodie Richarme would move in over there. Then he could see her every day and hug and kiss her like I'd seen him do a few times. Girls. Made me sick. "Hate girls!

  ---want all 22 boys!" I grouched. Jory laughed, saying I was only nine and soon enough I'd like girls more than boys.

  "What makes Melodie's arms rich?"

  "Do you realize how dumb that makes you sound? That's her last name and doesn't mean anything."

  Just when I wanted to say he was the dumb one because all names had to mean somethin, or else why have them?--two trucks pulled up in the long driveway of the mansion. Wow! Nobody ever went over there but us.

  We sat on and watched the workmen runnin around, doin this and that. Some went up on the orange roof Momma said was called "pantile" and began to check it over. Others went inside the house with ladders and cans that looked like they held paint. Some had huge rolls of wallpaper under their arms. Others checked over the windows, and some looked at the shrubs and trees.

  "Hey!" said Jory, very upset lookin. "Somebody must have bought that place. I'll bet they'll move in after it's fixed up."

  Didn't want no neighbors who would disturb Momma and Daddy's privacy. All the time they were talkin about how nice it was not to have close neighbors to "disturb their privacy."

  We sat on until it grew dark, then went into our house and didn't say a word to our parents--for when you said somethin out loud, that meant it was really true. Thoughts didn't count.

  Next day it was Sunday and
we went on a picnic at Stinson Beach. Then came Monday afternoon and Jory and I were back up on the wall, starin over at all that activity. Was foggy and cold, but we could see just well enough to be bothered. We couldn't go over there and have a place of our own anymore. Where would we play now?

  "Hey, you kids!" called a burly man on another day when we were only watchin. "Whadaya doin' up there?"

  "Nothing!" yelled Jory. (I never talked to strangers. Jory was always teasin me for not talkin to anybody much but myself.)

  "Don't you kids tell me you're not doin' nothin' when I see you over here! This house is private property--so stay off these grounds or you'll hear from me!"

  He was real mean, and fierce lookin; his workclothes were old and dirty. When he came closer I saw the biggest feet in my life, and the dirtiest boots. I was glad the wall was ten feet high and we had the advantage over him

  "Sure we play over there a little," said Jory, who wasn't scared of anybody, "but we don't hurt anything We leave it like we found it."

  "Well, from now on stay off altogether!" he snapped, glarin first at Jory, then at me. "Some rich dame has bought this place and she won't want kids hangin around. And don't you think you can get by with anything because she's an old lady livin alone. She's bringin servants with her."

  Servants. Wow!

  "Rich people can have everything their own way," muttered the giant on the ground as he moved off. "Do this, do that, and have it done yesterday. Money-- God, what I wouldn't do to have my share."

  We had only Emma, so we weren't really rich. Jory said Emma was like a maiden aunt, not really a relative or a servant. To me she was just somebody I'd known all my life, somebody who didn't like me nearly as much as she liked Jory. I didn't like her either, so I didn't care.

  Weeks passed. School ended. Still those workmen were over there. By this time Momma and Daddy had noticed, and they weren't too happy about neighbors they didn't intend to visit and make welcome. Both me and Jory wondered why they didn't want friends comin to our house.