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Cat, Page 2

V. C. Andrews

  "You're pale," she told me. "Maybe you should call in sick."

  "I'm all right," I said. I could just hear them all saying, "We knew it. We knew she wouldn't come." Of course, they would be furious.

  "I don't like it," Mother mumbled.

  Every time she complained, it stirred the little frogs in my stomach and made them jump against my ribs. I got into the car quickly. She sat at the wheel, staring at the garage door. There was a dent in the corner where my father had backed into it one night with his car after he had had a little too much to drink with some old friends. He never repaired it and every time Mother looked at it, I knew she thought of him. It made the anger in her heart boil and bubble.

  "I wonder where he is this fine morning," she said as she turned on the engine. "I hope he's in hell."

  We backed out of the driveway and started away. My mother drove very slowly, always below the speed limit, which made drivers in cars behind us lean on their horns and curse through locked jaws of frustration.

  Before my father had left, he had helped me get my permit and then my license, but Mother didn't like me driving. She thought the driving age should be raised to twenty-one, and even that was too low these days.

  "People are not as mature as they were when I was younger," she told me. "It takes years and years to grow up and driving is a big responsibility. I know why your father let you do it," she added, grinding her teeth. She did that so often, it was a wonder she didn't have more dental problems. "Bribery," she spit. "Even hell is too good for him "

  "It wasn't just bribery, Mother. I'm a careful driver," I said. She had yet to let me drive her car and had been in my father's car only twice when I had driven, complaining the whole time, each time.

  "You can never be careful enough," she replied. These expressions and thoughts were practically automatic. I used to think Mother has tiny buttons in her brain and when something is said, it hits one of those buttons which triggers sentences already formed and ready to be sent out through her tongue. Each button was assigned a particular thought or philosophical statement.

  This morning it was partly cloudy and a lot more humid than it had been the last few days. The weatherman predicted possible thunderstorms later in the afternoon. I could see some nasty looking clouds looming in the west over the ocean, waiting like some gathering army to launch an attack.

  "I'll be home all day," Mother continued as we drove along. "If you need me, you don't hesitate to call, hear?" "All right," I said.

  "I've done all my food shopping. I've got to work on our books."

  She meant our finances. My mother had gained control of most of that fortune and prided herself on how well she kept our accounts. She attacked it with the same degree of efficiency she attacked everything else. There was a button in her brain connected to "Waste not, want not."

  When Doctor Marlowe's house came into view, Mother clicked her tongue and shook her head.

  "I don't like this," she said. "I don't see any good coming from this."

  I didn't speak. With obvious reluctance, she turned into the driveway and pulled up just as Jade's limousine was pulling away.

  "Who is that spoiled girl?" she asked, her eyes narrowing as the limousine disappeared. She hoisted her shoulders and looked ready to pounce on my answer like some alley cat.

  "Her name is Jade," I said. "Her father is an important architect and her mother manages sales for a big cosmetics company."

  "Spoiled," she declared again with the rock solid firmness of a doctor pronouncing someone dead. She nodded and raised her eyes. "As ye sow, so shall ye reap."

  She stopped the car and looked at me with eyes that always seemed to lay the blame totally at my feet, despite the way she would mutter about and curse my father.

  "When will this be over?" she demanded, gazing so furiously at the house, I thought she might cause it to explode right before our eyes.

  "I guess it'll be the same time as yesterday and the day before," I told her.

  "Um," she said. She thought for a moment and then turned back to me sharply. "Remember, don't let that woman make you say anything you don't want to say," she warned.

  "I won't."

  She nodded, her eyes still fueled by fury, remaining as bright as two Christmas tree lights. Her lips stretched and she spoke through clenched teeth.

  "I hope he's sitting in hell," she said. I wondered why I didn't.

  I should, I thought. I should hate him more than she does.

  I gazed at the front door of Doctor Marlowe's house. Maybe today, maybe today I would discover why all this was so.

  It gave me the strength to open the door and step out. Mother looked at me, shook her head, and drove away, her neck as stiff as ever. I watched her stop at the end of the driveway and then turn into the street and head back for home.

  Then I took a very deep breath, pressed my clutched hands against my stomach, and walked up to the door to press the doorbell. When Doctor Marlowe's maid Sophie opened the door, I was surprised to see the three of them: Misty, Star and Jade, standing there right behind her, smiling, or more to the point, smirking out at me.

  "We decided not to waste our time back there in Doctor Marlowe's office. If you didn't show up on schedule, we were all going to go home," Jade said, lifting the right corner of her mouth, and speaking in her most arrogant, haughty voice.

  "I'm glad you came," Misty said with her habitually bubbly smile.

  "Let's get started," Star added. She brought her hands to her hips and leaned toward me. "Well, c'mon in. Don't stand out there all day gaping at us like some dummy. Doctor Marlowe's waiting for you."

  I stepped in and Misty jumped ahead of Sophie to quickly close the door.

  "Gotcha," she said and laughed.

  They gathered around me to march me back to Doctor Marlowe's office and for a few moments, I felt like I was going to my own execution.

  There was plenty about myself I wanted to see die. Maybe, I thought, it was time to do it.


  Doctor Marlowe was at her desk when we all marched into her office. She quickly finished whatever she was doing and joined us.

  "Good morning, girls," she sang with that happy smile of welcome. "I didn't know anyone had arrived yet. Did you all come at the same time?"

  "Where's Emma this morning?" Star asked, instead of answering her question. "She usually sets off the alarm when we appear."

  Doctor Marlowe laughed. I admired her ability to never lose control, never get upset or angry at anything any of us said, especially Star, who never seemed to be tired of testing her. Of course, after having heard her story, I understood why Star was so angry all the time. And then I wondered if that wasn't really the way I should act, too.

  "My sister had an early dental appointment. Everyone comfortable where you have been sitting?" she asked, glancing quickly at me. Now that I was actually here, she looked almost as nervous as I felt.

  "Why shouldn't we be?" Star asked. Doctor Marlowe's smile flickered like a flashlight with weakened batteries and then


  This morning she wore turquoise earrings and had a bit more of a wave in her dirty blond hair. It was trimmed neatly at her ears. As usual, she wore a skirt suit with a white silk blouse with pearl buttons closed at her throat.

  The first time my mother had met her, she had seemed relieved that our therapist wasn't particularly pretty. For reasons I didn't quite understand, Mother was always suspicious of attractive women or else intimidated by them. There wasn't a movie star or a model with whom she didn't find fault. They were either obsessed with being too thin or conceited and had distorting priorities. Mother was proud of the fact that she rarely, if ever, looked in the mirror more than once or twice a day. She thought the world would be better without them and if she caught me gazing at myself, she would ask, "Why are you looking at yourself so much? If something's wrong, I'll tell you:'

  I didn't think I looked in the mirror any more than or even as much as girls
my age did, but I couldn't help being self-critical and comparing myself to other girls and women I met. Doctor Marlowe's nose was a bit too long and her lips too thin, but she did have a figure I coveted. I would even like to be as tall. I always felt short and dumpy because of my own figure and height. Doctor Marlowe was at least six feet one and I was barely five feet four, and with my figure, that made me feel almost comical, distorted, despite the nice things Daddy used to say. He was practically the only one who tried to make me feel good about myself.

  Was Mother right? Were those really all lies? And if they were, weren't there some lies we needed?

  "Well, let's get started," Doctor Marlowe declared with a small clap. She nodded and sat and motioned for us to do the same.

  There was a deep and long moment of silence, the kind that makes my heart stop and then pound. I could feel everyone's eyes on me. I actually began to tremble again, my thighs shaking. I embraced myself like someone who was afraid she would just fly apart.

  "How are you all today?" Doctor Marlowe asked. "Ginger peachy," Star said.

  "Good," Misty said with a nice smile.

  "I'd like to have slept in longer," Jade said. "It's supposed to be our summer holiday."

  Doctor Marlowe laughed and gazed my way, her eyes soft, warm, compassionate.

  Even so, a ribbon of pain stretched across my forehead from temple to temple, tightening and tightening until it felt like it was cutting through my brain.

  "I think I woke up with a fever this morning," I said. "I had chills. I still have them a bit," I added and embraced myself. I rocked a little in my seat.

  "Take it easy, Cathy," Doctor Marlowe said in a soft whisper. "Take deep breaths like you've done before:' I did so while the others continued to stare at me.

  "I'm sorry," I whispered.

  "Before I started to talk to all of you about my story, I felt like throwing up," Misty said in support.

  "I did throw up this morning," I confessed.

  Star frowned and shook her head.

  "It's only us, Cat, not the whole country. You aren't on television on Oprah or something"

  "Give her a chance," Jade ordered.

  Star tilted her head a little and looked at Jade from an angle.

  "Do you have some words of wisdom, Princess Jade?" "I'm just saying it wasn't easy for any of us."

  "I'm not saying it was," Star argued. "But whatever her story is, it can't be worse than any of ours, can it?" Jade shrugged.

  "I still haven't recovered from telling my own story," she said, as if we were all in a contest to outdo each other for misery.

  The other two nodded in agreement.

  "No one's going to laugh or anything," Misty promised with those sweet eyes.

  All right, I thought. All right. They want to hear it. I'll tell them. I'll tell them everything Then they'll be sorry. We'll all be sorry.

  "My situation is a lot different from yours, and yours, and yours," I told each of them.

  "How so?" Star fired back.

  "For one thing, I'm adopted," I replied and quickly added, "but I didn't learn that until this year."

  "Your parents kept that a secret all this time?" Misty immediately asked.

  One thing about these girls, I thought, they weren't going to be bashful about asking questions. It wasn't going to be easy hiding anything from them.


  "Weren't there any baby pictures of you?" Jade asked.

  "No. Well, not before I was two."

  "Didn't you ever wonder about that? Everyone has pictures of their children when they were infants."

  "No. I mean, I've wondered, but I didn't ask any questions about it."

  "Why not?" Star demanded.

  "I just didn't. It never occurred to me that I could be adopted. I look a little like my mother. We sort of have the same nose and mouth."

  "Still, you could have asked about the pictures. What kind of parents wouldn't have pictures," Jade pursued.

  "I don't like asking my mother questions," I admitted. "She doesn't like me to. She grew up believing children should be seen and not heard and that's how she wants me to be."

  "You're not a child," Jade said.

  "Hardly," Star added with a laugh. "One look at her will tell you that."

  "I'm not just talking about her bosom," Jade snapped. "Some girls physically mature faster, but that doesn't make them grown-ups."

  "I was mature very early," I admitted. Maybe I wanted to stop their bickering or maybe I just wanted to get my story out.

  "How early?" Misty asked leaning toward me. "I mean, I'm still waiting."

  Star and Jade laughed. Doctor Marlowe held her lips still, but her eyes filled with a twinkle of amusement.

  "I was still in the fourth grade when . . . when I started to develop."

  "Fourth grade?" Star whistled. "You were wearing a bra in the fourth grade?"

  "Not exactly. My mother didn't take me to buy a bra until I was in the sixth grade," I said.

  "Well, what did you wear before then?" Star asked. "She made me wear a sports bra, a size or so too small so it flattened me somewhat. It was made out of spandex and it felt like a straitjacket. It was really more for exercise, but she made me wear it all day. When I took it off at night, my chest was always sunburn red. I complained, but she said I had to do it because a bra for a girl my age would only emphasize my freakish appearance."

  "Is that what she called it?" Jade said with a scowl. "Freakish?"

  I nodded.

  "I'd like to get a little more freakish myself then," Misty said. "I guess I'm going to end up having implants when I'm in my twenties."

  "You shouldn't put so much emphasis on it just because men do," Jade said with fire in her eyes.

  Misty gave her one of her small shrugs and turned back to me.

  "What did your father say about it?" she asked.

  "He didn't say anything to my mother right away. At least, not in front of me," I added. "My mother has always been more in charge when it came to matters concerning me, matters my father called 'girl stuff.' My father was always very busy. He's a stockbroker and he was out of the house early in the morning, except for weekends, of course."

  "What's he look like?" Jade asked. "I mean, does he look like he could really be your father? Any resemblances?"

  "I guess not. He's tall, six feet three and he's always been thin, no matter how much he ate or drank. He has very long hands. They're almost twice the size of mine, maybe three times, and his fingers . . ."

  "What?" Misty asked.

  I laughed.

  "He used to play this game with me, itsy-bitsy spider."

  "Huh?" Misty said.

  "Don't you know it? You put the tips of your fingers together and you go, 'The itsy-bitsy spider crawled up the water spout. Down came the rain and washed the spider out. Out came the sun and dried up all the rain. And the itsy-bitsy spider crawled up the spout again,' " I recited and demonstrated,

  remembering. I guess I had a silly smile on my face. They all looked like they were going to break into hysterics at any moment.

  "He used to do it with his fingers just like I showed you and then he would do it with his fingers on mine and he would crawl up and down my chest.

  "I grew up thinking his fingers were really very much like spider legs, especially when he puts his hand on the table," I said remembering the image. "They look like two big spiders?'

  The three girls fixed their eyes on me and waited as pictures replaced pictures in my memory. I had my fingers on my chest and had turned them downward without even realizing what I was doing. My eyes closed and then snapped open and I felt myself return to the present.

  "One of his fingers, the right forefinger, has a birthmark at the tip, a big, red blotch. It looks like he might have touched a hot stove or something. People who meet him for the first time sometimes ask if he had injured it and he shakes his head and holds it up like some sort of prize and explains it's just a birthmark.

sp; "The palms of his hands are puffy and the lines are deep. In fact, he has a line so deep at the base of his left palm, it looks like he sliced it. He keeps his nails very trim. He gets manicures somewhere near his office once a week," I said. "He takes better care of his fingernails than my mother does of hers. I never saw her put nail polish on them. She's never had a manicure. Once, when I went over to a girlfriend's house and came home with my nails polished, she made me dip them in turpentine I had to hold it in so long, it burned the skin on my fingers."

  "Didn't she ever hear of nail polish remover?" Jade asked dryly. "My mother could get her a lifetime supply at cost."

  "She's heard of it, but she doesn't own any. No nail polish, no need for nail polish remover," I said. I thought for a moment. "My father's nails shine. They're like ivory."

  "How come you talk so much about your father's hands?" Misty asked with a wide smile.

  I stared at her for a moment and then looked at Doctor Marlowe, whose eyes were narrowed and intense. How did we get into this so quickly? I wondered. Their questions had come at me like bullets. Maybe that was good. Maybe that was the best way, I thought.

  I tried to swallow, but couldn't, and then I took a deep breath and felt like my father was squeezing my ribs and holding my lungs from expanding so I would keep all the secrets imprisoned in my heart. I took another deep breath to stop that all too familiar paralyzing numbness from gripping me.

  "Drink some water," Doctor Marlowe ordered, jumping up and handing me a glass.

  The girls all looked more frightened than surprised at my sudden reaction. They glanced at each other and then at the door as if they were considering running out of the room. They all looked sorry they had dragged me into my past so quickly. I laughed to myself.

  You want to know why I think of my father's hands so much? Okay, I thought. You challenged me to tell you it all. Now you'll sit and listen even if it means you'll have nightmares too.

  "Even though he worked very hard and spent a lot of time away from the house, at his firm or visiting with big clients, my father was the one who played with me. All the toys I had, I had because my father bought them. I can't remember my mother buying me any toys, not even a doll."