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Cloudburst, Page 2

V. C. Andrews

  Mrs. March was aware of it as well. She tried so hard to regain a daughter, to hold on to her idea of a family. Her new goal now, her method of overcoming this last hurdle, was to have her and Mr. March legally adopt me. From time to time, I couldn’t help but hear them discussing it. Up until now, he was reluctant. To justify his hesitancy, he pointed out the complicated legal and financial considerations. He also emphasized that they had established a trust fund of a quarter of a million dollars for my college education.

  “It’s not that we’re not looking after her future,” he said.

  Another one of his excuses was the emotional and psychological impact it would have on Kiera.

  “Let’s wait until she is more settled, more adult. Even though she is doing well—better, in fact, than I ever expected—she is still quite fragile, Jordan. You know what her therapist, Dr. Ralston, told us about sibling rivalry and how that diminished her self-esteem. Go slowly, or you’ll destroy all the progress she has made,” he warned, and my foster mother stepped back again and again.

  It would be a little longer before I would understand the real reasons he was hesitant. Some of them did have to do with what he was saying, but the biggest reason lay in wait, as patient as a confident tiger who knew his prey was coming closer. He would pounce when the time was right.

  And the poor lamb, innocent and trusting—I, Sasha Porter—could fall victim.

  My mother’s words never were forgotten. They lingered now in the shadows of this exquisite mansion. Often, even on one of my happier days here, I would hear them as if her ghost dressed in shadows stood in some corner waiting for me to walk by.

  It’s only good self-defense to be distrusting.

  Remember the safety valve.

  Always be skeptical.

  I heard her, but would I listen?

  And even if I did, could I stop any of it from happening?

  My mother came to believe everything was decided for us even before we were born. It was futile to fight destiny. Why try? Why bother? She had been that discouraged and defeated.

  I couldn’t blame her for feeling that way. I hoped she was wrong.

  But deep in my heart, I was afraid she was right.

  I was afraid that someday, I would be as stunned and lost as she was the day she died.

  And that there would be a new silence.


  Rise and Shine

  What are you doing still in bed?” Mrs. Duval cried in that sharp but overly dramatic attempt at anger, with her hands on her waist and her shoulders stiffly back in the posture of a drill sergeant. She always kept her dark brown hair in a tight bun, with what Mrs. Caro said was “nary a strand free to wander on its own.” Both of them were live-in servants. Mrs. Duval and her husband, Alberto, lived in a four-room apartment over the garage that housed six cars, one of them being mine now. Mrs. Caro had a bedroom at the rear of the mansion. Other part-time maids came and went, mostly because they didn’t live up to Mrs. Duval’s standards.

  She pressed the button that drew apart the curtains on my windows, and a tide of bright Southern California morning sun rushed in and over the room. When I was four, my mother told me the sun was made of rich, luscious butter. I used to dream of capturing a ray and smearing it over a slice of toast.

  When I told my mother the dream, she laughed and said, “If anyone could do that, Sasha, you can, but you’ll burn your tongue on it.”

  All of those sweeter moments, delicious and bright, hung like stars in the dark sky of my past life. I could pluck them as someone would pluck fruit and savor the wonderful memory. My greatest fear was that with time, they would fade and eventually disappear, leaving me in total darkness.

  “Well? Why are you still sleeping, Sasha?” Mrs. Duval asked with as much of a scowl as she could muster. “Did you stay up too late again talking on that phone?”

  My foster parents’ head housekeeper long ago had dropped what little formality had existed between us since the day I came to live with the Marches. I doubted she had expected I would last so long in this home, but as the years went by and the reality of it settled in, she softened and became more like one of the grandmothers I had never known.

  I had suspected she liked me from the start, anyway. She knew what had brought me here. From time to time, she risked asking me about my mother in little ways but never ventured so far as to ask me about the night of the horrible accident. Like everyone else—except Kiera, who caused it, of course—it was something unspoken but something that never seemed to go away. It loomed like a stubborn, bruised cloud in the sky, no matter how bright the day. The three years that had passed hadn’t diminished it. They had hardened it, had made it muscular and angry, until it resembled a tightly closed fist, always ready to come crashing down on any moment of happiness I dared enjoy.

  “I didn’t stay up that late, but I forgot to set my alarm,” I said, still clutching the soft, lavender-scented comforter about me. Only my face was uncovered.

  “I thought so,” she said. “Mrs. Caro looked at the eggs she was about to break, looked at me and then up at the ceiling, and said, ‘That girl hasn’t stirred. You better go see why, Mrs. Duval.’ How she can see through walls and ceilings never ceases to amaze me.”

  It amused me how the two of them always addressed each other as Mrs. Duval and Mrs. Caro. I wondered if they were that formal when they were alone. I suspected they were.

  I didn’t move when she told me what Mrs. Caro had said, but I nodded in agreement. Without hearing a weather report, Mrs. Caro could predict when it would rain even days before it started. I thought she had senses not yet discovered.

  “I swear, Sasha, one of these nights, you’re going to smother, wrapping yourself so tightly in that comforter,” Mrs. Duval continued as she came in to scoop up my socks and the jeans I had left over the side chair. I wasn’t sloppy, but she was always picking up after someone in this house, especially Kiera, who dropped her things disdainfully everywhere.

  “It’s too comfy,” I moaned. “I hate getting out of bed.”

  She paused and nodded.

  “I remember when you first could get out of bed easily after your months of therapy, you didn’t hesitate to do so. You were usually up before anyone else in this house. It didn’t take long for you to pick up someone else’s bad habits, I’m afraid,” she muttered. “I can only imagine what else would go on if she wasn’t off in that college.” She paused with a suspicious expression on her face and stared at me. Did she think I had done something else that would meet with her disapproval, that there was some other way Kiera had infected me?


  “I always wonder. It is a real college, isn’t it?” she asked, and I laughed with relief.

  I threw off my comforter and sat up.

  “Yes, it’s a real college, Mrs. Duval. She has homework and lectures to attend and has to pass tests. It’s just a very expensive, exclusive school with students from all over, including Asia, as well as Europe.”

  “Well,” she said, tightening her lips, “I don’t care how rich you are. Money can buy you right up to the steps of heaven, but after that, you’d better have something else to offer to get those gates to open.”

  “Kiera’s not thinking about heaven,” I said.

  She grunted in agreement, and I rose, stretched, and looked at the clock. I did have to get moving.

  Two weeks ago, my foster parents surprised me on my seventeenth birthday with a red BMW hardtop convertible. The sight of it took my breath away. Jordan had arranged for my private driving lessons, and Donald had let me drive his Bentley three different times. I thought that was to see if I was ready to drive my foster mother’s Jaguar sedan occasionally. Never did I dream they were planning such a gift. From what I heard them say to each other about it, I assumed it was mostly Jordan’s idea.

  Anyway, having my own car meant I could take a little longer to get ready for school. I didn’t have to get up earlier for Donald to drive me on his way to w
ork, and Jordan didn’t have to change any of her plans or get up earlier herself. Often, they had Mrs. Duval’s husband, Alberto, drive me or pick me up, but I knew that took him away from his work.

  The private school I attended had no buses. The students were all from families rich enough to have drivers or had parents with the time to cart them to and fro. Many were often brought in taxicabs or in chauffeured limousines. It was quite a sight to see four or five of them lined up at the end of a school day. Someone who didn’t know would think the school was having a black-tie affair for some very important government official.

  I quickly pinned up my long black hair, which I kept at the length my mother had kept hers, just below her wing bones, and hurried to my bathroom to shower. If I let her, Mrs. Duval would put out my clothes, but she always chose something more conservative than I would have chosen to wear. Today I was excited about wearing the outfit Jordan had bought me over the past weekend at Mademoiselle Boutique in Beverly Hills. The teenagers who went there for clothes didn’t have to break piggy banks. That was for sure.

  I had a pair of low-rise skinny jeans with sequins down both legs in quarter-moon shapes and a fancy ruffle tee top. Jordan had bought me a new Zsa Zsa Zebra cross-body bag to go with it and a pair of platform pumps. I also had the Ed Hardy Showgirl Geisha watch still in its box. Donald had brought it back for me when he had gone to Tokyo last month. He said he thought it was amusing to find something made in America at the airport there.

  “Whenever I see anything cute that’s Oriental, I think of you,” he told me.

  I was surprised to hear it. Even Jordan looked surprised to hear that I was on his mind when he traveled.

  “He certainly doesn’t think of me that often,” she muttered. She was always complaining about how he wasn’t in touch with her enough on these trips lately.

  After I dressed and brushed my hair, I hovered over the twenty or so necklaces I had. I had been favoring the recycled African green glass, but I also liked the chunky marbled bead necklace. There were so many other good choices that would go well with what I was going to wear. I paused to look at the opulence.

  Was Mrs. Duval right? Was I getting to be just as spoiled as Kiera? Mrs. Caro would always look at Mrs. Duval if she made any comment suggesting that and say, “After what she has been through, that girl deserves to be a little spoiled.” Mrs. Duval didn’t disagree, but she wasn’t one to countenance waste or laziness, not that I wanted to be wasteful or lazy, either.

  “The clock’s ticking,” Mrs. Duval called from the hallway as she passed my room, carrying some fresh linen to Jordan and Donald’s bedroom.

  I scooped up the marbled bead necklace, slipped it over my head, and started for the doorway, but I paused when I saw there was an e-mail from Kiera on my computer. Lately, she was writing to me late at night, long after I had gone to sleep. Too often, she would call very late, too. Despite what I told Mrs. Duval about Kiera’s school, I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of work she was doing there these days, especially now that she was claiming she was having a hot new romance. Maybe Mrs. Duval wasn’t so off with her suspicions. Maybe the students at Kiera’s school paid so much to be there that their teachers bent rules and grades to make sure they passed, after all.

  Hey, she began as if we were right next to each other. Richard just left. That’s right, I smuggled him into my room last night through the window. Lucky I’m on the first floor of the dorm. I didn’t think he would do it, no matter how much I promised him. When I first met him, he was so English. You know what I mean, correct and perfect, wiping his lips after every bite at lunch and leaning over to wipe mine if the smallest crumb was stuck on my lip. I never had a boyfriend who pulled the chair out for me, opened every door, including rushing around to open the car door like some chauffeur, and then hold out his arm. He hates walking side-by-side without my taking his arm.

  As you know, at first I found him annoyingly proper. I hated having to remember all the rules of good etiquette. I especially hated those charm-school lessons my mother ordered both Alena and me to take from that woman who squeaked when she walked, Mrs. Catherine Emmerline Turner. Even Alena hated her coming around, although she would never complain. Alena never complained about anything, even when she was sick, but you know I’m a professional complainer, so I had no problem.

  Anyway, Richard proved to be so sweet, and he’s so obviously head over heels in love with me, I couldn’t keep ignoring him. I’m slowly changing him, anyway, showing him how to relax and have fun, which is what he did last night in my bed. I’m so glad I bought the Kama Sutra book I was telling you about a few weeks ago. I promised him something different every time, and he was practically screaming with pleasure. In fact, I had to put my hand in his mouth and—.

  “Sasha,” I heard, and looked up from the computer. “Everyone’s worried you’re going to be late for school,” Jordan said. She was in my doorway and wearing her light green velvet robe. Her hair wasn’t brushed, and she wore no makeup, which was something she would never do when I first arrived. I wasn’t the only one who was changing in little ways. “You know I don’t want you speeding in your new car. Donald says the police favor red cars, especially expensive ones.”

  “Okay, coming,” I sang.

  I quickly clicked off the e-mail and shut off the computer. I didn’t like leaving it on when I wasn’t in the room. I had no doubt Jordan would have a hemorrhage or something if she read any of my e-mails from Kiera lately. It was very important to Kiera that I keep secret what we wrote to each other, anyway, and at this point, I wanted her to trust me. I still relied on her for some advice when it came to boys at our school—or boys anywhere, for that matter.

  “Sorry,” I said, joining Jordan in the doorway.

  She nodded at my computer. “What was that you were reading?”

  “Oh, you know my friends. They have to send me every new bit of gossip.”

  “What did we do without computers?” she asked herself as we walked to the stairway.

  Unless I ran all the way, it took nearly thirty seconds to get there. The mansion, something built in a style the Marches called Richardsonian Romanesque, had three floors. We slept on the second level. There were guest rooms on the third floor and a storage room with family artifacts that neither Jordan nor Donald knew what to do with or where to place, even in this huge house. All of it waited like refugees hoping for a visa to another home. I realized that no matter how rich people were, most still hoarded really useless things. I’d probably be the same way. I had nothing when I came here, but if I could have brought even the smallest, most insignificant thing, I would have brought it and cherished it.

  Donald and Jordan’s bedroom was right down the hall from mine. Kiera’s was closer to the stairway. When I first arrived, nothing was changed in my room. It was, as I understood it, exactly as it had been the day Alena died. She had loved giraffes, so there were pictures and paintings of them, lamps shaped like giraffes, and giraffes on most of the linen and pillowcases, as well as on the wallpaper. They were all still there, but over the course of three years, the suite had come a little closer to suiting who I was. The wallpaper had been changed only in the bathroom, but some of the things I liked were hung on the suite walls, including many of the works of calligraphy I did both in art class at school and at home. Donald had one in his office here, and Jordan had put one up in the entertainment room.

  It had always been a delicate thing to change or replace anything that had been Alena’s. First, I didn’t want anyone to think I’d rather that they forget her and think only of me now. For a long time after I first arrived, I had felt her presence in the room and even had secret talks with her. Second, despite the time that had passed since her death, Jordan and Donald never seemed to be past it. I often caught one or the other looking at Alena’s picture or something of hers and then growing teary-eyed. Their sighs were deep and pained.

  Inevitably, my identity eventually had to take hold in this room, how
ever. More than once when I first arrived, I offered to move to another room. There were so many guest suites that were just as large and comfortable, but Jordan wouldn’t hear of it. She wanted me close, and she told me it did her heart good to know that someone like me was living in Alena’s room. Even to this day, she referred to it that way, despite all that was mine in it now. Despite how long I had been here, it was still and probably always would be Alena’s room.

  “Donald left already,” Jordan told me as we started to descend the curved stairway. “He’s going to Boston for four days,” she added.

  I didn’t sense sadness in her voice as much as a note of defeat and acceptance. Donald had been traveling more and more and had been away from home for longer and longer periods of time. For as long as I’d been here, he always took business trips, but they did seem more spaced out back then and never for as many days. Jordan had begun to complain about it often at dinner, but he either didn’t respond or said it couldn’t be helped. He told her that they were busier than ever and it would be foolish to pass up big opportunities.

  “Besides,” he said once, “you always knew what it would be like for us when we were married. You knew how I was about the things that I did. There should be no real surprises.”

  I remember looking at her and wondering if she really had known. My mother hadn’t known what it would eventually be like when she got married to my father. I was sure that, like Jordan, she had had other dreams and visions for their marriage. It wasn’t fair for Donald to say that to Jordan, I thought. It made it sound as though she were partly to blame and should not complain. After all, didn’t he know who she was? Didn’t he realize how alone and lost she might feel?

  “I’m going to a dinner tonight,” Jordan added as we continued down the stairway. “I’m sorry you have to eat alone. If you want, you can invite one of your friends over, but be sure you get your homework done, okay? Not that I have to remind you,” she said. “It’s just a habit I got into whenever I spoke to Kiera.”