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Now these bad girls are paying the price.
At Dr. Foreman's School for Girls, the "students" sleep in barns, work on a farm in the blazing heat, and are subjected to ruthless guards who watch their every move. It's an institution run by the dreadful Dr. Foreman, a woman who delights in administering the worst form of punishment -- the mysterious Ice Room where the girls face their...
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Now these bad girls are paying the price.
At Dr. Foreman's School for Girls, the "students" sleep in barns, work on a farm in the blazing heat, and are subjected to ruthless guards who watch their every move. It's an institution run by the dreadful Dr. Foreman, a woman who delights in administering the worst form of punishment -- the mysterious Ice Room where the girls face their darkest fears.
Now Phoebe, Teal, and Robin -- three girls from very different worlds -- are the newcomers in this desert hell. During their stay, each girl will be tempted to commit the ultimate crime of betrayal as Dr. Foreman cleverly tries to turn them against each other -- until they learn that the only way to survive is to stick together...and fight back.
Chapter 1: Orientation
The moment we were alone, I turned to the girl on my left.
"What is this? Where are we? Why are we in this place?" I asked.
"Why are you asking me? How would I know?" she shot back at me. "What do I look like, information please?"
"Well, you were here before me so I thought you might know more," I threw back at her with just as unfriendly a tone.
"We got here only a little while before you did," the second girl said, somewhat softer. I turned to her. "So we don't know any more than you do. I'm Teal Sommers. That's Robin Lyn Taylor. She didn't tell me her name," Teal added with a smirk. "I heard one of those girls call her that." She leaned forward to glare past me at Robin Lyn.
"I'm not exactly in a party mood, you know, and I told you, I don't like to be called Robin Lyn. Just call me Robin. You, too," she ordered me.
"Yes, Your Majesty," I said, and Teal laughed.
Robin folded her arms and turned away. "Well, we're here together so I guess we'll have to talk to each other decently. Where y'all from?"
"Where y'all from?" Teal laughed. "I'm from Albany, New York. I was flown in here just a little before y'all were, I think. I'm very unsure about the time. They took my watch."
"Mine, too," I said, rubbing my wrist. "And my ring. Why did they do that?"
"Maybe they're jewel thieves. They took Robin's watch, too, right, Robin?"
"Big deal. I stole it. I'll steal another first chance I get," she said defiantly, looking at the closed door. "I'm supposed to be at a school, a special school. That's what the judge said," she shouted at the door. "Not some dumpy, smelly building."
"Judge?" I asked.
She spun her head around to meso fast, I thought it would just keep going in circles on her neck.
"What are you, a scholarship winner or something? Is that why you're here?"
I stared, confused.
"Hardly," I finally replied. "My uncle and aunt arranged all this without telling me anything about it. I was drugged, kidnapped, and brought here."
Robin started to laugh and stopped. "Did you say drugged and kidnapped?"
"I know exactly what she means. That's how I felt," Teal said. "My father arranged for me to be transported here. He was nice enough to tell me I was going to a special school, but my parents didn't even let me take a change of clothing. Daddy had a hired goon bring me to the airport and to the plane. Next thing I knew, I was flying away and no one told me where I was going. They kept the windows shut, too. They gave me something to drink, and before I knew it, I was asleep, so I was drugged, too. When I woke up, I was here and dressed in this rag and these stupid clodhoppers as well as this...diaper."
"I guess I shouldn't have expected anything better from my aunt, but why did your father do that to you?" I asked. Even though I had had some of my things when Daddy brought me to live with Aunt Mae Louise and Uncle Buster, I didn't feel much different except I knew why they'd got rid of me. There was no surprise for me there.
"He was, I guess I can safely say, at the end of his patience with me. I was an embarrassment to my mother, who sits at the head of the social table of high society."
"What did you do?"
"I robbed a bank," Teal muttered.
"I stole money from Daddy's secret safe, his and my brother Carson's."
"And your own father sent you away for that?"
"Well, it was a little more, I guess," Teal admitted.
"I bet," Robin muttered. "Don't be fooled by her sweet little face."
I turned to her. "What about you?"
"I didn't rob a bank, but I was part of an armed robbery of a supermarket where I worked," Robin said, looking ahead. It was as if she were reminding herself and not telling us. "This is supposed to be an alternative to going to a real jail. My mother darling talked me into it, and like both of you, I was eventually put in a plane and the same things happened to me. I fell asleep and they took my clothing and brought me here."
She smiled and shook her head and then shouted at the closed door, "They're just trying to frighten us with all this...this horror-hotel stuff, but it doesn't scare me! Y'all just wasting your time! You might as well give me back my clothes!"
"What brought you here?" Teal asked me after Robin's screams died down.
"I ran away from my uncle and aunt where I was supposed to stay."
"So, big deal," Robin said. "I bet we've all done that one time or another."
"I was supposed to be in court for hitting this boy with a little brass statue."
"Did you kill him?" Teal asked, her eyes widening with interest.
"No, but I put him in the hospital. He was part of a group of boys trying to rape me."
"So why would they put you in jail for that?" Robin asked skeptically. "It just sounds like self-defense to me."
"There's more to it."
"Look," I said, turning on her, "I don't have to defend myself to you. In fact — "
Before I could say anything else, we heard the door squeal open, followed by the machine-gun rat-ta-tat-tat of stiletto high heels on the concrete floor.
Out of the dark shadows came a tall, elegant-looking woman, statuesque with a firm figure in a ruby-red skirt suit. She had highlighted golden brown hair, about the base of her neck in length, neatly styled. As she moved more into the light and drew closer, I saw she was an attractive woman with high cheekbones and a perfect nose. She was wearing a soft red lipstick, very understated. A girlfriend of mine, Louella Mason, who was determined to become a beautician, had told me when a woman wants to emphasize her eyes, she de-emphasizes her lips, but this woman looked like she didn't need anything special to make her eyes prominent. They weren't big as much as they were striking and intense.
She paused, looked at the three of us, and smiled so warmly, I felt like getting up and rushing into her arms. It was a smile that brought a ray of sunshine to a rainy day, and, boy, did I need some sugar now.
"Hello, girls," she said. "I'm Dr. Foreman. Welcome to my school."
"This is a school?" Teal piped up immediately. "It's more like someone's filthy basement."
Dr. Foreman turned to her and, holding her smile, said, "No, this isn't the actual school." She looked about and smiled as if she didn't see what we saw. She saw a beautiful lobby or something instead. "This is my orientation center. The school is some distance from here, but I like to meet my girls as soon as they are brought and introduce them to the way things will be as soon as possible. That way, if they don't accept what I say and don't do what I say, I can put them right back on the plane and ship them somewhere else where a far worse fate awaits them. Is this plan all right with you, Teal?"
I could see Teal was both impressed and intimidated that Dr. Foreman already knew which of us she was. Teal didn't answer. She just sat looking at her, her mouth slightly open. Dr. Foreman did not turn away immediately either. She held Teal's gaze, froze that now cold smile on her lips, and only after a few beats, slowly turned back to Robin and me.
"Now then, as I was saying, welcome to my school," she continued.
As if that was their cue, three young women, the one who had escorted me from the plane to the concrete building, and two others dressed similarly with their hair cut identically short, entered and took position just behind Dr. Foreman. They stood with military posture, their arms behind them, hands clasped, and looked forward, not at us, just forward and poised like guard dogs ready to pounce upon command. Foreman's rottweilers, all teeth and muscle, I thought.
"I created my school only five years ago, but I have, shall we say, graduated dozens of girls like you, releasing them back into society as productive young women, all of whom have kept out of any trouble with their families or with the law. Three are in fact law officers now themselves," Dr. Foreman said, smiling wider with pride. "Two are correction officers and one is a policewoman in a big city."
"Something for us to look forward to," Robin muttered. "A career as a policewoman."
Dr. Foreman looked straight ahead, but her body began to turn as if it were robotic, slowly, stiffly, her shoulders firm and straight.
"Right now, Robin Lyn Taylor, all you have to look forward to is getting yourself into more trouble and so deeply that you are eventually put away in a room without any hope of getting out. In effect, you have no future. The reason you have been sent here is to help you regain one. Until that happens, you, all of you," Dr. Foreman said, looking at Teal and me as well now, "are nonentities. You don't exist for your families. You don't exist for yourselves. All you've accomplished up until now is sharpened yourselves as thorns in the side of civilized society. With me, under my care, you will either develop the ability to have a future or you will be pulled out of the side of the civilized world and discarded like any nuisance. The choice is ultimately yours to make, but," she said, smiling warmly again, "we will do our best here to help you make the right choice. In the past, whenever you were given the opportunity to do what was right and decent, you all made other choices. We expect to correct that. We will help you.
"Someone, thanks to the mercy of our court system, has decided to give you this one last chance. Rather than sit here sulking and trying to think of wisecracks, you should begin to show some appreciation.
"But," she continued in a sweet, melodic tone, "I am the first to recognize that you are all here because you are all filled with defiance, anger, and most of all fear."
"Fear?" I muttered. I couldn't help it. It just slipped out between my lips. How could fear have brought us here?
"Yes, my dear Phoebe, fear. Antisocial behavior stems from a well of fear. You act out because you are defensive, slightly paranoid, I'm afraid. In your present way of thinking, the world around you threatens you. You believe everyone is against you and you're just naturally antagonistic to everything."
I guess she saw the lack of understanding in my face. She smiled, again so softly, I felt I could relax and listen to her for hours.
"Don't worry about any of that yet, my dear. You'll see. You'll all see. That's what's so wonderful about my work," she said excitedly, "at least to me, especially the way it opens the eyes of my girls. For me," she said, her voice rising an octave, "there is nothing as satisfying as seeing one of my girls suddenly come to the realization she can be as good as anyone else out there, she can be productive and worthwhile. She can make friends and be liked and like others. Her heart can hold sunshine, even on rainy days."
She did make it sound wonderful. For a moment she paused with her face so radiant and full of happiness, I felt some hope seep into my hardened and crusty surface. She looked at me as if she could sense it and gave me a special nod, a little more of her smile.
"People are always asking me, 'Dr. Foreman, you were a successful and renowned college professor. Why did you throw away your classroom work, your publications, your lectures, put all your fortune into this school, and go off and surround yourself with the hardest sort of challenge: girls whom everyone has given up on, girls who would easily end up in penal institutions?'
"Well, the answer is you, my dears," she declared with her arms out as though she were about to embrace all three of us at once, "you and your awakening. Nothing is more satisfying to me than to bring someone back from the dead," she continued, her right hand over her heart, "for that is where you are now, in some cemetery of your own making, burying yourselves in your disgust, your fears, your dysfunction."
She grew stern looking again and took another step toward the three of us.
"Within the next twenty-four hours, fourteen hundred teenagers like yourselves will attempt suicide, twenty-eight hundred will get pregnant, fifteen thousand will try alcohol for the first time, and thirty-five hundred will run away from home."
She let those facts linger in the air between us for a moment. I glanced at Robin and then Teal. Neither seemed impressed nor seemed to care.
"But not you. No, not my girls. To me," Dr. Foreman said, looking up at the ceiling as if she could look right through to the heavens, "you will all be like Lazarus, rising from the grave."
"Does that mean you're God?" Teal asked, her mouth dripping with sarcasm.
I thought I was brave and tough, but this soft, pretty white girl who sounded like she had been born with a silver spoon in her mouth was sure nasty and unafraid, even after all that had been done to her, to us.
Dr. Foreman's eyelids fluttered. She had what seemed unflappable poise. That smile never faltered as she lowered her gaze at Teal like someone lowering the barrel of a cannon at a new target.
"For you and for the others, dear Teal, as long as you are here, that is exactly who I will be."
She waited a moment for her words to settle. Teal shook her head and looked away.
"Now," Dr. Foreman said, turning back to speak to all of us, "let me begin by explaining that you're not going to a school any way like the ones you have attended. First, my school is at my ranch. It's a working ranch and you will all participate in the daily chores."
"Oh, so we're really a form of cheap labor, is that it?" Robin complained.
"Hardly cheap, Robin. For your work, you will be given full room and board."
"Isn't my father paying you?" Teal fired at her. "I shouldn't have to do any daily chores," she declared staunchly, her eyes burning with arrogance.
"Yes, in your case, the family is paying, but there is much more that will be given to you than you would get anywhere else for that amount of money," Dr. Foreman said calmly. The arrows and darts Teal shot at her with those fiery eyes seemed to bounce off an invisible wall of protection that surrounded her.
"Like what?" Teal demanded, refusing to step back. I saw how the girls behind Dr. Foreman glared at Teal. They all looked eager to get their hands around her neck and shake her head off her body.
"Like my expert treatment, my therapy sessions, my proven techniques," Dr. Foreman said to all of us and not just Teal. "It's off the charts when you start computing the costs, and even Teal here, who points out that her parents are paying the tuition, couldn't really afford the tuition if it were equated with the value you will all receive."
"Why are you so nice and generous to us?" Teal muttered, the corners of her mouth folding in.
"Why? I do this because I want to give back to the science that has been so good to me, as well as my deep desire to help young women in desperate need, to help them find what is spiritually good in them."
"Oh, brother," Teal muttered. "We're in a nunnery."
Dr. Foreman's rottweilers moved restlessly. She glanced at them and turned back to us.
"To continue" — Dr. Foreman glared at Teal — "at my school you will not find a staff of teachers to coddle and prod you into doing your homework, studying properly, and achieving. I will assign you all your work and you will have to master it all yourselves."
"Huh?" Robin said. "Did you say ourselves?"
"What are we going to study, basket weaving?" Teal asked with a crooked smile.
"You will be studying regular academic subjects, of course. We want you to qualify for high school graduation, to be able to pass exams, even be good enough to be admitted to institutions of higher learning, but you will be in a different sort of classroom. Life itself, you will see, will become the chief subject. You're all failing at that right now, and for now, that is far more important a subject than anything else."
"I don't get it. How are we supposed to learn anything without a teacher?" Robin asked. "It was hard enough to learn with one."
"Oh, you'll be surprised at what you can accomplish when you are left to your own initiative, Robin Lyn. Of course, you will all help each other. Cooperation in that regard is very important. I will want you all to fully understand how important it is to get along with each other, with others of different backgrounds. Out there, that's what you must do to be a contributing member of society.
"But, self-reliance is essential, too. We can cooperate with each other, but we can't become totally dependent upon others or we become a burden, don't we? That is truly what the three of you are right now, a burden. You'll either be cast off or you'll learn to walk on your own. Sink or swim," she said, her face now turning cool. When she called for it, that iciness seemed to emerge from within her, rise to the surface of her face, penetrate her eyes, tighten her lips, and make her look taller, more intimidating.
I glanced again at the other two. Despite the brave fronts they were putting on, I sensed they were just as anxious about all this as I was. I noticed as well that the three young women behind Dr. Foreman had grown still again, had barely moved a muscle since she had looked at them. How could they be so disciplined? They were three statues.
How much longer would we be kept here? I wondered. It was dank and musty, the air so stale my throat ached. Why did we have to begin in such a place anyway? The stool was uncomfortable. The lighting was dull. What was the point of having us sit at old grade-school desks? I was still tired and achy from my unpleasant trip. I couldn't wait to go to sleep in a bed and I had to go to the bathroom, but I was afraid to mention it yet. I didn't want to be the first one.
"To be sure you are making the right amount of effort at your schoolwork, you will be tested from time to time on your academic subjects, and if you don't pass, you will be given demerits," Dr. Foreman explained.
"Demerits?" Teal said, smirking. "What does that mean, we won't get our Girl Scout patches and medals?"
"No, my dear," Dr. Foreman responded. "Nothing that important. You are all as of now under my merit system. Since you have all been brought here as a last resort because of your antisocial behavior, you will all be beginning with a minus ten and have to work your way back up to zero before you can even hope to achieve rights and privileges."
That did sound threatening.
"What rights and privileges?" I asked.
"Well, for one thing, you will have to wear what you're wearing until you achieve the points to wear my school uniforms."
"What are we wearing? This is disgusting," Teal complained. "Not only are these...these rags irritating my skin, they smell, and why do we have to wear diapers, for Christ sakes? I want my clothes back."
"Yes, I'm sorry about these transitional outfits. They do have that unpleasant odor." Dr. Foreman sounded sympathetic. She also made it sound as if there were no other choice. I finally saw the three rottweilers soften their lips into a smile.
"But why are we wearing diapers?" Robin asked.
"Because, my dear, you are being reborn. Unfortunately, none of you have shown enough maturity to be considered anything but infants, and until you do, that's how you will be treated," Dr. Foreman said firmly, losing the smile. Then she blossomed into another to add, "Believe me, my dear, you'll be grateful you have them on."
The slight smiles on the three young women behind her widened almost into laughter when she said that.
"That's cold," Teal said. "And disgusting. I feel like some old lady with bladder trouble. I want my clothing back. They were expensive, especially the designer jeans. You have no right to take them away from me. Why can't we all have our clothes back?" she whined, now sounding more like a spoiled child than a defiant teenager.
"I've already given that answer. One thing you will learn and learn very quickly here, Teal, is if I or anyone else has to repeat something to you, it's because you don't or won't listen, and that will result in a demerit."
"I don't care about any demerits. I want my clothing!" Teal shouted back. Her voice echoed off the cement walls and then died as if her words were smashed to bits, the letters splattered and then raining down to the dank concrete floor.
Dr. Foreman took a step toward her. "Oh, but you will care, my dear. That will be one of the significant changes in you very soon," she said slowly, her voice so full of chill, I imagined the words turning to ice in the air between them. Even the cold smile disappeared.
"I want to go home," Teal cried back at her. "Right now."
"Do you? Unfortunately for you, for all of you, no one wants you back, Teal. In fact, I'm the only one who wants you."
"How long do I have to stay here, live on your ranch, and milk cows or whatever?" Teal was definitely someone who couldn't stand being bossed around.
"That's entirely up to you," Dr. Foreman replied. "Now then, there will be no more questions." She turned to Robin and me. "No more questions from any of you. You will all just listen and you will do what you are told to do. Listen well, girls," she added, her cold smile returning to those lips. "Be keen, girls, be keen. Your comfort and happiness depend on it like they never have before."
She stepped back, glanced at the young women behind her, who looked excited about her firmness. I wouldn't admit it, of course, but they frightened me. I wondered if Robin's and Teal's hearts were pounding as hard as mine was now, despite the brave face masks they wore.
We were all brought here more or less against our will. Dr. Foreman was probably not wrong about that. We had no one out there to help us, no one to call, no one to come for us. I couldn't help feeling that I was dangling in space, holding on to a thin piece of spidery web that this strange woman, sometimes sounding nice, sometimes sounding scary, held at the other end. If she decided to let go, I, as well as Robin and Teal, would fall into some darker place. What else could we do but listen?
"Now, so there are no misunderstandings and no whining like we're hearing," Dr. Foreman said, glaring at Teal again, "let me be clear about what you should expect after you leave here. At my home you will find there are no radios, no magazines, no CDs, and especially no television for anyone until she has earned the right to leisure time. The only books permitted are the books related to your subjects, not that any of you look like you read very much," she added with a tightening at the right corner of her mouth.
"No one will have any phone privileges until she earns twenty merit plus points. That means no one can call you as well — not, from what I know of each of your histories, that anyone would want to call you."
"We really are like prisoners," Teal complained, and quickly looked down.
"Since that wasn't put in the form of a question, I will let it pass without penalizing you another demerit. If you are like prisoners, as you say, it's because you have imprisoned yourselves. You have put bars on your own windows and built the walls between yourselves and the rest of humanity. I am your best hope to remove those bars, to crumble those walls. Right now, you see me only as a disciplinarian, but in time, very soon, you will learn to appreciate what I have to offer you.
"It's a lot like Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller," she said, looking off. She smiled at some image of herself, and even that smile was disturbing enough to make my stomach feel as if I had just drunk a gallon of sour milk. "For in truth, you all can't really speak, can't really hear, can't really see. You're locked up inside your own troubled bodies, and I will free you. Yes, I will."
There was a long silence. My throat was dry. My stomach continued to churn and I felt the growing pressure of having to go to the bathroom. I trembled, but I had to ask. I raised my hand, hoping she would permit it.
"I said no questions," she declared.
She raised her head and the very air seemed to freeze around us. If I uttered another sound, lightning might sizzle my brain, I thought. I bit down on my lower lip. She smiled again.
"I don't want to leave you thinking that all that awaits you is hard work, rules, and restrictions. We will have wonderful sessions together, my group therapy, during which time you will all have this, this terribly dark curtain of pain and anger lifted from your eyes. Believe me, girls, that will happen and you will be grateful. I've seen it so many times before on the faces of my girls. My girls," she repeated, her eyes glossing over as if she could see them all parading before her, hugging her like high school graduates at their diploma ceremony.
She was quiet again. We could hear a drip, drip, drip of something in the plumbing above and behind us. Her eyes slowly brightened, the gloss changing to a thin layer of ice. She stared at us so long, I felt uncomfortable and saw both Teal and Robin squirming a bit on their stools as well.
"Part of your work and your life at my school will be your confronting your own fears. One of the best ways to do that is to be out in nature. Nature has a way of tearing away all the conflicting, confusing things that have distorted our vision of ourselves. In nature you can make no rationalizations, no excuses, fall upon your knees and beg for mercy. You either become strong or perish. Everything out there teaches us that lesson and it's a wonderful lesson, one that we tend to forget in the world we call civilized. We'll help you regain that wisdom. Or, I should say, nature will."
Nature? I thought. What was she talking about, camping trips? Sleeping in a tent? Maybe Teal wasn't so off. Maybe this was like the Girl Scouts.
"Now then," Dr. Foreman said, pulling herself up and stepping back. "Unfortunately, I must conclude our little talk with a severe warning. Any signs of insubordination, even nasty looks and evidence of an attitude, will result in demerits. Profanity will be punished severely. If any of you get two demerits in one day, or fall two points or more below the minus ten I have generously given you, or finally do something so terrible that it is off the charts, she will be sent to our Ice Room to chill out, as you kids like to say these days."
Ice Room? What was that?
She looked around the cement room, once again as if she could hear my thoughts. "This place is a first-class hotel room compared to our Ice Room." She didn't make it sound like a threat either, but it clearly put the shivers into Teal and Robin as quickly as it did in me. Not describing it any further left it to each of our imaginations, and I was sure we each came up with our worst fears.
"And now, my dears," she said again, sounding as if we were all at a grand tea party, "it's time for you to be introduced to your buddies. They are three of my graduates, three of whom I am very, very proud. They have earned the right to assist me."
The girls beamed with joy at her compliments and gazed at her adoringly. I didn't know why yet, but it made my nerve endings sizzle to see the way they all looked up to her. I had the feeling she could ask one or all of them to open their wrists, and they would instantly obey.
As Dr. Foreman continued, she looked at them with a mother's pride. "I call them your buddies because they are here to give you the benefit of their experience. They will be in charge of your daily life, your daily development, and since they have experienced my school firsthand, they have real insight into what goes on in a new girl's mind. Depend on them, listen to them, and most of all, obey them."
She turned back to us. "Even though they are your buddies, you are to treat them as respectfully and obediently as you would me. In order to establish that, and to help you understand how far they have grown and what they have become now, you are to address them only as m'lady, for that is truly who they are, ladies."
Teal couldn't help a guffaw, her laughter spurting out of her lips like something she was unable to keep from coming up. It was like a small explosion.
"If you don't tighten your lips this instant," Dr. Foreman snarled at her, "you'll be starting at a minus fifteen with the Ice Room as your initiation to my school."
Teal's smile evaporated.
After a long silence, Dr. Foreman stepped to the side and introduced M'Lady One, who was the young woman who had escorted me off the plane. She stepped forward and waited, still at attention. M'Lady Two, who stepped up beside her, was a far more attractive woman with light brown hair, a perfect nose, and a far more feminine mouth. She wasn't as tall, perhaps only five feet five, but because of her firm military posture, she didn't look much shorter. She had a nice figure, well proportioned, that couldn't be disguised even in the blah uniform.
M'Lady Three was the stoutest and shortest. I thought she was barely five feet tall. She had shoulders like a football player and hard, sharply cut facial features. Her dark eyes were too far apart and her short, dull brown hair was trimmed farther back on her forehead than that of the other two. When she opened her mouth, I saw she had crooked teeth, especially on the bottom.
"A new student does nothing without permission until she is told she may do so," M'Lady One recited.
M'Lady Two continued, "That means even going to the bathroom. A new student does not speak unless given permission to do so."
M'Lady Three picked up immediately when M'Lady Two stopped. She had the deepest, coarsest voice. "A new student learns that in the real world nothing comes to you because it's supposed to come to you. You earn everything; you are entitled to nothing. This is reality. Therefore, we will have reality checks periodically to determine whether or not you have earned what you want, what you have."
"This means everything," they all recited. They spoke like some chorus that had performed these speeches many, many times, all speaking without much emotion, except for the underlying and continuous threat.
"A new student knows that complaints earn demerits. Cheating, laziness, slacking off, any of that earns demerits," M'Lady Two said.
"And demerits put you in the Ice Room," they all chorused.
"Thank you, m'ladies," Dr. Foreman said. They looked at her as if they were desperate for approval, then they stepped back.
I raised my hand and she looked at me so long, I thought she was going to simply ignore it. Finally, she asked me what I wanted.
"I need to go to the bathroom," I said.
The three buddies smiled simultaneously as if they were of one face.
"After all this, that is what you ask? Have you heard nothing?"
"But I need to go," I cried, now unashamed to admit it.
"Your needs are no longer what is of primary importance. We are now going to think first of the group's needs."
"You're here because you are selfish, and that will be the first demon we will destroy. I promise you that," Dr. Foreman said. "Now then, I have one more request of you all that you must fulfill before we can go any further."
She turned to the buddies and each stepped forward, M'Lady One coming to me, M'Lady Two going to Robin, and M'Lady Three to Teal. They handed each of us a small composition notebook and a pen.
"What is this?" Teal muttered. "Homework, already?"
"That's a demerit," Dr. Foreman said, pointing at her with a long, thin finger. "You didn't have permission to speak. One more and you're in the Ice Room."
Teal looked away. I could see, however, that she was fighting back tears, tears of rage and fear.
"Now then," Dr. Foreman said, "as a second part of your orientation, I want each of you to write her story. Tell me everything you can about yourself, what you remember as a child, where you lived, the friends you had or thought you had, the teachers you remember. I am very interested in how you see yourself, what you expect you will eventually do with your life. I want the notebooks filled with details, exact details of every thing you remember as important to you. I am particularly interested in your fears, so I want you to give lots of thought to that. All of us, including me, have something we fear. It's natural or, perhaps, it's something we have inherited or developed because of who we are, where we have lived, whom we have known. Don't dare leave that out.
"If you lie and I find out you have lied in this introductory history, you will be fined ten full demerit points. Remember, I know much about you. This is both a test of your veracity and a chance for you to think about yourselves."
We looked at each other in disbelief. Write our histories? Surely, this was a joke.
"I see you are not taking me seriously," Dr. Foreman said. "I assure you that you will all remain here until you are all finished. Until then, no one will get anything to drink or eat, nor will anyone" — she centered on me — "use the bathroom. That's academic anyway since there is no bathroom," she added dryly.
I felt my face flush. No bathroom? Reminding me I had to go built the pressure inside me. I felt myself breaking out into a sweat, my heart pounding. Didn't the other two have to go? If they did, they didn't show it.
"Finally, let me remind you that no one is to speak to anyone during this exercise. One of your buddies will monitor you, and should anyone speak, you will all remain here one hour longer for every word uttered."
Then, as suddenly as she finished speaking, she smiled warmly at us and in loving tones said, "Welcome, girls. Welcome to my school. I truly hope this will be a lifesaving experience for you all."
With that she turned and walked out, her heels clicking and echoing around us until she was gone and it was deadly silent.
It was as if all clocks had stopped. Nothing beat anymore.
Not even our own hearts.
Copyright © 2003 by the Vanda General Partnership
2 Dr. Foreman's Funny Farm
3 Three New Squaws
6 Group Therapy
7 Posy's Story
9 Dr. Foreman's Spy
10 Good-bye, Posy
11 Inward Journey
12 Pajama Party
14 Natani's Lesson
15 Posy Returns
16 Fly Away Home
Although Mommy always tells me she is not envious, I know she is, for I have often found her sighing and gazing longingly at a program from one of your Broadway productions. Daddy knows she's envious too, and he feels sorry for her. Singing at the hotel from time to time is not enough, especially for someone with Mommy's talent. I think it hurts more when someone comes up to her afterward and says, "You were wonderful; you should be on Broadway."
We have this wonderful hotel, which has grown more and more successful, and Mommy is highly respected as a business woman, but I think to Mommy the hotel is like a ball and chain. I have already told both Mommy and Daddy that I don't want to become a hotel executive. My brother Jefferson can be the one who steps into their shoes, not me. I want to be a pianist and attend the Bernhardt school in New York just like you and Mommy did.
I know I should be very happy. Mommy and Daddy are making my Sweet Sixteen the grandest party ever at the hotel. Everyone is coming, even Granddaddy Longchamp and Gavin. I'm so looking forward to seeing Gavin; it's been months and months since we've seen each other although we write to each other practically every week.
I bet Mommy wishes that Aunt Fern couldn't leave college and come, although she wouldn't tell Daddy that. Last time Aunt Fern was home, Mommy and she had a terrible row over her grades and a behavior report the dean sent.
Bronson will bring Grandmother Laura, but I doubt she will know where she is or whose party she's at. Sometimes when I see her, she calls me Clara. Yesterday, she called me Dawn. Mommy says I should just smile and pretend to be whoever she thinks I am.
In a few days, I will be sixteen and get mountains of wonderful presents. In so many ways, I really am a very lucky girl. My classmates tease me and call me Princess because I live high on the hill in a beautiful house and my family owns one of the most luxurious resorts on the East Coast. My mother is a beautiful and talented woman, and Daddy is more wonderful to me than my mysterious real father could ever have been, and, even though he's a brat, Jefferson is a cute little nine-year-old brother. Don't tell him I said so.
But, sometimes I can't drive away those sad feelings that sneak into my heart. It's as if there is always a dark cloud hovering, even though the rest of the sky is blue. I wish I could be more like you and always see the cheerful side of things. Mommy says you have bubbles in your blood.
Maybe I'm just being silly. Daddy says it's nonsense to believe in curses, but I can't help wondering if one wasn't put on our family. Look at the terrible thing Grandfather Cutler did to Grandmother Laura, and look at what Grandmother Cutler did to Mommy when she was just born. No wonder Aunt Clara Sue was so wild and died so young. I feel sorry for Grandmother Laura because she lives in a world of confusion as a result of all this.
People say all great families have tragedies and there's no reason to believe ours has been chosen for anything special. Yet, I can't help feeling there's something terrible waiting for me, too, a dark shadow just waiting to cast itself over me. Not all the music, all the lights, all the laughter and smiles can drive it away. It waits there, watching like some ugly, hunchbacked monster hatched in a nightmare.
I'm about to be sixteen and I still sleep with a small light on. I know I'm being ridiculous, but I can't help it. Only Gavin never laughs. He seems to know exactly what I mean. I see it in his dark eyes.
And you don't laugh at me, although you're always bawling me out for not smiling enough.
I promise, I'll try. I can't wait to see you. I can't wait to see everyone. It's going to be the greatest weekend of my life!
See, I bounce from one mood to another. No wonder Daddy calls me a ping-pong ball.
Aunt Trish, if you have a program from your new show, please bring it along. I'm so proud of you and I hope and pray that some day you will be just as proud of me.
Chapter 1: Sweet Sixteen
The thick layers of clouds that had blown in from the ocean overnight still hung in the sky when I woke early in the morning. I couldn't sleep late, not today, not the most special day of my life. I threw off my pink and white down comforter and practically leaped out of my pink polkadotted canopy bed to rush to the window and gaze out over the grounds between our house and the hotel. Most of the grounds staff were already out there trimming hedges, cutting grass and washing down walkways. Here and there, I saw a guest taking an early morning walk. Many of our guests had been coming to Cutler's Cove for years and years and were elderly.
Off to my right, the ocean looked as silver as coins and the seagulls could be seen hungrily swooping down to the beaches in search of breakfast. In the distance an ocean liner was nearly lost against the gray background. I had so wanted to wake up to a morning filled with sunshine. I wanted the sea to sparkle as it had never sparkled before, and I wanted the sunlight to stream through the petals of the roses, the daffodils, the tulips and turn the leaves of the trees into a rich spring green. When I was very little, I used to dream that the hotel, the grounds, the beaches and ocean were my own private Wonderland into which I had fallen like Alice. I gave everything silly names and even pretended people I knew were animals dressed like people. Nussbaum the chef was an old lion and his nephew Leon, his assistant with the long neck, was a giraffe. The bellhops that scurried about were rabbits, and Mr. Dorfman who prowled about the hotel at all hours with his eyes wide looking for mistakes and inefficiency was a snooty owl. I would look up at the painting of Grandmother Cutler in the lobby and think of her as the wicked witch. Even Uncle Philip and Aunt Bet's twins, Richard and Melanie, who really did look alike, were afraid of Grandmother Cutler's picture and would try to scare each other, or me and Jefferson, by saying, "Grandmother Cutler will get you!"
Although Mommy had really never told me all the gruesome details, I knew she was treated horribly when she was brought back to Cutler's Cove. It seems impossible to me that anyone could have despised my beautiful, loving Mother. When I was little sometimes I would stare up at Grandmother Cutlet's portrait, trying to see in that lean, hard face the clues to her cruelty. When I walked past that portrait, her cold gray eyes always followed me and I had many a nightmare with her in it.
The picture of her husband, Grandfather Cutler, was different. He wore a sly smile, but one that made me look away just as quickly and make sure all my buttons were closed. I knew vaguely that he had done a very bad thing to Grandmother Laura Sue and as a result, Mommy had been born; but again, what exactly had happened had not yet been told to me. It was all part of the mysterious past, the somber and unhappy history of the Cutlers. So much of my heritage was kept under lock and key, buried in old documents stuffed away in iron boxes or sealed in photograph albums kept in dusty cartons somewhere in the attic of the hotel.
And there were fewer and fewer people working here who remembered Grandmother and Grandfather Cutler. Those who did remember never wanted to answer my questions and always said, "You should ask your mother, Christie. That's family business," as if family business were the code words for top secret. Our housekeeper Mrs. Boston had a stock reply whenever I asked her any questions. She had been Grandmother Cutler's housekeeper, but she always replied with, "It's better you don't know."
Why was it better? How bad could it have been? When was I going to be old enough to know? Daddy said it was too painful for Mommy to talk about any of it in great detail and would only bring back bad memories and make her cry.
"You don't want her to cry, do you?" he would ask me and I would shake my head and try to forget.
But it was impossible to forget a past that still lingered about in shadows and in between sentences, a past that suddenly could turn smiles into looks of sadness or fear, a past that called to me from the old paintings or from the tombstones on Randolph's and Aunt Clara Sue's graves in the old cemetery. Sometimes, it made me feel as if I were only half a person, as if I had yet to meet the other half of myself which would emerge someday from those dark shadows to introduce herself as the real Christie Longchamp.
Nothing made me feel this way more than knowing only scant details about my real father. I knew his name, Michael Sutton, and I knew from looking him up in the reference books in the school library that he was once a popular opera star who also sang in London and Broadway theater. His career had taken a very bad turn and he had disappeared from sight. Mommy wouldn't talk about him. She wouldn't tell me how they had fallen in love enough to have had me or why I never saw him. Whenever I asked, she would say, "Someday, I'll tell you all of it, Christie, when you're old enough to understand."
Oh, how I have always hated it when people said that to me. When would I ever be old enough to understand why grown-ups fell in and out of love, why they hated and hurt each other, why someone like Grandmother Laura Sue who was once young and beautiful, was now twisted and crippled and shrunken up inside? I knew early on that it wasn't my age that was the problem, it was that Mommy found the past too painful to talk about. I felt sorry for her but I had grown to feel sorry for myself, too. I had a right to know...to know who I was.
As I gazed out my window, I shivered and buttoned the top button of my pajama top because the June morning was as grey and chilly as my thoughts. Even the sparrows that usually pranced and paraded on the telephone wires outside my room seemed strangely quiet today. It was as if they knew it was my sixteenth birthday and wanted to see just how I would react to the dark skies. They fluttered their wings nervously, but remained squatting down, staring.
I frowned at them and folded my arms under my breasts, slouching my shoulders just the way Mommy hated. I couldn't help the way I felt. Daddy called me a weather vane.
"One look at your face," he said, "and I can tell whether it will be a nice day or not."
He was right. I was like a window pane, so easy to see through and read what was written inside. The weather always affected my moods. When it rained and rained, I wouldn't even look out the window. I would pretend it was nice outside and just ignore the pitter-patter of drops on the roof. But when the sunshine came pouring through my lace curtains and kissed my face, my eyes would pop open and I would spring out of bed as if sleep had been a prison and daylight was the key opening the heavy, iron door.
Mr. Wittleman, my piano teacher, said the same things about me. He deliberately chose a heavy piece, a Brahms; or Beethoven, to practice on dark, cloudy days, and something light or sweet, a Tchaikovsky or Liszt, on sunny days. He said my fingers must weigh ten pounds more whenever it rains.
"You should have been born a flower," he said, his heavy, dark brown eyebrows tilting inward. They were as thick as caterpillars. "The way you blossom and frown."
I knew he was teasing me, even though he didn't smile. He was a firm but tolerant man who tutored a number of young people in Cutler's Cove. He let me know in little ways that I was his most promising pupil. He told me he would tell Mommy that I should definitely audition for Juilliard in New York City.
I turned away from the window when I heard my little brother Jefferson come out of his room and down the corridor to mine. I watched expectantly for my door handle to turn slowly. He loved sneaking in while I was still asleep and then screaming and jumping on my bed, no matter how many times I bawled him out for it. I told Mommy that the cartoonist who made Dennis the Menace must have known Jefferson first.
This morning, since I was already up, I would surprise him. I saw the handle turn and the door opening little by little until Jefferson could tiptoe in. The moment his foot came through I grabbed the door and thrust it open.
"JEFFERSON!" I cried and he screamed and then laughed and charged to my bed, burying himself in my comforter. He was still in his pajamas, too. I slapped him firmly on the rump. "I told you to stop doing that. You have to learn to knock."
He poked his head out from under the comforter. Jefferson was so different from me. He was never depressed, never upset about the weather unless it prevented him from doing something he had planned to do. He could just as well play outside in a warm, light rain as he could play in sunshine. Once he was enveloped in his world of makebelieve, nothing mattered. It took Mrs. Boston four or five times to get him to hear her calling, and when he was interrupted, he would narrow those sapphire eyes of his into dark slits and scowl angrily. He had Daddy's temper and Daddy's eyes and build, but Mommy's mouth and nose. His hair was dark brown most of the year, but in the summer, maybe because he spent all his waking hours in the sun, his hair would lighten until it was almost the color of almonds.
"Today's your birthday," he declared, ignoring my complaints. "I'm supposed to give you sixteen pats on your backside and one for good luck."
"You are not. Who told you that?"
"Well you just tell him to slap himself sixteen times. Get out of my bed and go back to your room so I can get dressed," I ordered. He sat up, folding the blanket over his lap, and peered at me with those dark, inquisitive eyes.
"What kind of presents do you think you will get? You will get hundreds and hundreds of presents. So many people are coming to your party," he added, his hands out, palms up.
"Jefferson, it's not polite to think about your presents. It's nice enough that all these people are coming, some from very far away. Now get out of here before I call Daddy," I said, pointing toward the door.
"Will you get a lot of toys?" he asked anxiously, his eyes filled with expectation.
"I hardly think so. I'm sixteen, Jefferson, not six."
He smirked. He always hated it when he got gifts of clothing on his birthdays instead of toys. He would tear open the boxes, gaze at the garments for an instant, and then go on to the next hopefully.
"Why is sixteen so important?" he demanded.
I brushed back my hair so it fell over my shoulders and sat at the foot of the bed.
"Because when a girl gets to be sixteen, people are supposed to treat her differently," I explained.
"How?" Jefferson was always full of questions, driving everyone crazy with his "Whys" and "Hows" and "Whats."
"They just do. They treat you more like an adult and not a child, or a baby like you."
"I'm not a baby," he protested. "I'm nine."
"You act like one, sneaking in on me every morning and screaming. Now go on, get dressed for breakfast," I said and stood up. "I've got to take a shower and pick out something to wear."
"When's Aunt Trisha coming?" he asked, instead of leaving. He would ask a thousand questions first.
"This afternoon, early."
"About three or four o'clock. All right, Jefferson? Can I get dressed now?"
"Get dressed," he said shrugging.
"I don't get dressed in front of boys," I said. He twisted his mouth from one side to the other as if he were chewing on this thought.
"Why not?" he finally asked.
"Jefferson! You should know enough by now not to ask such a question."
"I get dressed in front of Mommy and Mrs. Boston," he said.
"That's because you're still a child. Now out!" I said pointing to the door again. Slowly, he slipped off the bed, but he paused, still considering what I had said.
"Richard and Melanie get dressed and undressed in front of each other," he said. "And they're twelve."
"How do you know they do?" I asked. What went on at Uncle Philip's and Aunt Bet's always interested me. They still lived in the old section of the hotel, Uncle Philip and Aunt Bet now sleeping where Grandmother Laura and Randolph once slept. The twins had their own rooms now, but up until this year they had shared a room. I didn't go up there much, but whenever I did, I would pause by the locked door to what had once been Grandmother Cutler's suite. I had never even had the opportunity to glance inside.
"I saw them," Jefferson said.
"You saw Melanie getting dressed?"
"Uh huh. I was in Richard's room and she came in to get a pair of his blue socks," he explained.
"They share socks?" I asked incredulously.
"Uh huh," Jefferson said, nodding. "And she was only in her underwear with nothing over here," he said, indicating his bosom. My mouth dropped open. Melanie had begun to develop breasts.
"That's terrible," I said. Jefferson shrugged.
"We were getting ready to play badminton."
"I don't care. A girl that age shouldn't be parading around half-naked in front of her brother and cousin."
Jefferson shrugged again and then had a new thought.
"If you get any toys, can I play with them tonight? Can I?"
"Jefferson, I told you. I don't expect to get toys."
"If you do," he insisted.
"Yes, you can. If you get out of here right now," I added.
"Great," he cried and charged to the door just as Mommy knocked and opened it. He nearly ran into her.
"What's going on?" she asked.
"Jefferson was just leaving so I could get dressed," I said, fixing my eyes on him furiously.
"Go on, Jefferson. Leave your sister alone. She has a lot to do today," Mommy advised.
"She said I could play with her toys tonight," he declared.
"He thinks I'm getting tons of toys for presents," I said.
"Oh." Mommy smiled. "Go on, Jefferson. Get dressed for breakfast."
"I'm a pirate," he announced, raising his arm as if he held a sword. "Yo ho ho, and a bottle of rum," he cried and charged out. Mommy laughed and then turned to me and smiled.
"Happy birthday, honey," she said and came over to give me a kiss and a hug. "This is going to be a wonderful day." I could see the brightness and happiness in her eyes. The flood of color in her face made her look as beautiful as the models who stared out of the pages of fashion Magazines.
"Thank you, Mommy.
"Daddy's showering and getting dressed. He wants us to give you your first gift at breakfast. I think he's even more excited about your birthday than you are," she added, stroking my hair.
"I can't wait until everyone comes," I said. "Aunt Trisha's still coming, right?"
"Oh yes, she called last night. And she said she's bringing you play programs and a lot of other theatrical souvenirs."
"I can't wait." I went to the closet and picked out a light blue skirt and button-down collar blouse with short sleeves.
"You'd better wear a sweater this morning. It's still a bit nippy," Mommy said. She joined me at the closet to look at my party dress again. "You're going to look so beautiful in this," she said, holding it out.
It was a pink silk strapless dress with a sweetheart neckline and billowing skirt to be worn over layers of crinolines. I had had shoes dyed to match and would wear gloves, too. When I had first tried the dress on, I thought I looked foolish in it because of my small bosom, but Mommy surprised me by buying me an uplift bra. Even I was shocked by the eflect. It took my breath away to see my breasts swell up to create a cleavage. My face reddened along with my chest and neck. Could I wear this? Would I dare?
"You're going to look so grown up," Mommy said and sighed. She turned to me. "My little girl now a little lady. Sooner than we think, you will graduate from high school and be off to college," she added, but she sounded melancholy.
"I want to do what Mr. Wittleman says, Mommy. I want to audition for Juilliard or maybe Sarah Bernhardt," I said and her smile faded. For some reason Mommy was afraid of my going to New York and didn't encourage me about it very much.
"There are a number of good performing arts schools outside of New York -- several right here in Virginia, in fact."
"But Mommy, why shouldn't I want to go to New York?"
"New York is too big. You can get lost there."
"New York is where there is the most opportunity," I replied. "Mr. Wittleman says so, too."
She didn't argue. Instead, she took on this sad look, lowering her soft blue eyes and drooping her head. She was usually so bright and alive that whenever something made her mood grow dark, I felt a terrible foreboding and emptiness in my heart.
"Besides, Mommy," I reminded her, "that's where you went to performing arts school, and that's where Aunt Trish went, and look at where she is now!"
"I know," she said, reluctantly admitting what I said was true. "I just can't help being afraid for YOU."
"I won't be much younger than you were when you took over all this responsibility at the hotel," I reminded her.
"Yes, honey, that's true, but responsibility was thrust on me. It wasn't something I wanted. I had no choice," she complained.
"Will you tell me all of it, Mommy? Why you left the Sarah Bernhardt School? Will you?"
"Soon," she promised.
"And will you finally tell me the truth about my real father? Will you?" I pursued. "I'm old enough to know it all now, Mommy."
She gazed at me as if she were seeing me for the first time. Then, that angelic smile came over her lips and she reached out to wipe some strands of my golden hair away from my forehead.
"Yes, Christie. Tonight, I will come to you in your room and tell you the truth," she promised.
"All of it?" I asked, nearly gasping. She took a deep breath and nodded.
"All of it," she said.
Daddy, as handsome as ever, was already at the table reading the newspaper when I came down to breakfast. Mommy had to go into Jefferson's room to help him hurry along. He would diddle-dawdle forever if he suddenly got interested in one of his toy trucks or trains while he brushed his teeth or combed his hair.
"Happy birthday, honey," Daddy said and leaned over to kiss me on the cheek when I sat down.
He still looked more like my older brother than my stepfather. Both my parents were so young-looking that all my friends were jealous, especially my best friend, Pauline Bradly, who was Mrs. Bradly's granddaughter. Mrs. Bradly was in charge of our front desk at the hotel.
"Your dad has such dreamy eyes," Pauline often said. In the summer his skin would turn a deep bronze color from so much outdoor work. Against his tan his dark eyes became as bright and shiny as polished onyx, and he had beautiful white teeth that gave him an ivory smile. He was muscular and tall, and lately he had let his hair grow longer and he brushed it up in a soft wave in front. I had no trouble understanding why Mommy had been in love with him ever since they were children.
"So how does it feel to be the ripe old age of sixteen?" he asked, his smile warming me.
"I don't know. I'm too excited to feel anything, I think," I said and he smiled even wider.
"From the way your mother's behaving, you would think it's her Sweet Sixteen," he quipped.
"What was that you said, James Gary Longchamp?" Mommy cried, coming through the door with Jefferson right behind her.
"Uh oh." Daddy snapped his paper and pretended to go back to his reading.
"Meanwhile," Mommy said, sitting down, "Your father here has been the one worrying about the food, the decorations, the music. He's the one driving everyone around the hotel crazy, insisting that every hedge be cut just right and every flower stem be perfectly straight. You would think we're giving a party for the Queen of England!"
Daddy shifted the paper so he could see me and he winked.
"Daddy, Daddy, can I ride on the rider mower with you today?" Jefferson begged. "Can I? Please."
"We'll see," Daddy said. "It depends on how well you eat your breakfast and how many people you drive crazy an hour."
Mommy and I laughed.
"Happy birthday, Christie," Mrs. Boston said, coming into the dining room with our platter of eggs and grits. After she put it down, she gave me a hug and a kiss.
"Thank you, Mrs. Boston."
"You're going to make one fine birthday girl."
"You're coming to the party, aren't you?" I asked her.
"Oh sure. I went and bought me a new dress, a modern one." She eyed Daddy quickly. "And don't you say nothing about it, Mr. Longchamp."
Daddy chuckled and folded his paper. Then he reached down beside his chair and came up with a small package.
"This is the only opportunity the family will have today to be alone and together, so your mother and I decided to give you this now," he declared. "We thought it might come in handy today, considering how important every minute is."
"Wow!" Jefferson said, impressed with the gift wrapping, which was silver with a deep blue ribbon around it.
Nervously, I started to unwrap it, taking care not to rip the pretty paper. I wanted to save every memento, every memory from this day. I opened the long box and looked down at a stunning gold watch.
"Oh, it's beautiful," I cried. "Thank you, Daddy." I hugged him. "Thank you, Mommy," I said and kissed her.
"Let me help you put it on," Daddy said and took the watch out.
"Does it have an alarm? Does something pop up? Is it waterproof?" Jefferson demanded.
"It's just a lady's watch," Daddy said, holding my arm gently as he fastened the watch. "Look at that," he added when I held my wrist out.
"It looks beautiful on you, Christie," Mommy said.
"Is it the right time?" Jefferson asked. "It's so small, how can you tell?"
"I can tell. Yes." I smiled at everyone, so happy that we were together, that we all cared so much about each other. For a few moments, I even forgot it was cloudy outside. There was so much warm sunshine inside. "It's the best time of all!" Mommy and Daddy laughed and we proceeded to eat our breakfasts, everyone chattering away.
On weekends, besides looking after Jefferson, I usually helped out in the hotel, relieving people at the front desk. Sometimes Pauline came over and worked with me. At various times she had crushes on different bellhops, as did I, and it was fun flirting with them in the lobby, as well as answering the phones and speaking to people who called from as far away as Los Angeles, California or Montreal, Canada.
But today, my special day, I didn't have to do anything. As soon as breakfast was over, I wanted to go to the ballroom to see how the decorations were coming along. Naturally, Jefferson begged to go with me.
"You should leave your sister alone today," Mommy warned him.
"It's all right, Mommy, as long as he's good," I said, glaring at him sternly. I might as well have tried to melt ice with my look. No one but Daddy and Mrs. Boston could get Jefferson to behave if he didn't want to.
"I'll be good," he promised.
"If you are, you can come out and help me with the lawns this afternoon," Daddy said. That was enough to make him sit up straight, finish his breakfast and drink his milk. Afterward, he took my hand obediently, and we hurried out the door, down the steps and across the grounds, even beating Mommy to the hotel.
The grand ballroom was all lit up because the staff was putting up the decorations. Mommy had decided my party should have a musical theme, so there were huge pink and white styrofoam cutouts of tubas, trumpets, drums and trombones, as well as violins, oboes and cellos along the walls. On both ends there were enormous cut-outs of pianos. From the ceiling the staff had hung multicolored styrofoam notes and on both ends of the ballroom there were to be huge clumps of balloons, all with the words: Happy Birthday Christie, Sweet Sixteen on them. Mommy said that after everyone sang "Happy Birthday" to me, the balloons were to be released.
When we arrived, the dining room staff was already there setting up the tables, putting on pink and blue paper cloths that picked up the musical theme with notes and bars. Each table would have a basket of party favors that included combs and mirrors, the mirrors with my picture on the back.
At the front of the room was the dais at which Daddy, Mommy, Grandmother Laura and Bronson, Aunt Trisha, Aunt Fern, Granddaddy Longchamp, his wife Edwina, and Gavin would sit with me and some of my best friends from school. Jefferson was excited because he had his own table for his school friends, as well as Richard and Melanie.
Just for this party, the lighting on the dance floor had been changed to include colorful revolving balls and pulsating spotlights. We had the hotel band and Mommy promised to sing a song or two with them.
Everyone was saying that this would be the best party ever held at the hotel. All the members of the hotel staff were either invited or working at the party, and most were as excited about it as we were.
Jefferson and I just stood in the doorway drinking in everyone and everything. They were all so busy, no one noticed us. Suddenly though, we heard someone say, "This is going to be a very expensive party."
We turned around to face Richard and Melanie, who stood so closely to each other it was as if they were attached. As usual, they wore matching outfits: Melanie in a navy blue skirt with a white blouse with blue polka dots, and Richard wearing navy blue pants and an identical shirt. Aunt Bet spent a good deal of her time finding them identical clothes. She was so proud of having twins and never missed an opportunity to show them off. They both had similar thick-lensed glasses, both having the same eyesight problems.
Richard and Melanie had straw-blonde hair and Uncle Philip's clear blue eyes. They had identical pinched faces with Aunt Bet's sharp nose and thin mouth. Richard was slightly heavier and an inch or so taller, but Melanie had straighter teeth and smaller ears. Richard had more of a Cutler's shape -- wide shoulders and narrow waist, and held his head more arrogantly, speaking with Aunt Bet's nasality. Of the two, Melanie was more withdrawn, and, I thought, more intelligent, despite Richard's air of superiority.
"Hi!" I said. "It does look fabulous, doesn't it?"
"Fabulous," Richard mimicked dryly. He turned to Jefferson. "Father says, we're going to sit at your table, so please don't embarrass us and Christie by spitting food or throwing spitballs."
"Jefferson isn't going to do anything like that tonight, are you?" I asked pointedly.
"Nope," he said, driving his hands deeply into his pockets. "I'm going to cut grass with Daddy this afternoon."
"Great," Richard said out of the corner of his mouth. "There is nothing I would like to do more than bounce around on a machine belching gas in the hot sun."
"What are you going to do now?" Jefferson asked, unaffected by Richard's sarcasm. I always enjoyed Jefferson's indifference to Richard's nastiness. He acted like Richard had some strange illness and it was best not to bring any more attention to it than necessary.
"We were on our way to the game room," Melanie said. "We're going to play Parcheesi with some guest children."
"Can I watch?" Jefferson asked.
"I doubt that you can just watch," Richard said caustically. "But..."
"You can come along," Melanie finished. "Do you want to come, too, Christie?" she asked.
"No, I'm going to see Mr. Nussbaum. He told me to stop by this morning."
"The kitchen...ugh," Richard said.
"You shouldn't despise the hotel so much, Richard," I chastised. "You're a Cutler."
"He didn't say anything bad," Melanie snapped, coming to his defense quickly. It was as if I had said it to her.
"It's bad to look down on our staff and give them the impression you feel superior."
"We own the hotel," Richard reminded me.
"But it wouldn't be any good to us if staff members didn't want to work here and do a good job," I said pointedly. The two of them gaped at me through their thick lenses, which magnified their eyes so they looked more like frogs than kids. Richard finally shrugged.
"Let's go," he said to Melanie.
"Oh," Melanie said, turning. "Happy birthday, Christie."
"Yes," Richard cried like a parrot. "Happy birthday."
Jefferson followed them away and I headed for the kitchen. Mr. Nussbaum's face brightened the moment he set his eyes on me. Mommy said he had been with the hotel forever and probably lied about his age. She estimated him to be in his early eighties. During the last few years, he had agreed to take on an assistant, his nephew Leon, a tall, lanky, brown-haired man with sleepy chestnut eyes. Although he always looked half-awake, he was a wonderful chef and practically the only person Nussbaum would tolerate interfering in his kitchen.
"Ah, the birthday girl," Nussbaum said. "Come...see," he beckoned and I approached one of the counters on which he had trays and trays of hors d'oeuvres prepared. "There will be three different kinds of shrimp, each baked in a special dough, fried won-tons, fried zucchini and a cheese selection, some with ham and some with bacon. That one Leon made," he added and pointed. "Come," he said and took my hand to show me the fine cuts of prime rib.
"I have a chicken in wine sauce for those who don't want the beef. See what my baker has made," he added, showing me the small rolls and breads. The breads were shaped into musical notes.
"You can't see the cake yet. That's a big surprise," Mr. Nussbaum said.
"It all looks so wonderful."
"So, why shouldn't it be wonderful? It's for a wonderful young lady. Right, Leon?"
"Oh, yes, yes," he said, cracking a smile quickly.
"My nephew," Mr. Nussbaum said, shaking his head. "That's why I can never retire." He beamed his smile at me. "But you don't worry about anything. Just enjoy."
"Thank you, Mr. Nussbaum," I said. I left the kitchen and headed for the lobby, but when I rounded the corner, I met Uncle Philip, who was coming from the old section of the hotel.
"Christie," he cried. "How wonderful -- a chance to congratulate my favorite niece privately. Happy birthday." He embraced me and pulled me to him and then pressed his lips to my forehead, softly at first and then, surprising me by continuing his kiss down the side of my head to my cheek.
Uncle Philip was handsome, a debonair man who always dressed elegantly in tailored sports jackets and slacks with creases so sharp they looked like they could cut your fingers, gold and diamond cufflinks, gold rings, and gold watches. His hair was always well trimmed and brushed, not a strand out of place. I never saw him with shoes not polished into mirrors. His idea of being sloppy was wearing a jacket without a tie.
Aunt Bet was just as prim and prissy, not wearing anything that wasn't in style or created by some designer. She never came down unless her hair was perfect and her make-up was applied to bring out what she believed were her best features: her long eyelashes, thin mouth and small chin.
Uncle Philip did not release me after he lifted his lips from my cheek. He held me out at arms' length and looked down at me, nodding.
"You have become a very, very lovely young lady, even lovelier than your mother was at your age," he said softly, so softly it was practically a whisper.
"Oh no, I'm not, Uncle Philip. I'm not prettier than Mommy."
He laughed, but still kept me in his arms. I was beginning to feel uncomfortable. I knew that Uncle Philip loved me, but sometimes I felt I was too old for his affectionate hugs and caresses and they embarrassed me. I tried to shrug out of his arms without being rude, but his hold grew a little tighter.
"I like the way you're wearing your hair these days," he said. "Your bangs make you look very grown-up, very sophisticated." He ran his forefinger along my forehead gently.
"Thank you, Uncle Philip. I'd better get out front. Aunt Trisha is arriving any moment."
"Oh yes, Trisha," he said, smirking. "That woman drives me mad sometimes. She can't sit still. She's always spinning and turning and rushing here and there, and those hands...they're like two birds attached to her wrists always trying to break free."
"She's like that because she's a performer, Uncle Philip."
"Right. The theater," he said, his voice light but his look serious as he looked down, still holding me.
"I've got to go," I repeated.
"Me too. Happy birthday again," he said, kissing my cheek once more before he released me.
"Thank you," I said and hurried away, something wistful in his look making my heart skip a beat.
Just as I entered the lobby, I saw Mommy greeting Aunt Trisha. They hugged as I ran across the lobby. Aunt Trisha was wearing a dark red dress with a long skirt that came nearly down to her ankles. When she spun around, the skirt flew about like the skirt of a flamenco dancer. She had sandals with straps up her calves and wore a white shawl loosely around her shoulders. Her dark brown hair was drawn back from her face and pinned up in a chignon that I thought looked very glamorous. Long earrings made of sea shells dangled from her lobes.
"Darling Christie!" she cried and held out her arms for me. "Look at you," she said, holding me out at the shoulders. "You grow more beautiful every time I visit. This one's headed for the stage, Dawn," she said, nodding.
"Perhaps," Mommy said, gazing at me proudly. "Are you hungry, Trish?"
"Ravenously. Oh, I can't wait for your party," she said to me.
"I'll tell Julius to bring your things to the house," Mommy said. "You'll be staying there...in Fern's room," she added.
"Isn't she coming home from college for this?" Aunt Trisha asked, her eyes wide with surprise.
"Yes, but she agreed to stay at the hotel," Mommy said. The look between Aunt Trisha and Mommy explained it all -- how glad Mommy was that Aunt Fern was staying at the hotel instead of the house, how there had been new problems, problems my parents tried to discuss privately. But the walls have ears and both Jefferson and I knew Aunt Fern had gotten into some serious trouble at college again recently.
"Come," Mommy said. "I'll take you to the kitchen for something special. You know how Nussbaum likes to fuss over you. And we'll catch up."
"Okay. Christie, I have the show programs in my suitcase."
"Oh thank you, Aunt Trisha." I kissed her again and she and Mommy went off to the kitchen, the two of them talking a mile a minute, neither waiting for the other to finish a sentence.
The rest of the day moved far too slowly for me. Of course, I was anticipating Gavin's arrival and hovered about the front of the hotel as much as I could. Finally, late in the afternoon, a taxicab from the airport arrived. I rushed out and down the steps hoping it was Granddaddy Longchamp, Edwina and Gavin, but Aunt Fern stepped out instead.
She wore a pair of old jeans and a faded sweatshirt. Since I had seen her last, she had chopped her hair off, her beautiful, long silky black hair that Daddy said reminded him so much of his mother's hair. My heart sank, knowing how disappointed he was going to be.
Aunt Fern was tall, almost as tall as Daddy, and had a model's figure -- long legs and slim torso. Despite the terrible things she did to herself: smoking everything from cigarettes to tiny cigars, drinking and carousing into the early morning hours, she had a remarkably clear and soft complexion. She had Daddy's dark eyes, only hers were smaller, narrower, and at times, downright sneaky. I hated the way she pulled her upper lip up in the corner when something annoyed her.
"Take the bag inside," she commanded the driver when he lifted it from the trunk. Then she saw me.
"Well, if it isn't the princess herself. Happy sweet sixteen," she said and took a pack of cigarettes from her back pocket. Her pants were so tight fitting, I couldn't imagine any room for anything in the pockets. She stuck a cigarette in her mouth quickly and lit it as she looked at the hotel. "Every time I come back here, my body tightens into knots," she muttered.
"Hi Aunt Fern," I finally said. She flashed a quick smile.
"Where the hell's everybody? In their offices?" she added sarcastically.
"Mommy's with Aunt Trisha at the house and Daddy's in the back working on the grounds."
"Aunt Trisha," she said disdainfully. "Has she taken a breath yet?"
"I like Aunt Trisha very much," I said.
"First off, she's not really your aunt so I don't know why you insist on calling her that, and second, good for you." She paused, took a puff, blew the smoke straight up, and then gazed at me. "Guess what I got for you for your birthday," she said, smiling coyly.
"I can't imagine," I said.
"I'll give it to you later, but you can't show it to your mother or tell her I gave it to you. Promise?"
"What is it?" I asked, intrigued.
"A copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover. It's about time you found out what it's all about," she added. "Well, here I go. Home again," she said and marched up the stairs and into the hotel.
A ripple of apprehension shot down my spine. I hadn't spoken to her for more than a few minutes, but already my heart was pounding in anticipation of what was yet to come. Aunt Fern was like unexpected lightning and thunder shaking the very foundations of any happiness. I looked out toward the ocean. The clouds were still thick, still rolling in with fervor, determined to hold back the sunshine. I bowed my head and started up the stairs when I heard the sound of a horn and turned to see another taxi approaching.
A hand was waving from the rear window, and then I saw a face.
It was Gavin, his wonderful smile driving the emptiness out of the pit of my stomach and bringing the hope of sunshine back as quickly as it had been driven away.
Copyright © 1992 by Virginia C. Andrews Trust
Posted June 12, 2013
Posted July 13, 2011
Posted October 11, 2005
As soon as I finished the first part, I rushed out to buy the second. I was on the edge of my seat. It was just as good if not better than the first. Every detail was so vivid. You never know which way things are going to turn.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 2, 2004
Posted August 25, 2004
I really could not pay attention to this book. I forced myself to finish and in the end I was not entertained. I hoped to forget this particular book, Broken Wings was way better. There should have been a lot more to this series, but what was there left me with so many questions that will never be answered. Read it to complete the series only.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 5, 2004
In the thrilling book Broken Wings we met Phoebe, Robin, and Teal, three different girls from three very different places. In Midnight Flight the three girls are aquatinted at Dr. Foremens School For Girls. They thought it was a school, but it was much more. Phoebe, Robin, and Teal are all three newcomers to this ¿so called¿ school. They become subject to the dreaded Ice Room, where they are forced to face their worst fears; not to mention the numerous other horrific punishments. The girls are able to see through Dr. Foreman¿s mysterious attempts to turn them against each other, and realize that they must stick together and fight back in order to survive. This book is an amazing, exciting, and adventurous. It left me feeling curious, excited and in the end happy for the girls. This book was full of friendship, lying and betrayal. I would recommend this book to anyone that is looking for a great book to keep them occupied. You will not be able to put it down.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 7, 2004
Posted November 21, 2003
Posted January 1, 2004
Posted October 17, 2003
I really enjoyed this book and it's defiant charaters. It kept me on the edge of my seat, wondering what could possibly happen next. I hope Andrews writes another book for this series.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 2, 2003
Posted November 11, 2003
I couldn't put this book down, it was truly intense with back to back action. It's usually hard for me to keep interested in a book if the first chapter is dull, but this book dragged me in to the point where I didn't want to stop reading.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 13, 2003
Midnight Fligt, the sequel to Broken Wings, was just a great book. It was so intersting that I couldn't put the book down. Andrews truely out did themself this time, because the details are just amazing, and the story line and ideas put in the book are like none other I've ever read. Though some parts could get slow and a little repitious, it was a very rare part of the book. Just a great and intersting read, I'd recommend it to anyone!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 28, 2003
Midnight Flight is a very moving story about what happens to 3 girls when they are taken to school for delinquents. They soon find out that it is not really a school, but a ranch where they are to be tortured into behavioral changes. The story is fast-paced and the writing is so clear and concise that the reader can't help but to drawn into the story and the characters. Overall, this a really great book and continuation to Broken Wings.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 15, 2003
Well I read Broken Wings and that left me with a lot of anticipation of the next book Midnight Flight. This book started off good, but once it got to the Posey story it threw me off because it didn't make sense and there was no need for it. I could understand if it was one chapter, but this plot lasted til the end of the book which in itself was another dissapointment. Overall I would say read it so you can see what happens to the girls because it does explain that really well.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
Though from three dramatically different environments, the three girls share in common walking on the wildside (see BROKEN WINGS). In Nashville, Robin Lyn Taylor lives in trouble. In Albany, New York Teal Sommers breaks the law just to get her away from wealthy parents so they can remember she still breaths. In Atlanta Phoebe meets a boy Ashley who will shred her reputation if she acts as cool as she always does. <P>The three female losers are sent to the Foreman's School for Girls in an isolated part of the Southwest. Dr. Foreman makes sure her three new students understand the rules starting with no radio or television and wearing diapers to enforce the beginning of a new life. These three difficult tough teens attend a school in which demerits lead to punishment under the abusive rehabilitative therapy employed by Dr. Freeman and associates. Will one or more learn humility leading to the healing of their BROKEN WINGS or will they fail to adapt and learn their life lessons? <P>Though in many ways MIDNIGHT FLIGHT is the typical fast-paced V.C. Andrews drama involving abuse, fans of the author will appreciate this emotionally laden sequel. The story line is action-paced, but those not familiar with the author need to realize that Dr. Foreman is a no nonsense martinet who reacts harshly to broken rules. The cast is powerful as the three girls, the head mistress and a Native American teacher provide a deep, passionate character study. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 13, 2003
I read broken wings and this was the 1st time I picked up a V.C Andrews book.I read it and by the 2 page I was compleatly sucked in.I never read anything like it.It was new it was fresh and I just wanted more after i finshed reading the book.So I kept check back here at Band N then I fould it.It seemed like everybook since her death has been approved by V.C. Andrews. I mean even though it's not her writting you can still feel her sprit and what type of style she probaly would have wrote.So I thank her family for continueing to keep V.C. Andrews books and ideas alive.I can't want for Midnight Filght to come out and this is another V.C andres exprince.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 5, 2009
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Posted April 17, 2011
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Posted September 11, 2010
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