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Runaways (Orphans Series #5) [NOOK Book]

Overview

The spellbinding Orphans series concludes in this thrilling new novel from V.C. Andrews®...

"All for one and one for all" was the girls' motto. In the grim foster home for orphans run by Louise and Gordon Tooey, at least Brooke, Crystal, Raven, and Butterfly had each other. Calling themselves "sisters," together they could forget the past and dream of a new chance...a real home. Then they discovered a secret even more haunting than Gordon's ...
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Runaways (Orphans Series #5)

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Overview

The spellbinding Orphans series concludes in this thrilling new novel from V.C. Andrews®...

"All for one and one for all" was the girls' motto. In the grim foster home for orphans run by Louise and Gordon Tooey, at least Brooke, Crystal, Raven, and Butterfly had each other. Calling themselves "sisters," together they could forget the past and dream of a new chance...a real home. Then they discovered a secret even more haunting than Gordon's heavy boots pounding on the wooden floors. Their fragile hopes of a better life shattered, they escaped the only way they could. Soon they were runaways in a borrowed car, desperately wishing to wake up one morning in a place of sunshine and love.

Raven hoped to be a singer, Butterfly wanted to be a dancer, Crystal planned for college, and Brooke privately hoped to find her mother in California. On the open road the chains of sadness that had bound them seemed to melt away, and the kindness of strangers made a secure future seem almost real. But the highway was a dangerous place, and soon they were penniless and more vulnerable than ever. Alone under the wide western sky, they had only each other to ask if they should give up their dreams...or if they were really halfway to a haven of safety and happiness....
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451637038
  • Publisher: Pocket Books
  • Publication date: 2/8/2011
  • Series: Orphans , #5
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 195,653
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

V. C. Andrews
V.C. Andrews® has been a bestselling phenomenon since the publication of Flowers in the Attic, which was followed by four more Dollanganger family novels: Petals on the Wind, If There Be Thorns, Seeds of Yesterday, and Garden of Shadows. Since then, readers have been captivated by more than seventy novels in V.C. Andrews’s bestselling series, which have sold more than 106 million copies and have been translated into more than twenty-five foreign languages.

Biography

"The face of fear I display in my novels is not the pale specter from the sunken grave, nor is it the thing that goes bump in the night," V. C. Andrews once told Douglas E. Winter. "Mine are the deep-seated fears established when we are children, and they never quite go away: the fear of being helpless, the fear of being trapped, the fear of being out of control."

Andrews's novel Flowers in the Attic launched the popular genre sometimes dubbed "children in jeopardy" -- stories about young people abused, lied to, and preyed upon by their evil guardians. The author's own childhood was not nearly so lurid, though it did have an element of tragedy: As a teenager she had a bad fall, which resulted in the development of bone spurs. A botched surgery, combined with arthritis, forced her to use a wheelchair or crutches for the rest of her life.

Andrews lived with her mother and worked as a commercial artist until the 1970s, when she began to write in earnest. Most of her early stories and novels went unpublished (one exception was "I Slept with My Uncle on My Wedding Night," which appeared in a pulp confession magazine). Finally, in 1979, Flowers in the Attic made it into print. The book soared to No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list and was followed by two equally successful sequels, Petals on the Wind and If There Be Thorns. Critics weren't always kind -- a Washington Post reviewer wrote that Flowers in the Attic "may well be the worst book I have ever read" -- but that didn't matter to millions of Andrews's readers, who devoured her gruesome fairy tales as fast as she could pen them.

As E. D. Huntley points out in V. C. Andrews: A Critical Companion, Andrews's novels fit neatly into the "female Gothic" tradition, in which an innocent young woman is trapped in an isolated mansion and persecuted by a villain. Andrews's own contribution was to take some of the themes implicit in early Gothic novels -- incest, sexual jealousy, and obsession -- and make them sensationally explicit in her works.

As most of her fans know by now, V. C. Andrews died in 1986, but new V. C. Andrews books keep popping up on the bestseller lists. That's because the Andrews estate hired a ghost writer, Andrew Neiderman, to continue writing books in the late author's style. Andrews's heirs have been cagey about just how much unfinished work she left behind when she died, but testimony during a 1993 tax case suggested that Andrews had only completed a portion of Garden of Shadows, the eighth book (out of more than 50) published under her name.

Still, even if the vast majority of "V. C. Andrews" books weren't actually written by V. C. Andrews, many of her fans are happy to have her tradition carried on. Neiderman has drawn on Andrews's novels, notebooks, and drawings for inspiration. "Don't make this sound weird," he once said in a Washington Post interview, "but sometimes I do feel possessed." To the original V. C. Andrews, who believed in precognition and reincarnation, it probably wouldn't sound weird at all.

Good To Know

Andrews wrote nine novels before Flowers in the Attic, including a science fantasy titled The Gods of the Green Mountain. Later, when she was a bestselling novelist, she wanted to try her hand at different kinds of fiction, but her publisher discouraged her. "I am supposed to stay in this niche, whatever it is, because there is so much money in it," she told Douglas Winter. "I mean, I have tapped a gold mine and they don't want to let go of it. I don't like that, because I want to branch out."

Though V. C. Andrews went by the name Virginia, her birth name was Cleo Virginia Andrews, not Virginia Cleo Andrews. She had planned to publish her books under the name Virginia Andrews, but her first publisher printed Flowers in the Atticas the work of "V. C. Andrews" in hopes that the gender-neutral name would make the book appealing to male readers.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Cleo Virginia Andrews
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 6, 1923
    2. Place of Birth:
      Portsmouth, Virginia
    1. Date of Death:
      December 19, 1986
    2. Place of Death:
      Virginia Beach, Virginia

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: A Glimmer of Hope

As I got ready to go downstairs for breakfast, I couldn't help but worry about Butterfly, and wonder how my other sisters and I were spared the same fate: each of us had tragic stories, some, I was beginning to realize, more tragic than others.

I was almost adopted when I was nearly thirteen by Pamela and Peter Thompson, a young couple who had never had a child of their own. Pamela was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen and, though I thought it was strange that she wanted me to call her Pamela instead of Mommy or even Mother, I did what she asked. Orphans learn at a very young age to do anything, well, almost anything, to please prospective parents.

Pamela had been a beauty queen and chose me because she thought I looked like a younger version of her. No one had ever told me I was beautiful before, or had the potential to grow up to be beautiful, so when Pamela and Peter chose me for that very reason I was completely surprised, but happy, and for the first time in my life I thought that maybe I was special. That I wasn't just a little girl no one wanted.

I soon realized, though, that Pamela didn't think I was special because of who I really was, but because of who she thought she could make me into. All the pretty clothes and fancy lessons that at first made me feel like a charmed princess, soon became suffocating to me. I wasn't allowed to excel at the sports I played so well or to even be myself. I was getting all mixed up inside -- I wanted to please Pamela, she was my new mother, but I also knew that pleasing her meant losing myself.

Peter tried to help, and explained to Pamela that I could do well in sports and be a beauty queen, but Pamela just got nastier and nastier. Finally, when it seemed that she just wouldn't ever listen to the dreams that were in my heart, I did the only thing I knew how to make her understand. I cut off my beautiful long hair -- the hair that she so loved to brush and wash, the hair that would help me win her precious beauty pageants.

Pamela went into such a rage when she saw me that she started to hyperventilate, gasping for breath, declaring she was on the verge of a heart attack. She said I would be an enormous embarrassment to her and was no good as a beauty pageant contestant, or even as a daughter. Peter didn't know how to deal with Pamela's fury and so he sent me back to the Child Protection Services like a defective toy. And, years later, I am still here at Hell House.

Butterfly's experiences must have been much worse than mine, since she can barely talk about them. We've learned a bit over the years, but mostly when she tries to speak about it, or something reminds her of that time, she goes into one of her trances. Her foster mother, Celine Delorice, was a woman in her early thirties who had once had a promising career as a ballet dancer. She married a well-to-do businessman, Sanford Delorice, who supported her attempts to become a prima ballerina. However, shortly after their marriage, Celine was in a serious car accident and had to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. She talked Sanford into adopting a foster child and Celine chose Butterfly because she was so dainty and supposedly had perfect feet. She believed Butterfly would become the dancer she had expected she would be, and she had her start training almost the same day they brought her home from the orphanage.

Butterfly was a good dancer, but not a great dancer. She didn't progress as quickly as Celine had hoped and began to freeze under the pressure and the possibility of failure. Celine Delorice actually suffered a nervous breakdown from it. At least, that's what Butterfly told us, and soon after Sanford returned her to the system, claiming his wife's handicap made it impossible for them to bring up a child properly. Crystal thought there had to be something more, but she never pressured Butterfly, who could turn to stone if you forced her to talk about her past.

Despite her reserved façade, Raven wasn't all that different from the rest of us. She had lived with her real family, her mother's brother, for a while after her mother had been arrested for a drug related crime and put into rehabilitation. We didn't know the nitty-gritty details, but something happened and Raven was brought here. All she would tell us was her uncle and aunt were not fit parents, especially her uncle. She did tell me that whatever had happened at her uncle and aunt's home involved her cousin, Jennifer. I wanted Raven to trust me enough to explain what had happened, but it seemed like Raven had trouble trusting anyone, even Crystal, Butterfly and me.

Raven's situation was really a lot more complicated than ours because Raven had a natural blood parent out there, somewhere, and the state made it almost impossible to adopt a child if there was even the slightest possibility she or he could be returned to that parent.

Crystal was the only one who really had a good experience with foster parents. She didn't speak about them very much, but when she did talk about them, she described Thelma's obsession with her soap operas and Karl's obsession with being efficient and organized. She told us he was an accountant and saw life as a balance between assets and liabilities. He often lectured her about being sensible. She said her adoptive parents were pleasant enough people, but from the way she spoke of them, I think she believed they were both living in a fantasy world. When they were both killed in an automobile accident, none of the relatives wanted to take her in, which resulted in her being returned to the system.

So here we were, the four of us, the Orphanteers, so different from each other, and yet, drawn to each other, feeling safer in our own little group, each of us adding something that we all needed, each of us willing to risk pain and unhappiness to protect the other or the group. Just looking at us, no one would think we had anything special to hold us together.

I usually wore dungarees and a tee shirt or old sweat shirt. I had sneakers and one pair of dressy shoes, but I favored my clodhoppers, as Raven called them, with sweat socks. I always wore the pink ribbon my real mother had tied in my hair before I had been given over to foster care. Of course, it was quite faded by now. I just tied it on my wrist. I hardly ever wore lipstick or makeup and used a stick deodorant rather than a cologne, when I even cared. Raven always wore a skirt or a dress.

Crystal wore simple one-piece dresses, and kept her dark brown hair either in a bun or sometimes in a ponytail. She would wear lipstick rarely, much less any makeup. She could walk around with an ink stain on her chin all day because she rarely looked at herself in the mirror.

Butterfly had much of the clothing she had when she lived with the Delorices, dainty little dresses, multicolored sneakers, a nice pink leather jacket. It was as if her growth had been stunted by her unhappiness. She hadn't grown out of much. She kept her golden hair in curls and only wore lipstick when Raven helped her with makeup.

Despite our four individual personalities, we did have something special, something we knew the other girls coveted. Maybe it was just the "Joining." Maybe there was some spiritual tie. At least we had something to believe in: each other.

Despite the episode with Butterfly, we were dressed and on our way down to the dining room in plenty of time. The Lakewood House was physically a perfect dormitory for two dozen or so foster children. Very little had been changed since its resort days. There was still a large sitting or recreational room where there once were card tables used for board games, dominos, card games or a game none of us had ever heard of before, something called mah-jongg. Louise said it had been the most popular game the tourist women played. She showed us the pieces, all with Asian writing on them, but warned us never to touch them. She explained that she and Gordon were just waiting for the right time to sell them as valuable antiques.

Most of the house was antique, or just plain old. The stairway we took down to the dining room shook and squeaked. The pipes groaned like arthritic old people, windows froze in their grooves, even in the summer, and very often, electrical fixtures didn't work. Gordon hated doing any maintenance, and usually waited until it was absolutely necessary. He didn't replace a step that had cracked badly on the stairway, for instance, even though it was dangerous, until he knew someone was coming from the state to inspect the premises. If something broke in our rooms, or if there were plumbing problems, he blamed it on one of us and let it remain broken for as long as he could.

Early on we noticed Louise was almost as afraid of Gordon as we were. If she ever contradicted him in front of us, he would just glare at her, his face crimson, his eyes glowing like embers in a fireplace, his neck muscles straining so hard, the arteries and veins would pop out, and his two large hands tightened into mallets. He was unusually strong. When he felt like showing off, he would permit the children to watch him chop down a tree. He did it with an ax, never pausing from the beginning until the tree actually began to topple. Chunks would fly around him like pate yellow moths; the tree seemed like it was made of paper. These demonstrations of power were indelibly pressed into the minds of the children. Woe to those who were the target of Gordon's fury.

And yet, whenever there were guests or state officials at the house, Gordon metamorphosed into a soft, smiling, gentle giant of a man who could walk around with a seven-year-old on his shoulders, loving, caring, protective. To see someone with such obvious physical power behave so gently was heartwarming to the visitors. Once, he caught me staring with disgust at him while he was putting on one of these Academy Award performances. He glanced my way and then he turned back to me, fixing his gaze on me with such a cold, bone-chilling look, I had to walk away quickly, my chest vibrating with the hammerlike thumping of my heart. I avoided him for days after that and finally he seemed to forget about me.

None of the wards seemed of any real interest to him. He knew our names and he knew which children to use when he wanted to demonstrate his concern and care in front of state people, but he usually left the real parenting work to Louise. She was the true administrator of the Lakewood House; he was more like a work boss.

However, Gordon was always after her to keep some distance between herself and the wards. He would complain about it, out loud, right in front of us.

"You're getting too involved with that one, Louise. I warned you."

Afterward, she explained that she and Gordon had been specifically instructed not to get too close with or form any sort of bond with a foster child. The logic was we were here only temporarily and soon were going back to our real parents or off to new adoptive families, and no one wanted any of us to feel sad about leaving or resent our new homes. What a joke. Who would resent leaving this? For my part, I was happy Gordon kept some distance and happy he was always after her to do the same.

Sometimes, she looked at us as if we really all were her children. Childless, she regretted losing any one of us. A real mother couldn't be more possessive at times, but warm affection around here was like contraband. She had to look for Gordon first and be sure he wasn't around before she planted a kiss on a child's forehead or held someone close to her ample bosom.

Louise wasn't the only one who tried to make us feel like a family here. A sweet elderly lady who insisted we all call her Grandma Kelly prepared our meals each day and always had kind words or a smile for us. Grandma Kelly lived in the nearby village of Mountaindale and had actually worked for the Tooey family when the Lakewood House was still a tourist retreat. She was only about five feet three with a round face that always had scarlet tinted cheeks, especially when she worked over a hot stove. She had soft eyes as blue as blue jay feathers. Her hair was the color of pewter and even more curly than Butterfly's, but she always wore a cap when she was in the kitchen. She told us she hadn't been brought to America until she was nearly twelve. To this day she still had an Irish brogue. Crystal said she reminded her of a leprechaun.

"It would be great if Grandma Kelly really was a leprechaun and led us to treasure so we could get out of here," I said.

Of course, Crystal didn't believe in such fairy tales, but we all liked to think that there was a pot of gold out there for us.

We joked about what Grandma Kelly would have made for breakfast that morning as we walked down to the dining room and while we stood in line waiting for our meals Crystal told us she planned on spending the day at the library, using their computer.

Crystal's dream was to become a doctor, and she told us she'd been researching information on getting college scholarships. She claimed that anything we wanted to learn about could be found on the Internet.

"What about my future?" I asked.

"As I told you before, there are statistics about foster children. Every year about fifteen thousand graduate from foster care by turning eighteen with no permanent family, and forty percent of all foster children leaving the system end up on welfare."

"Thanks for the encouragement," I muttered. "Miss Good News."

"You could get married," Raven said. "That's what I'm going to do as soon as I find someone rich enough."

"Why should he marry you?" I asked.

"Because I'm the prettiest girl he'll know," she replied, turning her shoulder and fluttering those long, black eyelashes. "And I'm the next Selena who will make one hit song after another, that's why." Butterfly laughed and Raven hugged her. "Someone loves me," she said. "Butterfly will be a famous dancer too, Crystal, so put that into your stupid statistics."

"I hate to disappoint or discourage you, but it's pretty hard to make it in the entertainment industry," Crystal joked back. "And look what happened to Selena!"

Raven stuck out her tongue as she turned to take Butterfly's hand. "C'mon Butterfly, let's get our food and let Crystal be grumpy by herself. She just doesn't know how to believe. We can be anything, as long as we believe." Raven's words sounded brave, but I knew that they were mostly for Butterfly's benefit; she was still shaking from this morning's episode.

As we waited in line for our food we surveyed the dining room.

Along the walls were the old photographs of the Lakewood House's bygone days, group pictures of guests gathered at the lake or around the lawn chairs. In most of the pictures, the people were dressed formally, men in jackets and ties, women in ankle-length dresses with high collars and frilly sleeves, all with pale faces, and all looking years and years older than they really were. There were many photos of families because the Lakewood House catered to families. The foster children now living here looked at these pictures closely, usually with soft, dreamy smiles on their faces, imagining themselves as part of one of those families, hugging their mother, holding their father's hand, standing close to their brothers and sisters, having a name.

It did took like the Lakewood House was a pretty, happy place once, full of laughter and music. According to Grandma Kelly, the guests sat on the big wraparound porch and talked into the wee hours while the crickets chirped and the owls peered through the moonlit night, curious about the murmur of voices, the sound of screen doors, the cry of a child. Sometimes, although I would never say it, even to one of the Orphanteers, I thought I heard the ghostly laughter and even the quick steps of happy children running through the house, out the screen door and down the steps to play on the carpeted green lawns, safe, happy and full of hope.

Maybe someday we would run out of this house to a place full of safety, happiness and hope.

The din of conversation, clanking dishes and silverware, laughter and screeching that greeted us this morning was a hundred decibels louder than on weekdays. School-age children knew they had two days off and except for the final afternoon hours of Sunday, could put school work aside. On nice days, we could play softball or go down to the dilapidated, cracked and crumbling tennis court and volley or play doubles after our chores. Raven and I were the house champions and I was always the captain of the softball team. Louise permitted the older kids to have a picnic lunch if they took a few of the younger ones with them and watched over them. She trusted the four of us with more children than any of the other older children.

Often Gordon would find work for us, however. We painted the house, cut grass, collected leaves or washed windows. Inside, we washed floors, helped with dishes, dusted and vacuumed. We were told this was our home so we had to take care of it ourselves.

"You'll appreciate our home more," Louise explained to soften the blow of Gordon's assignments.

"You don't have to justify anything I tell them to do. They should work for what they get," Gordon blasted at her before turning to us, his eyes fixed like two laser beams. "I don't ever want to hear complaints."

Chores were rotated. None of us four had to do kitchen work this weekend. We stepped into the dining room, a long, wide room with the biggest windows and the only windows that had new blinds because this was where the state people were entertained when they came. We saw Meg Callaway running the food line. A few long tables were placed together at the other end of the room and all of us walked by, filling our plates. Meg was fifteen, tall and gangly, with braces that looked like car bumpers on her teeth. Crystal said she could be the daughter of Ichabod Crane from Sleepy Hollow. She read the description of him that said he had a neck so long and a nose so long, he looked like someone had perched a weather vane on his shoulders.

Meg was always trying to get in with us, be one of us, but whatever chemistry existed among us didn't exist in her. She was sneaky and conniving and full of so much jealousy and envy that Raven said her eyes had to be green no matter what. She was always whispering and trying to turn one of us against the other. She spread rumors like fertilizer in a garden hoping to grow conflicts and make herself look like everyone's hero. No one really liked her, but many were afraid if they didn't pretend to be friendly, they would be the object of some mischief. Twice last week, I had caught her taking stuff from younger kids.

"Here comes Goldilocks and the three bears," she quipped as we approached the food table. She studied Butterfly a moment and then her lips thinned and hinged at the corners to form her icy smile. "Why was Goldilocks crying now? Someone pour glue into her dancing shoes?"

"Come outside after breakfast and I'll show you why she was crying," I said. Her smile quickly evaporated. She turned to one of the ten-year-olds assisting her.

"Get more toast, I told you," she said and avoided looking at me.

We took our food to our table.

"Why is it these rolls are so hard?" I muttered.

Crystal finished her orange juice and signaled with her eyes so the four of us drew closer.

"I overheard a conversation between Grandma Kelly and Gordon yesterday when I was working on the computer. Grandma was complaining that he was buying two-day-old bread because it's cheaper. She said she knew he was not buying the best grades of meat too. He denied it and told her to mind her own business. She said the food was her business and he said maybe she should think about retirement."

"The creep," Raven said, her eyes fiery.

"I don't want Grandma Kelly to retire," Butterfly said mournfully. She almost always looked down quickly after she spoke as if she were afraid of what reactions her words would create in listeners. Her foster mother had to have been a tyrant.

"Don't worry, she's not," I told her. "Doesn't anyone check on him, check on how he uses the money that's supposed to be spent for us?" I asked Crystal.

She shrugged and thought a moment.

"Bills are doctored, I suppose, or deals are made under the table with suppliers."

"We oughta turn him in," I said. The four of us were still crouched over our trays, whispering. It felt like a conspiracy.

"If we didn't put our names on the complaints, he would accuse Grandma of doing it now that she has complained to him," Crystal pointed out. "And I don't think any of us want to sign anything against Gordon Tooey."

As if on cue, Gordon entered the dining room. Almost immediately, the din diminished. He panned the room as if he were looking for an intruder, his dark eyes just narrow slits, his big hands on his hips. He wore a white long-sleeve shirt with the sleeves rolled up past his bulging forearms. On his right arm was a tattoo of a shark, something he had gotten when he had been in the navy.

"I don't expect to see no lollygaggin' about today. Right after breakfast, everyone get to his or her assignments pronto. We got an inspection in a week and I want this place looking tip-top."

I wanted to shout out "Then burn it down and start over," but I just looked at my food. Louise came bustling in behind him, full of smiles. She was somewhere in her fifties, a five-foot-ten brunette with shoulder-length hair. I thought her best feature was her startling cerulean blue eyes. She had a way of looking at you, but clicking on and off you as she spoke so that you never felt you had her full attention. It was as if she really was afraid of what Gordon told her, afraid that if she looked too hard or long at one of the state's wards, she might form a deeper relationship and suffer if and when the ward was adopted.

"Good morning, everyone," she cried, looking more at the ceiling than at us. She turned toward the windows. "Isn't it a glorious day? Let's all do our work quickly and efficiently so we can have time to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. You know, children, years ago, people came to these mountains to recuperate from lung ailments like tuberculosis and that's because we have the best fresh air. You're all lucky to be living here," she declared, slapping her hands together before she went to a table to help some of the younger kids.

"She has syrup in her veins instead of blood," I murmured. "I can't imagine them making love. They look like oil and water. She probably keeps her eyes closed the whole time and holds her breath until it's over."

Raven laughed so loud she drew Gordon's gaze for a moment. All of us dropped our eyes to our plates. When we looked up again, he was marching out. There was a collective sigh of relief.

"Welcome to another joyful weekend of slave labor at Hell House," I said, loud enough for the kids at the next table to hear. Some laughed, others checked the doorway to be sure Gordon was gone.

"I don't want to whitewash that fence again," Raven declared. "He better not have put that down for me. The fumes from the paint make me cough for days."

"That's because it's bad for your lungs," Crystal explained.

"Come on," I said, wanting to change the subject. "Let's eat this mush and get outside, even to work."

The assignment list was posted. I was given the task of cutting grass -- I didn't like that chore but at least it got me outside. Crystal and Raven were told to rake up and Butterfly was assigned dusting and polishing in the recreation room.

"Is she all right enough to be by herself this morning?" I asked Crystal before we left to go outside.

"She'll be fine," she said. "Won't you, Butterfly?"

"I'm okay," she said. She gave me her Sweet Pea smile. "Really, I am."

"If anyone bothers you, especially that Megan Callaway, come outside," I told her.

"I don't like being a tattletale."

"You're not a tattletale if someone is bigger than you and picks on you, Butterfly," I assured her.

"Everyone's bigger than me," she moaned. I looked at Crystal. I always looked to Crystal when I needed another answer or a better one.

"Everyone's bigger than Grandma Kelly, too, but that doesn't make her less of a person and certainly not less of a cook, does it?" Crystal said. "When you think of what she accomplishes with what she's given..."

"That's right. Good things come in small packages," I said.

Butterfly beamed again.

"Picnic lunch today," I announced. "Near the tennis court."

Grandma Kelly wrapped sandwiches for us on weekends. We could choose from ham and cheese, just cheese, peanut butter and jelly or chopped egg, take a container of milk or juice, a small wrapped cake or cookie and spread a blanket on the grass. We almost felt like real people on beautiful weekend days. Raven hated when I said that.

"We are real people. It's not our fault no one's noticed lately," she would declare angrily.

Weekends were almost like auditions for us. Prospective adoptive parents were brought to the home to look at and talk to any child they might want to adopt. Having us working like little elves on the property was thought only to enhance our prospects, for potential mothers and fathers would see that we were productive and far from spoiled by our lives as wards of the state. Today was no different. Just after we had spread our blanket and sprawled out to enjoy our picnic, Louise came looking for Butterfly.

"There you are, Janet," she said walking over to us and gazing down at Butterfly. "They've seen your pictures and come to meet you," she declared in that official voice of hers. Whenever she took on that tone, I felt my heart flutter.

"Who?" Butterfly asked.

"Their names are Mr. and Mrs. Lockhart," Louise replied. "Come along, Janet. Brush down your dress, please," she ordered. She stepped up to her and played with her curls. "I hate when they just come by like this without a full day's warning."

"Don't they often come by on Saturdays or Sundays?" I asked.

"You know what I mean," she replied. I shook my head. "Honestly, Brooke, you can be so...uncooperative sometimes. Why don't you model your behavior on Crystal? She knows when to speak and when to be silent," she added.

"I speak when I have something to say and when I know it will do some good," Crystal said.

"See?" Louise followed, missing Crystal's sarcasm by a mile. "Janet, please stand up straight and don't squint so much. Come now, Mr. and Mrs. Lockhart are waiting."

Butterfly looked back at us nervously. I held my thumb up.

"Good luck," Raven called.

"I can't understand why she hasn't been grabbed up before now anyway," I said as they walked toward the house. "She's adorable, sweet, bright."

Crystal put down her book and looked at both of us.

"Each of us has something special, if anyone would ever take the time to notice. People shop for children these days almost the way they shop for everything else. They don't see us as people, just as another kind of possession. This home is like a department store. I'm tired of waiting, tired of feeling like a piece of merchandise," she added with uncharacteristic emotion. I raised my eyebrows.

"That's exactly how I feel," Raven said. "I just hate being looked over like an animal in the pet store."

"You better get used to being stared at, Raven," I joked. "You're beautiful...everyone looks at you."

Raven suddenly became subdued. "It's not like I ask for the attention; and besides, that kind of attention I don't need. You know I'm always trying to get people to see the real me, the singer, the one with dreams."

"I was only kidding, Raven, we know you don't go looking for boys to follow you around like puppies. They just do." I felt bad now; Raven was really upset.

"It's all right. I know you guys understand me. It's just that I get sad sometimes. I don't think I'll ever find anyone who likes me for me, not just for how good they think I'll make them look."

Crystal and I looked at each other sadly. We knew what it was like to feel like we'd never be loved.

Butterfly didn't come out again until we had finished lunch. We were just folding our blanket when she appeared, head down, walking slowly. Crystal was right about us all feeling like some item in a department store, I thought as I looked at Butterfly. How do you audition for life, for a family? Do you try to speak correctly? Do you smile as much as you can so they will think you're generally a happy person? Sometimes, they look at you closer than a doctor. You wonder if you should have washed behind your ears. Do you have bad breath? Shouldn't you be wearing the best thing you had? What were the right answers to their stupid questions? "How would you like living with us?"

How would we like it? What do you think? We'd hate it. We'd rather stay here and be nobody.

"What were they like?" Raven asked Butterfly immediately.

"They were nice," she said.

"Old or young?" Crystal asked.

"Not old. She's very pretty. She has nice eyes my color and my color hair. She said I looked like I could be their child."

"Wow!" Raven said. "Good-bye, Butterfly."

She looked at us, her face suddenly full of fear.

"If they want you, Butterfly, they'll make a warm, loving home for you," I said. "You will be happier."

She nodded.

"Where do they live?" Crystal asked.

"Near Albany."

"That's nice," Crystal said. "I bet they'll put you in a good school too."

"We're not going to be here forever, Butterfly," I said when I saw her sadness at the thought of leaving us. "Raven, Crystal and I would love to have the chance you're getting. We're happy for you."

She nodded, her eyes filling with understanding.

"Let's play Ping-Pong," Raven said, taking her hand. There was a table behind the house.

"I'll meet you all in a while," Crystal said. "I'm going to run down to the library."

Butterfly looked at me.

"I'll see you guys later. I want to get the softball equipment and hit a few."

We all separated and I went to the supply closet off Louise's office where the sports equipment and our CD players and radios were kept.

As I went into the closet, I saw the Lockharts, the couple who had met with Butterfly. They did look like a nice, young couple, happy, well-dressed, the sort of parents who would love and cherish someone as sweet as Butterfly. The walls were so thin in this house, it was easy to put my ear to the one between the closet and Louise's office and listen to their conversation. I was hoping I would hear the good news and bring it to everyone first.

"Yes, I know how you feel," Louise said. "She's adorable. However," she continued, "I must give you some more detail about her so you won't have any unpleasant surprises," she added.

"Unpleasant?" the young woman asked warily.

"Well, difficult is a better word, I suppose. She's been seeing the psychotherapist more lately. I'll read you a bit. 'Janet suffers from a deeply entrenched sense of inferiority. Her catatonic seizures are a direct result of this. She withdraws to a state of immobility, shutting down her senses, as a defense against the fear of rejection.'"

"Catatonic? That little girl?"

"Oh yes. I've had to call the paramedics a few times," Louise said.

My mouth dropped. She hadn't. Not once.

"Oh dear."

I heard the deep note of resignation. Their retreat had begun.

Furious, I marched out of the supply closet and pounded up the stairs to Crystal's room, hoping to catch her before she left for the library. She took one look at me and dropped her book bag.

"What?" she asked.

"Louise is sabotaging Butterfly. I heard her telling the prospective parents about Butterfly's psychological condition. She made Butterfly sound like some lunatic who falls into catatonic states all the time and needs constant medical attention."

Crystal just nodded.

"Why would she do that, Crystal?"

"Simple," Crystal replied. "I told you before. Foster parents receive more money as the children under their care get older. So the longer the system falls to find permanent homes for kids like us, the more money flows in. We're a little money machine for the Tooeys."

"That's horrible! How can Louise use us like that?" I asked angrily.

"Well, in Louise's case, I think it's more complicated. She really hates to give any of us up. Gordon wants the money, but Louise really cares in her own way. She thinks of us as her own children."

"What use is having someone care for you if they just end up holding you back, trying to turn you into their idea of the perfect child?" I'd been through that before -- I couldn't believe that it was going to happen again.

"Do you have an alternative?" Crystal questioned. I stared at her a moment.

"Yes."

"What?"

"Let's just run away," I said finally.

She didn't laugh, as I'd expected; instead she looked at me intently and then shook her head.

"I better stay here today. Butterfly might need me," she said with a sigh. "Let's not tell Butterfly what Louise is doing. It would make her too sad to think she may never leave here. And I wouldn't mention the running away thing either."

"But I'm serious, Crystal."

She turned her back to me and stared out the window.

I was serious. I really was. I just had to make everyone else believe me.

Copyright © 1998 by The Vanda General Partnership
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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

As I got ready to go downstairs for breakfast, I couldn't help but worry about Butterfly, and wonder how my other sisters and I were spared the same fate: each of us had tragic stories, some, I was beginning to realize, more tragic than others.

I was almost adopted when I was nearly thirteen by Pamela and Peter Thompson, a young couple who had never had a child of their own. Pamela was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen and, though I thought it was strange that she wanted me to call her Pamela instead of Mommy or even Mother, I did what she asked. Orphans learn at a very young age to do anything, well, almost anything, to please prospective parents.

Pamela had been a beauty queen and chose me because she thought I looked like a younger version of her. No one had ever told me I was beautiful before, or had the potential to grow up to be beautiful, so when Pamela and Peter chose me for that very reason I was completely surprised, but happy, and for the first time in my life I thought that maybe I was special. That I wasn't just a little girl no one wanted.

I soon realized, though, that Pamela didn't think I was special because of who I really was, but because of who she thought she could make me into. All the pretty clothes and fancy lessons that at first made me feel like a charmed princess, soon became suffocating to me. I wasn't allowed to excel at the sports I played so well or to even be myself. I was getting all mixed up inside -- I wanted to please Pamela, she was my new mother, but I also knew that pleasing her meant losing myself.

Peter tried to help, and explained to Pamela that I could do well in sports and be a beauty queen, but Pamela just got nastier and nastier. Finally, when it seemed that she just wouldn't ever listen to the dreams that were in my heart, I did the only thing I knew how to make her understand. I cut off my beautiful long hair -- the hair that she so loved to brush and wash, the hair that would help me win her precious beauty pageants.

Pamela went into such a rage when she saw me that she started to hyperventilate, gasping for breath, declaring she was on the verge of a heart attack. She said I would be an enormous embarrassment to her and was no good as a beauty pageant contestant, or even as a daughter. Peter didn't know how to deal with Pamela's fury and so he sent me back to the Child Protection Services like a defective toy. And, years later, I am still here at Hell House.

Butterfly's experiences must have been much worse than mine, since she can barely talk about them. We've learned a bit over the years, but mostly when she tries to speak about it, or something reminds her of that time, she goes into one of her trances. Her foster mother, Celine Delorice, was a woman in her early thirties who had once had a promising career as a ballet dancer. She married a well-to-do businessman, Sanford Delorice, who supported her attempts to become a prima ballerina. However, shortly after their marriage, Celine was in a serious car accident and had to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. She talked Sanford into adopting a foster child and Celine chose Butterfly because she was so dainty and supposedly had perfect feet. She believed Butterfly would become the dancer she had expected she would be, and she had her start training almost the same day they brought her home from the orphanage.

Butterfly was a good dancer, but not a great dancer. She didn't progress as quickly as Celine had hoped and began to freeze under the pressure and the possibility of failure. Celine Delorice actually suffered a nervous breakdown from it. At least, that's what Butterfly told us, and soon after Sanford returned her to the system, claiming his wife's handicap made it impossible for them to bring up a child properly. Crystal thought there had to be something more, but she never pressured Butterfly, who could turn to stone if you forced her to talk about her past.

Despite her reserved façade, Raven wasn't all that different from the rest of us. She had lived with her real family, her mother's brother, for a while after her mother had been arrested for a drug related crime and put into rehabilitation. We didn't know the nitty-gritty details, but something happened and Raven was brought here. All she would tell us was her uncle and aunt were not fit parents, especially her uncle. She did tell me that whatever had happened at her uncle and aunt's home involved her cousin, Jennifer. I wanted Raven to trust me enough to explain what had happened, but it seemed like Raven had trouble trusting anyone, even Crystal, Butterfly and me.

Raven's situation was really a lot more complicated than ours because Raven had a natural blood parent out there, somewhere, and the state made it almost impossible to adopt a child if there was even the slightest possibility she or he could be returned to that parent.

Crystal was the only one who really had a good experience with foster parents. She didn't speak about them very much, but when she did talk about them, she described Thelma's obsession with her soap operas and Karl's obsession with being efficient and organized. She told us he was an accountant and saw life as a balance between assets and liabilities. He often lectured her about being sensible. She said her adoptive parents were pleasant enough people, but from the way she spoke of them, I think she believed they were both living in a fantasy world. When they were both killed in an automobile accident, none of the relatives wanted to take her in, which resulted in her being returned to the system.

So here we were, the four of us, the Orphanteers, so different from each other, and yet, drawn to each other, feeling safer in our own little group, each of us adding something that we all needed, each of us willing to risk pain and unhappiness to protect the other or the group. Just looking at us, no one would think we had anything special to hold us together.

I usually wore dungarees and a tee shirt or old sweat shirt. I had sneakers and one pair of dressy shoes, but I favored my clodhoppers, as Raven called them, with sweat socks. I always wore the pink ribbon my real mother had tied in my hair before I had been given over to foster care. Of course, it was quite faded by now. I just tied it on my wrist. I hardly ever wore lipstick or makeup and used a stick deodorant rather than a cologne, when I even cared. Raven always wore a skirt or a dress.

Crystal wore simple one-piece dresses, and kept her dark brown hair either in a bun or sometimes in a ponytail. She would wear lipstick rarely, much less any makeup. She could walk around with an ink stain on her chin all day because she rarely looked at herself in the mirror.

Butterfly had much of the clothing she had when she lived with the Delorices, dainty little dresses, multicolored sneakers, a nice pink leather jacket. It was as if her growth had been stunted by her unhappiness. She hadn't grown out of much. She kept her golden hair in curls and only wore lipstick when Raven helped her with makeup.

Despite our four individual personalities, we did have something special, something we knew the other girls coveted. Maybe it was just the "Joining." Maybe there was some spiritual tie. At least we had something to believe in: each other.

Despite the episode with Butterfly, we were dressed and on our way down to the dining room in plenty of time. The Lakewood House was physically a perfect dormitory for two dozen or so foster children. Very little had been changed since its resort days. There was still a large sitting or recreational room where there once were card tables used for board games, dominos, card games or a game none of us had ever heard of before, something called mah-jongg. Louise said it had been the most popular game the tourist women played. She showed us the pieces, all with Asian writing on them, but warned us never to touch them. She explained that she and Gordon were just waiting for the right time to sell them as valuable antiques.

Most of the house was antique, or just plain old. The stairway we took down to the dining room shook and squeaked. The pipes groaned like arthritic old people, windows froze in their grooves, even in the summer, and very often, electrical fixtures didn't work. Gordon hated doing any maintenance, and usually waited until it was absolutely necessary. He didn't replace a step that had cracked badly on the stairway, for instance, even though it was dangerous, until he knew someone was coming from the state to inspect the premises. If something broke in our rooms, or if there were plumbing problems, he blamed it on one of us and let it remain broken for as long as he could.

Early on we noticed Louise was almost as afraid of Gordon as we were. If she ever contradicted him in front of us, he would just glare at her, his face crimson, his eyes glowing like embers in a fireplace, his neck muscles straining so hard, the arteries and veins would pop out, and his two large hands tightened into mallets. He was unusually strong. When he felt like showing off, he would permit the children to watch him chop down a tree. He did it with an ax, never pausing from the beginning until the tree actually began to topple. Chunks would fly around him like pate yellow moths; the tree seemed like it was made of paper. These demonstrations of power were indelibly pressed into the minds of the children. Woe to those who were the target of Gordon's fury.

And yet, whenever there were guests or state officials at the house, Gordon metamorphosed into a soft, smiling, gentle giant of a man who could walk around with a seven-year-old on his shoulders, loving, caring, protective. To see someone with such obvious physical power behave so gently was heartwarming to the visitors. Once, he caught me staring with disgust at him while he was putting on one of these Academy Award performances. He glanced my way and then he turned back to me, fixing his gaze on me with such a cold, bone-chilling look, I had to walk away quickly, my chest vibrating with the hammerlike thumping of my heart. I avoided him for days after that and finally he seemed to forget about me.

None of the wards seemed of any real interest to him. He knew our names and he knew which children to use when he wanted to demonstrate his concern and care in front of state people, but he usually left the real parenting work to Louise. She was the true administrator of the Lakewood House; he was more like a work boss.

However, Gordon was always after her to keep some distance between herself and the wards. He would complain about it, out loud, right in front of us.

"You're getting too involved with that one, Louise. I warned you."

Afterward, she explained that she and Gordon had been specifically instructed not to get too close with or form any sort of bond with a foster child. The logic was we were here only temporarily and soon were going back to our real parents or off to new adoptive families, and no one wanted any of us to feel sad about leaving or resent our new homes. What a joke. Who would resent leaving this? For my part, I was happy Gordon kept some distance and happy he was always after her to do the same.

Sometimes, she looked at us as if we really all were her children. Childless, she regretted losing any one of us. A real mother couldn't be more possessive at times, but warm affection around here was like contraband. She had to look for Gordon first and be sure he wasn't around before she planted a kiss on a child's forehead or held someone close to her ample bosom.

Louise wasn't the only one who tried to make us feel like a family here. A sweet elderly lady who insisted we all call her Grandma Kelly prepared our meals each day and always had kind words or a smile for us. Grandma Kelly lived in the nearby village of Mountaindale and had actually worked for the Tooey family when the Lakewood House was still a tourist retreat. She was only about five feet three with a round face that always had scarlet tinted cheeks, especially when she worked over a hot stove. She had soft eyes as blue as blue jay feathers. Her hair was the color of pewter and even more curly than Butterfly's, but she always wore a cap when she was in the kitchen. She told us she hadn't been brought to America until she was nearly twelve. To this day she still had an Irish brogue. Crystal said she reminded her of a leprechaun.

"It would be great if Grandma Kelly really was a leprechaun and led us to treasure so we could get out of here," I said.

Of course, Crystal didn't believe in such fairy tales, but we all liked to think that there was a pot of gold out there for us.

We joked about what Grandma Kelly would have made for breakfast that morning as we walked down to the dining room and while we stood in line waiting for our meals Crystal told us she planned on spending the day at the library, using their computer.

Crystal's dream was to become a doctor, and she told us she'd been researching information on getting college scholarships. She claimed that anything we wanted to learn about could be found on the Internet.

"What about my future?" I asked.

"As I told you before, there are statistics about foster children. Every year about fifteen thousand graduate from foster care by turning eighteen with no permanent family, and forty percent of all foster children leaving the system end up on welfare."

"Thanks for the encouragement," I muttered. "Miss Good News."

"You could get married," Raven said. "That's what I'm going to do as soon as I find someone rich enough."

"Why should he marry you?" I asked.

"Because I'm the prettiest girl he'll know," she replied, turning her shoulder and fluttering those long, black eyelashes. "And I'm the next Selena who will make one hit song after another, that's why." Butterfly laughed and Raven hugged her. "Someone loves me," she said. "Butterfly will be a famous dancer too, Crystal, so put that into your stupid statistics."

"I hate to disappoint or discourage you, but it's pretty hard to make it in the entertainment industry," Crystal joked back. "And look what happened to Selena!"

Raven stuck out her tongue as she turned to take Butterfly's hand. "C'mon Butterfly, let's get our food and let Crystal be grumpy by herself. She just doesn't know how to believe. We can be anything, as long as we believe." Raven's words sounded brave, but I knew that they were mostly for Butterfly's benefit; she was still shaking from this morning's episode.

As we waited in line for our food we surveyed the dining room.

Along the walls were the old photographs of the Lakewood House's bygone days, group pictures of guests gathered at the lake or around the lawn chairs. In most of the pictures, the people were dressed formally, men in jackets and ties, women in ankle-length dresses with high collars and frilly sleeves, all with pale faces, and all looking years and years older than they really were. There were many photos of families because the Lakewood House catered to families. The foster children now living here looked at these pictures closely, usually with soft, dreamy smiles on their faces, imagining themselves as part of one of those families, hugging their mother, holding their father's hand, standing close to their brothers and sisters, having a name.

It did took like the Lakewood House was a pretty, happy place once, full of laughter and music. According to Grandma Kelly, the guests sat on the big wraparound porch and talked into the wee hours while the crickets chirped and the owls peered through the moonlit night, curious about the murmur of voices, the sound of screen doors, the cry of a child. Sometimes, although I would never say it, even to one of the Orphanteers, I thought I heard the ghostly laughter and even the quick steps of happy children running through the house, out the screen door and down the steps to play on the carpeted green lawns, safe, happy and full of hope.

Maybe someday we would run out of this house to a place full of safety, happiness and hope.

The din of conversation, clanking dishes and silverware, laughter and screeching that greeted us this morning was a hundred decibels louder than on weekdays. School-age children knew they had two days off and except for the final afternoon hours of Sunday, could put school work aside. On nice days, we could play softball or go down to the dilapidated, cracked and crumbling tennis court and volley or play doubles after our chores. Raven and I were the house champions and I was always the captain of the softball team. Louise permitted the older kids to have a picnic lunch if they took a few of the younger ones with them and watched over them. She trusted the four of us with more children than any of the other older children.

Often Gordon would find work for us, however. We painted the house, cut grass, collected leaves or washed windows. Inside, we washed floors, helped with dishes, dusted and vacuumed. We were told this was our home so we had to take care of it ourselves.

"You'll appreciate our home more," Louise explained to soften the blow of Gordon's assignments.

"You don't have to justify anything I tell them to do. They should work for what they get," Gordon blasted at her before turning to us, his eyes fixed like two laser beams. "I don't ever want to hear complaints."

Chores were rotated. None of us four had to do kitchen work this weekend. We stepped into the dining room, a long, wide room with the biggest windows and the only windows that had new blinds because this was where the state people were entertained when they came. We saw Meg Callaway running the food line. A few long tables were placed together at the other end of the room and all of us walked by, filling our plates. Meg was fifteen, tall and gangly, with braces that looked like car bumpers on her teeth. Crystal said she could be the daughter of Ichabod Crane from Sleepy Hollow. She read the description of him that said he had a neck so long and a nose so long, he looked like someone had perched a weather vane on his shoulders.

Meg was always trying to get in with us, be one of us, but whatever chemistry existed among us didn't exist in her. She was sneaky and conniving and full of so much jealousy and envy that Raven said her eyes had to be green no matter what. She was always whispering and trying to turn one of us against the other. She spread rumors like fertilizer in a garden hoping to grow conflicts and make herself look like everyone's hero. No one really liked her, but many were afraid if they didn't pretend to be friendly, they would be the object of some mischief. Twice last week, I had caught her taking stuff from younger kids.

"Here comes Goldilocks and the three bears," she quipped as we approached the food table. She studied Butterfly a moment and then her lips thinned and hinged at the corners to form her icy smile. "Why was Goldilocks crying now? Someone pour glue into her dancing shoes?"

"Come outside after breakfast and I'll show you why she was crying," I said. Her smile quickly evaporated. She turned to one of the ten-year-olds assisting her.

"Get more toast, I told you," she said and avoided looking at me.

We took our food to our table.

"Why is it these rolls are so hard?" I muttered.

Crystal finished her orange juice and signaled with her eyes so the four of us drew closer.

"I overheard a conversation between Grandma Kelly and Gordon yesterday when I was working on the computer. Grandma was complaining that he was buying two-day-old bread because it's cheaper. She said she knew he was not buying the best grades of meat too. He denied it and told her to mind her own business. She said the food was her business and he said maybe she should think about retirement."

"The creep," Raven said, her eyes fiery.

"I don't want Grandma Kelly to retire," Butterfly said mournfully. She almost always looked down quickly after she spoke as if she were afraid of what reactions her words would create in listeners. Her foster mother had to have been a tyrant.

"Don't worry, she's not," I told her. "Doesn't anyone check on him, check on how he uses the money that's supposed to be spent for us?" I asked Crystal.

She shrugged and thought a moment.

"Bills are doctored, I suppose, or deals are made under the table with suppliers."

"We oughta turn him in," I said. The four of us were still crouched over our trays, whispering. It felt like a conspiracy.

"If we didn't put our names on the complaints, he would accuse Grandma of doing it now that she has complained to him," Crystal pointed out. "And I don't think any of us want to sign anything against Gordon Tooey."

As if on cue, Gordon entered the dining room. Almost immediately, the din diminished. He panned the room as if he were looking for an intruder, his dark eyes just narrow slits, his big hands on his hips. He wore a white long-sleeve shirt with the sleeves rolled up past his bulging forearms. On his right arm was a tattoo of a shark, something he had gotten when he had been in the navy.

"I don't expect to see no lollygaggin' about today. Right after breakfast, everyone get to his or her assignments pronto. We got an inspection in a week and I want this place looking tip-top."

I wanted to shout out "Then burn it down and start over," but I just looked at my food. Louise came bustling in behind him, full of smiles. She was somewhere in her fifties, a five-foot-ten brunette with shoulder-length hair. I thought her best feature was her startling cerulean blue eyes. She had a way of looking at you, but clicking on and off you as she spoke so that you never felt you had her full attention. It was as if she really was afraid of what Gordon told her, afraid that if she looked too hard or long at one of the state's wards, she might form a deeper relationship and suffer if and when the ward was adopted.

"Good morning, everyone," she cried, looking more at the ceiling than at us. She turned toward the windows. "Isn't it a glorious day? Let's all do our work quickly and efficiently so we can have time to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. You know, children, years ago, people came to these mountains to recuperate from lung ailments like tuberculosis and that's because we have the best fresh air. You're all lucky to be living here," she declared, slapping her hands together before she went to a table to help some of the younger kids.

"She has syrup in her veins instead of blood," I murmured. "I can't imagine them making love. They look like oil and water. She probably keeps her eyes closed the whole time and holds her breath until it's over."

Raven laughed so loud she drew Gordon's gaze for a moment. All of us dropped our eyes to our plates. When we looked up again, he was marching out. There was a collective sigh of relief.

"Welcome to another joyful weekend of slave labor at Hell House," I said, loud enough for the kids at the next table to hear. Some laughed, others checked the doorway to be sure Gordon was gone.

"I don't want to whitewash that fence again," Raven declared. "He better not have put that down for me. The fumes from the paint make me cough for days."

"That's because it's bad for your lungs," Crystal explained.

"Come on," I said, wanting to change the subject. "Let's eat this mush and get outside, even to work."

The assignment list was posted. I was given the task of cutting grass -- I didn't like that chore but at least it got me outside. Crystal and Raven were told to rake up and Butterfly was assigned dusting and polishing in the recreation room.

"Is she all right enough to be by herself this morning?" I asked Crystal before we left to go outside.

"She'll be fine," she said. "Won't you, Butterfly?"

"I'm okay," she said. She gave me her Sweet Pea smile. "Really, I am."

"If anyone bothers you, especially that Megan Callaway, come outside," I told her.

"I don't like being a tattletale."

"You're not a tattletale if someone is bigger than you and picks on you, Butterfly," I assured her.

"Everyone's bigger than me," she moaned. I looked at Crystal. I always looked to Crystal when I needed another answer or a better one.

"Everyone's bigger than Grandma Kelly, too, but that doesn't make her less of a person and certainly not less of a cook, does it?" Crystal said. "When you think of what she accomplishes with what she's given..."

"That's right. Good things come in small packages," I said.

Butterfly beamed again.

"Picnic lunch today," I announced. "Near the tennis court."

Grandma Kelly wrapped sandwiches for us on weekends. We could choose from ham and cheese, just cheese, peanut butter and jelly or chopped egg, take a container of milk or juice, a small wrapped cake or cookie and spread a blanket on the grass. We almost felt like real people on beautiful weekend days. Raven hated when I said that.

"We are real people. It's not our fault no one's noticed lately," she would declare angrily.

Weekends were almost like auditions for us. Prospective adoptive parents were brought to the home to look at and talk to any child they might want to adopt. Having us working like little elves on the property was thought only to enhance our prospects, for potential mothers and fathers would see that we were productive and far from spoiled by our lives as wards of the state. Today was no different. Just after we had spread our blanket and sprawled out to enjoy our picnic, Louise came looking for Butterfly.

"There you are, Janet," she said walking over to us and gazing down at Butterfly. "They've seen your pictures and come to meet you," she declared in that official voice of hers. Whenever she took on that tone, I felt my heart flutter.

"Who?" Butterfly asked.

"Their names are Mr. and Mrs. Lockhart," Louise replied. "Come along, Janet. Brush down your dress, please," she ordered. She stepped up to her and played with her curls. "I hate when they just come by like this without a full day's warning."

"Don't they often come by on Saturdays or Sundays?" I asked.

"You know what I mean," she replied. I shook my head. "Honestly, Brooke, you can be so...uncooperative sometimes. Why don't you model your behavior on Crystal? She knows when to speak and when to be silent," she added.

"I speak when I have something to say and when I know it will do some good," Crystal said.

"See?" Louise followed, missing Crystal's sarcasm by a mile. "Janet, please stand up straight and don't squint so much. Come now, Mr. and Mrs. Lockhart are waiting."

Butterfly looked back at us nervously. I held my thumb up.

"Good luck," Raven called.

"I can't understand why she hasn't been grabbed up before now anyway," I said as they walked toward the house. "She's adorable, sweet, bright."

Crystal put down her book and looked at both of us.

"Each of us has something special, if anyone would ever take the time to notice. People shop for children these days almost the way they shop for everything else. They don't see us as people, just as another kind of possession. This home is like a department store. I'm tired of waiting, tired of feeling like a piece of merchandise," she added with uncharacteristic emotion. I raised my eyebrows.

"That's exactly how I feel," Raven said. "I just hate being looked over like an animal in the pet store."

"You better get used to being stared at, Raven," I joked. "You're beautiful...everyone looks at you."

Raven suddenly became subdued. "It's not like I ask for the attention; and besides, that kind of attention I don't need. You know I'm always trying to get people to see the real me, the singer, the one with dreams."

"I was only kidding, Raven, we know you don't go looking for boys to follow you around like puppies. They just do." I felt bad now; Raven was really upset.

"It's all right. I know you guys understand me. It's just that I get sad sometimes. I don't think I'll ever find anyone who likes me for me, not just for how good they think I'll make them look."

Crystal and I looked at each other sadly. We knew what it was like to feel like we'd never be loved.

Butterfly didn't come out again until we had finished lunch. We were just folding our blanket when she appeared, head down, walking slowly. Crystal was right about us all feeling like some item in a department store, I thought as I looked at Butterfly. How do you audition for life, for a family? Do you try to speak correctly? Do you smile as much as you can so they will think you're generally a happy person? Sometimes, they look at you closer than a doctor. You wonder if you should have washed behind your ears. Do you have bad breath? Shouldn't you be wearing the best thing you had? What were the right answers to their stupid questions? "How would you like living with us?"

How would we like it? What do you think? We'd hate it. We'd rather stay here and be nobody.

"What were they like?" Raven asked Butterfly immediately.

"They were nice," she said.

"Old or young?" Crystal asked.

"Not old. She's very pretty. She has nice eyes my color and my color hair. She said I looked like I could be their child."

"Wow!" Raven said. "Good-bye, Butterfly."

She looked at us, her face suddenly full of fear.

"If they want you, Butterfly, they'll make a warm, loving home for you," I said. "You will be happier."

She nodded.

"Where do they live?" Crystal asked.

"Near Albany."

"That's nice," Crystal said. "I bet they'll put you in a good school too."

"We're not going to be here forever, Butterfly," I said when I saw her sadness at the thought of leaving us. "Raven, Crystal and I would love to have the chance you're getting. We're happy for you."

She nodded, her eyes filling with understanding.

"Let's play Ping-Pong," Raven said, taking her hand. There was a table behind the house.

"I'll meet you all in a while," Crystal said. "I'm going to run down to the library."

Butterfly looked at me.

"I'll see you guys later. I want to get the softball equipment and hit a few."

We all separated and I went to the supply closet off Louise's office where the sports equipment and our CD players and radios were kept.

As I went into the closet, I saw the Lockharts, the couple who had met with Butterfly. They did look like a nice, young couple, happy, well-dressed, the sort of parents who would love and cherish someone as sweet as Butterfly. The walls were so thin in this house, it was easy to put my ear to the one between the closet and Louise's office and listen to their conversation. I was hoping I would hear the good news and bring it to everyone first.

"Yes, I know how you feel," Louise said. "She's adorable. However," she continued, "I must give you some more detail about her so you won't have any unpleasant surprises," she added.

"Unpleasant?" the young woman asked warily.

"Well, difficult is a better word, I suppose. She's been seeing the psychotherapist more lately. I'll read you a bit. 'Janet suffers from a deeply entrenched sense of inferiority. Her catatonic seizures are a direct result of this. She withdraws to a state of immobility, shutting down her senses, as a defense against the fear of rejection.'"

"Catatonic? That little girl?"

"Oh yes. I've had to call the paramedics a few times," Louise said.

My mouth dropped. She hadn't. Not once.

"Oh dear."

I heard the deep note of resignation. Their retreat had begun.

Furious, I marched out of the supply closet and pounded up the stairs to Crystal's room, hoping to catch her before she left for the library. She took one look at me and dropped her book bag.

"What?" she asked.

"Louise is sabotaging Butterfly. I heard her telling the prospective parents about Butterfly's psychological condition. She made Butterfly sound like some lunatic who falls into catatonic states all the time and needs constant medical attention."

Crystal just nodded.

"Why would she do that, Crystal?"

"Simple," Crystal replied. "I told you before. Foster parents receive more money as the children under their care get older. So the longer the system falls to find permanent homes for kids like us, the more money flows in. We're a little money machine for the Tooeys."

"That's horrible! How can Louise use us like that?" I asked angrily.

"Well, in Louise's case, I think it's more complicated. She really hates to give any of us up. Gordon wants the money, but Louise really cares in her own way. She thinks of us as her own children."

"What use is having someone care for you if they just end up holding you back, trying to turn you into their idea of the perfect child?" I'd been through that before -- I couldn't believe that it was going to happen again.

"Do you have an alternative?" Crystal questioned. I stared at her a moment.

"Yes."

"What?"

"Let's just run away," I said finally.

She didn't laugh, as I'd expected; instead she looked at me intently and then shook her head.

"I better stay here today. Butterfly might need me," she said with a sigh. "Let's not tell Butterfly what Louise is doing. It would make her too sad to think she may never leave here. And I wouldn't mention the running away thing either."

"But I'm serious, Crystal."

She turned her back to me and stared out the window.

I was serious. I really was. I just had to make everyone else believe me.

Copyright © 1998 by The Vanda General Partnership

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 23 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 23 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 29, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Ever since I read the Flowers in the Attic series, I became enth

    Ever since I read the Flowers in the Attic series, I became enthralled and wanted to read her other series. So far, the Orphans series is the second I have read from author V.C Andrews. While I enjoyed the miniseries, I felt Runaways was a little monotonous. It is nice to see the girls all together after their horrible adoptions gone wrong, but being on the run and always finding wonderful people to help them out didn't seem real to me. Also, everything with Gordon happens so fast it is hard to imagine that he really would let them get away easily. All in all its a good series and I would recommend it. C+

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2011

    Entertaing

    Simple fun read for a lazy afteroon. Packed with characters we have grown to know in many of VC Andrews novels.

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  • Posted January 18, 2011

    loved it

    couldnt put this book down. out of all vc's books, this one is in my top. its mostly geared for young females, late teens or so, but im in my 2os and i loved it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2006

    Enthralling

    This was my first time reading one of VC Andrews's novel's...and I loved it. I felt tied in with the characters, and loved the plot, too. It was so exciting to feel like I was there. There were some sad moments too, though, such as putting this book down because I'd already read it in 2 days.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2003

    Whoa

    This was the first V.C. Andrews book I read ever and I loved it. I liked how the girls put aside personal interest to help each other out. That skill was really useful in some of their predicaments.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2002

    Best book Ive ever read

    This book was just amazing!! i love it and hate reading but theres something i just cant stop reading VC's books..especially this one!! Any book that makes you cry or laugh is a good book..and thats how Runaways was, i cried and laughed many times through the intresting excitful book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2002

    Runaways

    I thought this book was very cool. I like the way it was mainly all girls throughout the whole book. This book had a lot of suspense and surprises. If you're into girly books then you'll like this book. It's a really good book. I enjoyed reading it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2002

    This is what I believe.

    I believe that this book is amazingly perfect for children who are runaways, and orphans because it would prevent them for doing it in the first place. I also believe that the author is astoundingly interesting when she writes her stories.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2001

    AWESOME!!

    I really liked this book. I have read alot of her other books and I give them all equal credit. I really liked the way that this one was written though, she seemed to put me in the mind of Brooke, as well as the other three girls. I felt sad when Taylor used Raven, I was scared when Butterfly went into her 'catonic phases', and I laughed when Crystal made her intellectual comments. 5 stars!!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2001

    WOW!

    This book was so interesting, its one of those books you can't keep your eyes off! I was constanty wanting to know what would happen next! this is a must read! Its so real its almost crazy!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2001

    the best books ever!

    this is such a wonderful series!! I read the whole series in less than a week. I recamend it to anyone! I even got a couple of friends hooked on them!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2000

    One word: WOW!

    This was the perfect way to end a not-so-good series. It was so suspensful and breathtaking that it was very difficult not to put it down. I read this book in about 2 days, and then started to read it again! Don't worry this is much better than the rest of the series!! Happy Reading!:)

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2000

    this book is great to read!

    I really enjoy this book because it brings the girls together. I just love this book and I would tell book readers to read this book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2000

    AWESOME

    I love all the V.C Andrews books the Orphan Series. Runnaways was a great way to end the series. I will always be most lke Butterfly, fragile and afraid of rejection. I hope that I will become famous like V.C. Andrews and touch peoples lives like the way she touched mine!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2000

    Runaways Review

    Runaways, by VC Andrews was a really great book. Yeah sure, I know all reviews start out with some corny line like that. But, really, I mean it. This book was really captivating and held me in suspence while I was reading it. I couldn't stop thinking ' Oh my God, what's going to happen to them if Gordon finds them...' or something like that. Well, that's basically it except that it's a really good book and everyone should read it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2000

    My review

    The Runaways was an overall 'ok' novel. The things that i liked about it was how one line didn't give away another line it was very suspenceful. When they first ran away you didn't know what would happen next, i liked that. But what i didn't like about the novel was how one theme went on for at least two or three chapters. Another thing i didn't like was when i couldn't tell what was fiction or real life. The book goes along in a real life pattern but stops at parts that cannot happen realistically. You have to have a good imagination to understand this novel. Yes i would recommened this novel to a friend, but not as a 'top' choice.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2000

    :o) :o) :o) :o)

    This book by V.C. Andrews was great. Once I first starting reading this book I was hooked. I ended up reading this book in 2 days. It was suspenceful and interesting. I'd highly recomend People between ages 13&17 to read this book but if you are older than 20 you'll hate it. This book is definetly focused on the teenage readers! :)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 1999

    Mistake's

    It was a great and wonderful book, but there was a mistake in there..... on page 314, 17 lines down, it says, ' crystal and i [ brooke ] walked towards him.' but, it was really supposed to be ' raven and i [ brooke ] walk towards him.' if you would please write be back and give me a, 1-800 number to call about v.c andrews books i would love it, or any way that i could get a hold of someone who could tell her, i would be thankful. thank you!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 23 Customer Reviews

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