Rosaura Douglas's father shot himself after her mother left him . . . or at least that's the story everyone is telling. Now her mother has remarried and Rosie is trapped in "The Cake House," a garish pink edifice in the hills of Los Angeles that's a far cry from the cramped apartment where she grew up. It's also the house where her father died—a fact that everyone else who lives there, including her mother, Dahlia, and her mysteriously wealthy stepfather, Claude, want to forget.
Soon, however, her father's ghost appears, sometimes in a dark window, sometimes in the house’s lush garden, but always with warnings that Claude is not to be trusted. And as the ghost becomes increasingly violent—and the secrets of her family’s past come to light—Rosie must finally face the truth behind the losses and lies that have torn her life apart.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)|
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I met Claude and Alex the day my father died.
The stranger whose name was Claude held my mother by her arms while she screamed. He stood with blood splattered across his face and over his clothing, and she slid through his hands like a child who didn't want to go to bed, didn’t want to take her medicine.
My father lay twisted, a gun at his feet. One side of his head spilled red onto the sodden carpet, his blood spreading inch by inch in a widening circle. I fell to my knees and crawled towards him.
Claude shouted, “Get her out of here,” and a pair of hands grabbed my waist and hauled me from the room, dragging me to the other end of the house where sliding glass doors led to a garden with the silhouette of a fountain. I screamed, screamed until I started choking. Someone shook me, hard: the tall teenager with pale hair, paler than I had ever seen. In my neighborhood he would have been called güerito for that hair.
I’d only just met him. He was Claude’s son, and was instructed to wait with me by the car when my mother had gone inside with Claude to talk. He had been silent and moody. Unnerved, I leaned against my mother’s car, staring at the house until my father’s car tore up the hill, coming to jerky stop inches from the old Honda that my mother drove.
I tried to grab his arm, but he pushed me aside, banging on the front door until it opened enough for him to shove his way in. When I tried to follow, the boy caught me and wouldn’t let go, not until the gunshot rang out.
Now, he held me again, my back against his chest, his breath in my ear, chanting over and over again. “I swear I didn’t know he would do that,” he said. “I swear it. I didn’t know.”
“Alex,” Claude yelled. “Get over here.”
The boy turned but still held me close. His voice vibrated against my back. “I don’t think I should leave her.”
Alex. His name was Alex, and something concrete to hold on to. I concentrated on the beating of his heart. In the distance, sirens wailed.
Claude scrambled into my view, blood sprayed across half his face like a bad sunburn. “The police are going to be here any second. I need your help,” he said to Alex. “How is she?”
I started to scream again. Claude covered his ears until Alex clamped his hand over my mouth and sat me down on the couch. The sirens hurtled closer.
“Dahlia,” called Claude.
My mother stepped into view. She had wrapped a blanket over her shoulders to hide the blood staining her left sleeve and down the front of her ruffled sundress. Her hair, usually sprayed into buoyant waves, hung limp. She tried to light a cigarette but her hand shook. Claude lit one for her.
“Rosaura,” she said, her voice raspy. She wiped at the blood on her cheek, leaving a smudge of orange rust. “Some men are coming here to talk to us, about what happened.”
“What happened,” I repeated. My throat hurt from screaming.
“Yes. They shouldn’t need to speak with you. But if they do—”
She blinked. The sirens blared, and Claude said there was no time. My mother squeezed my face between her two hands, the cigarette hot near my cheek. “Listen to me.”
“He did it,” I said. “He did it.”
My mother shook her head. “There’s no time for this. Do you hear me? If the police talk to you, you have to tell them you don’t know anything.”
I scrunched my eyes closed, tried to push her away. The sirens died. There was a knock on the door and loud voices.
“Promise me.” She grabbed my shoulders, shook me hard. “Say it. You don’t know what happened. You didn’t see. Rosaura, you do as I say, tell them you don’t know anything. Tell them, or else, or I don’t know what will happen. Do you understand?”
She was crying now, chest heaving. The cigarette smoke stung my eyes and I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t understand, but I couldn’t bear to see her cry. I could never bear to see her cry. When I was younger, and she cried, I always begged her to stop.
“I don’t know what happened,” I said, and she relaxed her grip, falling onto the couch next to me, rocking back and forth. My promise not to say anything hadn’t helped.
There was noise and commotion at the front of the house. Two officers in tan uniforms entered with Claude and Alex close behind. “She’s been through a lot,” said Claude. “We’d appreciate it if you kept her out of this.”
I didn’t move from my spot on the edge of the couch. Outside, the day grew dark and then it was night. I stared through the sliding doors. The wind tossed the trees around, bending their tops this way and that. But if I refocused my eyes, the garden disappeared and I saw the rest of the room’s reflection in the glass, could see my mother sitting in one of the dining room chairs, pale-faced and wrapped in her blanket as she spoke with one of the officers and described how my father had the gun hidden in his sweatshirt front pocket, how he’d pointed the gun at her and at Claude before pointing it at himself.
A man knelt in front of me, changing the focus once again.
“My name’s Deputy Mike Nuñez,” said the officer. “Are you all right?”
Deputy Mike Nuñez had dark eyes and skin a shade of brown that reminded me of my father’s favorite sweatshirt, the ragged one that he always liked to wear.
“I wasn’t in the house. I didn’t see anything,” I whispered.
He tilted his head. “That’s all right. Do you live here?”
It was the last day of school. I had been hanging out with Jose and Sofie on the steps to Sofie’s apartment building talking about what our plans were for the summer when my mother’s car screeched to a halt in front of us. She demanded I get in, that there wasn’t any time to explain. Our clothes were in garbage bags and boxes spilled over the back seat. It wasn’t until we sped down the freeway that I understood: we were running away. But I knew my father would follow us. And he had, all the way to this house, and into the front room where his body lay.
“I wasn’t in the house, I didn’t see anything,” I repeated.
“Can you tell me who does live here?”
Claude and my mother continued speaking to the officer who was jotting notes on the pad in his hand. The blanket around her shoulders slipped each time a camera flash lit up the front room.
I licked my lips. “His name is Claude,” I said. “He lives here, with his son.”
Alex was standing back from the activity, near the stairs leading up to the second floor. He met my eyes.
“Are they friends of yours?” asked the officer.
“I’ve never met them before,” I said, “but I remember—”
“Please leave her alone,” said my mother, stepping between us. “She doesn’t know anything.”
Deputy Mike stood up. “I was just making sure she was okay.”
As they talked, their faces came in and out of focus. Behind them, two men placed my father’s sheet-covered body on a gurney. My mother stopped talking and watched the body be wheeled out, forcing Deputy Mike to look up from his pad. I watched as well through the reflection on the glass doors, like it was a scene from a television show. Once the front door was shut again, the spell broke, and movement returned to the room. In the reflection, I saw my father step into focus, framed by doorway, as if his body hadn’t just left the house.
His eyes met mine across the chaos.
That was the first time I saw the ghost.
After the police left, my mother said I should go upstairs, away from the scene in the front room but I wouldn’t move. I wouldn’t move until she brought me a glass of water, gave me a pill, and had me lie down on the couch. I stared at the cluttered walls full of paintings and bookshelves and shadows until my eyes closed.
When I woke, Alex was shaking my shoulder. “Come with me,” he said. “I’ll show you to your room.”
My room was miles away in our apartment. “Mom?” I called.
“She’s sleeping,” he said, and held out a hand.
Groggy, I let him lead me up the stairs to the second floor. He pushed in a door on the left, revealing a room that was empty except for a twin bed against the back wall. Compared to my room at home, which only fit a twin mattress and a set of dresser drawers, it was cavernous. But my room had pictures of Madonna and River Phoenix that I’d cut out of magazines, and my stickers of Garbage Pail Kids stuck to the baseboards. It was home. This new room wasn’t home.
“There are sheets and stuff here,” said Alex, pointing to a folded floral blanket and pillow that were neatly stacked on the bed.
Yellow curtains billowed in the breeze. It was still night outside. My father’s reflection flashed in the windowpane, the open wound on the side of his face fleshy and red.
“I can’t stay here,” I said, moving for the door but Alex blocked me. “I want my mom. Where’s my mom?”
“I told you, she’s sleeping. She’s been up all night. We all have.”
I twisted out of Alex’s hold and ran to the only other door—a closet, wide and deep. I dragged the sliding door closed behind me, and crouched in the corner, feeling safe in the dark.
Alex gave a muffled curse. “Come on,” he said. “What are you doing in there? Come out. It’s okay.”
I didn’t answer. Silence followed, and I wondered if Alex had gone but I didn’t want to risk checking.
“Here,” Alex finally said, nudging the door open and stuffing the bedding through. “At least take the pillow and blanket.”
After he left, I struggled out of my shoes, out of my jeans, and lay on the pillow in just my shirt. It was still stuffy. Hours passed. The light that bled through the cracks in the closet changed from black to grey to a bright white that cut through the darkness and sliced across my limbs.
Two voices entered. “She’s still in the closet,” one said.
“Well, leave her there until Dahlia can talk to her.”
I took a quick peek. Alex and Claude had brought the garbage bags full of stuff from my other life and left them in a pile in the center of the room.
Claude walked toward my hiding spot. “How are you doing?” he asked, and I shrank back into the corner as fear surged through my chest. “Are you hungry?” He turned to Alex without waiting for an answer. “Maybe you should bring up some food.”
Alex brought a tray of food and left it outside, but I wasn’t hungry. At one point, when it was dark again, I stumbled out to find a bathroom, but returned as soon as I could to the safety of the closet, dragging one of the garbage bags in with me.
The heat made me drowsy and I dreamt of our apartment. I dreamt of Jose and Sofie, hanging out with them at the mall after school where sometimes Jose would buy us each a scoop of ice cream. I closed my eyes and dreamt of my father coming home from work, banging the door open and kicking it closed because his hands and arms were full with his briefcase and folders and papers. “There’s my girl,” he said, and placed a kiss on my forehead. I told him I was hungry and we went out for a burger, just the two of us, before my mother came home from the temp job she had at a lawyer’s office downtown.
I dreamt of my mother finding me and saying, “Okay, it’s time. Let’s go. Let’s go home,” and we would leave and maybe things could go back to the way they used to be. Or, if we left, would the ghost come with us? Would that become our new normal, my mother, the ghost, and I, in our old apartment?
“Rosaura,” called my mother, and I opened my eyes. She stood in the open door of the closet wearing an unfamiliar blue dress. From the smell of cigarette smoke on her breath, I knew she was real and not a dream.
“Is it time?” I asked. “Are we leaving?”
“Don’t you think this has gone on long enough?” she asked. “You’re not even dressed. When was the last time you took a shower?”
Claude appeared behind her, and placed an arm around her shoulder. A diamond on her finger caught the light. It glittered as she brought her hand up to her lips, as if searching for a cigarette that wasn’t there.
She caught me staring, and hid her hand in the folds of her dress. “You have to understand,” she said, her eyes shifting to Claude, then to anywhere but me. “I have to think of our future,” she said in a monotone, almost as if reciting lines. “And after . . . ” she compressed her lips, “ . . . after what happened, with your father…”
I started laughing. It was funny because I had thought we might be leaving but now we could never leave. My laughter disturbed her. She didn’t know what to do.
“Rosaura, please,” she said.
Behind her, the ghost appeared, hovering between Claude and my mother like a minster at church, his arms spread wide. I shut the door in their faces. My mother tried to speak to me through the heavy wood, but Claude insisted that she leave.
The silent weight of the house pressed in from all sides. I ripped off my shirt and stripped down to my skin, burrowing like a rat into my nest of clothing, blankets and the pillow. I remained in this nest, breathing in the stink of my own sweat, sleeping and waking and sleeping again until I lost all track of time, waking to pitch darkness with my heart racing.
My father’s ghost sat at the other end of the closet, facing me. I could see his glinting eyes, and his hair that flopped over his forehead the same way it did in life. But the bullet wound hadn’t existed in life. The black stain of blood running down his cheek, down into his collar, was new.
I didn’t wait. I pushed my way out of the closet, and when I tripped and fell to my knees, I crawled until I could stumble out of the room, down the stairs, down to the first floor where the light of the moon shone through the sliding glass doors.
Outside, a boy’s bike had been left to lean against the side of the house. Black and scuffed with mud, the bike was too big for me; my toes barely touched the ground, the seat dug into my naked crotch. But still I managed to ride away, gritting my teeth with each bump over the sidewalk until I learned to stand up on the pedals.
The night was vast, and open. I reached the sidewalk. Then, the street. With gathering speed, I rode down the hill. I couldn’t fly, but I could feel the wind and I could breathe. The chill of night lingered, but it swept the horror of the ghost away, swept out the heat and stifled fright of the house. Giddy for the first time in days, I sped around a corner, hair tangling in my eyes.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The story begins with a shooting. A young girl's father commits suicide. She, Rosaura, goes to live with her stepfather, mother and stepfather in a house that holds many mysteries . Rosaura is haunted by her father's ghost. Did he commit suicide? As the story unfolds, Rosaura is confronted with many complications. Good story,