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Authors: V.C. Andrews

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BOOK: Family Storms
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She was quiet so long that I thought she might have lost the call on her cell phone. “What brought on this sudden generosity on her part?” she finally asked, but it sounded more like she was asking herself a question aloud.

“Her therapy,” I said, looking for a shortcut.

“Is that what she said?”

“Yes.”

I heard Mr. March in the background asking questions. She must have put her hand over her phone, because it all sounded muffled.

“All right, but I want you to be very careful, Sasha. I wish I was there to decide about all this, but I can't be.”

“I'll be all right, Mrs. March,” I said.

“Yes, you will, or someone is going to hear about it,” she said. “I'll call you first thing in the morning.”

Not long after I hung up, Kiera came to my suite. She had clothes in her arms. “My mother hasn't bought you anything worth wearing,” she began, “and Alena's things are okay for just getting around, but there's nothing for going out. You'll look great in this. I've outgrown them but hardly wore them.”

She held up the skirt, which didn't look as if it would cover much. Before I could say anything, she pretended she was running a fashion show.

“I have one of our newest creations, Madam. This is a red and black buffalo plaid miniskirt with what they call flirty inverted pleats and a black scalloped lace hem.”

She put it up against me.

“You must surely agree, Madam, that this will be perfect for you with this black top,” she said. “Please, try it on, or
our designer, Monsieur Daddier, will have a stroke and a half.” She snapped her fingers and called for champagne.

I laughed at her antics.

“That's not too much of an exaggeration. I've been to these fancy-schmancy boutiques and fashion shows with my mother. It's enough to make you puke. Go on, try it all on already.”

I did. The skirt was the shortest I had ever worn, and the top was so tight it felt like another layer of skin.

“Beautiful. Only you can't wear a bra with that. It looks stupid. It's no big deal anymore, Sasha,” she added when I showed surprise. “Don't worry about your nipples. I'll show you a little trick, no shows,” she said. She stepped back and looked at me hard for a moment. “You know, I think I remember Mother buying Alena some boots that would go with this. Let me look.”

She went into the closet and was out so quickly that I suspected she had known exactly where they were. They were a pair of high black boots with black fur at the top.

“Try them on. You look like the same shoe size.”

I had secretly tried on some of Alena's shoes, and they had fit, so I knew these probably would. After I put the boots on, Kiera smiled.

“Wow, you're really hot. I might get jealous,” she said.

Of me?
How could someone who looked like her ever be jealous of me? I looked at myself in the full-length mirror. The girl who looked back at me looked so different that, for a moment, I imagined I was looking through a window at someone else and not at a mirror. Did I dare wear this?

“Now that I see you, I've got to rethink what I'm wearing,” Kiera said. “C'mon.”

I followed her to her suite. This was the first time I had seen her walk-in closet. It was a little bigger than Alena's, and despite the way Mrs. March had been buying Alena clothes, Kiera's looked fuller. It didn't look as well organized, but Kiera seemed to know exactly where what she wanted was located. She told me to sit on the chair at her vanity table while she tried on one outfit after another—skirts, tight jeans, and dresses. She asked my opinion about each outfit, but they all looked great to me.

Finally, she decided on a pair of designer jeans with sequins up the sides and across the waist. She matched it with a blouse that wasn't as tight as mine but left a naked midriff. Then she went to her jewelry and found a pair of earrings for me, as well as a gold necklace. After I had everything on, she looked at me and shook her head.

“Makeup,” she declared, and sat me down at her vanity table. I had never used lip gloss or mascara or eye shadow. As she applied it, she told me why I needed it. She used some blush and then decided we couldn't go out without my having my nails polished.

“We don't have time to do a real manicure, but let's get some color on those fingers,” she said. “Didn't you ever do any of this?”

“Once my mother did my nails, but she didn't like me wearing lipstick yet. She didn't wear much makeup herself. She had such a beautiful complexion. Once,” I added.

She nodded and averted her eyes. “I never really got the chance to do much of this with Alena,” she said, as if she
had to match my loss with her own. Then she smiled. “But now I have you.”

She did my nails. She said she would have liked to do more with me but declared that we had to get moving. We hurried out. I couldn't help feeling very excited, but when we reached the bottom of the stairway, Mrs. Duval was there and nearly dropped her jaw to the floor at the sight of me.

“Mrs. March said you have to be back by eleven,” she told Kiera, her eyes still fixed on me.

“That's very unlikely,” Kiera said. “I won't drive fast, and the movie doesn't end until ten forty-five. It will be closer to midnight.”

“I'm just telling you what your mother told me.”

“Well, I'll explain it to her when she returns,” Kiera said. She didn't sound condescending or nasty. She made it seem like nothing anyone should have the slightest concern about.

Mrs. Duval turned to me. “You be careful, Sasha,” she said.

“She's with me, Mrs. Duval.”

“That's why I said it,” Mrs. Duval replied, and walked away.

“That woman has come to hate me,” Kiera said. “She can't wait for me to go off to college or something. She used to love me.” She sounded as if it saddened her, but then she smiled and added, “Oh, well, you can't get everyone to love you, can you? Let's go.”

When I got into Kiera's car, the excitement of wearing those clothes, changing my image with the makeup, and
going to socialize with older kids took a backseat to my realization that I was in the automobile that had struck Mama and me. A feeling of dark dread washed over me. It was truly as though I were committing a sin. I was surprised that Kiera hadn't thought of what this meant. Maybe she had but was just better at burying it. She seemed to be in an entirely different place, a place where she could remember only what she wanted to remember.

“Oh, this is really exciting,” she said. “I feel like I'm taking my younger sister out for her first big night on the town.”

She drove very slowly and carefully through the gate and turned down the road. Because of my silence, she asked if I was all right.

“Yes,” I said, but my voice sounded small, the voice of someone lost.

“Don't you be nervous about being with these guys,” she told me, misreading my silence. “They may be a few years older, but they're not an inch better than us.”

Us?
Was she trying to make me feel better by including me, or did she really believe that? I knew little about psychotherapy, but now I wondered if it could really be this effective. She had been going to therapy for some time. Why would the court send her if the judge didn't believe it might change her, help her?

As if she could read my thoughts, she said, “I can't wait to tell Dr. Ralston about this. He'll surely be impressed, and maybe he'll see an end to my therapy. Therapists can keep you going for as long as they want and keep that cash register ringing along the way.”

She looked at me. This time, I was sure she had read my mind.

“That's not why I'm doing this with you, Sasha. I don't really care if the therapy goes on for the rest of the year. My father can afford it, and it's no big deal. The fact is, Dr. Ralston is easy to talk to now. I don't resent him as much.”

“Really?”

“Let's not talk about it anymore, especially in front of these lamebrains, okay?”

“Why do you like them if they're lamebrains?”

“Simple. Because they're fun,” she said, and laughed. “It's all about fun. You'll see,” she told me, and drove on.

When we got to Westwood, Kiera parked, and we walked two streets over to meet her friends. The four of them were there already and also ready to complain about how late Kiera was, but when they saw me, they were speechless for a moment.

“Who's this?” Ricky asked, smiling. “This is not your little square cousin, is it?”

“You look terrific, Sasha,” Boyd said. They both looked impressed. I didn't know what to say.

Kiera spoke up for me. “I made a few small improvements with her clothes and makeup. It's no big deal. Don't salivate in the street, Boyd. It's unbecoming.”

“Oh, I'm becoming,” he said, and everyone laughed.

We went into the restaurant. Maybe it was my imagination, but I thought the people already seated watched us from the moment we entered.

“There are UCLA college boys here,” Deidre whispered, “and they're looking at you.”

“Me?”

“Get used to it,” Margot said. “As long as you hang out with your cousin.”

I glanced at the college boys who were looking our way and smiling. Was she right? They were looking at me? It wasn't so long ago I had thought no boys would be looking at me with any interest, and not only because of my limp. Despite all I had now and all I had been given, the magnificent mansion in which I lived, the beautiful private school I attended, I couldn't help believing that the stigma of Mama's and my street life lingered. Somehow they would see through the expensive clothes and see the stains. Maybe they would still smell the odors of the street on me, no matter how much perfume I used.

Right from the first day I had entered Pacifica Junior-Senior High School, I had feared that someone might recognize me. So many people had walked past Mama and me while we were selling on the sidewalks or the boardwalk. Why wasn't it possible that one of these students, if not more, might look at me and think,
Isn't that the same girl who sold lanyards on the boardwalk?
Maybe one of these UCLA college boys was thinking that right now.

“Don't look back at them,” Kiera whispered. “They'll get annoying if they think any of us is showing interest.”

I looked down quickly, and she slipped me the menu.

“The burgers are out of this world here,” Boyd told me.

“Since you're not from this planet, it makes sense that you'd know,” Deidre told him.

“I've sent you out of this world from time to time,” he retorted.

“Shut up,” she said.

Everyone laughed, but I didn't. Why were they always trying to hurt each other if they were such good friends?

“You're wrong, anyway, Boyd,” Ricky said. “I'm the one who sent her out of this world. You barely got her off the ground.”

“Big shots,” Margot told me, pointing her thumb at them. “Or should I say single shots?”

“Ha, ha,” Boyd said. “It takes only one shot to hit your target.”

Fortunately, the waitress came over, and they stopped their game of insults. It took so long to get served and to eat that we had to rush to make the movie. I held them all back with my limping, but no one seemed to care if they made the movie in time or not. It was just something to do. In the theater, I ended up sitting between Kiera and Ricky. He smiled at me and let his hand drop over the seat arm so that it was against my thigh. During the movie, his fingers played with my miniskirt. I didn't know what to do, but when he lifted it a little to touch my thigh, I jumped, and Kiera turned.

“What's going on?”

“Nothing much,” Ricky said. “That's the problem.”

“The problem is, you don't have any patience,” she told him.

“That's Ricky,” Boyd said. He was on Kiera's other side and leaned over her to talk to me. “PE Man,” he said, jerking his thumb toward Ricky.

“Shut your mouth,” Ricky told him.

Boyd laughed and sat back.

Ricky didn't bother me for the remainder of the movie, which had some very funny scenes but was basically pretty stupid, I thought. I didn't say so, because the others, including Kiera, seemed to think it was great. Later, after we parted to go home, I asked Kiera what Boyd meant when he called Ricky PE Man.

“He was just teasing him,” she said.

“I know, but I don't know what that means.”

“It means premature ejaculation. You know what that is?”

“I think so,” I said. I wasn't really sure.

“It's when a boy, a man, gets excited too fast and the girl gets nothing out of it.”

“Oh.”

“Anyway, I can tell you for a fact that it isn't true, so don't worry about it.”

I looked at her. She knew for a fact?

She smiled. “Hey,” she said. “Don't look so shocked. Relax. This is your first day of real class in the real school. Here, I'm the best teacher. And,” she added as we reached her car, “it's tuition-free.”

She laughed, but something told me it wasn't tuition-free.

Something told me there was a price to pay.

22
The Price
BOOK: Family Storms
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