In my most secret dreams, the sort you keep buried under your pillow and hope to find waiting in the darkness for you as soon as you close your eyes, I saw my real mother coming to the orphanage, and she was nothing like the Thompsons. I don't mean to say that my mother wasn't beautiful, too, wasn't just as beautiful as Pamela, because she was. And in my dream she never looked any older than Pamela, either.
The mother in my dreams really had my color hair and my eyes. She was, I suppose, what I thought I would look like when I grew up. She was beautiful inside and out and was especially good at making people smile. The moment sad people saw her, they forgot their unhappiness. With my mother beside me, I, too, would forget what it was like to be unhappy.
In my dream, she always picked me out from the other orphans immediately, and when I looked at her standing there in the doorway, I knew instantly who she was. She held her arms open, and I ran to them. She covered my face with kisses and mumbled a string of apologies. I didn't care about apologies. I was too happy.
"I'll just be a few minutes," she would tell me and go into the administrative offices to sign all the papers. Before I knew it, I would be walking out of the orphanage, holding her hand, getting into her car, and driving off with her to start my new life. We would have so much to say, so many things to catch up on, that both of us would babble incessantly right up to the moment she put me to bed with a kiss and a promise to be there for me always.
Of course, it was just a dream, and she never came. I never talked about her, nor did I ever ask anyone at the orphanage any questions about her. All I knew was she had left me because she was too young to take care of me, but in the deepest places in my heart, I couldn't help but harbor the hope that she had always planned to come back for me when she was old enough to take care of me. Surely, she woke many nights as I did and lay there wondering about me, wondering what I looked like, if I was lonely or afraid.
We orphans didn't go to very many places other than to school, but once in a while there was a school field trip to New York City to go to a museum, an exhibition, or a show. Whenever we entered the city, I pressed my face to the bus window and studied the people who hurried up and down the sidewalks, hoping to catch sight of a young woman who could be my mother. I knew I had as much chance of doing that as I had of winning the lottery, but it was a secret wish, and after all, wishes and dreams were really what nourished us orphans the most. Without them, we would truly be the lost and forgotten.
I can't say I ever even imagined a couple like Pamela and Peter Thompson would want to become my foster parents and then adopt me and make me part of their family forever. People as rich and as important as they were had other ways to get children than coming to an ordinary orphanage like this. Surely, they didn't go searching themselves. They had someone to do that sort of thing for them.
So I did feel as if I had won the lottery that day, the day I left the orphanage with them. I was wearing a pair of jeans, sneakers, and a New York Yankees T-shirt. I had traded a Party of Five poster for it. Pamela saw what the rest of my wardrobe was like and told Peter, "Just leave it. Leave everything from her past behind, Peter."
I didn't know what to say. I didn't have many important possessions. In fact, the only one that was important to me was a faded pink ribbon that I was supposedly wearing the day my mother left me. I managed to shove it into the pocket of my jeans.
"Our first stop," Pamela told me, "is going to be Bloomingdale's."
Peter brought his Rolls-Royce up to the front of the orphanage, and though I had heard of them, I had never actually seen one of them before. It looked gold-plated. I was too awestruck to ask if it was real gold. The interior smelled brand-new, and the leather felt so soft, I couldn't imagine what it must have cost. Some of the other kids were gazing out the windows, their faces pressed to the glass. They looked as if they were trapped in a fishbowl. I waved and then got in. When we drove away, it did feel as if I was being swept away on a magic carpet.
I didn't think Pamela literally meant we'd be going straight to Bloomingdale's, but that is exactly where Peter drove us. Everyone knew Pamela at the department store. As soon as we stepped onto the juniors floor, the salesgirls came rushing toward us like sharks. Pamela rattled off requests with a wave of her hand and paraded down the aisles pointing at this and that. We were there trying on clothes for hours.
As I tried on different outfits, blouses, skirts, jackets, even hats, Pamela and Peter sat like members of an audience at a fashion show. I had never tried on so many different articles of clothing, much less seen them. Pamela was just as concerned about how I wore the clothes as she was about how they fit. Soon I did feel as if I were modeling.
"Slowly, Brooke, walk slowly. Keep your head high and your shoulders back. Don't forget your good posture now, now that you're wearing clothes that can enhance your appearance. When you turn, just pause for a moment. That's it. You're wearing that skirt too high in the waist." She laughed. "You act like you hardly ever wear a skirt."
"I hardly do," I said. "I'm more comfortable in jeans."
"Jeans. That's ridiculous. There are no feminine lines in jeans. I didn't know the hems were that high this year, Millie," she said to the salesgirl helping me.
"Oh, yes, Mrs. Thompson. These are the latest fashions."
"The latest fashions? Hardly," Pamela said. "For the latest fashions, you would have to go to Paris. Whatever we have in our stores now is already months behind. Don't hold your arms like that, Brooke. You look too stiff. You look," she said, laughing, "like you're about to catch a baseball. Doesn't she, Peter?"
"Yes," he said, laughing along.
She actually got up to show me how to walk, to hold my arms, to turn and hold my head. Why was it so important to know all that when I was trying on clothes? I wondered. She anticipated the question.
"We really can't tell how good these garments will look on you unless you wear them correctly, Brooke. Posture and poise, the two sisters of style, will help you make anything you wear look special, understand?"
I nodded, and she smiled.
"You've been so good, I think you deserve something special. Doesn't she, Peter?"
"I was thinking the same thing, Pamela. What would you suggest?"
"She needs a good watch for that precious little wrist. I was thinking one of those new Cartier watches I spotted on the way into the store."
"You're absolutely right. As usual," Peter said with a laugh.
When I saw the price of what Pamela called a good watch, I couldn't speak. The salesman took it out and put it on my wrist. It felt hot. I was terrified of breaking or losing it. The diamonds glittered in the face.
"It just needs a little adjustment in the band to fit her," Pamela said, holding my hand higher so Peter could see the watch on my wrist.
He nodded. "Looks good on her," he said.
"It's so much money," I whispered. If Pamela heard me, she chose to pretend she hadn't.
"We'll take it," Peter said quickly.
What was Christmas going to be like? I wondered. I was actually dizzy from being swept along on a buying rampage that took no note of cost. How rich were my new parents?
I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the house Pamela and Peter called home. It wasn't a house; it was a mansion, like Tara in Gone with the Wind, or maybe like the White House. It was taller and wider than the orphanage, with tall columns and what looked like marble front steps that led to a marble portico. There was a smaller upstairs porch as well.
The lawn that rolled out in front of the house was bigger than two baseball fields side by side, I thought. I saw fountains and benches. Two older men in white pants and white shirts pruned a flower bed that looked as wide and as long as an Olympic swimming pool. When we turned into the circular driveway, I saw that there was a swimming pool behind the house, and what looked like cabanas.
"How do you like it?" Pamela asked expectantly.
"Just you two live here?" I asked, and they both laughed.
"We have servants who live in a part of the house, but yes, until now, just Peter and I lived here."
"It's so big," I said.
"As you know, Peter is an attorney. He practices corporate law and happens to be active in state politics, too. That's why we were able to bring you home so soon," she explained. "And you already know that I was nearly Miss America," she added. "For many years, I was a runway model. That's why I know so much about style and appearance," she added without a tidbit of modesty.
"I think we've overwhelmed her, Pamela," Peter said.
"That's all right. We have so much to do. We don't have time to spoon-feed our lives to her, Peter. She's going to get right into the swing of things, aren't you, sweetheart?"
"I guess," I said, still gawking as we came to a stop.
Instantly, the front door opened, and a tall, thin man with two puffs of gray hair over his ears came hurrying out, followed by a short brunette in a blue
maid's uniform with a lace white apron over the skirt.
"Hello, Sacket," Peter called when he stepped out of the car.
"Sir," Sacket replied. He looked to be in his fifties or early sixties. He had small, dark eyes and a long nose that looked as if it was still growing down toward his thin mouth and sharply cut jaw. The paleness in his face made the color in his lips look like lipstick.
"Welcome back, Mr. Thompson," he said in a voice much deeper than I had anticipated. It seemed to start in his stomach and echo through his mouth with the resonance of a church organ.
The maid flitted about the car like a moth, nervously waiting for Pamela to give her orders. She didn't look much older than thirty herself, but she was very plain, no makeup, her nose too small for her wide, thick mouth. Her nervous brown eyes blinked rapidly. She wiped her hands on her apron and stood back when Pamela stepped out of the car.
"Start bringing the packages in the trunk up to Brooke's room, Joline."
"Yes, ma'am," she said. She glanced at me quickly and moved around the vehicle to join Sacket at the rear. They began to load their arms with my packages.
"Peter, could you show Brooke the house while I freshen up?" Pamela asked him. She turned to me. "Traveling and shopping can make your skin so dry, especially when you go into those department stores with their centralized air. All that dust, too," she added.
"No problem, dear," Peter said. "Brooke," he said, holding out his arm. At first, I didn't understand. He brought it closer, and I put my arm through. "Shall we tour your new home?" he said, smiling.
I looked at the servants rushing up with my packages, the grounds people pruning and manicuring the flowers, hedges, and lawn, the vastness of the property, and my head began to spin. It all made me feel faint.
My new home?
All my life, I had lived in rooms no bigger than a closet, sometimes even sharing the space with another orphaned girl. I shared the bathroom with a half dozen other children most of the time. I ate in a cafeteria, fought to watch what I wanted to watch on our one television set, and protected my small space like a mother bear protecting her cubs.
Then, in almost the blink of an eye, I was brought to what looked like a palace. I couldn't speak. The lump in my throat was so hard, I felt as if I had swallowed an apple. I leaned on Peter's arm for real, and he led me up the stairs to the grand front door through which Pamela hurried as if the house were a sanctuary from the evil forces that would steal away her beauty.
"Voila," he said, standing back so I could step inside.
Once within the long entryway with tile floors that resembled chocolate and vanilla swirled ice cream, I turned in slow circles, gaping at the big oil paintings that looked as if they were taken from some European museum. I gazed at the large gold chandelier above us and the grand tapestry on the wall above the hallway, beside the semicircular stairway with steps covered in thick eggshell-white carpet that looked as fluffy as rabbit fur.
"That's a scene from Romeo and Juliet," Peter said, nodding at the tapestry. "The masked ball. You haven't read that yet, I suppose?"
I shook my head.
"But I bet you know the story, huh?"
"A little," I said.
"What do you think so far?" he asked.
"I don't know what to say. It's so big in here." I gasped, and he laughed.
"Close to ten thousand square feet," he bragged. "Come along."
At his side, I viewed the enormous living room with its white grand piano.
"Neither of us plays, I'm afraid. Do you?"
I shook my head.
"Well, maybe we should think about getting you lessons. Would you like that?" he asked.
"I don't know," I replied. I really didn't know. I had never had a desire to play the piano. Of course, I would never have had an opportunity to learn, anyway.
"There are probably many new things you will find yourself wanting to do," Peter remarked thoughtfully. "When things seem so impossible, I imagine you don't give them a second thought, huh?"
pardI nodded. That made sense. He was smart. He had to be smart to have earned enough money for all of this, I thought.
There were many more expensive-looking paintings, very expensive-looking vases and crystal, and all of the furniture was spotless, the wooden arms and legs polished until they glittered, the sofas and chairs looking as if no one had ever sat on them.
"We don't spend enough time in here," Peter said as if he could read my thoughts. "It's one of those showpiece rooms. We're usually in the den, where we have our television set. Maybe now that you're here, we'll have some quality family time sitting and talking. It's a good room for talking, isn't it?" he asked with a smile.
"It makes me feel like I should whisper. It's like a room in a famous house or something," I said, and he laughed.
"I love to see the faces of those who view my home for the first time, because, through them, I can see it freshly myself," he said.
We continued down a hallway lined with mirrors in gilded, scrolled frames, small tables with vases full of fresh flowers, and paintings wherever there was free space.
"You have so many paintings," I said, as I stopped to study a beautiful seascape.
"Art's a good investment these days," Peter said. "You enjoy the beauty while it grows in value. That's better than some boring old corporate bond, huh?"
I shrugged. It was all a foreign language to me. He laughed.
"Pamela has about the same level of interest. She's one of those women who just want the machine to keep producing but don't care to know anything about the machine, which is all right," he added quickly. "I handle that part of our lives, and she...well, she's beautiful and makes me look good. Know what I mean?" he said with a wink.
Again, I had no idea, so I just smiled.
"Pamela is convinced you're going to be just as beautiful as she is. You know, she really did almost make it to the Miss America pageant," he said.
"Uh-huh. First, she was prom queen, homecoming queen, Miss Aluminum Siding, something like that. Then, she was Miss Chesapeake Bay and a finalist for Miss Delaware, which would have taken her to the pageant. She lost out to the daughter of a very wealthy racehorse owner. The old fix was in there, I imagine," he said.
We stopped at the dining room. You had to have servants to eat a meal there, I thought. The oval dark cherry-wood table looked big enough to seat all the children in the orphanage, the administrators, cooks, custodians, and even some visitors. It had a dozen settings with goblets and wine glasses and more silverware than I saw in our whole cafeteria. There was a large matching hutch filled with glasses and dishes on one side and serving tables, highback chairs, a wall mirror, and two chandeliers as well.
"Dinner and all formal meals are served here, of course," Peter said with a sweep of his hand. "Pamela supervises everything in the house," he explained. "Her parents sent her to a finishing school, what some people call a charm school. She knows all there is to know about etiquette. You'll learn a lot from her. I swear," he said with a laugh, "she should have been born into royalty. She could live in that world. Our den or family room, as some refer to it," he continued, stopping at the next door on our right.
The furniture was black leather, and the television looked as big as some movie theater screens. Red velvet drapes were opened to reveal the pool and the cabana through large panel windows. A whole section of the room had its walls devoted to pictures of Pamela. I was drawn to them.
"There she is!" Peter cried. "Winning beauty contests, representing companies, riding in parades, meeting celebrities and important politicians, modeling designer clothes, which is how I met her."
I gaped. My new mother knew all these famous people?
Peter came to stand beside me. "Impressive, huh?"
"Yes," I said.
"I got lucky when she fell in love with me. She's a constant surprise. Pamela has her own kind of rare beauty, and she knows what beauty can do and
cannot do," he said, nodding at me. "You're going to learn a lot of information that's practical for an attractive female," he promised. The way he spoke made it seem as if Pamela and now I, which I didn't believe for a moment, were citizens of a different country or part of a different species because of our looks. "She can be innocent and childlike when she has to and sharp, seductive, sophisticated, and keen when she has to, and she knows when to be which. Few women I know do, and that includes the brainy ones who work at my firm, the Ms. this and the Ms. thats," he said with some bitterness.
He seemed to become aware that he was getting too serious and smiled.
"That's a state-of-the-art digital sound system," he pointed out, "with Surround Sound. Few people have it, the technology is so new. Comfortable room, huh?"
I was listening with half an ear, part of me still awed at the luxuriousness in this overwhelming house. He continued the tour, showing me the two downstairs baths, servants' quarters, the kitchen, which looked big enough to handle a restaurant full of people, and the library, his office at home, which was dark and baronial with hundreds of leatherbound books.
"I'm afraid I'm unreasonable when it comes to my office. I don't permit anyone in here without me being present. Too many important documents and private papers," he explained. I saw a machine rolling out printed matter. "I get things faxed directly here sometimes. Well, now let's go upstairs and see your room."
I returned with him to the stairway and began to ascend. We heard what sounded like opera coming from a set of closed double doors at the end of the hallway.
"Pamela likes to listen to operettas while she's in her boudoir." When I made a face, he laughed. "You'll see."
We stopped at a tall door, and he glanced at me with that impish glitter in his eyes just before he opened it. This time, I couldn't swallow back my gasp.
The room, my room, was four times the size of what my room had been at the orphanage, and my bed was big enough to be a trampoline! It had four light pink posts and a headboard with a long-stemmed rose embossed on it. There was a milk-white desk with drawers and across the room a long counter with mirrors and a vanity table. The table was covered with brushes, containers of makeup, eyeliner, tubes of lipstick, a hair dryer, and an ivory box full of barrettes and hair ties.
All of my new clothes were put away in the dressers and large walk-in closet, and still there was room for lots and lots more. In the closet were mirrors and even a small table and chair.
On both sides of the bed were large windows draped in white and pink gingham curtains. My room looked out on a view of the countryside, and in the distance I could see a small lake.
Peter opened a cabinet across from the bed to show me a small television set. He then opened the bottom cabinet to reveal the sound system.
"We'll get you some music this weekend," he promised. "Pamela already has the next few days planned out, and shopping is a large part of it. So?" he said, standing there with his hands on his hips. "Are you happy?"
I shook my head. Happy just wasn't a big enough word. I turned around and then touched things to be sure they were all really there and this wasn't a dream.
"This is my room?" I finally had to ask.
He laughed. "Of course. Why don't you rest and then shower or bathe and dress for dinner, our first together. Pamela has had something special prepared. She's determined to spoil you rotten. She says a beautiful woman has to be spoiled. She must be right. After all, who can deny I have spoiled her?" he said.
There was a knock on the door, and we turned to see Joline.
"Mrs. Thompson sent me to see if Miss Brooke would like me to run her bath now," she said.
Miss Brooke? I thought.
"See," Peter said, "how Pamela is always thinking ahead. Well?"
"Well what?" I asked.
"Would you like Joline to run your bath now?"
"Run my bath?"
"Get it ready for you?" Peter explained.
I gazed at the large, round tub in the sparkling bathroom. What was so hard about getting a bath ready?
"I can do that," I said.
"Of course you can," he said, "but from now on, someone else will do it for you. It's what Pamela wants. She wants you to be just like her."
Something nudged me deep down inside where all my dreams and secret thoughts were kept. It was like a tiny alarm. An alarm I didn't quite understand.
I gazed at my new clothes, my expensive watch, my whole new world, so much more privileged and safe than the orphanage.
What could possibly be the danger here?
Copyright © 1998 by Vanda General Partnership
Brooke was an orphan, abandoned long ago by a mother she barely knew. And though her new family seemed to offer the promise of a new beginning, a dark voice in her heart told her that she was now more alone than ever...