This atmospheric and moving novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Flowers in the Attic and Landry series—now popular Lifetime movies—combines a forbidden romance with a family fortune and a young girl in peril.
Caroline Bryer is the daughter of a very conservative TSA agent and former military brat, Morgan Bryer. Her mother, Linsey Bryer, is a descendent of the Sutherland real estate family. Their organized, suburban life in Colonie, New York is rigorously regulated and leaves little room for deviation from the norm.
When Linsey, Morgan, and Caroline attend the wake of their neighbor Mr. Gleeson, they meet his charming daughter Natalie “Nattie” Gleeson, who works for the American ambassador to France. Linsey and Nattie strike up a fast friendship as women of a similar age in very different places in their lives—Linsey a devoted mother and housewife, and Nattie an international diplomat living an independent and freewheeling life. Their friendship soon evolves into a romance, leading to the collapse of Linsey’s marriage and her disinheritance from the Sutherland family fortune. In true V.C. Andrews fashion, a whirlwind of unexpected death, family estrangement, and a forbidden inheritance become Caroline’s new reality as she struggles to navigate the loss of her mother, the mind-boggling wealth of the Sutherland family (who quickly lock her away from the world), and the loss of contact with her father following the divorce.
I have come to believe that I was almost wrong to be a child, to be a prisoner of hope and good dreams and see brightness and color in a world that could quickly rain down darkness and rage.
Daddy used to say, “At the moment you are born, you get your first hint that bad things can happen. That’s why babies cry.
“It might be the last time they’re right.”
Fortunately, until I was nearly thirteen, I really had never known deep unhappiness or dreary silence. My days were filled with music. There were balloons on birthdays along with funny talking cards, toys, books, and pretty clothes and shoes. I overheard my early grade-school teachers, in whispers, praise my mother on how nicely dressed she kept me. At times I felt more like a precious doll than just another little girl. But most of all, there was music, lively and fun. It was almost like a soundtrack in a movie accompanying whatever we did or wherever we went. Our house was rarely silent and shadows were never foreboding. They were simply pauses in the stream of sunshine, like commas in a sentence, and certainly nothing to fear.
Like most children whose view of the world was formed in comfort, having all the love and attention needed, living in a safe community as well as attending a good school with caring teachers, I thought my joy and contentment would last forever. I had only glimpses of poverty, social injustice, and crime. My mother especially shielded me from all that when I was very young. “There will be plenty of time later for this horror,” she might say when turning off something on television.
Daddy didn’t agree, but he didn’t argue vociferously about it. The most he would do was issue a warning. He would almost sing it: “You’ll be sorry if you turn her into a turtle.”
Sometimes, when I was five, I tried to imagine what that would be like. I would crawl under my blanket and poke my head out at the foot of the bed and then quickly pull it back under as if I had seen something ugly there or something to hurt me. It wasn’t terrible, but it was boring under a blanket. In that special place in my heart where I kept secrets, I put this one: I agreed with Daddy. I didn’t want to be a turtle. I wanted to be more like him and be strong enough to face down anything ugly, anything mean.
But for all my early childhood years, there was really nothing terribly unpleasant in my personal world from which I should hide anyway.
Consequently, for me there was only one season back then: spring, when everything brightened and everyone wore a bright, warm smile like the smile of the sparrow in the preschool picture book I had, The Laughing Sparrow, a wide grin with eyes that gleamed with happiness and hope. Remembering those early years, even for a few moments, washes away the dreary fog that settles every morning at the bay windows of my bedroom in my grandfather’s mansion, a bedroom that is at least three times as large as my bedroom was at home, but with ten times the emptiness.
Whatever, remembering my happier spring days doesn’t keep the haze from returning here almost daily. It is almost like a bad memory that challenges me to forget it and dares me to even try.
The seasons are so different now, never bursting out like some wonderful surprise in the morning, but instead tiptoeing into my life almost as if they were asking for my permission to emerge. “Should we move the year ahead? Does it matter?”
Birds don’t ever seem happy like the ones I saw in my children’s books or around our home when I was younger. Now they look as confused as I am, fluttering about this magnificent, regal estate that has become my whole world, a prison with all the necessities of life save one: normal childhood and adolescence. Here I have no friends; I play no games. I don’t dance. I don’t go to birthday parties, not even my own.
“It’s time to put aside all that nonsense,” Grandfather Sutherland often said, even before I was brought here. True to his word, he doesn’t celebrate his own birthday with parties and gifts, and if anyone should forget and give him something or wish him a happy birthday, he roars his displeasure. “I don’t need you to remind me,” he might say. I recall hearing that when I was younger, and I remember my mother brought him a birthday gift, more to annoy him than to please him. She gave it to him with that wry smile on her face. He reluctantly celebrated Grandmother Judith’s birthday and celebrated their anniversaries with parties and dinners because she insisted on that.
Now other happy events that would please and excite someone as young as I am only happen out there beyond the walls and gates, but I don’t see them. I don’t even hear about them. It occurred to me that if your birthday was treated like just another day, you might eventually forget how old you were. Maybe my grandfather is simply afraid of his birthday. Perhaps he wants to make a fist around the hands of a clock and stop them from moving one second more. I have no doubt that he believes he can hold back time for himself and can mold my world, even diminishing my peepholes, eventually turning me into a turtle.
I have a computer but with all sorts of censorship devices inserted, squeezing it into a narrow road out with NO at any possible turn that could lead to even an imaginary escape, let alone an internet friend. And I haven’t got a television set because my grandfather believes it’s “mostly garbage dumped into the innocent minds of children. And look how they’re turning out!”
There is no point to my having a phone, as there would be no friend to call, and anyway, I’d be ashamed to tell a friend anything about myself now. I never had the chance to say goodbye to anyone I knew. Maybe they know I live here or wonder where I have gone, but by now most of them, if not all of them, likely have lost interest in caring about or finding out exactly what happened to me.
And even in here, inside the grand house with its high ceilings, its elaborate gilded chandeliers, its tiled floors with expensive area rugs, and its luxurious drapes, I know I will never be happy. Even if I please my grandfather, no for me is written in many places. I will never enjoy any of it. There will always be so many doors locked to me in my grandfather’s mansion. Right now, windows are shut almost mechanically at certain times of the day, and opinions and orders are filtered to prevent certain words and ideas from reaching my ears. My grandfather’s employees look like their mouths are zipped shut when they see me. Some even seem surprised that I am still here and are even afraid to ask me how I am. The chains on secrets are so heavy that they can’t be lifted.
The walls and the door to my room are thick enough so that I don’t overhear anyone talking in hallways, especially the dark corridor where my room is located. No wonder, then, that I think of my grandfather’s estate as someone would think of a turtle shell. How right Daddy was. I did end up in there.
It’s almost as if beyond the gates there is only emptiness resembling outer space. We’re set so far from a main highway that I can barely catch the sounds of passing cars and trucks, their horns baaing like frightened sheep. When I was finally permitted to go out for fresh air, I could only get a glimpse of them through a small space in the surrounding seven- or eight-foot large evergreens, objects jutting by, colors and shapes barely identifiable. Grandfather’s small army of uniformed gardeners, who wear dark brown uniforms and white gloves with his company insignia on the backs above their knuckles, keep them nourished and healthy: the thick green wall.
But how I see everything has changed anyway. Although I don’t wear glasses, it feels like I do; it feels like I’m looking through lenses that paint shade over sunshine and make flowers that bloom look more like memories stuck between pages of a diary, faded, threatening to crumble. When I gaze back at everything that has happened, I am looking through a prism that promises to feed confusion and nourish lies. Every sound I do hear is louder here; every command is harsher. I wake to the image of snapping whips in the long, wide hallways. Threats seep through the walls and echo in corners. How different it all is from my earlier childhood.
Neither my mother nor my father really yelled at me because of some-thing wrong I had done back then. My mother always chose to show me why I shouldn’t do it and then made sure I understood. “Are you clear, Caroline?” she would say. “Do you see?” she would ask, always with a smile.
During my early years, my father could sound firmer and curt, but I never felt great anger from him or saw in his eyes the distrust I saw in my grandfather’s and even my grandmother’s eyes afterward. Despite what he might say now, I know I’ll never see anything else in my grandfather’s look.
My father’s favorite words were correct and incorrect. He never said I had done something bad. And he’d rarely raise his voice above a loud whisper when he said, “That’s a mistake. Don’t do that, Caroline.” At worst, he might repeat it three times. He told me most people didn’t listen the first time, even the second.
Pleasing my mother and father was so important to me anyway that I was upset more with myself than I was at them when they reacted to something wrong I had done. I’d punish myself. You can’t have that cookie now, I’d think, or Don’t touch those toys or that doll for at least an hour. But those moments were truly rare during my early childhood. Most of the time it was as if we had bells ringing with laughter and joy in our house. I thought I was growing up in a world where every day was Christmas, so I had to be careful not to do anything that would change it, whether I was inside my house or outside it. In fact, I thought we were so special that we lived within a bubble. What I didn’t consider was, like any bubble or balloon, something could poke a hole in it and that buoyant, Christmas-like feeling would leak out, which it did.
Before that, every day was a sort of Christmas. When it was cold and we went outside, I was amused and fascinated by the sight of my breath. I’d watch the way ice crystals on tree branches changed colors as the day waned. Sometimes, when Daddy was home and I was much younger, not even in kindergarten, he’d play with both Mommy and me in the snow. If it was snowing, he’d say, “Let’s see how many flakes you can catch.” But they always melted before I could even start to count. I loved mittens, and although it was a struggle sometimes to put on my shoe boots, they were worth the effort because they were pretty, with pink shoelaces and furry tops. I even regretted my mother putting them away when spring had sprung almost like the clown in my jack-in-the-box.
Early spring for us back then was filled with fun things to do around the house, or at least they seemed like fun to me. I remember preferring to help with work over playing with my toys. There was always some touch-up painting to do, and cleaning up the front lawn and the backyard. I even had my own small paintbrush and rake. Somehow the snow, rain, and winds had brought debris from other homes in the neighborhood to us—debris like pieces of old newspapers, mail advertisements, and food boxes washing onto our property. Once there was even a postcard of Niagara Falls with all the writing faded. You couldn’t even guess the words. Daddy studied it when I showed it to him. He put his finger on the postage stamp and then said, “It was sent three years ago.” He laughed the hardest I could remember when I said, “It took a long time to get here.”
At the start of spring, my mother loved reorganizing clothes and shoes, polishing furniture, and especially washing windows that had gone through months of rain and snow streaks. There was always music playing when she worked. Sometimes she’d pick me up and dance when one of her favorite songs was being played. And if Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” came on, she’d scream and dance as if she was on a stage. When I was old enough, I’d mimic her and she’d laugh and hug me. Later, when Daddy came home, she’d play the song and show him how we danced. Mommy tried to get him to join us, but he always backed away, palms out to pump the air between us, saying he’d make her look bad.
“Didn’t Daddy ever dance?” I asked my mother once.
She paused as if it was the first time she had ever thought about it.
“At our wedding,” she said. “Because my father told him he should.”
Every spring my mother redid our garage, storing what we didn’t need in cabinets, sometimes so efficiently and quickly that Daddy complained he couldn’t find something. In those days there was no “Where the hell is it?” There was only “Hey, I can’t find…” followed with a laugh or a little apology and a quick retrieval.
“I’d swear you’d put me away for the season,” Daddy might joke. “And they call the people who do my work such perfectionists that they practically have OCD.”
When I found out what that meant, I wasn’t as surprised as I was curious. Could he be someone like that?
They’d banter and end even small tension with a kiss or my mother tapping him with her small fist gently on the shoulder. He’d pretend it hurt and threaten to report her to the police for domestic abuse, which sounded scary. “Oh, you poor, sensitive thing,” she’d say, and make believe she was on the verge of tears.
Even at four and five, I would stop whatever I was doing and watch them with some wonder. In my early years especially, my parents could be my most cherished entertainment, but more important, they could cause me to feel happy or sad, frightened or safe. If they were smiling, their smiles floated like soap bubbles to land on my face. If they were sad, the day darkened even when there were no clouds.
The low, rolling thunder that came approached subtly at first, seeping in like smoke. The silences that began to form between them eventually became places with no bottoms, deep holes into which I could fall and tumble forever and ever, only, unlike Alice, I would find no Wonderland at the bottom, at least not one any girl would want.
I can say with certainty that I was nearly thirteen when the thunder began, because what finally happened had happened right before my thirteenth birthday, the first birthday my father didn’t attend. Sometimes we had to celebrate in the morning because of his work, but the important thing was he was there; he cared. I knew that Daddy had a very difficult job as an FAA air traffic controller. Often he was in the airport tower late at night and slept until early afternoon, and that made life different for us from what it was for other families in our neighborhood.
I saw other fathers at home with their wives and children more often, and there was always something more casual about them, about how they dressed and how they moved about their lawns, that made them seem like they were ice-skating or floating. I don’t think the other little girls my age, though they were a bit younger or older, liked being in our house because it was kept so neat and organized, mainly because of how my father wanted it. They were afraid to touch anything and hated having to sit so still. With forbidding eyes, their mothers, visiting with my mother, kept them on invisible leashes. They fidgeted and leaped off their seats like frogs when it was time to go.
I didn’t know it when I was little, but back then neighbors called us the “Robot Family,” maybe because of the way we moved about, how everything was correctly placed, and how perfectly we were always dressed. They’d pause to look at us the way people paused to look in a store’s showcase window, stepping to the right or left to get a better view. My mother coordinated her clothes with a fashion model’s adherence to colors and styles. She never stepped out of the house without her hair and her makeup being perfect. She even looked that way when she worked in the garage or the yard—looked like someone who seemed too fancy to ruin her hair, her nails, or her lovely clothes doing household chores.
“You could be on the cover of Vogue,” Daddy once said, and held up the magazine she had received in the mail. She did look prettier than the woman on the cover. And then mysteriously, he added, “Too perfect to be touched.”
That didn’t sound right, and sure enough, Mommy snapped back at him.
“What about you, Morgan? You are the dapper man. You might be on the cover of Esquire.”
I understood why she would say that. Daddy always wore a starched, clean long- or short-sleeved white shirt, a black tie, and black slacks, with comfortable black leather loafers, polished and shiny, to work. His cuffed pants had to have perfect, sharp creases. He had at least two dozen white shirts and pairs of black slacks and five pairs of the same loafers, all neatly organized in his closet. Mommy said he was always ready for inspection.
His dark brown hair was military trim, or at least that was what Mommy called it. At six foot two, he had the lean build of a professional tennis player or a swimmer, both of which my mother claimed he did well: “He won’t do anything if he can’t do it well.”
Like dancing, I thought.
But Daddy had perfect posture because he was conscious of it. If he forgot for a moment, he would snap to attention as if he had a spring in his spine. He was afraid he would become stoop-shouldered, sitting and leaning toward a radar screen for hours. He was always after me to take care of my posture.
“You’re never too young to worry about it. Stand straight, Caroline. Pull your shoulders back. Hup, hup!”
My mother nicknamed him Captain Bryer, even though there was no such rank for him at his work. She’d say, “Yes, Cap’n, sir,” to tease him and even saluted whenever he told her to do something in that commanding and authoritative tone of voice he brought home from work. She had me saluting him, too. In the beginning he laughed, but there came the time when he snapped, “Stop that,” at both of us and walked off after saying, “It isn’t funny anymore.”
She stopped calling him Captain Bryer, and I never saluted him again.
But as far back as I could remember, my mother called him an “exact” man because of how he had been brought up and how detailed and accurate his work had to be. There was little room for mistakes and no room for careless errors at his job. People’s lives depended on him being perfect.
So I thought he was perfect and that, because of him, we would be.
He was similarly exacting in his personal life. We lived in a remodeled dark green two-story Queen Anne house with white shutters in Colonie, New York, which was only five miles from the Albany International Airport, where Daddy worked. I think I was born under the sound of a passing jet plane. Nevertheless, I never got used to it; when I was playing outside, I always stopped what I was doing to watch an airplane take off or approach the airport for landing. If my mother was nearby and saw me look, she would proudly say, “Your father is ensuring the safety of all those people so they can go home to their families. He’s probably talking to the pilots now.”
Because she was so impressed, I was impressed, even though it took me a while to really appreciate why that was justified. When I fully understood that a mistake, even a small one—a little to the right or to the left, something done just a short while too soon or something not clearly understood—could mean a terrible, often fatal accident, I had more respect and understanding for how my father behaved and kept his personal things.
My parents’ bathroom had been completely redone before we had moved into our house. There was a sink and cabinets for my mother and a sink and cabinets for my father across from hers. The white marble counters were immaculate “because your father wants the house to look like an operating room,” Mommy said, and sighed. “But I’m not hiring an army of maids like your grandfather had and his father had. This is a home, not an institution.”
Daddy’s side always did look cleaner and more organized than my mother’s. Nothing was ever moved from the spot in which he had placed it. His toothbrush and shaving things were set the same distance apart, almost as if they were done with a ruler, and if Mommy happened to shift something, Daddy always corrected it. I knew because I was often with her while she was cleaning the bathroom. She’d turn to me and say with a smile, “You’d think I stopped the world from spinning. The soap dish was slightly too far on the right.”
Her side was messy compared to his mainly because my mother seemed to be in more of a rush or in a frenzy when she had to wash, dress, and do her makeup and hair to be sure it was always flawless. She often had to soak in a bubble bath first, the floral scents rising with the steam. She told me that relaxing was key to looking pretty. She’d almost fall asleep in the tub. Before I was five, I’d sit on the floor while she was bathing and pretend to read to her from one of my favorite books. I had actually memorized all the words. She’d lie back with a soft smile as if I was singing to her.
Afterward, she would sit at her vanity table to do her makeup so carefully that it was like watching someone rise out of herself to become extra beautiful. As if I was observing an artist painting a masterpiece, I was mesmerized, even before I understood any of it: why mascara was important, why foundation was so necessary, and why the technique for putting on lipstick had to be done correctly. She had learned it all at the all-girls prep school she’d had to attend when she was sixteen, but she didn’t regret it.
“Don’t you just hate to see women with a little smear on the side of their mouths?” she asked. I didn’t remember noticing that, but I thought she was talking more to herself and didn’t expect me to answer.
When she started on her hair, she seemed to take extra care with every strand, telling me that your hair was really the frame of your face: “I know the plainest-looking women who can suddenly become attractive because they’ve done their hair so well, a mediocre painting in a gilded frame.”
Daddy would poke his head in and say, half jokingly, “Why didn’t you start yesterday?” He’d point at his watch.
“We don’t have to be the first ones there,” Mommy would reply. “Your father is really a watch repairman, or should be,” she’d tell me.
Daddy hated even being almost late for anything. He was well prepared ahead of time. My mother said he spent most of his day riding on the second hand on a clock the way cowboys rode a horse, crying, “Giddy-up.” She told me that when a doctor listened to his heart, he heard “tick-tock.” Daddy didn’t think that was funny. He lost his smile, anger pooling around his eyes. But I still believe to this day that he looked at clocks more than he looked at me.
I remember that it wasn’t that he moved to the ticktock of a clock as much as he moved cautiously, firmly, and deliberately, almost as if he had counted the number of steps from here to there, whether it was going from one room to another or out to get the mail. He never took a step less or a step more when he retrieved our mail, if and when he was home to get it. I knew because when I watched him, I counted.
I think I was more fascinated with how he went up the stairway, never taking two steps at a time and always stepping in the middle. Mommy was frustrated when he wouldn’t fill both his arms or his hands with things to take up. He would have a free hand for the banister and make a second trip.
“One would think you were in your eighties,” she once said to him with a tone of frustration and a little ridicule. That tone of voice never seemed to bother him back then.
“One would think I want to reach my eighties,” he would reply. Sometimes he smiled when she said things like that to him; sometimes he sounded more like her teacher, because he repeated his answers word for word. Sometimes she smiled; sometimes she turned and walked away with a comment like “Suit yourself. We’ll add another hour to the day.”
I remember one of Mommy’s friends saying to her, “Is he as careful and precise when he makes love?”
I had no idea what it meant at the time, but it sounded funny. How do you make love? I wondered. Was there a recipe, or written directions in a book? Mommy did laugh.
“Surgical,” she replied, and they both laughed even harder. “He always calls it a perfect set-down or a great takeoff.”
She tilted her head and thought before she added to her answer.
“But I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was passionate. Perhaps men aren’t as much as women. What’s the quote: ‘Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good’? I wonder if that applies to love.”
I would learn from my classmates in grade school that, unlike their fathers, my father’s precision even applied to me, to how my mother dressed me before we went out, even simply going shopping. “Her hair needs to be brushed or pinned,” he would say. “There are loose strands all over her forehead.” Or “Why do her socks look so sloppy, Linsey? They look like they’ve lost their shape, washed out. Her shoes could be cleaner. Their sides and the fronts look like she’s been kicking the walls. Don’t tell me it’s a tween thing or something like that, either. Everyone makes excuses for their children, blaming poor appearance on peer pressure. You take such care with yourself. Why not her?”
Usually, my mother would fix me because she didn’t disagree, but closer to my thirteenth birthday, she would grimace when he complained about how I looked and say, “Why don’t you buy her clothes and shoes and, while you’re at it, lay out her clothes each day yourself, Morgan? Besides, she’s not a baby anymore.”
Whatever lightness and joy had surrounded us had begun to evaporate by then. Of course, until it happened, until that shocking morning, I truly didn’t anticipate the end of forever spring. At first, I really didn’t know how I should react. Truly, it was as if the world had tilted beneath me so that nothing looked as centered or as correct as it once had.
My parents’ marriage and their love had seemed to be made of unbreakable glass. Was I blind? Was I wrong to believe it, accept it? During those earlier years, they kissed when Daddy returned from work as if he had been gone weeks. “Landed!” he would cry from the entryway. We’d both hurry to greet him, me tossing aside whatever I was holding or doing. There was no “Hi” without a kiss for Mommy until things had begun to change, at first in subtle ways like the way he would simply come home from work, hang up his jacket, and go upstairs to change out of the clothes he had worn to work. If I was there, sitting in the living room reading, he’d glance at me strangely, suspiciously, and before I could jump up to greet him, he was gone.
It wasn’t only kisses and hugs that made everything about them seem all right before that. Later Mommy would tell me Daddy didn’t actually kiss her; he stamped her: “I almost heard him say, ‘Delivered.’?” I had no idea what that meant then. During the springtime days, they looked after each other all the time: my mother anticipating something he needed or wanted and rushing to get it; Daddy moving quickly to fix something that she needed fixed. If he couldn’t, he would immediately replace it and so fast that my mother told me, “Your father has everything in his back pocket.” I really had no reason to think, even imagine, that my parents would change. We all lived in my fairy tale, and characters in fairy tales don’t become someone else every time you read them.
Maybe it was childish, but I did believe our lives were magical. When I was about six and according to my first-grade teacher reading on the level of someone about eight, my mother talked about herself and my father as if they were characters in one of my children’s books. Even later, when things were breaking between them, perhaps to make excuses for herself, for how it had all begun and how quickly she had agreed to marriage, she always referred to him the way people refer to movie stars: “He was so handsome, stunning, with those gray-blue eyes and his dark brown hair, rich, thick, and trimmed as if he was going to be filmed or photographed. The features of his face were sculptured like the face of a god on a Roman statue. I never saw a man, including my father, who was so sure of himself. Maybe you can’t understand this yet, Caroline, but I immediately felt so safe with him.
“I think,” she muttered, almost under her breath like someone really talking to herself, “it was that rather than love that drew me to him. I was always too fragile, vulnerable to changes around me… like one of those planes he oversees affected by the weather. He always steered me away from trouble and danger the way he would warn a pilot about a storm or a downdraft. I never flew below the radar when it came to your father. And boy, did I need to be on that radar back then.”
She’d throw her head back a little and have a rippling laugh when she talked honestly about herself. Her laughter circled her eyes and brightened them. “I was brought up to be a little princess, you see,” she said. “There was always someone to wash my hands and clean my clothes. I can barely recall when I began to cut my own meat. Even when I was your age!”
She would pause, go into deep thought for a moment, and then firmly, angrily add, “I’m not going to bring you up that way, the way my parents raised me. I will protect you always, Caroline, and try to keep what’s ugly away from you as long as I can, but you’re going to be harder, more independent, and so much less vulnerable than I was when you get to be my age and especially than I was when I was a teenager, my sweet Caroline.”
She’d rock me and sing the Neil Diamond song. I never stop hearing it, even here, in the shell built over and around me. Perhaps I hear it even more because I am trapped in it and my mind is full of echoing memories.
My grandfather, my mother’s father, J. Willard Sutherland, was a very wealthy man at an early age—“before most young men graduated from college,” my mother told me after I had entered school and she was helping me with homework. “His father, your great-grandfather, Raymond Sutherland, was a genius when it came to choosing what would become valuable commercial property,” she said. “He was rich, but my father is wealthy. Believe me, there is a big difference. Rich people live well, but wealthy people have power, real power, over other people. And they enjoy it. Especially your grandfather.
“By the time I graduated from Skidmore, my father, who had inherited the business, was worth more than a billion dollars. He was and still is a workaholic. He’ll never have enough or too much money. It’s too simple to say that he’s greedy. His work, basically making money, is his life. Profit and loss is like breathing in and out. His picture could be next to the word businessman in the dictionary. He really only respects people who make money.
“When I graduated from Skidmore with my degree in liberal arts, he told me that my official document and five dollars would get me a city bus ticket. ‘Knowledge for the sake of it might improve your dinner conversation,’ he said in his arrogant style, making it sound like an obvious, universal truth, ‘but not your bank account.’ My older brother, your uncle Martin, went right into working with our father when he graduated with a Harvard business degree two years before me, and a year later married Aunt Holly, his high school girlfriend. They had been going together since seventh grade.”
She paused. I anticipated what she might say next.
“They started their marriage with a tragedy when their baby girl, Annabelle, died at three months from sudden infant death syndrome. Of course, I felt terribly sorry for them, especially for Holly, who fell into months of depression. I think her getting pregnant with Simon was a lifesaver.
“Anyway, Martin was a perfect son for my father because he never liked having choices. Your grandfather made all his decisions for him. I used to call him ‘one-flavor ice cream.’ When we were younger, I could kid him, but I stopped after Annabelle.
“Nevertheless, I didn’t want to become his secretary, so my father decided I should work in the bank of which he was president.”
“And then you married Daddy almost three years later,” I said. She had told me the story enough times for me to remember it almost word for word. “He was the man for you.”
“Yes, yes, but I never had a real boyfriend until your father came in to start an account,” she said. “I mean, I had boyfriends here and there, but none of them really mattered to me. I didn’t even go to my high school prom. So many of my classmates were in cliques. I hated the chatter and the gossip. Maybe that was your grandfather’s influence. And too many thought I was some sort of princess. As far as boys went, your grandfather thought anyone who showed the slightest interest in me was too immature. ‘Young men and women are more like seven-year-olds these days,’ he’d say. When I was in college, he told me, ‘To find a man in his twenties who is an adult is like finding gold.’
“So you see, your father was not only special to me; he had my father’s stamp of approval. I often wonder how much difference that made,” she added, tilting her head and thinking like she always did when something had just occurred to her. “I can still see my father mouthing ‘I do’ when I said it during the marriage ceremony, like he was willing it to be said, like it was all under his control, even love. Yes, even that…” she muttered, her voice trailing off like the sound of a bird’s song being carried off in the wind.
Maybe she was doing it for me more than she was doing it for herself, but she always tried to make her early days with Daddy seem more like something magical and enchanting. She even began with “Once upon a time, there was this young girl working in a bank…”
“And you wouldn’t have been there to meet Daddy if it wasn’t for Grandfather,” I always interjected, as if we were telling the story together, performing it for some unseen guests.
“He’ll tell you that more times than I will—tell you how I was so lucky to find a man who could support me and a family decently. For my father, it has to be that way. A woman has to have a man to provide for her and her children. She can never really do it herself. He thinks it’s funny to call those who do provide for their families ‘woe men’ instead of ‘women.’ Your grandfather is definitely a reincarnation of Attila the Hun.”
“No one you want to know,” she said, and then laughed. “Sometimes I thought he imagined I was born with a hairy mole on the tip of my nose and couldn’t find a man myself. He was worried about it more than my mother was. My mother was always more romantic, trusting in faith. That’s for sure. My father thinks being romantic diminishes your control. He thinks he moved my brother and me like pieces on a chessboard. Everything I have and that has happened to me and your uncle was part of his grand design. Checkmate.”
“Yes. You’re about to lose. Your opponent warns you, not that either of us put up that much opposition to our father when we were younger. Like all young girls, I was confused about myself, certainly more confused about myself than Martin was about himself. He fell into place quickly, a marching soldier, whereas I’d question every feeling, everything I did. It’s why I tell you self-confidence is so important, maybe more important these days for women than it is for men.
“However, when your grandfather sits in that ruby-red, thick-cushioned chair with his hand-carved mahogany walking stick at his side—a stick that he doesn’t need; it’s just an affectation—you’d think you were meeting some king who raised his hand and lowered your life over you,” she said, not so much bitterly as matter-of-factly.
I did hear my grandfather say that my mother met my father because of his foresight to have her there in that bank. It was at one of the rare formal dinners at Sutherland.
“Things don’t just happen,” he said. It was practically his mantra, a quote from his own bible. He always stroked his trim, silvery-gold, thick mustache with his right thumb and forefinger when he made his pronouncements. That’s how you knew they were coming. “People who have bank accounts have money or good reason and validity to borrow. They are stable with purpose. A vulnerable young woman doesn’t have to wonder if the man she met in my bank, especially my bank, is substantial. We don’t coddle ne’er-do-wells.”
“What vision you have, Daddy. Like some Old Testament prophet,” my mother would say. “Maybe you can part the Red Sea.” She’d smile after saying something like that, but the mood of the dinner would sink like a rock in a murky pond. I wasn’t too young to feel it. When Grandfather Sutherland raised his voice at the dinner table, I’d reflexively cower. Was I like my mother when she was my age?
Grandmother Judith would come to his defense and say something like “Your father is always looking out for his children. He needs to be appreciated. We all have wonderful lives because of him.”
My uncle and his wife, Holly, would be silent, and their son, Simon, two years older than me, would barely move or blink his eyes. He was probably thinking about his math homework. Everyone was calling him a genius already and predicted he would surely be the one to discover the cure for cancer or something equally spectacular. My mother once told me that Simon had a heavier burden to carry. He had to be as successful as two children, “assuming the possibilities for the lost Annabelle as well as his own.”
When Mommy would challenge Grandfather Sutherland or, as she had done, ridicule his arrogance, Daddy would stare ahead as if he was watching a radar screen, patiently waiting for a storm to pass, and later tell my mother, “That mockery of your father wasn’t necessary.”
“It was for me,” she’d say.
Daddy wouldn’t argue, but he had a way of clenching his teeth and pulling back his lips that told me he was upset. Consequently, we only went to my grandfather’s estate home for my grandmother’s birthdays, my grandparents’ anniversaries, or the celebration of some major business accomplishment my grandfather had achieved, mostly because my father insisted we attend.
I didn’t mind going to dinners and parties at Grandfather’s home back then. His home was so impressive, with all the gates and rolling hills, trees, and the greenest grass, even late into the fall. The original structure was historic. My great-grandfather kept adding to it, buying all the land around it. I knew very few people lived like that. I imagined at least twenty homes in our neighborhood could fit comfortably on Grandfather’s property.
The house itself is a true mansion, and with its gray-silver stone exterior and grand, oval-shaped copper and mahogany front doors, it does look like a medieval castle from one of my adventure stories. Those doors open to a large atrium with fountains and a slate walkway, bushes, and flowers in the spring and summer. Behind the house, there are two tennis courts, a large oval pool, and even a nine-hole golf course. My grandfather had the gardeners create a brook, water gurgling over rocks and then pumped back to run over them again and again. My mother said nothing pleased my grandfather more than improving what his father had done. “He’s trying to be the better man, you see. Everyone fights with his own ghosts.”
I had no idea what that meant then. Who were the ghosts? How could you fight with one? But because of my grandfather’s home, I believed in any fantasy my mother created. Look where she and my uncle had grown up. The estate was so grand that my grandfather had given it a name: his name, Sutherland, as if that was a famous place on a map. It hung in what looked like gold-plated scrolled letters above the main gate, looming over anyone who drove up to it.
When I asked my mother if it was a famous place, like those on maps, she said, “That’s what your grandfather thinks everyone thinks.
“And you know what?” she added, obviously reluctantly. “That’s what they do think.”
I wondered why she didn’t sound prouder of that, despite the father-daughter conflicts.
One of the most popular authors of all time, V.C. Andrews has been a bestselling phenomenon since the publication of Flowers in the Attic, first in the renowned Dollanganger family series, which includes Petals on the Wind, If There Be Thorns, Seeds of Yesterday, and Garden of Shadows. The family saga continues with Christopher’s Diary: Secrets of Foxworth, Christopher’s Diary: Echoes of Dollanganger, and Secret Brother, as well as Beneath the Attic, Out of the Attic, and Shadows of Foxworth as part of the fortieth anniversary celebration. There are more than ninety V.C. Andrews novels, which have sold over 107 million copies worldwide and have been translated into more than twenty-five foreign languages. Andrews’s life story is told in The Woman Beyond the Attic. Join the conversation about the world of V.C. Andrews at Facebook.com/OfficialVCAndrews.