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Christopher's Diary: Echoes of Dollanganger

Book #7 of Dollanganger

Picking up where Christopher’s Diary: Secrets of Foxworth leaves off, Kristin Masterwood and her boyfriend up the ante—by going into her attic to re-enact scenes described in Christopher Dollanganger’s journal.

Jealousy, tragedy, survival, and revenge—the discovery of Christopher’s diary in the ruins of Foxworth Hall brings new secrets of the Dollanganger family to light and obsesses a new generation. With Flowers in the Attic and Petals on the Wind both now major Lifetime TV events, the first new Dollanganger stories in nearly thirty years is a timely look at the events in the attic—from teenage Christopher’s point of view.

Christopher Dollanganger was fourteen when he and his younger siblings—Cathy and the twins, Cory and Carrie—were locked away in the attic of Foxworth Hall, prisoners of their mother’s greedy inheritance scheme. For three long years he kept hope alive for the sake of the others. But the shocking truth about how their ordeal affected him was always kept hidden—until now.

Seventeen-year-old Kristin Masterwood is thrilled when her father’s construction company is hired to inspect the Foxworth property for a prospective buyer. The once grand Southern mansion still sparks legends and half-truths about the four innocent Dollanganger children, even all these decades later. Foxworth holds a special fascination for Kristin, who was too young when her mother died to learn much about her distant blood tie to the notorious family.

Accompanying her dad to the “forbidden territory,” they find a leather-bound book, its yellowed pages filled with the neat script of Christopher Dollanganger himself. Her father grows increasingly uneasy about her reading it, but as she devours the teen’s story page by page, his shattering account of temptation, heartache, courage, and betrayal overtakes Kristin’s every thought. And soon her obsession with the doomed boy crosses a dangerous line…

Christopher’s Diary: Echoes of Dollanganger
Seeing how upset my father was, I realized that I had another reason to get through Christopher’s diary: to solve the puzzles for him. Who wanted this large home on the Foxworth property, and why? I hoped that the clues were somewhere in the diary. Of course, I would say nothing of this to Kane. I had no idea what it all meant or even if it meant anything that concerned the Dollanganger children, and the one thing I didn’t want to do was start a conversation about it in school.

Talk among our group of friends was centered on Tina Kennedy’s upcoming party, anyway. Kane knew how I felt about going. Nevertheless, he enjoyed teasing her by saying we still weren’t sure of our schedule. “We hope to be there, but there are a few things in the works.”

“In the works? What does that mean?” she asked him, and he just looked at me and then gave her a smile and a slight shrug, leaving her gaping after us.

“Why do you tease her, Kane? Don’t you know that especially for a girl like Tina, any attention breeds hope?”

“I’m not teasing. It’s the truth, isn’t it? We have things in the works. Maybe we’ll go, or maybe we’ll be up in your attic.”

“Not when my father is home,” I said. “And if he sees us spending so much time in my room, especially on a weekend, he’s going to get suspicious.”

He gave me the oddest look, his head a little tilted to the right, his eyes smaller. “Sure you’re not exaggerating his attitude about the diary?” he asked.

“I’m sure. He’s made it crystal-clear a number of times.”

He still looked skeptical, which annoyed me. In fact, I was irritable for the rest of the day. I know I didn’t seem myself to my girlfriends. I had nothing funny or flattering to say about Suzette’s new shade of lipstick, which she was proudly demonstrating on her perky little sexy mouth. She had used that description of herself, the girl with the perky little sexy mouth, ever since her older brother’s college buddy described her that way and set her eyelids fluttering for a week.

But I wasn’t ignoring just Suzette. Kyra’s father had given her a black and gold pyramid stud wrap watch this morning, because her birthday was falling on Thanksgiving this year, and he wanted her to feel the impact of a special day. He and her mother would give her gifts every day until Thanksgiving and probably the day after, too. All of us had expressed interest in such a watch, so I knew I should have been happier for her when she showed it to us.

I was having moments like this ever since Kane first proposed reading the diary together. Without reason, I would find myself trembling and slinking away from contact with my girlfriends. The moments passed quickly enough. They were like tiny puffs of black smoke after a match was struck. Kane always seemed to be able to bring me back with his jokes and offbeat smile.

However, he knew he had annoyed me by doubting that my father was so against my reading the diary. He apologized at lunch and broke his rule that we shouldn’t talk about the diary outside of my attic, or at least outside of my house.

“It’s a very sad, even at times brutal story, but after some of the stories lately concerning people locked away for years, it’s not full of black magic or anything for me. That’s all I meant.”

“We haven’t reached the end, Kane. You might change your mind.”

He nodded. “I might,” he admitted. “But that’s more reason for us to do it like we’re doing it. We can comfort each other, right?”

“Comfort?”

“Just like Cathy and Christopher did,” he said. “Everything unpleasant is more unpleasant when you’re the only one feeling or experiencing it. That’s why as soon as something bad happens to us, we like to share it. We need the empathy and sympathy to help us get through it.”

“Apparently, they didn’t have anyone to do that for them, even their own mother,” I said bitterly.

“Looks like it,” he said.

“What is making you two look like you lost your best friends?” Serena Mota asked us as she was passing our table.

Kane looked at me and quickly said, “We’re upset because we might have to miss Tina Kennedy’s party this weekend.”

Serena looked at us, dumbfounded for a moment, and then shrugged. “I might miss it, too.”

As she walked off, we both laughed, but the lesson was learned. We looked at each other and repeated it word for word. “Don’t talk about the diary in school!”

I was afraid that Kane’s obvious anticipation of my meeting him at the end of the day and our usual rather quick departure from the building, both of us avoiding contact or conversation with any of our friends who might delay us even for a few minutes, would attract even more attention and interest in how we were spending our afternoons together. Of course, as with most things, he didn’t worry about it and just smiled and shrugged when I mentioned it on our way to my house.

It had been a while since my closer girlfriends had called me, too. I knew they were all getting a little upset with me, probably telling each other that I was getting snobby because I was going with Kane.

However, I noticed that he was acting a little different this time. As usual, he brought his book bag in to leave in my room so that later we could employ the cover activity we had been using, doing our homework together. But then he suggested that I get us a snack of some sort, since by now the Dollangangers would have something like that, too, perhaps leftovers from the holidays. While I was doing that, he said he would go up to the attic and arrange things. I knew it was silly to feel it at this point, but I couldn’t help being a little reluctant to give him the diary to take up with him without me. It was a ridiculous anxiety. After all, he had been alone in my room reading it, hadn’t he? It was just something about it being up in the attic without me that made me uneasy. I was like the Keeper of the Book or something in a science-fiction movie. As if he could read my thoughts, before I could say anything, he told me to bring the diary up with everything else and then charged up the stairs.

I went into the kitchen, cut up cheese for some crackers, got some cups and lemonade, put it all on a tray, and walked up, stopping in my room to get the diary and put it on the tray. I could hear him moving things around above. I stood there for a moment thinking about it. Corrine had given the children a television. When they were in the attic, they were playing games. The twins weren’t big, but their constant scuffling about and all the other sounds surely must have been heard by someone, some servant below. What did their grandmother tell anyone who commented about it? That maybe it was mice or rats or raccoons that had gotten into the attic? Kane’s insistence that they weren’t as big a secret as both Corrine and Grandmother Olivia told them they were was beginning to sound more credible to me. It could even have something to do with the mystery my father was discovering.

I walked up the stairs carefully, balancing everything on the tray. Kane had left the attic door open for me. I entered and stopped dead in my tracks. Kane had unfolded and set up the sofa bed, but that wasn’t what surprised me. It was what he was wearing, what he obviously had kept hidden in his book bag all day.

He was wearing a wig with a shade of flaxen gold hair nearly identical to my hair color. I didn’t speak. I just gaped at him and had this eerie feeling shudder through my body.

“Say something,” he said. “It’s pretty good, isn’t it? I stole some of the strands of your hair from your hair brush a few times and put them together to give the wig store guy a pretty accurate idea of the color I wanted. This was specially made for me. I’m assuming Christopher’s hair would be this long by now. I have the feeling he wore it this way, anyway,” he added. He kept talking, because I was making him nervous just standing and staring at him. “I mean, I don’t have your color eyes, but we can skip that one, or I might get color contacts of plain glass. So? Doesn’t this help you envision him—them?”

“Yes, I guess it does. It was just such a shock seeing you there.”

He smiled. “You thought Christopher might have appeared?”

“Not quite that,” I said, putting the tray on a small table. “It was just a shock.”

He nodded and picked up a cracker and some cheese. “I’m a little hungry,” he said, smiling.

I looked at the bed. “Why did you do that?”

“Before I closed the diary yesterday, I glanced at the next page. You’ll see,” he said. He poured himself some lemonade and ate another cracker and cheese. I took some and sat on the bed. We just stared at each other a moment. I was shaking my head. “What?”

“That wig. Changes your whole look.”

“That’s the idea. Actors don’t want the audience to see them; they want the audience to see and hear the character they’re playing. Let’s get started,” he said, swallowed some more lemonade, and then plucked the diary off the tray and opened it to where we had left off. I sat on the bed while he walked around reading, but it was taking me a little while to get used to him as a flaxen blond.

During January, February, and most of March, we rarely went up to the attic. It was so cold, some days we could see our breath, and the twins were very uncomfortable, their misery level going up a few notches every time we attempted to go up there. So what we had to do was stay in our claustrophobic bedroom, huddled up in bed together, watching television. I understood why people in foreign countries liked to watch American television. They could learn English and much more. Suddenly, for us, too, the television Momma had brought wasn’t just a window on the outside world; it was a teaching device, because the twins, and even Cathy, had questions raised by what we saw.

Kane paused, nodded at me, and then made himself comfortable beside me on the sofa bed. He looked so pleased with himself that I almost laughed.

“Big shot,” I said.

He blew on the tips of the fingers on his right hand, and I poked him. Then I lay back beside him, and he continued, his voice softening until he was almost whispering.

It was inevitable that I would see Cathy’s body maturing right before my eyes. She was at that age when some girls advance in leaps and bounds. I always believed she would be one of them. I could see she wasn’t reacting well to it. I caught her trying to pluck her sprouting pubic hair and saw that she was self-conscious about her budding breasts. My maturing had become obvious, too. When she discovered the stains resulting from my seminal night losses, she thought I was peeing in bed and wanted me to tell Momma. I tried to explain it, and then I realized it was time Momma had a mother-daughter talk with her, not about me so much as about what was soon to happen to her. As Momma was leaving us one day, I caught her arm at the door and turned her toward me to whisper.

“You’ve got to explain the facts of life to Cathy, Momma. She’s going to experience menarche,” I said.

For a moment, I thought Momma didn’t know that word, which meant a girl’s first period. Then it suddenly dawned on her, and she nodded and told me she would handle it. I should take the twins up to the attic and let her have that conversation when she was ready to do it. I wonder if she would ever have done it if I hadn’t brought it to her attention. Like some parents, was she hoping her children would just suddenly, almost miraculously, know what they had to know about their own bodies? We weren’t in school, where Cathy or I could get the information in some health class or science class, either.

One day soon after, Momma finally had the conversation with Cathy that I wanted her to have. Afterward, I assumed it had gone well, because Momma was so proud of me for alerting her. I was actually a little embarrassed by her over-the-top affectionate kisses and hugs. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the twins looking at us jealously, and I tried to get Momma to pay them more attention, but all she could do for now was smile and whisper, “My little doctor. Menarche.” She left laughing. When I glanced at Cathy, I saw a look of pure rage on her face. I realized she didn’t like the facts of life. None of us wanted to be dragged into adulthood this soon, but life at Foxworth Hall was making it impossible not to be. You could pretend it away just so long. Cold reality was there to greet us in the morning and especially at night when we went to bed.

The warmth of spring made it possible for us to spend more time in the attic again. The twins needed the space more than Cathy and I, the chance to move their legs and arms and hopefully grow normally now. Momma continued to lavish gifts upon us, especially on Cathy’s birthday and then the twins’ birthday. They were now six. It was when Cory began to take to the musical toy accordion and piano that Momma finally sat and told us about her two dead brothers. She said Cory had probably inherited their penchant for music. Then she described the death of her older brother Mal, who, eerily like my father, had been killed in a car accident. What happened to her younger brother, Joel, was even stranger. She said he had run away from home the day of Mal’s funeral.

“He didn’t want to become his father,” she said. “He didn’t want this life. My father didn’t appreciate Joel’s love of music.”

“Where did he go? What happened to him?” I asked.

“He went to Europe. He had taken a job with a traveling orchestra. I think he was always planning to do that. My father wouldn’t have permitted it, of course. He wouldn’t even hear of it. And then . . .”

“Then what?” We were all glued to her, the dreadful expression on her face, the way she hesitated. Even the twins, who didn’t quite understand it all, were entranced.

“We learned he had died in a skiing accident in Switzerland. We were told he went off into a ravine, and something of an avalanche had followed. It was too high up to melt away enough for his body to be discovered. At night, I would wake up after having a nightmare in which he emerged from the snow, still frozen, still dead.”

None of us spoke. Cathy’s eyes were big with fear. Momma realized it right away. She had gone too far.

“But I haven’t had that dream for years and years, and when your father came into my life, he washed away the sadness,” she said quickly, with her beautiful smile born out of the memories she obviously cherished.

Cathy’s face softened and then grew sad again. “He’s gone, too,” she whispered. I decided to pretend I didn’t hear her.

Afterward, to lift the gloom and doom, I suggested to Cathy that we take on a big job: teaching the twins to read and write. At first, I didn’t think she would be interested, but she was, and she was good at finding ways to overcome their resistance and make learning fun. One night, I told her how proud of her I was. The twins were asleep, exhausted from their lessons and their playtime, which Cathy ran like a school monitor and then followed with more lessons. I slipped onto the bed beside her. She opened her eyes with surprise.

“You were wonderful today,” I whispered. “I watched you. You were so into it.”

“What else is there to do?” she replied bitterly.

“It’s going to get better . . . soon,” I said.

She put her fingers on my lips. “No more promises, Christopher. I’m tired of promises. It’s like waiting for rain in a drought.”

“We’re going to get through it,” I said. “You’ll see. That’s not a promise. It’s a prediction.”

She smiled. I was just realizing how cute a smile she had. It had something of Daddy in it but more Momma’s lips. I leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead. As I drew back to return to Cory’s and my bed, she grabbed my wrist and then, to my surprise, kissed me quickly on the lips the way Momma often did. The instant she had done it, she turned quickly. I lay there a few moments more. I could see the graceful turn in her neck to her shoulder. I wanted to touch it, but I retreated.

That night, I woke during a seminal night loss that lasted so long it actually frightened me for a moment. Right before it happened, I had dreamed of touching Cathy in her private places, pretending I was explaining things to her like some health education teacher. In my dream, she saw what was happening to me as a result and then decided she should be able to touch me, too.

And that’s when it happened.

Kane put the diary down beside him and stared up at the ceiling. Then he turned to me slowly. I saw a deeply serious look of yearning in his eyes.

“What?” I whispered.

“Last night, I had a wet dream, what he calls ‘seminal loss’ . . . thinking of you. It was almost an identical dream.”

I did not know how something you heard could embarrass you and yet fascinate and excite you at the same time, but that was exactly what his revelation did. My close girlfriends and I trusted one another with confessions about our sexuality. Sometimes we told things to one another simply to confirm that our experience was normal. I know that for most of the girls, it was easier to tell one another these things than it was to tell their mothers or even their older sisters. They wanted to disclose their secrets to someone who wouldn’t impose any judgments. None of us would be critical or make fun of one of us for what she had told us.

But I couldn’t remember any of my girlfriends ever telling something as personal as this that her boyfriend had revealed to her. Even Suzette had nothing like this to tell us. Of course, Kane would trust that I would never tell any of them what he had said. I don’t know whether he expected to hear something similar from me, but I did feel that I should give him something to show him that I had as much trust in him as he had in me.

“I fantasize about you, too,” I said.

He smiled, and then we kissed. “Maybe we should live our fantasies,” he whispered, his lips so close to my ear that it felt like his words caressed me. “What was your fantasy?”

I hesitated.

“If you can’t tell me, who could you tell?”

“Maybe I should tell no one.”

“Okay. Don’t tell me. Show me,” he said.

Just the idea brought a flush into my face. I started to shake my head, but he leaned forward quickly and kissed me.

Then he said, “Please.”

My two voices that usually argued didn’t even begin. A wave of delicious warmth rose up my legs, consuming me in a rush of desire just like I had experienced in my fantasy, desire that had awakened me to the sound of my own moans of pleasure. And just like in my fantasy, my fingers moved to the buttons of my blouse. As I began to undress, Kane lay back on the pillow and watched. I saw his lips tremble when I unfastened my bra and then began to undo the belt on my jeans. As I lowered them, he put the diary down.

“What did I do in this fantasy?” he asked, sounding fragile, almost helpless.

“You just watched,” I said. “To prove to me that you could control yourself.”

His eyes widened when I stepped out of my panties. “That’s cruel,” he said. It looked like tears had come into his eyes.

I smiled and lay beside him again. “Just kiss me,” I said.

He did, and then he smiled. “You put words into my mouth unfairly in your fantasy.” Then he brightened with a thought. “This is a fantasy Cathy might be having just at this point.”

“Maybe,” I said. “We’re not reading her diary, though.”

“Christopher is very intelligent. He knows she’s having it,” he insisted, and then he began to kiss me everywhere, moving randomly at first over my breasts, my stomach, and then my thighs.

I could feel my resistance rapidly defrosting, but I had a surge of caution and gently pushed him back.

“I’m dying here,” he protested.

“You insisted that I show you my fantasy,” I told him, and he groaned. I looked at him seriously and thought lovingly. “Not yet,” I said.

“When, then?”

“I don’t know. I just know . . . not yet,” I said. “Please.”

I felt his disappointment. It was that clear in his face, a face that was usually very good at hiding thoughts and feelings. He realized it, too, and gave me that smile and a shrug. “I promise I’ll respect you in the morning,” he said.

“But will I respect myself?” I countered, and put on my panties.

“Next time, I’ll keep my mouth shut, I think.” He put his hands behind his head and watched me finish dressing. “Was it the wig?” he asked when I was almost finished.

I looked at him. Was it? I wondered. “Maybe,” I said.

He reached for the diary quickly, so quickly it was as if he was positive that my hesitation would diminish somewhere in the pages to come.

And that was more eerie than anything.

Summer came, and because of the warmth, the attic was once again tolerable for us. Momma knew we needed more and more to keep us occupied. She began bringing us books that looked like they might have come from the library in the house, especially the history books. Sometimes I read things aloud to Cathy, and sometimes she read them to me. The twins would listen for a few moments and then get bored and distract themselves with their toys, Momma’s precious dollhouse, or just a nap.

One afternoon while they were napping, Cathy and I lay together on the stained old mattress by the attic window and had one of the most intimate conversations between us. We talked about what nudity could lead to and then about her menarche. I was honest about the changes in me, too. I was sure that the honesty we shared made us closer than most brothers and sisters. I pressed my face to her hair and assured her that what was happening to her and to me was right and good and nothing to be ashamed of. We clung to each other silently, as if the whole world swirled around us and we had no place else to go to be safe but into each other’s arms.

Before we parted, she asked me if I thought it was odd that Momma had kept us locked up so long, that she had put up with our grandmother’s demands no matter how it affected us. “She seems to be doing well,” she added. “Much better than we’re doing.”

I couldn’t deny that Momma seemed to have more money, beautiful clothes, and jewelry. I had to admit that I had the same thoughts, but I told her we had to have faith in her. She seemed to know what she was doing. She had a plan, and we had to let her work it out.

And then, after a time when she hadn’t been by to see us, Momma came and told us that, finally, her father was very ill. He was much worse than he was when we had first arrived. She was confident that he would die soon, and as soon as he did, we would be free. How happy Cathy and I were all those days as we waited, hopeful. I didn’t even feel guilty about wishing for my grandfather’s death.

And then one day, Momma came to our door, poked her head in, and told us he had recuperated and the doctors said he had passed through a crisis. She left before I could ask a single medical question.

Neither Cathy nor I could speak. We put the twins to bed that night and looked at the calendar. With rage in her fingers, Cathy made an X through the day, then turned to me and said something I had either deliberately forgotten or just hadn’t realized.

It was August.

We had been here a year!

When Kane stopped reading and lowered the diary, neither of us spoke. A dark pall of silence fell between us. Without looking at me, he got up and went to the windows and looked out. I watched him and waited, as if no matter what I said or how I said it, the sound of my voice would shatter us both. For a few moments, with him standing there like that and wearing that wig, I could easily imagine Christopher by a window in the Foxworth Hall attic, gazing out at the warm sunshine and the full-blown woods that surely resembled a green sea with waves of maples and oaks flowing toward the horizon. Perhaps he looked longingly toward the lake where Kane and I had picnicked. Perhaps he watched birds enjoying their freedom, soaring onto higher branches and enjoying their power of flight, and envied them. How torn he had to be, struggling to balance what he knew was their need to grow and mature in a world with others their age and his mother’s desperate plan to bring them back into financial security and promise for their future. Surely he was wondering if the price they were paying was far too high, especially after a year. Maybe he was wondering how he could have lost track of that fact. Maybe he was more afraid now about what was happening to him. If he lost it, what would become of his little brother and sister? What would become of Cathy?

“How long were they really up there, exactly, you think?” Kane asked, without turning back to me.

“I only know from the same stories you read and heard, Kane.”

He turned to me. “Your father never offered an opinion, a hint at what was true?”

“I told you, he doesn’t like talking about it. He said my mother hated hearing about it. It disturbed her, and he can’t forget that.”

“To keep your children locked up for just one year is crazy enough, especially those little ones. How confused and frightened . . .” His voice trailed off. He wiped his head with a quick motion and swiped off the wig. He held it for a moment, turning it slowly in his hand as though he was looking for something, and then he opened one of the trunks and dropped it inside. “I have to go home for dinner tonight,” he said, coming back to the sofa bed. “My sister might be back from college in time for dinner.”

“Oh, that’s nice.”

“With her boyfriend,” he added. “Should be interesting. It will be the first time my parents have met him. I hope my mother doesn’t put him in the maids’ quarters.”

“She wouldn’t do that, would she?”

“My sister would turn around and leave if she did.”

I stood up, and we began to put the attic back to the way it was.

“Maybe we should skip tomorrow,” I said. “Sounds like you’ll have lots to do.”

“No, no,” he quickly responded. “She’ll be showing him around all day. We want to get as much read as we can while your father has this schedule, right?”

“I’m not sure what his schedule will be. I’ll find out tonight.”

“Well, even if he’s back for dinner, we still have a few hours after school. I don’t want to whiz through it, but I can’t help but wonder where this is all heading.”

“Okay,” I said.

He smiled, but I could see that he was still quite disturbed. We walked down to my room. He started to pick up his books, paused, and flopped back on the desk chair. I stood there for a moment and then sat on my bed. He looked emotionally exhausted, like a shadow had darkened his eyes even more.

“Do you want to stop reading this?” I said, holding up the diary. “Because if you’re saying what you’re saying and doing it just for me . . .”

“Oh, no, no. I can handle it.”

“Then what is it? I see that something’s seriously upset you.”

He smiled. “I’m still reeling from your fantasy and the frustration that followed.”

“No, you’re not. Don’t try to joke your way out of this. I’m getting to know you too well.”

“You mean I’m losing the famous Kane Hill mystique?”

“What is it, Kane?” I persisted.

He nodded, a sign of surrender, and then leaned forward, thinking. When he looked up, I could see he had decided on something very important to him. I held my breath. My mind raced from one end of the spectrum to the other, ranging from thinking he might tell me about some terrible illness he or someone in his family was suffering to imagining a confession about something terrible he had done. If it involved one of the girls in our classes, I was hoping he wouldn’t reveal it.

“I’m still a virgin,” he confessed instead.

If there was anything I did not expect to hear, it was that. For a moment, I couldn’t speak. Of course, I was sure I looked skeptical.

“I know, I know,” he continued, putting up his hand before I could say anything, not that I knew what to say. “I’ve got this reputation. Funny, the girls I have been with would never say we hadn’t gone that far if they were asked. It would reflect more on them than me, I guess. It’s not that they didn’t want to; it’s more that I didn’t want to with them. Do you believe me?”

“No.”

He nodded. “Understandable.”

“Why tell me that, anyway?” I asked. “You think that is the reason I’ve held back, that you’ve been with so many other girls, and I’d just be another?”

“Well, it could be your reason.”

“If I thought you believed that, I would certainly be even more skeptical about what you’re saying now, wouldn’t I? Naturally, I’d think you were manipulating me.”

“I guess, but you’re about as easy to manipulate as a steel rod.” He leaned back.

“Remember that conversation we had once about why some girls are easy and some aren’t? You’ve tried to get me to go further, Kane. You’re not exactly Mr. Shy. You don’t come off as a virgin.”

“I wanted to, yes. I wanted to upstairs just now. I don’t think I ever wanted to more. I want to every moment I’m with you. You think that’s dirty or something?”

“No. I didn’t say that.”

“I think it will mean more with you. I hope you think or will think the same. I suppose all I’m trying to say is, when you’re ready, I’m ready.”

I smiled.

“What?”

“I think you’ve been ready from the first day.”

He held up his hands. “Guilty,” he said, and stood up. “I’d better get out of here before I confess too much more.” He scooped up his books and turned toward the door.

“What brought on this confession, Kane?”

He stood looking at the floor.

“It was Christopher, wasn’t it?” I asked him before he could leave. “The things he wrote about sex, his feelings? That’s what got you to tell me this, isn’t it?”

I didn’t think he would answer. He looked like he just wanted to leave, but after a moment, with his head still down, he said, “Yes.”

“Why? What exactly was it that pushed your buttons? Don’t try to make a joke of it,” I added quickly. “What will make anything between us significant is honesty.”

He looked at me and said, “My sister is only a few years older than I am. She’s very pretty.”

“I know. I’ve seen her. So?” My mind began spinning with the possibilities. What else was he going to tell me? Did I want to hear it?

“Enough said for now, maybe,” he replied. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

If I had ever felt I was hanging off a cliff, it was right then. He was already halfway to the stairs. I got up to follow him down and to the doorway. He paused and turned to me. Suddenly, he looked more like he did in the attic, more like Christopher than Kane. I even imagined that wig. The light in his eyes seemed to flicker. He had never looked as serious and less Kane Hill–like than he did at this moment. It made my heart flutter.

“I feel like we have something very special because of the diary, don’t you? Like we’re privileged by being granted entry to someone else’s most private, painful, and yet at times strangely wonderful thoughts. Do you feel it, too, this . . . this possession? I mean, it’s really as if Christopher Dollanganger is talking to you and me. Right?”

I could see he thought he might be going mad and wanted confirmation. But it was true. I did feel the same things. “Yes.”

“Let’s not do anything that might make us lose it.”

“Okay.”

He smiled, gave me a quick kiss on the lips, and started for his car. I stood there watching him get in and then back the car out. He waved and drove off. Little butterflies of panic were fluttering in my head. I couldn’t help but think that he was more than right, that we had crossed some forbidden line. The diary had led us into a world where emotions whirled, fears crawled about like electric spiders, and private secrets locked in our hearts began popping around us like bubbles.

Suddenly, I felt lonelier than I had felt in a very long time. I remembered myself as a little girl for no apparent reason turning away from my toy world and rushing to my mother, who seemed to instinctively know she had to embrace me and kiss me and smile softly, lovingly.

It was only natural for very young children to be overtaken by inexplicable fears, perhaps the leading one being the fear of being deserted, to suddenly turn around and be afraid that you were all alone. I thought of the Dollanganger twins literally shoved into that strange, cold world and left to cling to each other, to a sister barely old enough to comfort herself and to an older brother who was struggling to be a man with a man’s responsibilities long before that should happen.

My mother couldn’t stop herself from comforting me. It was essential to being a mother. What inside Corrine was stronger than that need? When she went to sleep at night, did she toss and turn, thinking of her children locked away yet so close? Did she imagine their moans? Hear them calling for her? Did she struggle with the urge to go to them and rip them out of that dark world, where nightmares danced around them?

Among other things, like me, Kane felt some of this, understood their pain. I was sure, but I was also sure there was some other feeling, some other memory that had just been exposed in today’s reading. Whatever had kept it from resurfacing had been ripped away. Did I want to know, to pursue it until I found out? Maybe it was better if we remained somewhat strangers to each other.

I had started to return to my room when the phone rang.

“Hey,” my father said.

He had heard something in my voice when I said hello. I wasn’t surprised. Because we were so dependent on each other since my mother’s death, we were both sensitive to the smallest changes, the slightest signals in our voices or in our faces. We both knew when something troubled or annoyed one of us. Loving someone meant being able to understand him or her better than anyone else.

He paused and then asked, “Everything all right?”

“Yes, fine,” I said. In the small pause, I knew that he knew that wasn’t so, but he chose not to pursue it.

“Free for dinner?”

“Yes.”

“Good. I’m home in an hour. I feel like Charley’s. Is that all right?”

“Sure,” I said. I wasn’t in the mood for anything more formal. My father liked Charley’s Diner because it was his chance to meet some of his old friends and toss around stories and their form of gossip. Charley’s was a sort of hangout for men involved with the construction industry.

It was designed like an old 1950s diner, with faux-leather red booths with pleated white centers and chrome edges and base tables. There was a long counter with swivel barstools, lots of Formica and chrome, but there were also a dozen retro dinette sets, again with lots of chrome and Formica. The floor was a black and white checker, and although some of them didn’t work, there were miniature jukeboxes at the booths and on the counter. Consequently, there was always music but nothing anyone my age would appreciate. Actually, I never saw any of my school friends there.

Charley Martin was the original owner. He was well into his seventies, although he looked ten years younger, with his full head of salt-and-pepper hair swept back and on the sides as if he had just run a wet washcloth over it, maybe with a little style lotion. He was stout, with the forearms of a carpenter, both arms stained with tattoos he had gotten in the Philippines when he was in the navy. Dad called him Popeye. He pretended to be annoyed, but I could see he liked it.

“Is it just the two of us?” my father asked cautiously, obviously assuming that the note of sadness he had heard in my voice had something to do with Kane. Perhaps my little romance had crashed on the rocks like a little sailboat.

“Yes. Kane went home. His sister is arriving for her Thanksgiving break tonight,” I quickly added to wash away his suspicions.

“That’s nice,” he said. “I’m going to cook up a storm for us.” I knew what he was thinking now. Kane’s family’s preparations for a family get-together on Thanksgiving would remind me of the hole in my heart, too. “See you soon.”

After I hung up, I went to get into some of my homework so there wouldn’t be much when we returned. I had left Christopher’s diary on the bed. When I picked it up to put it under my pillow, I was so tempted to open to the page where we had left off. Maybe it was a good idea to read ahead now, I thought. I would know what to expect and how to react to the way Kane would react, especially after seeing the way he was today. That was a good rationalization for it, but then I feared he would know I had read ahead and that would break our trust. Besides, I really had to get into my homework. My father could linger at Charley’s.

And linger we did. Everyone there wanted to hear about the new construction on the old Foxworth property. I listened politely as they debated some of the new materials and techniques versus the old tried-and-true. I didn’t want to interrupt or complain that we were staying too long. I could see how happy my father was talking shop with some of the men he’d known since he had first begun in Charlottesville. With any reference to my mother, even a passing one, he would shift his gaze to me and then find a way to change the topic. Finally, he was tired himself, and we left.

“Some of those guys are so set in their ways they’re like petrified trees,” he joked on our way home in Black Beauty. It rode rough, but he kept the engine purring.

He hadn’t mentioned this at Charley’s, but as we drew closer to home, he decided to tell me.

“The darndest thing,” he said, “but I was given quite a challenge today. ’Course, there’s enough time to adjust things, and I suppose it works with the architecture. No structural problems with the roof.”

“What is it?” I asked, wondering if he would ever say.

“Oh. There’ll be no attic. I mean, there’ll be a crawl space but no actual attic. ’Course, lots of houses don’t have attics today. Wasted space for most. Things go to these storage places you rent or just get given away. No one wants memories.”

“So why is it so weird?”

“Oh, it’s not so weird. It’s just that the original plan had a sizable attic, and then this new order came down the pike,” he said. “But how does that saying go? Ours is not to reason why . . .”

He didn’t finish the line, and I didn’t want to finish it for him: “Ours is but to do and die.” Either he didn’t want to mention it or he really didn’t care to make the connection, but eliminating an attic in the new structure suggested to me that the new real owner didn’t want even the idea of an attic on that property, and yet other things were shared with the old structure in this new one, like views from windows; it was a puzzle.

When we got home, I went right to finishing my homework and studying a bit for a history quiz. Unlike on most nights, my father didn’t fall asleep in front of the television. He did some paperwork, then decided to turn in early and stopped by to say good night.

“Tomorrow’s Friday. You have any plans yet?” he asked.

“Nothing for Friday yet, but expect to,” I replied. “Tina Kennedy is having a party Saturday night, which we might attend, but tomorrow night there’s a new movie we both want to see. I guess we’ll go for something to eat first. Are you working till the same time?”

“With daylight savings time, it gets dark now, not much choice,” he replied. “Don’t worry about me. Have a good time.”

“I can do both,” I said, and he laughed.

I had a message from Kane on my voice mail. He just said to call him when I could.

“Problems for Darlena?” I asked as soon as he answered. I was thinking of their first dinner with Darlena’s boyfriend.

“No, not really. My mother was cordial, as cordial as a queen might be to a servant, but we got through it. My father grilled him as if he had come to ask for a job. Darlena should get herself and him through the maze and return to college after the holiday with only minor scars.”

“Is your mother really that bad?”

“Let’s just say when she’s seventy, she’ll be a leading candidate for the Olivia Foxworth award.”

“Oh, stop,” I said, and he laughed.

“What I really wanted to tell you was I’m all right. I could see you were a little concerned when we said good-bye today, but don’t worry about me reading the diary. I’m not usually that emotional about anything.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.”

“You’re good, angel, you’re real good.”

“I know. Are we going to the movies tomorrow night? I told my father we might.”

“Sure. After we—”

“Do our session in the attic. I know. I can’t believe I was once more enthusiastic about this than you were.”

“Were you?”

“I’ve got to go to sleep. I have a test tomorrow.”

“You can practice your answers on me in the morning,” he said. “I’ll go to sleep counting the minutes until I see you.”

In the morning, my father told me that he had forgotten to mention that my aunt Barbara wouldn’t be coming to our Thanksgiving after all. It wasn’t because she felt she had to go to her boss’s dinner. She had come down with a bad chest cold. I saw that he was quite disappointed, enough to suggest that we might visit her in the spring. He wasn’t fond of going to New York. He claimed he was too much a small-town boy.

This was going to be the ninth Thanksgiving for us without my mother. There would always be that gaping hole in our holiday happiness. Aunt Barbara’s presence would have helped us get through it a little, so I shared my father’s disappointment. Feeling this way brought back the terrible Thanksgiving the Dollanganger children had soon after they were brought to Foxworth Hall. For them, there would never be another with their father, and that first time, they didn’t even have their mother. Just like mine, their holidays would be forever a mixture of sadness and joy, no matter how fast their freedom was returned and how rich they would all be.

When Kane arrived in the morning and we started for school, most of his conversation was about his sister and her boyfriend, Julio Lancaster. Kane told me he was named after his maternal grandfather. He was the fourth of four children, with two older sisters and one older brother.

“How is he taking your parents?” I asked.

“My sister prepared him well. He’s overly polite. I have to believe he went overboard on his conservative appearance, too. He has a haircut like my father’s, wore a tie to dinner, wore shoes with a shine better than my father’s, and had sharp creases in his pants. He looked like he had taken a graduate course in dinner etiquette, too. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought he was satirizing my mother especially. I loved the way she pronounced his name: Jewel-o. Darlena kept correcting her, and he kept saying, ‘It’s all right. My father’s mother calls me Jewel-e.’ Even my father had to laugh at that.”

“Why is it I suspect your sister might be going with him and brought him home just to get at your mother?”

Kane smiled. “Could be, but he’s not bad-looking, and he is a bright guy. Slim, swimmer’s build, about six foot one, with those sexy dark Spanish eyes and a voice as melodic as Julio Iglesias’s, whose singing my mother likes, by the way. It’s like those racists who watch Oprah regularly.”

“Hearing you talk about your mother helps me to understand why you’re so ready to condemn Corrine Dollanganger,” I said.

“Yeah, I know, but something keeps me from all-out condemning her. But I can’t help believing she’s going to break Christopher’s heart.”

I nodded, and Kane changed the topic. He described how his close buddies were teasing him about me. Already, he had been seeing me longer than he had any other girl in our school.

“I’m losing my playboy reputation. It’s even caught my mother’s attention.”

“Oh? Is she upset?”

“No, but she quipped that I might have to bring you around to introduce you to her if my ‘new fling’ continues much longer. I think some of her trusted gossips mentioned it to her. Brought up like a princess, you naturally assume you’ll be queen.”

“If you keep talking about her like that, I’ll be terrified of meeting her.”

“That’s the idea. She likes people being a little terrified of her.”

“Stop it,” I said, and he laughed. The difference between him this morning and the way he had been when he was leaving my house the day before was like night and day.

The school day always seemed to go faster on Fridays. Maybe it was because of how hard we wished for the final bell and the beginning of the weekend. Tina Kennedy tried to up the excitement for her party by revealing that her parents had agreed to pay for a disc jockey. Her family had a large ranch-style home with a beautiful five acres just outside of the city in the opposite direction from ours. Besides the adult bar, her father owned five Burger King franchises and a number of triple-net properties renting to drugstores and two supermarkets. Tina liked to brag about all this in front of Kane, as if she was giving him another reason they belonged together. She practically came out and said, “The rich belong with the rich,” the implication being that Kane certainly didn’t belong with the daughter of a middle-class construction worker.

Despite how hard she tried to get him to commit to attending her party, Kane held out the possibility that we might not be able to make it. He kept the reason vague and was so convincing he had most, if not all, of my girlfriends believing it and tugging at me to tell them what we would be doing instead. I hadn’t done a very good job of hiding my lack of interest in her party, anyway.

“I can’t say, because it might be a surprise,” I told them, which only intensified their curiosity.

Suzette suggested that it might have to do with Darlena. She knew Darlena had brought her boyfriend home from college. Her mother was a member of Kane’s mother’s gossip club. “Maybe they’re going on a double date,” she told the others.

Going on a double date with a college junior and senior probably seemed very sophisticated to them. It set off a flurry of conjectures and more questions, but neither Kane nor I offered any further details. At the end of the day, we both hurried out of the building, laughing about the buzz we had created.

“My phone will be ringing all day tomorrow,” I said.

“I’ll just have to keep you too busy to answer,” he replied, and we drove off to my house.

Right from the beginning, I believed that reading the diary together would either draw us closer or drive us apart. Seeing how he had reacted and knowing how I had been reacting did make sharing it something special between us, as he had said. Would I have felt this strongly about him if he had never found the diary and we had never started this? Maybe, I thought, but I would always be carrying the deep secret of the diary inside me, and he would wonder if my silences, my drifting back into something I had read, meant I was getting bored and losing interest in him. He might have pursued the reason, and that probably would have driven me away from him in the end.

Christopher, I thought, you never dreamed you would do this, that you would become a bridge between a boy and a girl, taking them across to a place they would fear and despise and yet be attracted to, maybe even in their special way cherish. You had no reason to believe that all that you felt and experienced would be understood and shared as if it belonged to someone else, maybe to everyone.

Kane and I walked up the stairs, now more than ever feeling like two explorers traveling to another country inside themselves. He went right to the trunk. I thought he had cast the wig aside, maybe feeling foolish about it, but I was wrong. He put it on and smiled. “Hi, Cathy,” he said, and began to read.

So much of what we did and how we lived the following year was the same as the first year that I can simply say another year passed.

Never in my wildest imaginings did I see us living in that small room and this attic for this long. Every day, I awoke the same way, with the same thought: Today, our grandfather will die, and we will return to the world. And every day, he lived on.

Momma wasn’t visiting us as frequently. A heavy wave of resignation settled over Cathy and me. We were the twins’ parents now, caring for their every need, teaching them what we could, amusing them every way we could, healing them when they had colds or bruises and cuts, and comforting them when they had nightmares. Nevertheless, it was good that they had each other. I didn’t tell Cathy this, because I knew she would go into some sort of rage, but I found an old book on the care and breeding of dogs. It was highly recommended that there be at least two if the owners were not going to be able to pay them enough attention. Children were certainly no less than dogs. They needed company.

For Cathy and me, expanding our territory somehow became paramount. I realized that on Thursdays especially, when the servants left for town, she and I could crawl out onto the roof and sun ourselves. It became our outing, our little trip to someplace else. We went there during the day and during the night. It gave us the desperately needed sense of some freedom.

Time wasn’t simply marked off on calendars. We had three, one dedicated to the death of our grandfather, because that was supposed to be the birth of our freedom and new life. Time was also marked by our own physical maturing. Cathy was far more aware of hers than I was of mine. Girls usually mature faster in so many ways. I knew she was intrigued about it because of her constant questions, the answers for some of which I had to research.

What happened next was my fault more than Cathy’s. One day, I found her gazing at her naked body, exploring the changes in her breasts, the curves in her figure, even touching herself between her legs. Suddenly, she sensed my presence and turned to look at me. I must have looked fascinated, because she didn’t rush to cover herself. Then she reached for her dress, and I said, “Don’t.” She held the dress but made no effort to put it on.

I kept thinking I shouldn’t be doing this, but I was so drawn to her sex, and I could see she was realizing her power over me. She didn’t tease me. At least, I don’t think she did, but all she said was, “You shouldn’t.”

I tried to explain myself, to compliment her on her growing beauty, and then we heard the door being unlocked. She rushed to put on her dress, but she didn’t get it on fast enough to avoid our grandmother’s startled eyes. We watched as she gave a cold, satisfied smile. At last, she said, she had caught us.

Caught us doing what? I protested. I knew what she was going to accuse us of doing, but Cathy had no idea what she meant when she said she was positive now that Cathy had been permitting me to use her body. She made it seem like Cathy’s body, her beautiful hair, were all designed for sin. Of course, Cathy had no idea what she meant by “using her body.” Suddenly, our grandmother left.

Fortunately, the twins weren’t down from the attic to see and hear this. When they came down, I heard our grandmother returning and told Cathy to get into the bathroom, but she was in and on her too fast. She had brought a pair of scissors and said she was going to cut Cathy’s hair down to her scalp.

Cathy and I refused to let her, and she threatened that until Cathy cut her own hair, we all would have no food, even the twins. I thought it was an empty threat. Momma would be around soon, anyway. She left the scissors behind and shut the door. We had a little food left. The twins, of course, were so terrified they trembled. By now, Carrie had come to call Cathy “Momma,” and she often crawled into bed with her so Cathy could embrace her and comfort her. Cory always looked a bit stunned to me, his little mind twirling in confusion. How unnatural it all seemed even to one as little as he.

I didn’t know how long this terrible situation would last, and I had no idea that it would get even worse. The following morning, I awoke late and discovered that during the night, our grandmother from hell had snuck in, injected Cathy with some sedative she had probably taken from our grandfather’s medicine so that Cathy wouldn’t wake, and then poured tar into her hair. When Cathy realized it, she started to scream. I calmed her so that the twins wouldn’t be even more terrorized, and then I tried to shampoo it out while she sat in the tub. It didn’t work, no matter how hard I scrubbed. Hair was coming out in my fingers. I tried mixing some chemicals from a professional set Momma had brought me to keep me occupied with my scientific studies, but nothing worked. The twins kept asking about it. Cathy pretended she had done it to herself. She didn’t want them to know how horrible our grandmother was. It would give them even more nightmares and cause her presence to send cold shivers of fear through their little bodies. They trembled enough as it was for some reason or another every day.

And then it began. She was true to her threat. There was no food brought to us. I was afraid she would sneak in and cut Cathy’s hair anyway, so I tried blocking the door, and we planned to take turns playing sentry. We soon realized there was no reason to do it. She wasn’t coming back until she got what she wanted. She didn’t even check to see how we were doing without food. She brought us no supplies, either. Our toilet bowl got clogged. The twins were listless. All of us were weak without any food. Then I thought that if I cut off some of Cathy’s hair and she wrapped her head in a scarf, that could fool her. We thought it might work, but she still didn’t come with food. I even tried to feed the twins some of my blood for nourishment.

We were desperate. I planned to make a sheet ladder for an escape from the attic. I even prepared dead mice for us to consume for the strength we would need, and then, perhaps believing she had punished us enough, she left us a basket of food. What we discovered, however, was that she had removed every mirror and smashed the one in the bathroom. Cathy wondered why, and I told her I had read that the devil loves vain people. “She believes it and thinks she can stop us from having any pride or what is known as vanity.”

We were in the hands of an insane woman, and deny it as hard as I could, I couldn’t answer Cathy when she asked why—why would our mother let all this happen? All I could think was she didn’t know what her mother was doing to us.

Kane looked at me and stopped reading.

“Are you all right?” he asked. “You look sick to your stomach.”

I nodded. However, for a moment, I couldn’t speak. I actually ran my fingers through my hair as if I believed it had been magically bathed in tar and then cut off.

“He had to feed them his blood?” I said. “I felt my stomach churn when you read that.”

“He felt he had no choice. How could she do that to children so small? I have to say he was clever to cut her hair that way and make it look like she had obeyed the old lady’s insane demand. What would she have done if they had all died? Could she cover up something like that?”

“I don’t know. It gets back to whether anyone else in that house knew about them.”

He held up the diary. “I still say, how could they not? If I understand this correctly, he’s saying they’ve been there two years. That’s a long time to go without anyone else knowing they were there.”

“I suppose.”

He thought a moment. “You know, Kristin, maybe the Halloween stories are not that exaggerated. Some of the stories I’ve heard range from two to five years. We know now that there are people who have been kept locked up that long without anyone realizing it. If he was ready to create a sheet ladder for them and escape because she was starving them to death, why didn’t he do it?”

“I don’t know, Kane. All of it is disturbing, but this part made me sick.”

I didn’t want to say it again, but maybe this was why my father didn’t want me reading the diary. And yet how would he know what was in the diary? Could he know what really had happened at Foxworth Hall? Was that why he hated the property so much that he literally attacked the rubble when it became time to clear it away? Had my mother known any of this? Was this why she hated hearing about it? There were so many questions rolling around in my brain I felt dizzy. And here I had thought reading the diary would bring answers, not more questions.

Kane put the diary down. He stared at me strangely, as if I was going in and out of focus. Maybe he was having a similar reaction.

“What?”

“Maybe he didn’t want to escape.”

“What? Why not?”

“Same reason he didn’t come up with an escape plan earlier. He didn’t want to ruin his mother’s plan.”

“I know, but how could he not want to give up on it by now? Especially after what their grandmother did to them. Who knew what she might do next?”

He was silent a moment, but I could almost see his mind working.

“What?”

“We were just talking about this in my English class recently, something called the Stockholm syndrome, where hostages actually sympathize with their captors. In a way, that’s what Christopher is constantly doing, sympathizing with his mother’s plight, blinding himself to the truth. It sounds crazy, especially after what we just read, but if you’re penned up that long, you might grow comfortable with the situation, especially after years. It sounds like the twins have fully accepted things as they are. They don’t scream for their mother as much.” He paused and then added, “Even Christopher and Cathy seem to be accepting their relationship in a way. I don’t know if it’s so unexpected under the circumstances.”

“What do you mean?”

“The way they treat each other, comfort each other. Sometimes I forget that they’re brother and sister, don’t you?”

“I don’t know.” I didn’t want to say yes, but he was right.

“It’s not unusual. I mean, it could happen to people that age even if they’re not locked away together for years.”

“I’m not sure I understand what you mean, Kane.”

“That scene he described, coming in on Cathy looking at herself . . .”

“Yes?”

“You’ve done that, stood naked before a mirror. It’s only natural to be interested in yourself, right?”

“Yes. Of course.”

“Women would be doing that more than men. There are more changes to observe. I mean, breasts, curves. Men can see hair grow, some size, but looking at yourself . . . that’s not sick or anything.” He seemed to want confirmation from me.

“No, Kane, it’s natural to be curious about yourself. Why do you keep talking about it? What does that have to do with what you’re saying?”

“I don’t know. The way Christopher’s describing it . . . does it make it seem weird?”

“He’s gazing lustfully at his own sister,” I said. “He feels guilty.”

The way Kane sat there and continued to stare at me suddenly convinced me that I knew now what he had meant by telling me his sister was beautiful. “Are you trying to tell me that you’ve done that, spied on your sister?”

He shrugged. “When I was younger. I would never do anything like that now,” he quickly added.

It was my turn to shrug something off. “I bet every boy who has an older sister has done that one time or another,” I said.

“You think? None of my buddies ever told me such a thing.”

“I don’t think they’d talk about it, brag about it. If they did, then they’d be weird.”

“I just did.”

“You didn’t brag about it. All you did was admit to having done it and admitted it to me after what you read. That’s not what I mean.”

“Yes, that’s true. I mean, I’ve done that, the spying, but I didn’t have the kind of thoughts afterward that he had.”

“I’ll say this much. When it came to his being interested in girls, he didn’t have much choice at that moment. That’s all I think it means, Kane.”

“I suppose. Yeah, I guess Christopher and I are not so different, even at this point in the diary,” he said, holding it again. “I mean, he’s not turning into a child monster or anything, the way some of those stupid stories depict him.”

“Oh, no, definitely not. There’s so much about him to admire. You’ve made understanding it all easier. I mean, the way you read it, our being up here and trying to understand what being shut up meant to them, even that wig.” I started to smile.

“Maybe next time we’re up here, you should wrap a scarf around your head.” At first, I thought he might be kidding, but he didn’t smile.

“I still have my hair, Kane.”

“But if you want to feel what she feels . . . it’s just a suggestion.”

I nodded but wondered whether we were taking this too far now. The expression on Kane’s face was so different, especially while he was still wearing the wig. Maybe my own imagination was going wild, too, because I thought he even sounded different, and not just when he read the diary. Every time we entered the attic now, he lost that casual, carefree posture for which he was so well known. There was an intensity about him when we were up here. He didn’t shrug anything off or give me that wry smile, the way he often did at school or when we were with others our age. When he gazed at me now, he looked like he was gazing at someone who was suffering as much inside as he was or, maybe more accurately, as much as Christopher had.

Why wasn’t I happy about all this? Wasn’t it our intention to feel and appreciate what Christopher and Cathy had endured, to use the diary as a doorway to the past and discover what really happened and who they really were? It was working. His ideas made it all more authentic. Why be upset about that?

I had put on my mother’s nightgown for the scene we read. It wasn’t a big leap to wrap a scarf around my head. “Okay. I’ll see.”

He smiled, looked at the diary, and then stood and handed it to me. “Maybe we should think about getting something to eat. The movie starts early.”

“Well, I’m not going out without a shower and changing,” I said.

“Shower? Sounds good to me.”

“Just a shower,” I said firmly, and he laughed.

We restored the attic to the way it had been and went down to my room. I could see what he had on his mind. The thought brought back that rush of excitement I had when I demonstrated my fantasy in the attic. Every part of me tingled in anticipation. How much longer could we be this intimate with each other without “crossing the Rio Grande”? I would be a liar if I said I didn’t want it to happen.

Whenever my girlfriends and I had serious conversations about this, a few questions were inevitable. Who among us would admit to being afraid of it, and not solely because we might become pregnant? There were obviously ways to avoid that. Who among us thought we should be as casual about it as any boy? Who among us thought she shouldn’t do it unless she was really in love with the boy or expected to marry him?

As we grew older, we stopped asking one another these questions. We waited for one of us to admit she had done it. We all joked about it. Most of us believed Suzette had lost her virginity before she was a junior, much less a senior. I thought she enjoyed everyone believing that. Now she was the one teasing everyone else. She didn’t tease me as much. I knew it was because my mother had died. Somehow she believed it would be unfair, perhaps because I had no one at home to run to and confess or ask the important questions.

If there was any reluctance to believe it about me or tease me about it before, it was dying a quick death now that I was “hot and heavy” with Kane in the eyes of my friends. The assumption was that no girl could go with Kane Hill more than two weeks and not have slept with him. If they only knew, I thought, and then I wondered why it was important for them to know anything, really. Did it bother me or make me feel older, more sophisticated, to have them think so? I knew it would bother me if my father thought so. How much, I wondered, would it really bother him? Whatever was left of his image of me as his little girl would evaporate, but did I want to be forever a little girl?

These thoughts and growing pains were hard enough when your hormones took center stage. But to have it happening with no one to compare notes with? That had to be twice as hard. Yes, Cathy missed having friends, for sure. She missed everything girls her age were enjoying out there, but I could speak from experience. Surely she missed having a mother most of all.

Kane watched me move around my room, choosing the clothes I would wear and preparing to take my shower. When I glanced at him, I saw him pretending to be interested in one of my magazines. I smiled to myself, got down to my panties, and went into the bathroom to shower. Maybe it was just natural for a female to be a tease, I thought as I got into the shower. Moments later, I got my payback.

He got into the shower beside me as he had suggested he would. How many times had I seen a movie scene like this? I thought when he kissed me. The warm water cascaded over our heads and bodies. I turned my face into it, thinking that it was a baptism of some sort. It was the first time I was totally naked with a boy who was totally naked. I don’t think I was more than eleven when the image had occurred to me, and along with it, the waves of sensual excitement washed over me so quickly I was afraid I would drown in my own fantasies.

This was no fantasy. My nipples hardened; my legs felt weak. I leaned against him for support as he turned me toward him. His hands moved around my thighs and gently lifted me to him. I felt his excitement building and tensed up. My heart fluttered with panic, not because he was being aggressive as much as because I was quickly losing resistance.

“Kane,” I said, my voice so weak and tiny I wasn’t sure I had said it or thought it.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “When it happens, it will be a lot more comfortable for both of us.”

That made me laugh, but I was in a terrible conflict. I was happy we were under control, but I was also disappointed. It wasn’t the first time in my life when two conflicting emotions had raged inside me simultaneously, and I was sure it wouldn’t be the last. There were those two parts of me again, arguing through every pore in my body, disagreeing along every nerve, only pausing when I brought my lips closer to his. We kissed again and again, his hands gently lifting my breasts toward his lips when he lowered his head.

We kept pulling away from each other and then rushing toward each other, each time closer, tighter, more passionately, and then truly like someone who had come upon a fire. I reached for the shampoo and poured some of it over his head. He cried out when it burned his eyes. He laughed, and then he poured some over my hair.

“I’ll do it,” he said when I reached up to begin washing my hair. I turned to let him go at it. It’s not as hard as trying to shampoo out tar, I thought, when he started to wash my hair for me like a professional beautician.

“Thanks.”

“I’ll do it every night if I can do it in here,” he said.

He stood back as I rinsed, and then he began to work on his own hair. He remained in the shower after I got out. I dried myself, slipped into my panties, paused to catch my breath and let my heart stop pounding. And then, quite contented, I stepped out of the bathroom.

I started for the clothes I had chosen and then stopped. I could feel something different, and not because of what had just happened in the shower.

It was my bedroom door, I realized. We hadn’t closed it when we entered.

But it was closed now.

* * *

How do your parents adjust to the new you once you’ve crossed over from dolls and toy teacups, from cartoon shows and picture books, once you’ve lost your childhood faiths, including all the make-believe you cherished, like waiting for the tooth fairy after you lost one of your teeth? How long does it take them to realize you are your own person, more and more responsible for all you do, for what you think and what you say?

All parents must fool themselves for a while into believing their children would remain young and innocent longer. Perhaps out of fear of what really lay in wait for their children, parents surely cling to the belief that the children’s world was somehow safer. There was all that protection they could layer over it, making sure that they knew exactly where their children were going all the time, filtering out what they heard and saw, locking them safely under wing when curfews came. With a kiss and a hug, they could always drive away goblins and ghosts, monsters and creatures invading their children’s dreams. They could tuck them in securely and watch them fall asleep in the bubble of security they created. Every day for as long as they could do it, they could advise and counsel, demand and receive the obedience that helped tie their children to them.

“Time to go to sleep. You don’t want to be tired and sick.”

“Who’s taking you home from the party?”

“Are any of your friends doing that? Has anyone suggested it?”

“No, you can’t go.”

“You’re not old enough yet.”

“I’ll tell you when.”

Layer after layer of orders ensured that sanctuary with only a moan or two in protest. In the morning, the rules and demands they made firmly still resonated. The little protests were forgotten, at least until the next time.

Gradually, all this began to fall away. It fell in small ways at first, but soon every rule they set down, every demand they made, was challenged more vigorously and bravely. Defiance crept in alongside anger and self-pity. In how many households could we hear, “Everyone else’s parents let them do it! Why can’t you trust me?”

Slowly, their grip weakened. They relented in more ways, and before they knew it, certainly before they wanted it to happen, their children were out there, vulnerable to all the dangers they had somehow escaped. Other parents, psychologists, and advice columns in magazines all warned them that clamping down too hard, tightening the restrictions, forbidding things, would drive their children to be defiant and perhaps even to do something they wouldn’t have done if they hadn’t prohibited it so inflexibly.

My father liked to joke whenever anyone commented on how grown-up I was now, “Yeah. Little kid, little problems, big kid . . .”

Whoever heard it laughed, but behind the laughter, you could see the belief that there was more truth in jest than anyone wanted to admit openly. Who wanted to be a bigger problem? Certainly not me, not now, not for my father, who was already afraid he wasn’t doing all he could to ensure my safety and who felt a bigger burden and obligation to my mother’s memory. To fail in any way with me would have a resounding, deep effect on him, twice as resounding as it was for parents who shared the responsibility with a spouse.

I knew all this, I felt it, but I was also a young adult now. Because of my mother’s unexpected early death, I had been hurried along in so many ways my friends had not been. How many nights did I choose to stay home with my father rather than do something with them? My father thought I was just being very picky about whom I associated with and when I would join them for some event. I let him believe that was true, because I knew how much it would bother him if he thought I had declined something because I felt sorry for him or thought he’d be too lonely.

I was older and surely more mature than everyone with whom I associated. I could see it in how casually they treated the risks they took, whether it was drinking and driving, recreational drugs, curfews, or, yes, sex. But I tried desperately not to preach or make anyone else feel guilty. I knew I wouldn’t hold on to any friends if I said what I thought. Ironically, there were many times when I wished I didn’t have these thoughts, when I wished I was more like them, when I longed to take those risks and fly without a parachute. There was an excitement just beyond me, something I never had tasted, something I never had felt. Despite all I knew was right, I resented my own self-control.

So now, when I left this room and confronted my father, I knew he would be looking at me differently. He would do his best to disguise it; he might even make one of his silly jokes or try to ignore what he had just witnessed. Surely, with the bathroom door open, he had heard our laughter in the shower. I hoped he hadn’t stepped up to the door and looked in, but I couldn’t be sure.

The thing was, I didn’t want to feel ashamed or guilty. I wanted the way he and I had often conducted ourselves, like two equal adults and not always a father and a young daughter, to carry over into this. I wanted him to trust me, but I knew in my heart that even if he wanted to do that, he couldn’t. As he would say, it was not in a father’s DNA.

Before I started down, I looked in on Kane, who was dressing in the bathroom, and said, “My father’s home. He’s been home a while.”

He paused. All the possibilities began to flash before him like trailers for an upcoming movie. He knew, of course, how close my father and I were. Was he going to face a man in a rage? Would he have to deny and lie? Was it better for him to somehow slip away? Would my father forbid us ever to see each other socially again? Would my father call his father and mother to complain? Would the turmoil spread quickly to his house, and would it leak out to the community, our friends? Some would ridicule us, some would joke about it, and some would actually envy us, but it would all make us uncomfortable, especially if our teachers found out. How bad was this?

“Did he . . .”

“I think so,” I said. “Let me go down first. Wait a few minutes and follow.”

He nodded.

I practically tiptoed down the stairway. He wasn’t in the living room, and he wasn’t in the kitchen, but I saw a note taped to the refrigerator door: Just stopped in to get an important invoice I needed. See you later. Dad.

Just like him to let me know he was here, I thought. He wasn’t going to pretend he wasn’t just to let me off the hook. He might not bring it up, but he wasn’t going to let me believe he didn’t know. We knew each other too well for false faces.

Kane came down the stairs slowly and paused in the doorway.

“He went back to work. He was here only to pick up some important paper.”

“Oh.” He looked relieved. “Then maybe he didn’t . . .”

“He saw your car, Kane. He wouldn’t just walk in, get the paper, and walk out. Even though he left this note that implies just that,” I added.

Kane looked at it. “What should we do?”

“Nothing. We should do nothing.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t want to get you into trouble. I just assumed we would be alone. I mean . . .”

“Let’s not apologize to each other for what we do together, okay? If we think we might have to apologize for something, then let’s just not do it.”

He smiled.

“And if and when we see my father soon, do not apologize to him or look guilty.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said, and saluted. He took a deep breath. “I’m still hungry.”

“I will be once my stomach twists out of the knot it’s in,” I replied, and we headed out.

While we were eating, Kane got a text from his sister.

“You’ll be happy,” he said when he looked up.

“Why?”

“My sister and her boyfriend want to take us out to dinner tomorrow night at La Reserve, without my parents. Of course, if we feel generous afterward, we can stop by Tina’s house. Sound good?”

“La Reserve? That’s très fancy.”

“So we’ll dress up, okay?”

“Yes,” I said, but without the enthusiasm I would have had before my father had come home unexpectedly.

Kane knew me well enough to see the hesitation. “You don’t think your father will ground you, punish you or anything?”

“No. My father doesn’t punish me for things I do wrong. He just looks at me with disappointment, and I punish myself,” I said.

“We didn’t do anything wrong,” Kane said, his eyes more like I imagined Christopher’s would be, with that look of intensity and confidence. I almost anticipated a long, scientific explanation for our behavior, supported by references to the situation we were in. He did add, “It’s only natural for me to want to make love to you, Kristin. Both of us are really adults. We’re both less than a year away from being able to vote. Right? We drive cars. We’d be in adult court if we did something illegal, I’m sure.”

“What a relief to know that,” I said.

“I just meant . . .”

“It’s all right. Don’t worry. I’m okay.”

“We can’t legally drink alcohol, but in some countries, we’d be married with children by now,” he added. He was on one of his Kane rolls.

“I’m not leaving the country,” I said, and he laughed.

I was glad we were going to a movie, and for a few hours, at least, I didn’t have to think about anything else. Some of our friends were there, but we didn’t sit near them. When the film ended, we rushed out before anyone could suggest we join them for something. We tried to talk only about the film. When Kane brought me home, he wanted to come in to face my father.

“No sense in running away. I’ve got to face him sometime.”

“He wouldn’t say anything to you, Kane. If he’s going to say anything, which I doubt, it will be to me. It’s late. He’s probably asleep in front of the television.”

“What time should I come over tomorrow? He’s working, right? The construction guys always work on Saturdays around here.”

“Yes. He’d work seven days a week if he could.”

“Then we can get much further into the diary.”

“Maybe we should just take a breather,” I said. Even in the dim glow coming from the light on the garage, I could see he looked like he had just lost his best friend.

“Why?” he protested. “I thought you were into it as much as I was. We should take advantage of every opportunity.”

“We’ll see.” I relented. “I’ll call you in the morning, okay?”

“Whatever,” he said, his disappointment drifting into a shade of anger.

“Kane, I’m just a little nervous. I was hoping you’d be understanding.”

“I am. I am. I just feel as if it’s almost . . .”

“Almost what?”

“Almost unfair to Christopher.”

“What? How?”

“In my mind, he’s trusting us with his words. I know his diary was hidden and locked away, but I bet he’s thought about it often since he left the original Foxworth Hall, and he’s hoped that whoever found it would hold it sacred.”

I couldn’t help smiling.

“What?” he asked.

“I can’t help but think we’ve completely changed places here. Those were my feelings when you first discovered it under my pillow and wanted to read it aloud with me. I was afraid you would end up making fun of it or something.”

He grimaced. “You thought that of me?”

“Kane, come on. You haven’t exactly been Mr. Serious before this. You’re not disrespectful or a cutup in school, but you have a way about you.”

He turned completely to me, putting his right arm on the top of the seat. “Go on. You’re on a roll. Don’t stop with the Kane Hill description.”

“Your family is one of the most respected in Charlottesville, but you’re not conservative. I don’t mean how you dress. You’ve got rebel in you. You enjoy being an individualist. It’s what makes you kind of . . . dangerously attractive,” I said. “You’re unpredictable. That’s all I meant. So I wasn’t sure how you would react to the diary once we were into it. Okay?”

He smiled, his eyes capturing the illumination from the light above the garage and dazzling me with their twinkling deep affection. “Kristin Masterwood,” he said, “I can’t imagine falling in love with anyone else would ever be any better than the way I feel about you right now.”

Slowly, he leaned toward me to kiss me. It was a gentle kiss, more loving than passionate, a sign of truly deep feelings and not just a call for sex. It was the sort of kiss shared between people who have been together for a very long time, reminding them how important each was to the other. The sincerity surprised me.

“Speechless finally?” he asked, when he pulled back. His words did make my heart flutter, as if I’d had a baby bird emerge from its shell under my breast, and stole away my breath.

“Yes,” I managed.

“I’ll wait for your call in the morning,” he said.

I got out. He watched me walk around the car and up to my front door before he started his engine again. Then he pointed toward the attic and backed out. I didn’t open the door until he drove off. I wanted to gather my wits and not look like I had just stepped off a cloud.

I wasn’t surprised that my father was awake in front of the television tonight. He would have been no matter what he had seen or heard earlier. Whenever I went out, he stayed awake and only half listened or followed whatever he was watching. He turned when I entered. Maybe he heard me enter; maybe he just knew whenever I was suddenly near him.

There are so many little ways to read someone’s face, especially a father’s. There was no anger in it, and he didn’t look hurt, exactly. I would say he looked a little stunned, the way he might look if he had just heard or seen something very unexpected. But at the same time, he was obviously trying to hide it, hide his feelings.

“Hey,” he said. “How was the movie?”

“It was very good.”

“What was it?”

“Someone’s Watching. It was about these two teenagers about my age, a boy and a girl. The girl’s mother married the boy’s father, and they all lived together, only the father was a degenerate and started abusing his wife’s daughter, so she and her stepbrother ran away and camped out in an old, deserted hotel that wasn’t really deserted. The aged owner’s grandson lived in the building, a sort of recluse, not mentally deficient but socially. And he was big. Slowly, they get to know him. He comes to their defense when the stepfather hunts them down . . . sort of like Boo Radley from To Kill a Mockingbird.” I rattled on out of nervousness.

“I remember that book and movie. It was one of your mother’s favorites,” he said.

All my life, I would be moving through my father’s minefields of cherished memories, I thought. I would mention something, do something, or just look like my mother for a moment, and it would happen. I didn’t regret it, but I couldn’t help feeling some of his great emotional pain when one of those memories burst out and confronted us both again with her unexpected death.

“Yes. We read it last year in English class,” I reminded him. Almost every time I held the book in my hands, he would smile, with the vision of my mother doing the same thing.

“She was always after me to do more reading.”

“Nothing to stop you now,” I said, and he smiled.

“I have to be there a little earlier tomorrow,” he said, looking eager to change the topic. “Seems crazy to be working on this before I’m halfway finished with the house, but we’re setting up the pool, doing the dig, running electric and plumbing.”

“I’ve never really looked at the plans,” I said.

“Oh. Right. There’s a set on my desk.” He nodded at it, and I went over to the desk and unrolled the bound plans. He remained seated, watching me as I perused them.

“Looks bigger than Foxworth Hall.”

“No, it’s about twelve thousand square feet smaller, but of course, there’s more patio. There’s no ballroom as such, but there is a rather big living room. Six bedrooms, all with en suite bathrooms, and a den about the size of the one that was in Foxworth.”

“All the bedrooms are upstairs?”

“Maids’ are downstairs,” he said. “There’s a kitchen Charley would love to have in his diner.”

“How long is all this going to take?”

“I’ve put on more crew, but it’ll still be the best of a year and a half, with all the detail in the woodwork and landscaping.”

I realized I had done all I could to avoid talking about Kane and myself. “Kane’s sister and her boyfriend have invited us to dinner tomorrow night.”

“That so?”

“He’s her boyfriend from college. I haven’t met him yet, and I haven’t seen her for years, it seems.”

“I remember her vaguely. Nice girl, I think.”

“I’ll give you a full report.”

“Okay.”

He rose. “I’d better get to bed. I want to get as much done as we can before we break for Thanksgiving.”

We looked at each other. When two people knew each other as well as we did, they said a great deal in their silences.

“You ever wish you had a boy instead?” I asked. I could see the question came out of nowhere as far as he was concerned, but my implication was clear. Parents generally worry less about their sons’ romances.

“A boy?”

“So he could be there to help you with the actual work? You know how I am with a hammer or a screwdriver.”

“I can’t even imagine how bad my life would be without you standing there, Kristin.”

I ran to him. He embraced me, kissed my hair, petted it, and held me as long as I held on to him. I didn’t say anything else, and neither did he. I turned away and ran up the stairs.

I overslept the next morning, but it was a Saturday, so there was no need for an alarm. When I did get up, dressed, and went down for breakfast, however, I was disappointed that my father had already left for work. My breakfast setting was on the table, with a note telling me he had worked up an egg batter for my scrambled eggs. He said he would call later just in case I had to leave for dinner before he got home.

I prepared my scrambled eggs. He seasoned them so well and uniquely that it was difficult eating them without thinking of him sitting across from me. It wasn’t until I was nearly finished that I noticed he had left the morning newspaper on the table where he’d sat. It was still open to an inside page. I looked at the stories. The biggest one was about the construction of a new home on the Foxworth property, “the site of one of the most horrendous child abuse stories in our city.” Almost always, whenever any reference to Foxworth was made, it was followed with that phrase: “most horrendous child abuse stories in our city.”

The new owner was listed as Arthur Johnson, so the facts my father had uncovered were still not general knowledge. There was a short biography of Johnson, mentioning his successful hedge fund and his wife and children. He came from Norfolk, Virginia, attended William and Mary College, majoring in business, and then went to work in his father’s company before starting his own hedge fund. They had managed to get one quote from him: “I don’t know anything about the history of the property, which frankly doesn’t interest me. Every place and every thing has a history. You judge it by what it is, not by who owned it. That’s just good business.”

My father’s company was mentioned, but he had made no comment other than that the work was going well. There was that now-famous picture of Foxworth Hall, depicting it more like a Gothic old house in which ghosts dwelled, the picture that was usually run on Halloween. Some people swore the cloudy spots in an upstairs window were Malcolm and Olivia Foxworth’s ghosts, their souls sentenced to be imprisoned for what they had done to their grandchildren.

The article whetted my fascination and my need to get back to Christopher’s diary. I called Kane.

“I’ve been sitting around with my phone on my lap hoping you would call early.”

“Did you see the article in today’s paper?”

“I didn’t, but my father did and mentioned it. I acted like I had little or no interest. My sister was interested. She’ll probably bring it up at dinner.”

“Then let’s get started,” I said.

“I’m already out the door,” he replied.

I cleared the table, washed the dishes, and went up to my room to finish dressing. At one point, I paused and looked at some of my silk scarves. It came over me. I couldn’t help it. I wrapped it around my head, and when Kane saw me, he smiled with glee. We were like two children rushing ahead to unwrap Christmas gifts, only both of us knew that what was wrapped in this leather-bound book was not anything either of us would wish for.

We set up the attic, and he began, quickly drifting into Christopher Dollanganger, wearing his wig, changing his voice and posture, and filling his voice with that constant stream of pain and disappointment, wonder, and mystery that was dragging Christopher into adulthood far too soon.

At the beginning of the last week in August, I was mumbling to myself about how hot it was for us in the small bedroom and especially up in the attic, when an exciting idea suddenly occurred to me. I was staring at the sheet ladder I had created when I thought we had to escape from starvation. When I proposed my new idea to Cathy, she thought I had finally gone nuts, but I convinced her we could do it. We would climb down from the attic on the sheet ladder and go for a swim in the lake at night. Of course, it occurred to us both that we would be standing on the ground for the first time in more than two years.

Despite her timidity, she climbed down that sheet ladder as if she had been doing it all her life.

Once we were down and moving hand in hand through the darkness, the thrilling sense of freedom overtook me. Everything looked fresh and new and exciting. I had never appreciated the stars more and realized how important were all the little things I had once taken for granted. I was so entranced I didn’t notice how frightened Cathy was, but when I did, I put my arm around her, and her trembling subsided.

Finally, the lake loomed before us, with all its promise of pleasure. For a little while, at least, we could be young again; I could be like a boy of nearly seventeen and she could be a fourteen-year-old girl.

We decided to swim in our underwear instead of completely nude, although Cathy had no bra. She embraced herself and touched the water with her toe. I saw that she was hesitant about getting in, so I pushed her into the water, and suddenly we were young children again, splashing each other, dunking each other. I clung to her and she to me, laughing and spinning each other about. We swam until we were both exhausted, and then we walked out and fell on the grass to lie on our backs, catch our breath, and gaze up at the stars.

Lying there beside her, her blossoming breasts captured in the starlight, her face gleaming wet, I couldn’t help but reach for her hand. What if she weren’t my sister? I thought. What if I was here with some girl I liked? What would I do next? Cathy looked at me and saw how I was staring at her.

“What?” she asked.

“Nothing,” I said, shaking my head and turning away. Whatever she saw in my face, it made her think of being with someone you loved. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Girls mature faster than boys. She would have all these feelings, too, and maybe even stronger ones than mine.

It occurred to Cathy first that we were now the ages our parents were when they first met. I suspected she was thinking that they were related, but it didn’t stop them from falling in love.

“Do you think it was true, Christopher?” she asked me. “Do you think they really fell in love at first sight? Is that possible?”

I wanted to believe it. I wanted to believe that there was something more between a male and a female than mere physical attraction. I told her that whenever I was physically attracted to a girl in school and thought that maybe, maybe, it could be love, I was disappointed once I talked to the girl, who nearly always was too silly or stupid for me.

“Am I too stupid for someone to love?” she asked.

“Absolutely not,” I replied, and told her how talented I thought she was. Her problem was that she had too many talents and would have trouble settling on one. She drew closer to me. I put my arm around her, and she rested her head against my shoulder.

The night, the stars, and our sense of freedom relaxed us both like we hadn’t been for more than two years. Before we had been brought here, I wouldn’t have dreamed of being as open and honest with her as I was now. It was nearly impossible for me to think of her as a little girl anymore, and I felt sure she could never think of me as just her older brother. It was too late for us to go back to that sort of innocence. I’d be the first to admit how confused I now was about my feelings. I didn’t like that. I didn’t like the insecurity. It made me angry.

Cathy sensed it. “Where do you think our mother is?” she asked. It had been so long since she had visited us.

I looked for as many reasons as I could to explain her neglecting us. Maybe she was sick. Maybe she had gone on a business trip. Cathy shot down every rationalization I presented. That only fired up my own frustration and anger.

When she asked me if I loved and trusted our mother as much as I used to, I snapped back at her, not because she was wrong to wonder but because I didn’t want to admit that I didn’t. She quickly changed the subject to what it was like to date, and her questions suggested that neither of us would know what to do because we had been out of socializing so long.

God, she was so right, I thought, and I exploded, revealing how angry I was at Momma. I raged about being shut away from life and feeling more like a first-grader when it came to my emotions now. I know my outburst frightened Cathy. Maybe because we were out in the open, I didn’t contain myself. I didn’t care who heard me. She hadn’t seen me this way for a long time, maybe never. She wanted to leave immediately.

“We have to get back to the twins,” she said.

On the way back, she suggested that we climb down with the twins, maybe make a sling to hold them so we could bring them down and escape. We had found a way. I knew she was saying all this because of how I had behaved. She was probably worried that I was losing it fast now and that if we stayed much longer, who knew what would happen? I couldn’t blame her for thinking that.

My mind reeled with the possibility of making an escape, but I didn’t want to give Cathy any false hope. After all, where would we go? How would we go anywhere? We would need money. How far could we get, considering we would be two teenagers traveling with small children? Everyone would look at us and wonder. Eventually, we were bound to attract some policeman, and then what? If we told him who we were, we might be returned to Foxworth Hall, but this time, we would be returned only to be thrown out with Momma. We would be children with a single parent who had nothing. What then? All Momma would do would be complain how we had destroyed our chances, our opportunities. She’d hate us, at least Cathy and me.

No, I thought, better to ignore her for now, even though the pleasure of being free was so great I couldn’t calm myself down enough to not think about it.

I let Cathy start up first. About three-quarters of the way, she lost her footing on the bottom knot and screamed in panic. I quietly, calmly told her how to regain her control, and she was able to continue up. By the time I joined her, we were both exhausted, but all Cathy could think of was what would have happened to the twins if she had fallen from that sheet ladder.

“I can’t believe I’m happy to be back here,” she said.

I didn’t say anything.

Instead, I thought, look what had happened to us if we could even for a moment be happy we were here.

Kane paused and stared at me for a moment before he swept off his wig, as if he had to do that before he could talk to me now as Kane Hill.

“You ever go skinny-dipping?”

“No.”

“My sister did at our house. She had a party for a half dozen of her friends in early June of her senior year. Our parents were away for the weekend. I had gone to an early movie, got bored, and came home early. I heard the laughter out at the pool and made my way there, sort of sneaking up on them. I remained in the darkness and watched.”

“So your sister didn’t know you were there?”

“No. I remember being more angry than amused.”

“Angry? Why?”

“I resented my sister being nude in front of those boys. Finally, I turned around, disgusted, and went back into the house.”

“Did you tell her how you felt about it later?”

“No.”

“So she never knew you were there?”

“No. The thing is, I’ve been at skinny-dipping parties but didn’t react like I did spying on hers.”

“Probably just . . . natural. You were embarrassed for her.”

“No, for myself,” he said. “What just happened between Christopher and Cathy has made me think of something.”

I smiled to myself. It hadn’t just happened to them, as he had put it, but also to us. Reading the diary this way, it was as if we were doing what he had done at his sister’s pool party, staying in the shadows and observing something happening right before us. “What?”

“Say you never met your sister your whole life. Say you didn’t even know you had a sister, and you met this girl and dated her and went skinny-dipping and did it all. Would it be sinful?”

“I don’t know. It might be sinful but not your fault, if that makes any sense,” I said.

“But the point is that every desire the brother had as a boy and every desire the sister had as a girl would still be there. No wall would go up between them miraculously. Nothing would click in their heads and stop their sexual activity.”

“I guess not.”

“Whatever thoughts Christopher has and whatever he does with his sister are not his fault, even though the situation isn’t the same. I mean, he knows she’s his sister, but it’s as if they’re on a desert island or something, just when things are happening to them, to their bodies.”

“I’m not blaming them for anything, Kane,” I said. He was acting as if he thought condemnation was on the tip of my tongue. “It’s too soon to be judgmental.”

“Right,” he said, nodding.

Look how important it is for him to defend Christopher, I thought. I wanted to smile, but something kept me from introducing even an iota of amusement into it.

“If there’s anyone to blame for anything, it’s Corrine and, despite her high-and-mighty moral attitude, Grandmother Olivia. Right?”

“You don’t have to convince me, Kane,” I said.

“Yeah, well . . . yeah,” he replied, and put his wig on.

Momma had been gone more than two months now. Every time the door opened, all of us would stop whatever we were doing and shift our eyes quickly to see if it was finally Momma, but it was always our grandmother, silent, looking like she was tiptoeing through a field of snakes, eager to get in and get out. Neither Cathy nor I had the courage to ask her where our mother was. Besides a tirade of threats and horrible predictions for us, she might add the one thing I think both of us feared to hear: “Your mother has run off. She realized what evil she brought into the world.”

Cathy would look away quickly, and when she looked to me, I would turn away and focus on something I was doing, as if our disappointment didn’t matter, but oh, how it did. The little ball of anger rolling around inside me night and day was like a rock gathering moss. Sometimes I would wake in the middle of the night, the rage inside me so hot and strong my teeth were clenched and my jaw ached.

Cathy talked endlessly about escaping. Our swimming adventure had crystallized the possibilities for her. I wouldn’t deny that I still savored every second of that time at the lake, that wonderful sense of freedom we had walking hand in hand through the darkness, seeing the stars, and feeling the cool night breeze. It was as if we had come back to life again.

Every afternoon, I would go to the window, sometimes twice a day, to see the train pass by, the same train that had brought us here years ago. Sometimes it sounded mournful, like a train carrying a famous dead person, like Lincoln’s train, and sometimes it was more like it was calling me directly, telling me it was there. It would be there for us to take us away from all this. It bounced back and forth from being a train that reminded me of our situation, growing more horrid every day, every week, to being the sound of hope, the call to a new future, a new life, and a place where we would all grow naturally again.

Cathy could sense this mix of feelings inside me. The longer Momma was away, the more stridently she pleaded for our escape. “You’re always watching for that train,” she said. “You know you want to be on it, want all of us to be on it.”

Her constant prodding and nagging were wearing down what resistance I had left in me. Why would we wait for a mother who had neglected us so long? Why would we wait for an old man to die if it hadn’t happened in all this time? How would we know if he had without Momma being here? Would our grandmother come rushing up, happy to unlock the door and bring us into the bosom of her home? Would she say, “Now you can be my grandchildren, and you can forget all the terrible things I had to do to you”?

Hardly, I thought. I had no good answers for her. Maybe it was cruel to do it, but I fanned her dreams, her hope.

“Where would you go if we did get out of here?” I asked.

She talked about going farther south, being on beaches, soaking up the sunshine like someone who had been dying of thirst and crossing a desert. I let myself daydream aloud, too, and talked about things I’d like to be doing out there, the fun I’d like to be having. Those were weak moments for me. Cathy pounced on them. “Why are we staying? You hate it as much as I do.”

Of course I did. I hated every moment, actually, but I reminded her how important money was in this world and how the old man had to die soon. It was just logical. He was sick. We saw him in the wheelchair. He couldn’t live much longer, he just couldn’t, and then we’d have the money. I reminded her how important it was for me to become a doctor and how expensive that education would be. “Without money, I’ll never be anything. What job could I do to keep us alive out there? Who’d even give me a job? Whatever I could manage wouldn’t pay enough to keep the four of us alive.”

Of course, Cathy promised to take any job to help. We were going back and forth about it. The train was coming again. And then our grandmother appeared and told me to get away from the window. I tried to defy her. When she called me “boy,” I told her to call me by my name.

“Call me Christopher, or don’t call me at all.”

I thought she would rant and deliver another punishment, maybe starve us again for a week, but she smiled coldly at me instead and went into what I could only call her rationalization for how she was treating us, how she had treated our mother. She hated my name because of what she said our father had done to her and her husband. She claimed she was the one who got her husband to take in his half brother when he had no one, and how did he repay them? He ran off with our mother to get married. He had the nerve to come back, as if they could ignore that he had married his own niece. When our grandfather threw them out, he had his first heart attack, so his terrible health was their fault, my mother’s fault. She did this to her own father. She was so passionate about the story she seemed to lose her breath.

Both Cathy and I were shocked at the outburst. I thought, okay, they did that to you, but why take it out on us? I told her we weren’t to blame.

Then she went into how sinful we were in this small room.

I challenged her and blamed anything that had happened or would happen on her, on her locking us away. How could she think of herself as good and pious if she would starve little children? I didn’t know where the strength for my rant came from, but it came, and I let it all out with as much venom as she directed at us.

Cathy kept pleading with me to stop, but it was too late. Our grandmother ran out. I thought, okay, she’d find a way to punish us, but maybe it was worth it.

To my surprise, she came back instantly, with a green willow switch in her hand. She had it so fast I knew she always kept one nearby. She ordered me to strip down and said that if I didn’t, she would starve us again, starve the twins. I had to submit to her whipping me in the bathroom.

Afterward, because Cathy was screaming and crying, she did the same to her, only she went wild, breaking the switch on Cathy’s naked body. I could hear Cathy’s defiance, which I knew would only drive the old lady to be crueler. She pounded her so hard with a hairbrush that she finally knocked her unconscious.

She left her there on the floor and came out, her bosom lifting and falling, her face still red with rage. I was in great pain, but I didn’t cry.

“God sees everything you do,” she said. She had said that before.

It was on the tip of my tongue to reply, “Then you will surely go to hell,” but I said nothing. I looked down. I was terrified now for the twins. Would she turn on their small bodies? She did look at them, clinging to each other.

“The devil’s spawn,” she muttered, and walked out.

I got the twins to go up to the attic to play so they wouldn’t see how bad Cathy was. Then I carried her out of the bathroom and began to treat her wounds. When she woke up, I told her I was worried she might have a concussion. She sobbed, and we held each other. We were both still naked, and I couldn’t help it. I had to kiss her. The feel of her body against mine seemed, for the moment, to make me forget the pain. We had never held each other naked. I could see it was affecting her as much as it was me.

She felt my erection and whispered, “Stop, Christopher. This is what she thinks we do, making love.”

“Making love involves more, Cathy,” I said. I smiled at her, and I described it in as much detail as I could. Her expression went from fascination to fear and then to guilt for even imagining it.

“We can’t. We won’t. We never will, right?” she asked.

I didn’t say anything. I wanted to say no, but at the same time, I didn’t trust fate or my own emotions anymore. So much had happened to us and between us over the years that we were confined, so much of what I would never, even in my wildest dreams, have imagined. All brothers and sisters have a deep love for each other, even if they’re close in age and go through sibling rivalry. I had read so much about this, even before we left our home. As all my teachers knew, I read and understood on a level at least three grade levels above my age.

But that love had a different nature to it. It came from being part of something greater than yourself, your family. An attack on your sister or brother was an attack on your family. Protecting and cherishing your sister or brother was a way to protect and cherish your family, especially your parents. When another sort of feeling even suggested itself, you instantly retreated from it, were ashamed of it, and forced yourself to bury it. You didn’t nourish it.

Could I say I wasn’t doing that now?

I continued to attend to her wounds and then had her attend to mine. Neither of us mentioned again how close we were to doing exactly what our grandmother believed we had been doing.

Later, I kissed her good night after we had put the twins to sleep—kissed her, I hoped, the way my father would have kissed her good night. She held my hand for a moment, as if she wanted another kiss or to kiss me back, and then she let go and turned away.

But it was too late, I thought. We had touched each other in ways I was sure we had both begun to imagine we might.

And now we had to live with whatever dreams might come of it.

When Kane stopped reading and lowered the diary, he saw that I had covered my face with my hands. It was as if the tears in my eyes were so heavy that I couldn’t keep my head up. He rushed over to me, kneeling beside me. I lifted my face away from my hands slowly, the tears still trickling down my cheeks. He rose slowly and started to kiss them away, petting my hair as he did so.

“Cathy, Cathy,” he said. “Don’t cry. I can’t stand it when you cry.”

At first, I thought he wasn’t serious, calling me Cathy, but when I looked into his eyes, I saw he was, and it gave me a chilling feeling for a moment. He was really into it now, and it both frightened and excited me. I realized he was just as into it as I was, and it was natural for him to call me by her name at that moment. I took a deep breath and nodded. Crying for them now wouldn’t do anyone any good.

“Their grandmother was so cruel. I could feel Cathy’s pain with what Christopher described as a seemingly endless whipping,” I said, my teeth clenched with the rage I felt toward that evil old woman who justified her cruelty with biblical quotes. Religion cloaked her sadism, I thought. Someday I’d like to know what turned her into this dreadful person, not that any of that would justify what she was doing to her own grandchildren. Maybe nothing did. Maybe she was simply born that way, and that was what my mother’s distant cousin liked about her.

“And I felt his pain. I really did, but I also felt how it brought them closer,” Kane added, and he kissed me softly, the way a father or mother might kiss away a bruise or a sad moment. “Their pain and suffering drove them to be more to each other,” he said, his voice a whisper now. “We can understand that, can’t we?”

“Yes,” I said.

“They desperately needed to feel each other beside them, to comfort and love each other, especially at that moment, no matter how it might look to us,” he said, his face full of intensity to drive home his conclusion.

“Yes, you’re right.”

I held on to his shoulders. I felt like he was trying to bring me the same comfort Christopher brought to Cathy. Surely, she would have drowned in her sorrow and agony otherwise. I could easily imagine her curling up in a ball in the corner of that attic, refusing to eat or drink, fading away and dying as would any flower without the sun, which in this case was the love of a mother who had apparently deserted them.

Kane brought his hands down to my waist, and we turned together on the sofa bed. His fingers moved up to the buttons on my blouse. After he slipped it off me and undid my bra, he raised himself and took off his shirt. I knew what he was doing, I knew what we were going to reenact, and I didn’t try to stop it. We had been naked together in the shower, but somehow, up here in the attic, turning ourselves into Christopher and Cathy at this precise moment in the diary, it seemed like the first time.

As he moved himself so I could feel his erection where I should, I could tell he was waiting for me to say it, almost as if it was a line I had rehearsed many times in a scene we could finally perform.

“Stop, Christopher. This is what she thinks we do, making love.”

He laughed the way I saw Christopher laughing when Kane was reading. “Should I describe what making love involves, too?” he asked.

“If you can, but the way Christopher did,” I challenged.

He turned to lie on his back. I rested the palm of my left hand on his chest, feeling the quickened beat of his heart, and looked at him. He tried so hard not to be comical about it, to explain it the way Christopher might have. He was doing a very good job of it, too, when I finally had to stop him.

“You read up on this, memorized some textbook or something, didn’t you?”

“Sort of,” he admitted. “I’m pretty good in science, you know. That’s my best subject, just as it was Christopher’s. It’s funny now, but when I read things in the science text, I actually imagine Christopher explaining them and think I should be able to do that, too, sound as confident of my explanations. When I answer questions in class, Mr. Malamud looks more impressed these days. How did I just sound to you?”

“Too good. Too clinical and definitely not romantic,” I replied, at first to tease him.

“But wasn’t that what Christopher really wanted to do at that moment? He was avoiding being anything like romantic with his sister, right? I think doctors hide behind their facts in order not to get too emotional over a patient. It’s a technique Christopher’s already mastered because of the circumstances. That was what he wanted, right?”

Suddenly, we were like two drama students discussing a scene we had just seen performed. It was like someone throwing a pail of cold water over me. “I’m sure,” I said, then turned away and began to dress.

He watched me for a moment and then began to dress, too. I thought he would protest. Now that we were moving away from what had been a very passionate few moments, I was surprised he had given up so easily, surprised and maybe a little disappointed that the heat of passion had cooled in him.

Perhaps this was exactly what had occurred between Christopher and Cathy at that moment. We were too loyal to the attic world we had decided to enter and respect. If it didn’t happen there and then, it wouldn’t happen here and now.

“I gotta go,” he said. “I have to do something before we have dinner with my sister and her boyfriend later.”

“Oh?”

“I’ve got to see my father at the Mercedes dealership. He wants me to start working weekends there. Until now, I’ve done a good job of avoiding it.”

“How are you going to get out of it now, assuming you still want to?”

“Oh, I want to. I don’t want to have anything to do with his dealerships, and we go around and around about it at least once a week. I’m going to claim that schoolwork demands my free time. I’m failing math.”

“But you’re not.”

“I deliberately failed two important tests this quarter. I have the exams in the car to show him. I can’t fail math and graduate. Solution? Being tutored by the girl who’s mostly likely to be valedictorian.”

“He’s going to believe that?”

“Maybe he won’t believe it, but he’ll put up with it. He has enough grief coming from my mother and her complaints about Darlena this week.”

We rearranged the attic, and he put his wig and my scarf in the same trunk before leaving. I followed him down to the front door, thinking more about what he had said. These days, we were thinking more about Cathy and Christopher than about ourselves. I was afraid of losing a grip on reality.

“What do you want to do, to be, Kane, if you don’t want to take over your father’s car dealership empire?” I asked him before he stepped out.

He smiled. “Empire? Yeah, that’s what it is. I don’t particularly feel like anyone’s emperor, though. Parents often think that if they’ve built something, you should be grateful and become part of it, but what about building something yourself, for yourself?”

“So what do you want to build for yourself?”

I could easily predict I’d get that Kane Hill shrug and smile. “I don’t know.” He stopped smiling. “Maybe I should think seriously about becoming a doctor,” he said. “Like Christopher.”

I closed my mouth when he leaned in to kiss me. “You’re not serious enough for that,” I said.

He shrugged. “Maybe I’ll get serious. I’ll return about six thirty, okay? We’ll meet them at the restaurant.” He started for his car. “Let me know what you want to do about going to Tina’s party afterward. We’ll do whatever you want,” he called back before he got into his car.

After he left, I thought about what I would do with the rest of my day and decided to go pay my father a visit at the site. We hadn’t spent that much time together this week. Maybe it was also because Kane had gone off to spend time with his father, too, and that reminded me that I should spend time with mine. I put myself together quickly and headed for the Foxworth property.

The deeper we got into the diary, the more intense were my feelings of tension whenever I approached the property now. It was as if I was returning to a place where I really had spent a great deal of time, unhappily and tragically. Something in me constricted in fear and disgust with every mile I drew closer. Even in broad daylight, I anticipated seeing ghosts, hearing voices, crying, and pleas for freedom.

It was my father who put the idea into my head that places, especially houses, took on the identities of those who lived there. “After all,” he’d said, “wasn’t that a prime reason why whoever bought someone else’s home wanted to redo so much of it? It’s like not wanting to wear someone else’s clothes. Lucky for guys like me who rip down the old and rebuild the new.”

How many people in construction thought so deeply about their work as my father did? No wonder he had even deeper feelings about Foxworth Hall.

* * *
Photograph by Thomas Van Cleave

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 eighty V.C. Andrews novels, which have sold over 107 million copies worldwide and have been translated into twenty-five foreign languages. Join the conversation about the world of V.C. Andrews at Facebook.com/OfficialVCAndrews.

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