Links to the previous chapters are HERE
I walked home about eight and found my parents curled up together on the sofa and watching a movie. I waved and headed to my room, feeling stuffed and tired. I had to find some time to study for the last trig test. Maybe I should have asked Gian to help me, though he wasn't very good at it, either.
Akio had been the best at math of the three of us. She had a gift for numbers.
I sat on the edge of my bed and kicked off my shoes and stared at the wall while trying to come to terms with the idea of Akio being in town. I couldn't get past a rocks-in-the-stomach feeling every time I thought about her. She had been my best friend. She had laughed with Gian the same way she did with me.
Then she had purposely hurt him. I had never seen Akio do anything to harm another creature. She rescued bugs from the sidewalk. She had talked her father into subsidizing a large no-kill shelter for dogs and cats out by Barstow. I hadn't thought about the place until now. I wondered if he kept sending them money. I didn't want the animals to suffer for what had happened.
Drugs had turned her into a mindless killer. The drugs were gone, so was she Akio again?
Gian, despite everything, was still Gian.
I flopped on the bed and stared at the ceiling. I tried to think about trig, but I couldn't concentrate. I had remembered Gian the last time I saw him before the accident. Now, I tried to recall Akio, but I felt as though I had deleted every file I had of her out of my brain.
She'd changed, and I'd never seen the changes happen. I had been her best friend. Why had I never noticed?
Akio and I had gotten drunk once, just the two of us alone in her house with her father on a trip. She'd decided she didn't enjoy liquor and neither did I. So she turned to drugs instead? They weren't hard to find at Deervale High. Look at Missy.
When had she changed? Oh, there had been small changes from the first as she learned more of the language and relaxed a little. Maybe the little changes masked the bigger ones, or maybe they happened because of Nadine, her step-mother, a woman straight out of a soap opera. A badly plotted one. I despised Nadine.
I went over to my desk and turned on the computer for trig work. Then, despite myself, I pulled open the bottom right drawer, crammed full of papers I should have thrown out. My mother says I have inherited the pack-rat gene from my great-grandmother. I held on to things and enjoyed the tactile feel of my own history. Brushing my fingers over old papers brought back memories.
I found the journal I used to keep almost every day. I had been unable to continue writing in it after the accident. Akio and Gian where everywhere on those pages since my life had seemed to revolve around them.
I found a small photo album at the bottom of the drawer. I held the album in my hands for a moment, my eyes closed. The pictures were from Akio's sixteenth birthday. Akio, Gian and I had gone to Disneyland for ten hours of absolute silliness. It had been one of my favorite days of all time.
I glanced at the first picture, taken by some stranger we'd conned into the work. Akio stood to Gian's left, me to his right, his arms across both our shoulders. I'd forgotten how tall he'd grown.
And Akio had seemed so happy. Hell, we all did.
My hands trembled and my mouth went dry. I almost cried until I took several deep breaths, my fingers tightening around the album. I flipped the pages open and found an envelope shoved between two of them, folded in half and slightly crinkled. The postmark was from London. The letter had arrived about four months ago, but I never opened it. Maybe I needed to face this demon, too.
I tore the side open in haste, fearing I'd lose my nerve. My hands trembled so much I had trouble getting the thin sheet of paper out. I unfolded it, but I again took several breaths before I dared read the words.
I found two lines, delicately written in the style Akio had always used when she tried very hard to get something right. I could almost see her leaning over a desk with a pen in hand, her face a study of concentration. Maybe not everything was erased from my mind after all.
I do not ask for forgiveness, for there can be none.
But I am sorry.
I stared at those words for a long, long time. I don't know why reading the note made me feel like scum. Even if I had read it the day the letter arrived, it wouldn't have changed anything.
I feared I would be ill. I carefully folded the paper into the envelope and placed the album in the drawer.
Deep breaths. Calm.
I opened my homework on the computer and tried to give trigonometry my full attention for an entire hour. I couldn't: the numbers danced around in my head and I couldn't get one of the assigned questions to work out right. I finally decided I'd study trig tomorrow, on Sunday even though I usually reserve the day for no school work at all. I got ready for bed and crawled under the covers, hoping sleep would give me peace tonight. I'd had a good day. I concentrated on the dinner at the Calabrias' house, and found myself giggling at remembered snippets of conversation.
But on the edge of dream and memory, I glanced up from the table and saw not Marie Lisa and Umberto at the doorway, but rather Missy and Akio; rage and sorrow.
I awoke early, dressed, gathered my camera, and went downstairs. A heavy fog enveloped the yard outside the sliding glass doors so I couldn't see much past the deck. Mom and dad had left, so I had the place to myself for a little while. Sometimes they took drives by themselves, which was kind of sweet.
I thought about Gian and me going on rides, and smiled. I made some tea and toast with the rich boysenberry jam I love. I jotted a note saying I was going for an early morning walk, pulled on a jacket, and with the camera cradled against my body. I headed for the Kimura house.
Running away from things had never worked for me.
I crossed the street before I reached the Calabria home, hoping to go unnoticed in the fog. I knew they'd be getting ready to drive to church out in Simi Valley. My parents weren't big on organized religion, but they'd made sure I respected the beliefs of others. I used to go to one service or another with kids from Deervale, but none of them stuck. I hadn't gone to any in quite a few years.
I'd gradually grown into my mother's belief and thought of God in the world, not visiting a building at certain designated hours. With the fog closing in and mostly hiding the works of man, I felt closer to God -- or Goddess, as I often thought, which was a bit outrageous in this area. Yeah, real rebel -- me with my spiked hair and expensive camera.
I crossed areas of dew-covered grass instead of sticking to the sidewalk and moved silently away from the streets, finding my way between the houses rising like ghost buildings on both sides. I heard very little sound at this hour after dawn. Even the dogs didn't bark much though I startled rabbits at every turn. Fast little beggars -- I couldn't get a single picture.
Birds chirped and swept through the fog. I spotted two squirrels in a tall old live oak that had somehow survived the contractors and fancy buildings around it. The tree seemed a symbol of the past and a world we had destroyed when we came here to live. I brushed my hand over the trunk as I passed, and hoped the tree didn't think too badly about us.
On general principle, I still hated morning, but today proved lovely. I'm all in favor of new adventures and experiences, as long as I didn't make a habit of having them in the mornings.
Thirty minutes later, I reached the Kimura house. I stood there for another twenty minutes, getting the nerve to walk up the driveway, past the cherry trees and to the door. I didn't know what I wanted to say to Akio. I wasn't sure why I came here, except I needed to get something settled for myself. I took the path between the small, sadly neglected garden and the front door. Mr. Kimura had loved --
"I did not expect you to come here."
Akio, I suddenly recalled, was a morning person. While I fought not to curse in surprise, she stepped away from the garden bench where she'd obviously been sitting. How long had she watched me?
She seemed older than she should have been and far too thin. Dark circles showed beneath her eyes which looked red and swollen from crying. She seemed very small, and when I looked into her face, she turned away quickly, as though ashamed.
I didn't want to feel sorry for her.
"I don't know why I came here," I said, forcing my voice to remain even. No emotion and giving nothing she could assume meant I came to comfort her.
"You came because you're Mar," she answered, very softly. "You came because it's not in your nature to ignore anything bothering you."
She knew me too well. I disliked the feeling of old comradeship, but I curbed my anger. I shifted on my feet and she briefly glanced my way, bloodshot eyes in a thin pale face. "What do you want here, Akio?"
"Me?" she asked, a little surprised. She glanced up at my face for a moment, and then bowed her head. "I wish to see my father properly buried. I wish to be done with everything here, and go away."
Good idea. I started to back up, but I stopped and watched her. I had to have an answer to one question. "Why, Akio? Why Gian?"
Her breath caught, once, twice, before I realized she had begun crying. Rage rose in me once more: I wanted to slap her. She hadn't the right to cry.
"I don't remember," she whispered, her voice breaking. "I don't remember anything until months, later when I awoke in a horrible hospital. They wouldn't tell me how I had come to be there, but they would ask questions of me every day. Ask and ask and ask and ask about what happened. I remembered going to one of Nadine's stupid Hollywood parties. My father --" Her breath caught and my rage melted away. "My father wanted me to spend time with her. I went for him. I drank what Nadine gave me and tried to sit by myself, but they wouldn't leave me alone. I got ill and everything went strange. I wanted to come home. Nadine -- Nadine --"
Her voice had grown softer and more frantic, but she stopped and took a deep breath. A crow flew overhead, protesting something. The fog had begun lifting and I felt naked standing here by Akio in the full light of day.
"Is he --" She stopped at my glare. "Forgive me. I wish to know if he is better."
"He's better," I replied, still keeping my voice calm. I couldn't be purposely cruel, though I truly felt the temptation. "He may be out of the wheelchair by next year, but there are no guarantees."
She nodded. She didn't look at me. "I shall be gone soon. I shall never return. You may say so to the others who watch. I must stay until Mr. Avison has matters settled with the office. There are items I must send to my father's oldest brother, for honor's sake. Once the work is done, you may forget me again."
"No one has forgotten you," I answered and she knew from my tone that we didn't remember her well.
Akio bowed her head lower, her long dark hair falling like a veil between us. She returned to the wooden bench, sitting as though her body had folded and shrunk. I wondered if she had been there all night, unwilling to stay alone in the huge, empty house, with only the ghost of her father to keep her company.
I pitied her. I pushed the emotion away, trying to draw on the anger. I couldn't. I only knew whatever had brought me here hadn't worked. I hadn't found the answers I needed to put this to rest for my own sake. Instead of facing my anger when I stood before her, I found the emotions had warped into something else. A little nudge of disgust tried to take hold, but I couldn't decide if I felt it for me or her.
I walked away, heading to the street. When I turned to look, I could still see her, head bowed, sitting on the bench; a shadow in the lessening fog.
I took a picture. I don't know why.
I walked away, feeling lost. I wanted to go home and rest, as though the quiet, simple encounter had drained me. Maybe I could go home and do some reading or studying for trig. I'd hated trig almost all year, but at least the work would require me to think about something else.
I wandered for a while, trying to find pictures to take. More people had come out. I waved hello to some. I wanted to feel like me. A shadow had fallen over Akio and me there by the bench. I wanted away, back into the light.
Unfortunately, I spotted Missy sitting on the front steps of her house. She appeared to be hung over and extremely unhappy. I ignored her as I went past, even when she started yelling. I hadn't expected her to rush over and grab me by the arm.
"I'm talking to you, bitch," she yelled in my ear, her long nails digging into my arm.
I pulled free, managing, somehow, to keep my own temper. She almost fell, and for a moment I thought she wore those stupid heels. No, today she wore trendy sandals. Just that unsteady and likely still mostly drunk. I didn't want to have anything to do with her. I should have been paying more attention. I wouldn't have gone past her house.
She ranted about things. I couldn't understand half of what she said which made her appear even more deranged than usual.
"Give it a break, Missy!" In the scheme of things, her little petty problems seemed even less important than usual. I took a step away, but she grabbed me again. As much as I would have liked to slap her silly, I held back. "Let go."
Her pale face grew red and I could see smears of makeup beneath her bloodshot eyes. She squinted -- no contacts. Hazel eyes, I noted. At least now I knew the true color.
"How dare you call the cops on me!" she said, her voice growing louder.
"Oh right. I'm talking to you and suddenly the cops show up? And you didn't call them?"
I stared for a moment, wondering what the hell kind of game -- but no. Her rage was real. She had no idea what had happened the night before.
"Were you really that far gone?" I stared at her, amazed, and pulled free of her grip once more. This was crazy. "You don't even remember Mr. Calabria staying with you while I took Gian home? Damn, Missy, if I were you, I'd check myself into some place real fast, because you are just plain dangerous."
"Don't lie to me. I know the games you're playing!"
I had never been frightened of Missy before, but the idea she could do things and not remember at all unsettled me more than my encounter with Akio had. I took a step away before she could catch hold of me again. "Go get some rest, Missy."
"Oh, you think you're so much better --" She stopped and stared past me. I heard a car going by, which had drawn her attention.
I didn't recognize the white convertible but I couldn't mistake the head of flaming red hair, the sunglasses or the smirk. I hadn't considered Nadine would show up. She had never been a part of this community. She'd married Akio's father for the money, and left when he paid her enough to go away. We all knew the truth.
Nadine scowled at us as she went past, heading for the Kimura house. I thought about Akio, there alone in the garden and felt sorry for her, mourning the loss of her father, and now faced with the harridan from hell. I wouldn't wish that even on her.
I turned to face Missy down, but she acted as though she had forgotten I existed. She watched the car with a predatory smile. Her eyes had brightened, but not with any joy.
Fine. Let her fixate on Nadine. I began walking away, though I hated the feel of her at my back. I didn't rush, but at the next driveway I glanced her way and saw Missy pulling her car out of the garage. I didn't want to be on the same street with her behind the wheel.
She gunned the engine, and backed into the street so fast she bumped the opposite curb before she could stop, turn, and race after Nadine.
I couldn't think of two people who deserved each other more.
I hurried faster, hoping to get home before she searched for me. It felt creepy, knowing she remembered nothing of last night except for dealing with me. I'd had about as much of this strangeness as I could stand. I had heard my father say the funeral would be on Monday, so maybe afterwards things would get better. Maybe Akio and Nadine would go away, and I'd only have to live with Missy being no worse or better than usual.
I fought with my emotions, spending a lot of time staring at my feet, marking the cracks in the sidewalk which seemed odd imperfections in our perfect little world. A few yards needed mowing. I counted four dandelions, those scourges of the perfect lawn. They made me smile. Maybe I'd dye part of my hair in dandelion yellow next.
I reached my block and saw four police cars parked on the street. I stopped, my heart pounding so hard I feared getting ill. I put a hand on the damp brick wall around the Miesen yard. I could hardly breathe and I feared to go on.
What had happened? I peered around the edge of the wall and noted the cop cars sat on the street by the Calabria house, not mine. I saw a dusty Jeep and someone with video equipment. Reporters. My head stopped pounding. Someone must have thought they would come and talk to Gian and quickly learned otherwise. They slipped in sometimes, and from the looks of the car, this one must have come in over the fire roads through the hills behind Deervale
A moment later the cop cars escorted the Jeep away. I stayed by the tree and watched them go, unwilling to let the reporters know I lived on this street. When the last car pulled away, I hurried towards home again.
Gian slowly came out of his house. He stood with thin, metal crutches and seeing him walking surprised and pleased me on a day when everything else had been so awful. I waved and he dipped his head in greeting and started my way.
"Disaster averted," he said, nodding towards the street. I could see a pale sheen of perspiration under his bangs and realized how difficult walking must be for him. "I bet they don't return to Deervale any time soon."
"Maybe not, but you can bet they'll talk trash about us anyway."
"True." He frowned a little. "You're up early."
"I needed to go for a walk," I said. Then I shook my head. "I had to take care of something. Damn. Gian, I went to see Akio."
"You talked to her?" he asked, his voice going very calm and his face still. I almost lied but I couldn't. Not to Gian, even if I thought no one would ever know the truth.
"Yes. Not for long. I can't forgive her, Gian. But I hate being cruel, too. Her father is dead. Talking to her didn't help anyway, and I left before things got worse." He nodded but I thought he fought to keep his anger inside. "I ran into Missy on the way home, and things got heated. She completely blanked out the fact your father was there when the police came for her. She only remembered me and blames me for calling the cops. It was so weird. And kind of scary."
He frowned, apparently unable to get past the part with Akio.
"When Nadine drove by, Missy took off after her and I got away."
He blinked and focused on me. "Sounds as though you were escaping from some wild creature."
"I felt that way, Gian. I really did." It scared me, thinking about the confrontation. "I kind of know how you must feel, sometimes."
He nodded. The hair on his face started to stick to his forehead. I wanted to brush the curls aside for him, and refrained. I feared everything I did today would go wrong.
"I'm sorry, Gian," I said softly, feeling worse because I upset him again. "I don't know what I expected when I went to Akio."
He took a deeper breath, and nodded. "I shouldn't act this way with you. I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize. I think I'm the one who did wrong, and nothing helped, at any rate."
"We've had a bad morning all the way around. I'm going to go rest for a while, and get ready for work. See you there?"
"Sure." I smiled.
He smiled, a little forced, and headed towards home. I watched for a moment, worrying he would fall. I had to force myself to turn away and walk to my house. When I reached the door, I glanced over to the Calabria home. Gian had barely reached the house and worked at getting the door open. I wanted to go help him. I knew better. I went into my house, got some coffee and went to my room to work through the trig book and try to bury all the conflicting emotions before they drove me crazy.
But I knew I would have to face them soon. I decided I would go to the funeral tomorrow. Then I could return to the routine of school, a place which would not be normal for the last few days we would be there.
Nothing to look forward to.
It wasn't fair, but I was getting used to the feeling.