Friday, May 17, 2013

Waiting for the Last Dance, Chapter One

Marisha Fortier is only days from high school graduation. Living in the exclusive community of Deervale, she is surrounded by security and riches. Deervale, however, isn't without trouble. Over a year ago, a drug-related auto accident left Gian, the boy next door, in a wheelchair. And now Akio, the person who was driving that car, has returned to Deervale for her father's funeral.

Gian is recovering, and Akio has spent months in hospitals as well -- but can Marisha deal with the return of her former best friend? Can she bring herself to believe that Akio is not a monster? As Marisha tries to reconcile her conflicting emotions, she finds herself drawn closer to Gian, and inexplicably becomes the target of someone's wrath as she begins to question what happened on the night of that accident.

(I will be posting chapters as I get them finished and ready for publication. I hope to post at least a couple a week and maybe more. Come back often or follow my Twitter account: LazetteG.)

Chapter One

Someone leapt from a car at the curb and rushed up the steps to the library door to get out of the rain. I barely restrained an urge to curse aloud recognizing Missy by both her unnaturally blonde hair and the fact she left her car in a no parking zone. Rules did not apply to Missy. 
She wouldn't have come out in a storm like this for anything good. Missy Murphy was a harbinger of bad things. She gloried in it.

When she almost slipped on the top step, I did my best not to smirk. Those spike heels weren't made for this kind of weather, but Missy would never sacrifice style for appropriateness. I glanced at my baggy shirt, warm sweater and blue jeans. I'm no poster child for good style, but at least I won't fall on my ass rather than forgo wearing $300 spike heels in the rain.

"Missy is coming in," I warned, glancing over my shoulder to where Gian sat, his wheelchair pulled close to the desk as he sorted books to be re-shelved.

He frowned and pushed aside his hair, craning his neck so he could see around the counter. He didn't appear any happier than I was about the arrival.
Missy pulled the door open, cursing. The few people still here turned to stare at the overly-dramatic entrance, but it didn't surprise Gian or me. Missy always made certain she was the center of attention. 
She didn't come to the library for a friendly chit-chat. Missy didn't have any real friends since she delighted in being snide to everyone. She hadn't changed since grade school: drama queen, gossip and fashionista. She'd have been very lonely, except people swore her parties were The Best and she gave at least one a month. I never went to them. I wouldn't have even if she had invited me.
Missy glanced around. I doubt she'd ever been inside the building. She spotted Gian and gave a quick nod of relief, shaking water off her arms, splattering books, the newspaper rack and other people. Someone protested, but Missy didn't seem to hear as she stomped across the marble-tiled floor. The loud tap of her heels made a rude counterpoint to her dripping water. I was already unhappy long before she reached us.

When I saw her malicious smile, and how her eyes seemed almost fever bright, I knew I was right about the bad news. Missy was never happy unless she had some dirt to tell. I wondered what she thought would interest either Gian or me.

I didn't expect her to have something for both of us.

"Damn rain," she said, too loudly. She had a South Carolina drawl, faked since she hadn't been anywhere near Raleigh since she turned five. She thought the accent sounded sexy or something. It suited her and her fake nose and boob job. "Going to sue the library. Wrenched my ankle. If I can't walk at graduation --"

"You'd lose the case," Gian interrupted before she began her tirade. Missy scowled, her mouth still open, but I suspected she'd lost track of what she'd been saying a moment before. I had always suspected there was no connect between her mouth and her brain. "No one wears spike heels in the rain," Gian finished and frowned.

"I do," she replied, as though nothing else could matter. Her answer didn't surprise me. After all, the universe revolved around Missy.

I glanced at the clock. Time slipped away while Missy stood there, dripping water everywhere, her hand on the counter. I thought I could smell something a little stronger than beer on her breath and wasn't surprised, either.

"Do you want something, Missy?" I asked, leaning forward. She pulled away in haste, as though she expected me to attack. I'd already had more than enough of her theatrics. "Gian and I have some work to finish here."

"Oh, that's right. You volunteer here, don't you?"

"As you well know, since you came here to find us," I replied and this time didn't hide my smirk. Honestly, how stupid did she think we were?

Her face reddened beneath limp, blonde hair, and her eyes narrowed in anger -- green today, but they were apt to change color, depending on what contacts she grabbed. She stood more than a head taller than me, most of it from the heels. Until the tenth grade she had out-bulked me as well, but she'd turned almost wraith thin over the last couple years. I didn't worry as much about getting into a punching match with her as I had when we were in the fifth grade and she could knock me down and sit on me.

We'd never been friends. We never would be, which made me happy.

I saw Mrs. Berlin watching, and I knew she wasn't going to stand by and let us gab for very long. She'd laid out the rules the first day and the big one was no socializing at the library. She told us to take the job seriously, even if we were unpaid volunteers. And I did. I liked working here, and no one complained that I dressed a bit more punk than they were used to.

"You came to tell us something, Missy?" Gian asked, sounding out of sorts.

I saw that look come over her. This wasn't going to be good. My skin began to prickle and my mouth went a little dry before she spoke.

"I just heard from my father. Seiji Kimura blew his brains out this afternoon at work," she said.

And then she grinned.

"Damn," I whispered, grateful I had been leaning against the counter after all. The news shocked me. I felt ill. This kind of thing didn't happen in Deervale.

"You know what this means, don't you?" Missy asked. Her voice grew louder, and her right hand waved as though she had no control over the movement. Was I the only one who suspected she had gotten heavy into drugs the last couple years? The woman was out of control. Her eyes brightened as she stared at Gian as though only his reaction mattered. "You know who's going to show up for the funeral, right? That little bitch, Akio Kimura is going to be here! Bet you can't wait to see her, right, Gian?"

My breath caught and my own arm started to move. I wanted to slap her. I wanted to grab her by the arm and throw her out the door and hope she broke her stupid, petty neck on the steps. Of all the damn, cruel, thoughtless things to say --

I turned away from her to get control of my rage and found myself watching Gian instead. He had paled, and I could see the little scar on his right cheek, a souvenir from the last time he and Akio had met -- along with the wheelchair he now sat in.

He looked at Missy as though she were some kind of alien creature who spoke a language he didn't understand. I don't think she noticed. I would have died if I'd had gotten such a stare from him.

My reaction, and Gian's, fueled her enjoyment. She smiled brighter. "I can't believe they let her out of the treatment center. She runs you over and she gets to laze around in a hospital for a year or so, and then she's cured? Justice, huh?"

"Missy." I hoped my voice remained calm. I had shoved my hands into my sweater pockets to make certain I didn't swing at her. My fingers formed fists, the nails digging into my palms, but I still forced myself to speak calmly. "You know, this isn't the place for this kind of discussion."

"What do you care? Or are you upset because we're talking trash about your good friend Akio?"

"You couldn't say anything I haven't already thought." I met her vulture stare and forced a fake smile, but I doubted she would know the difference, especially since Missy kept staring at Gian. Her face had flushed almost a dark red with excitement, her eyes grew wider. This was dirt heaven for her.

"Time for you to go, Missy. You wouldn't want people to see you spend too much time here," Gian leaned back in his chair and appeared deceptively relaxed. "People might think you're working on your term paper rather than buying one."

Oh hell. . . .

I thought I would have to throw myself on her to save him. I almost pushed away from the counter, but Missy didn't take his snipe badly. Instead, she gave a little snicker of a laugh and another wave of her hand. "True. Besides, there are places I've got to be. See ya'll Monday in school. Be good."

She spun and sauntered away, her heels sounding like one of those tin drums that kids get at Christmas, and the tune tapped out by someone with no sense of rhythm. She headed straight across the room to the door, forcing a woman with her child to sidestep before she shoved them away. I started to protest, but feared stopping her exit. I wanted her away, and in a moment, she threw open the door and headed out into the pouring rain. 
I stared, hoping she'd fall and break her neck. I hated the rage that overwhelmed me. I wanted revenge and justice -- and Missy Murphy would make a perfect enemy. If I had been any closer, I might have shoved her myself. I took the coward's way out and asked God to trip her for me.

She reached the little Jaguar she'd left in the no-parking zone. I could hear the wheels spin on the wet pavement as she hit the gas and hurried away to spread the good word.

I stood by the counter, trying not to gasp as the rage swam through me, threatening to come out in a scream or a curse -- or worse yet, to make me weep like a little girl. I would not cry, not here, in front of Gian, the one who had suffered in this tragedy. I stared out into the rain, trying to count the splatters as the drops hit the steps, like I had done as a child. I wanted anything to help me to stop thinking about Missy, and all she had told us.

Silence filled the library, and I could hear nothing more than a page turned and Gian breathing behind me. I wanted to be somewhere else. I had buried the nightmare. How dare she --

"We better get these books shelved," Gian said. I turned, trying to find the right words to say, as he propelled himself away from the desk.

I watched him head into the maze of book shelves. My breath still came very short, and I hadn't dared push away from the counter because I felt so weak. Mrs. Berlin left her desk and came towards me, a wad of paper towels in one hand. Great. Bad enough to put up with Missy's bullshit, but now I would have to clean up after her as well.

"You handled her very well, Marisha." Mrs. Berlin wiped the table where Missy had left a hand-sized puddle while she told us the news. "Thank you. You'd better go help Gian."

I felt my first true warmth for the woman I had been working with for the last three months. She patted my shoulder the way my mother sometimes did, and nodded towards the place where Gian had disappeared. I thought I saw worry in her face and liked her even better.

I went as far as the first rows of shelves and stepped out of sight. I stood there, gasping as I breathed in the scent of books, ink and dust. My hands remained in my pockets, my fingers still in fists. I tried to push all the dark stuff away -- both Missy's announcement and the memory of what had happened on a late fall night over a year ago.

The reports the police had released stated that Akio, drugged out of her mind, had been driving her father's car home from a Hollywood Hills party. A witness, who was underage and unnamed in anything we got to see, said Akio had purposely turned the car towards Gian and hit the gas and run him over. On purpose. There was no doubt.

I hadn't heard about the accident until the next morning when I came down for breakfast. The same feeling of disconnect came over me now; the cold ice from the pit of my stomach to the top of my head. My arms began to tremble. Not Gian, I thought. No one would hurt Gian. Not on purpose.

Not Gian, whom I had been in love with since at least fifth grade, but who didn't know me as anyone but the girl who lived next door. I was the girl he played baseball with in the summer and who had gone camping with his family when I was twelve.

They hadn't told me for another day about Akio driving the car. I had felt another, different cold shock. Akio had been my best friend. I hadn't wanted to believe she would do such a thing.

The memory still hurt. God, it hurt, there in the depth of my soul, as the feeling of betrayal rose within me once more. I had treated Akio like a sister and better than I treated my own older sister, probably. We'd been more than friends --

I pushed the thought away. I remembered the few times I had visited Gian in the hospital, not long after the accident. Then my mother took me to the Bahamas for the summer and I pretended not to think about what had happened. By the time we came back, Gian was in the wheelchair and back in school. We talked sometimes, but nothing like before. Things had changed.

As I stood there in the library I thought back before the accident and for a brief moment I remembered Gian the last time I'd seen him walking. I was heading home, but he was going to the gym to work out. He had been head of the dance class at school, and though he was never going to be a Baryshnikov or anything, he'd loved performing. Loved to dance, and play baseball, and run track --

And I remembered how I smiled as I saw him jogging away, his hair bouncing at his shoulders. He'd leapt a small wall and headed to the grassy area --


I spun, startled at the sound. Gian sat at the end of the aisle. I wondered how long he'd stared at me. Half the books still sat on the tray in front of him, and I knew those were the ones he couldn't reach to put away.

At least Gian was much better than he had been the first months after the accident. I had heard his mother say he might be using no more than a cane by this time next year.

I wanted to see him stand. I wanted it very much.

I followed Gian through the dusty shelves to put books away, finishing our little good deed for the day. Being here felt trite and stupid in the face of everything else, but Gian kept at the work, so I couldn't sulk. We had less than an hour before the library closed and we still had a lot of work to do. Just as well. The work kept my mind off everything until I saw Gian staring out the door into the darkening night, his face bleak and the loss too plain in his dark eyes.

Gian's father arrived to drive him home after work, the van pulling up where Missy had been parked. Gian rolled down the ramp and I waved goodbye, wondering what Mr. Calabria would say to his son. I wondered if he would help.
I wondered if he could say things and help me, too.

Stupid feeling. 
I stayed long enough to watch Gian pull himself from the chair to the front seat and his father pack the wheelchair away in the back of the van. I could see Gian, his head bowed a little, and I thought maybe his lips moved, though his father hadn't climbed into the van yet. Did he pray? What did he ask for on a night like this?

When they pulled away, I hurried to the parking lot beside the library. I threw myself into my little white Mustang, glad to be out of the rain, and sat in the relative silence for a few moments. 
I had to fight a demon I thought I had tamed a long time ago.

The demon came from guilt. I knew nothing was my fault; not what had happened to Gian or what Akio did. I wasn't in the car with her and I hadn't given her the drugs. I hadn't seen her since English class that afternoon.

But . . .

Akio Kimura had been my best friend. Except for Gian, there had been no one outside my family whom I cared for as much as I did her. She had become my little sister and I'd found delight in helping her learn English and in sharing my world with her. I hadn't laughed with my older sister as much as I had laughed with Akio.

And she had betrayed me. She had tried to kill the boy I loved; the one she had been getting closer to, as well. Double betrayal. Little Akio, who spoke such poor English when she had first arrived two years before and who had always been so shy and lost that even Missy showed occasional kindness to her.
She'd been in America two months when her father met and married Nadine O'Hara, a wannabe actress with enough pretensions to put Missy Murphy to shame. We had all felt sorry for Akio.

The question of why this had happened had plagued me for months. School councilors had tried to help. Nothing made sense, and in the end I had been forced to accept what happened, and realize I would never understand the reasons why.

I'd been okay with everything until Missy cut the wound open again.

Mrs. Berlin's car remained in the parking lot and I didn't want her to find me here when she came out. Unfortunately, I didn't want to be anywhere else. I would have to go home and deal with my parents. My father worked with Seiji Kimura. Mr. Kimura had seemed almost as lost as his daughter sometimes. And Nadine had left him within a year of the accident. I felt bad, since I hadn't thought about him in so long.

I didn't need a new form of guilt.

I had thought . . . well, not the nightmare was over, because I saw Gian every day, and couldn't forget about why he sat in the wheelchair. However, the pain had lessened over the last year and a half. I had seen Gian improve. I had hopes things would, somehow, return to normal.

A stupid, childish wish.

The lights went out in the main part of the library, the huge glass front going dark. The few circles of street lights filled the darkness and I felt very alone. Mrs. Berlin would be heading for her SUV next to mine. I needed to be away.
I started the car and began to press down on the gas, anxious --

Too anxious. The wheels spun and I almost lost control backing out, and that brought me to my senses. I didn't want to have an accident. I thought about hurting someone the way Gian had been hurt. The thought made me so ill I almost couldn't move the car at all.

Control. I could handle a little rain. I slowed as I drove out of the water-slick parking lot onto the road. Streetlights shaped like old gas lamps lit puddles and emerging flowers. Nearly summer. Graduation and prom were coming soon. Next fall I'd be in college and away from Deervale and everything that had happened here.

Away from Gian.

I was glad for the rain. No one would notice my mascara running from the tears.

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