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"You up, Marisha?" Mom shouted from the bottom of the stairwell, which amplifies her voice and I swear makes her sound like a harpy. "Time to get up, Marisha!"
"Yeah. Right. Whatever." I pulled the pillow over my head and tried to find the perfect warm spot in my bed.
I have always hated mornings. I hate the mere thought of dawn's rosy fingers and the few times I've been awake to hear the sweet bird's morning cries of delight, I've thought about buying a bb gun.
The light is too bright. It hurts.
"I'm up!" I yelled, and threw myself out of bed with a whispered curse. My parents don't allow cursing in the house. They don't let me sleep past dawn, either. I thought they ought to allow at least one or the other.
Once I was out of the bed, my brain began to work. A glance out the window showed a bright day and no rain, which was a real plus in my book. Saturday, so I didn't have to go to school. I wouldn’t work at the library until later. All in all, not a bad combination until I remembered Missy's arrival at the library last night
I had slept in my 'teddy bears need love, too' t-shirt and I grimaced at cutesy smile and the butterfly on his nose. I had been in a really piss-poor mood to have pulled out this one. I hate cutesy stuff.
"I'm up!" I purposely made a lot of noise stomping across the room and out into the hall. She stopped yelling.
I took my time in the shower and got dressed before I had the nerve to meet my reflection in the mirror. I never found the moment of truth any easier. I finally looked into the perfect glass to see the imperfect image reflected there.
Yup, still me. Ugly little pug nose, teeth sticking out a bit too far, thin lips, eyes not quite the same color blue, but at least they seemed nice eyes. Breasts were too small, shoulders too wide. I could stand to lose some weight, too. I had washed my hair and spikes of brown and blue stood out at odd angles around my head. I needed to change the color. Fuchsia and tangerine for graduation?
I ran through the list of things I disliked about myself every morning; a litany I felt oddly comfortable with these days. Although those odds and ends didn't seem to fit right, they made me. Nothing ever changed much, except sometimes the spikes in my hair were a different color. My parents called it eccentricity and laughed. They'd have grounded my older sister for years if she'd done something this odd to her hair.
Ellen was right when she complained that I was spoiled, but she didn't understand all the reasons for the changes. Ellen was the oldest. They'd been stricter with her because they feared doing something wrong, having had no practice in child-rearing until she came along. I could see the changes: Strict with Ellen, less strict with Michael, easy going with me.
Besides, I wasn't stupid. I stayed out of trouble and made certain I got good grades in school, the only things they really asked of me. I had watched many of the other Deervale teens purposely do things to annoy their parents. I'd have lost more than the right to have odd-colored hair if I acted as stupid as Missy and some of the others.
But their parents never seemed to notice. I'd envied them for a while when I was younger. Now I felt sorry for them instead.
I enjoyed having a little freedom in my clothing, hair and such. Despite the things I disliked about my appearance, I didn't want to be anyone else.
I brushed the spikes out of my hair. My hands felt sore from the fists I had made last night. I found fingernail marks in my palms. I didn’t think I'd ever been as upset as I had been at Missy.
The anger started to return, but I vowed to remain calmer today, though that wouldn't be easy. My parents had been shell-shocked last night. Mr. Kimura had killed himself in his own office, and since my father worked in the same building -- as did almost everyone else in Deervale -- the death had hit him very hard. I don't know how much time he had spent with Mr. Kimura in the last year. He didn't talk about work much.
I wanted to feel comfortable this morning, so I dug out a ragged t-shirt and some old jeans I usually wear when we worked in the yard. They'd do until I had to get ready for the library. I didn't think I could prepare myself mentally to face my parents, though. The pain and worry had dulled a little overnight, but I knew the calm was a temporary condition.
I lingered at the bedroom window, staring out at the house next door, trying to build a layer of tranquility over my jangled nerves. The view wasn't helping.
Homes in Deervale are large, with huge lots and more space than any of us need. Ours is the last house on this block, with a little garden cul-de-sac at the end of the street. The Miesen house sits alone on the other side. Outside my window I could see the Calabria home, almost half a block away. Their place is a little larger, but then they needed the space with seven kids when they first arrived. Five still lived at home. Gian's two older brothers had moved away, one in New York and the other to Milan, Italy. Gian was the oldest now.
Already this morning, two of his younger brothers had come out to play baseball in the area between the two houses. The grass was wet, and Marco kept slipping. David couldn't throw a ball straight to save his life.
I tried to smile, but watching them reminded me too much of being out there with Gian, tossing balls back and forth on warm summer mornings. Those summer days had been wondrous, lazy and magical. I think I even realized so at the time. I never wanted them to end.
We all grew up. We faced the real world and I wanted the bad things to go away. I could stay here in my room until after the funeral. I could hide, and pull the shades, turn on the stereo and disappear from the world.
Or maybe not.
I pulled on my sneakers and headed downstairs, letting the scent of breakfast fill my thoughts. One step at a time and get past this day and the next, and the next. . . .
How long would this go on? How long would I feel as though someone had kicked me in the gut; the same feeling I'd had the day of Gian's accident. I had thought we were past the worst.
I paused on the stairs, took a deep breath, and went on.
My father sat at the table across from me. He seemed troubled, his eyes narrowed and a frown at the corner of his lips. Even on a Saturday morning, he dressed as though GQ might stop by for a photo shoot. Today he wore grays and I thought the colors probably reflected his mood. My mother had dressed in a casual pullover and slacks, but even so I looked like a beggar they'd invited to breakfast.
Neither of them said anything about my clothing, though. Toast and coffee sat on the table already. I helped mom with the omelets and pulled the marmalade out of the fridge. Everyone kept too quiet, which didn't help.
"Anything else today?" I asked to get the worst out of the way.
"The AviTen head lawyer should return soon, but there's rough weather in the Aegean Sea where he's sailing, and he's been delayed," Dad said. He looked at his food and then back at me. "The police have the office sealed off, and Mr. Avison says we can't have any of Kimura's papers until the lawyer gets here."
"How's --" I stopped myself from saying Old Man Avi "-- How's Mr. Avison taking all of this?"
"Not very well. He's never had a top exec kill himself before and certainly not at the office." Dad held a piece of toast in his hand, but didn't take a bite. "Seiji wasn't a bad guy, you know. I realize, with everything else --"
"What happened wasn't his fault." I meant those words, which made me feel worse since I hadn't considered the implications until now. This had been hard on him, too. His daughter went to a mental ward and his pretty actress wife took off, leaving him alone in his huge house.
"Eat your breakfast before it gets cold, Marisha," Mom said. She patted my hand, and reminded me, perversely, of Mrs. Berlin.
We ate the rest of the meal without talking about the Kimuras or the accident . . . but I could hear the Calabria boys playing outside, and their yells and laughter seemed a counterpoint to every pounding heartbeat and every regret I felt.
I couldn't stay around the house. My father kept getting calls and some distressed both him and my mother. They spoke in quiet whispers. I could still hear the sounds of the boys playing next door. Everything wove into a maddening orchestra, where every ring of the phone set my heart pounding harder and every shout next door nearly brought tears to my eyes.
I needed to get away, so I decided to take my camera and head to the park at the edge of the hills. Mom appeared relieved to have me out of the house. I think she and dad wanted to talk about things they knew would upset me. I told myself I was adult enough to handle those things, but I would leave for their sakes, so I didn't add to their worries.
Yeah. I didn't believe it either.
I grabbed my camera bag and tripod from upstairs, snared some rechargeable batteries from where mom always keeps them on standby for all the various electronics, and headed out into a bright morning. Only a sprinkling of white clouds moved against the blue sky. My car felt like a haven and armor against the world. I drove away without watching the boys playing in the yard.
Deervale is an odd place to live. The entire area is a new development, which isn't unusual in Southern California. What is unusual is to find an entire community peopled almost exclusively by employees of one company.
A little over twenty years ago, Old Man Avi had this huge multi-billion dollar company, AviTen, trading all over the world. High impact stuff: stocks, bonds, securities, gold, jewels, and even some techie things. The man has a golden touch and he knew how to pick people to help run the business. He had offices in a dozen different countries, and he decided he wanted to have one main office for his top people. He put the decision to a vote, and eventually the majority chose the site in Southern California. I don't know why. I would have gone for somewhere exotic like maybe London or Paris or something. Since most of them were from Europe and Asia, I guess Southern California was exotic to most of them.
Anyway, he built a huge, modern office on the edge of the hills. The building rises in glass-fronted tiers, taking advantage of the landscape rather than destroying the natural setting. So do the houses, which sit close to the street, but often have hills and glades behind them, rather than the usual yards. We all have huge houses , most with pools closed in, and linked by twisting, tree-lined roads. Though a small community, we also have our own parks, schools -- and library.
Not many people on the outside know about Deervale. There's no freeway close enough to have an exit, and we're between the Valley and the ocean, tucked away in the hills. It's hard to come in on the road unnoticed. Reporters sometimes hike in from other ways to get into the residential area, but they're always spotted and escorted out.
I know some of the kids here do the 'oh so rich and bored' routine, but I remember living in New York City. I had a little courtyard to play in and my mother worried about me even there because, at eight, I had a fear of nothing and curiosity about everything.
My father had headed the East Coast branch since before I was born, and Mr. Avison later promoted him to North American Rep when the last guy retired. We came here when I was nine. My older sister and brother hated this place and the loss of the life they'd known. My sister went to Vassar for college, just to be on the East Coast. My brother joined the Marines to get away. But I always liked being here. I love the freedom and openness. I wouldn't consider anywhere else as home.
Except someone got really silly about naming the streets. I live on Badger Boulevard. There's also Raccoon Road, Doe Drive, Panther Place and a few more, before someone caught the guy and slapped him silly. He changed to flowers afterward, which is only marginally better.
I headed for Rose Garden Park, thinking of the buds after the rain. I didn't intentionally drive past the Kimura house. Maybe my subconscious chose the way, but I hadn't realized until I saw the familiar driveway and the cherry trees in bloom.
Akio loved those trees. So did her father, who bought special varieties, including those that bloomed later than others so that he could savor them for longer. I thought about Mr. Kimura coming home to this big empty house every day . . . and maybe deciding he couldn't face going there one more time, alone, on the last day. He'd killed himself at the office, not here.
So much lost.
I started bawling. Straight out crying, tears running down my face and sniffing back the snot. I hadn't cried when I heard about Gian. I'd felt rage, anger and betrayal, but today I felt sadness for the loss for things I'd never have again. I felt remorse because I'd never thought to talk to Mr. Kimura. If I'd visited with him, would he have felt better, knowing he had a friend? I knew his death wasn't my fault, but I didn't want him to be dead. Nothing could ever be what it had been since he died. I couldn't pretend any more.
I wanted to pull over and cry but not here!
I drove on to the park, no more than a couple blocks away. There I sat in the car and cried harder than I had the day my brother Michael left, afraid he would go to war and be in danger. Afraid he'd never come back home.
"It's not fair!"
I hit the steering wheel. The horn blasted, winning a yelp from me. I cursed. Fluently, and in language I don't usually use, which I think helped, though I wished I had skipped breakfast. I felt shaky and ill, and I didn't want to be here alone, though I didn't want to be with anyone either. Perverse. Annoyed. Angry.
How could Akio do this to me? She knew how I felt about Gian.
Bad things weren't supposed to happen in Deervale. This was paradise. Sure, we had our scandals. Mrs. Martin OD'd when I was thirteen and died the next morning. Last year, I heard a jealous husband killed Mr. Abraz while he vacationed in Europe, though officially he died in a car accident.
"It's not fair," I whispered again, and didn't pound on the steering wheel this time.
Community Security drove by in one of their pretty blue cars. I knew the routine. They'd return in five minutes and if they found me in the car they'd come over to see if everything was all right. The last thing I wanted was for any of them to find me crying my eyes out and blubbering over the unfairness of life.
I climbed out of the car, jerked my camera bag and tripod out and slammed the door shut, silencing the nearby birds for a moment. By the time I reached the arbor entry to the neatly trimmed rose garden, I was determined to enjoy the walk despite it being morning, for God's sake. Everything remained wet from the night before. My stomach felt as if I'd eaten rocks for breakfast. My eyes hurt and I was still in a damn bad mood.
I saw no one else in the park as I stomped along the path, loud enough to startle the birds. I swatted at bugs and glared at one lone butterfly. Then I reached the fountain and the roses.
And hell, everything looked beautiful! Drops of water glittered on pastel rose petals, reminding me more of a painting than real life. I grabbed my camera, forgetting my bad mood, and shoved the batteries into place as quickly as I could. The light would shift at any moment and I'd lose this perfect opportunity. Everything would change in the next few minutes. Where was the polarizer?
The butterfly flew past, settling on the flowers. A lone hummingbird fluttered by and I spent nearly an hour trying photograph him. I realized the emotional overload I felt had eased. I could breathe without feeling half ill. I could think about going to work this afternoon, where Gian would be working too. I'd volunteered at the library a full month before he did.
Sometimes I thought, maybe . . . .
I never let the thought go very far. Gian and I remained friends, like we'd been most of our lives. Even if I had been ready for something more, now wasn't the time to trouble him. I kept my feelings to myself.
As I pulled out of the park, I decided to go past the Kimura house, though not because there wasn't another way. I didn't want to fear facing the house, let alone all the rest. I promised myself not to cry this time. There was nothing I could do to change what had happened. I had to accept the truth.
I pulled over and stared at the house. I thought about picking a cherry blossom or two and putting them away: a keepsake, to try and recall the better times. I was ready, too late, to forgive Mr. Kimura for something he'd had nothing to do with. I wanted, really, to let go of my own guilt.
I started to get out when a cab suddenly appeared at the corner and slowed, turning into the driveway. My heart began to pound too hard and I froze there, the door a hand's breadth open.
Akio got out of the cab. She stood with her head a bowed, a very small young woman with waist length black hair in a single braid, and wearing a black dress and sunglasses.
God, she hadn't changed at all. I stared, unable to breathe. She was, I realized, staring at me as well while the driver got out and pulled her suitcase from the trunk.
My mouth went dry and the palms of my hands grew damp. They slipped as I jerked the car door closed. I pushed my foot down on the gas pedal and barely avoided hitting the curb as I sped away.
And then I saw Missy Murphy sitting on the hood of her car, a half block away. She'd obviously been watching for Akio, probably to have more dirt to spread around town.
She'd seen me and my reaction. I hated her for it.
I drove home and went to my room and sat on my bed, waiting for time to pass, for things to get better.
I could hear the Calabrias outside, and soon I'd be at work with Gian. This wouldn't go away.