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Gian seemed subdued when he arrived at the library and I feared I had upset him when I went to see Akio. Why did I do so many stupid things?
Later I realized Gian had other problems to worry about and probably didn't even consider me being stupid. Why had the reporters tried to talk to him? How did he feel about the death of Mr. Kimura and Akio's arrival? My problems revolved around trying to balance my own emotional rollercoaster ride: Gian was the one who had truly suffered in this mess.
We didn't have many people come in, which was too bad. I needed the distraction. I even found myself staring at a shelf of math books, wondering if any of them held the secret to trig I still hadn't seemed to find. I understood most of the concepts, but some of the pieces still eluded me.
Unfortunately, the library closed at five on Sundays and didn't open on Mondays. We soon did the last cleaning and prepared to head out. Gian mumbled goodbye, still preoccupied, and rolled out to the van and his father. I watched them drive away, quelling the whisper of disappointment because I hadn't been asked to dinner. Then I remembered Sunday was the one night the Calabrias put aside for family only.
"Good night, Marisha." Mrs. Berlin waved me out the door. Then she put a hand on my arm. "And remember all of this will soon pass."
I felt awkward, having her attention and concern. I gave a quick nod and took a step outside. "I'll try to remember. Thanks."
She nodded and offered a little smile as she pulled the door closed and locked up behind me. I felt as though I'd been kicked out of paradise.
The warm spring afternoon enveloped me in the scents of rosebuds and fresh cut grass. If I hadn't brought the car, I would have walked the couple miles home and enjoyed the weather. Soon it would be warm enough to go to the beach. I had my own car this year. I could escape from Deervale for a little while and go sit on the beach, anonymous with everyone else.
I wondered if Gian would enjoy going, or if sitting there would be too painful for him -- not physically, but mentally, to watch the others running, laughing, surfing. Maybe we could just go for a ride and get away for a while. Nowhere in particular. We could escape --
I came around the corner of the building.
I wasn't going anywhere in the car.
Someone had slashed the tires, spray painted rude words everywhere. They'd broken the window on the passenger side, and I didn't even want to see what had happened to the inside.
Anger brought tears to my eyes. I stood there trying to catch my breath, and wondering what to do now. I wanted nothing more than to walk away. I would have, I think except Mrs. Berlin came around the corner and saw the car.
"Damn!" she said, in a very un-Mrs.-Berlin-like outburst. She startled me, drawing my attention from the scene. "Come inside, Marisha. We'll call the police."
"I want to go home."
"But you can't. Come along." She walked over and put an arm across my shoulder, steering me towards the building. "It'll be all right."
"I liked my car."
I let Mrs. Berlin take me inside. I got the tears under control by the time we reached her office. She handed me a tissue and said nothing trite or condescending, which I appreciated. I wanted to be angry but I almost started crying again. I waited quietly in her office while she called the police. She even called my home. We went outside and waited for my parents and the police. I wished I could go walk home, though. I wished I could forget everything.
"Any idea who did this?" my father asked when he arrived.
"No," I said. He looked at me and I shrugged. "There are people who aren't happy with me right now. Missy. Maybe even Akio. And a bunch of kids at school. Could have been someone coming in from the outside, too. They've come in and vandalized stuff before."
He nodded. A few minutes later I answered the same questions from the police. My father talked to them and I said goodbye and thank you to Mrs. Berlin, and went to the SUV with my mother. She could tell I needed quiet.
Dad slid into the car and started the engine. "We're going out to dinner."
"I don't want--"
"We're going out. You can have a salad or something. The police are going to handle the car. We'll see how things go. Next week, after we figure out what's going on, we'll go find you another one. No use buying one tomorrow if someone is going do this again."
We drove all the way to Malibu, listening to 60's music. Corny songs. Sometimes my parents sang along, but neither could hold a tune and they couldn't remember many of the words. After a while, we all laughed so hard dad had to pull over to catch his breath and wipe the tears from his eyes.
We ate at a nice little café with windows overlooking the ocean. Still too cool to sit outside, though I did enjoy watching the waves rolling in as a distant tanker chugged towards Santa Monica. We talked about graduation. At least they'd stopped asking me about prom since I didn't plan to go. I know I disappointed my mother since I was the youngest, and she wouldn't have another chance. Tonight I felt guilty, as though I needed more guilt these days.
But I couldn't have gone with anyone but Gian. I never told her the reason, but I think maybe she knew. I think maybe she even approved in some ways because she never pushed.
We got home very late. I had curled up on the back seat, letting the subdued roar of the car and the gentle vibrations lull me to sleep. I didn't see when we went past the library, the school or even Missy's home. I would have staggered into the house and straight to my room if the phone hadn't been ringing the moment we walked in. I glanced at the answering machine and saw the bright red light flashing in rapid succession -- so many calls I couldn't count them.
My first thought was of Michael in the Marines. There was always trouble out there, and dangers --
"I'll get it." Dad frowned as he picked up the phone, steeling himself for whatever news he heard. "Hello?"
I could hear a voice, loud and strident. My father blinked, frowned, and shook his head. "We went out for the evening, Mrs. Murphy. And I had no idea the police intended to go to your house."
"Shit," I whispered, feeling a different kind of worry this time. My mother turned my way, her lips pursed. She didn't scold me, though. I thought maybe she wanted to say pretty much the same thing at this point.
I remembered, in the haze of everything, how the police had asked if I'd had a disagreement with anyone in the last few days. I'd mentioned Missy. If I'd had half a brain, I wouldn't have said her name at all. This would piss off Missy even more and had drawn her parents into the fracas as well.
"Last night?" Dad glanced at me. I hadn't mentioned the trouble from the night before, wanting to concentrate on dinner with Gian. I rolled my eyes, and leaned against the wall, determined to hear the rest of this new trouble.
"Don't slouch," mom said as she went past me to the kitchen.
I stood straighter, watching as dad held the phone, his eyes narrowing, and his lips drawing into a thin line. He stood straighter and his face got a slight reddish tint I hadn't seen before. I watched, fascinated, and glad he didn't direct that anger at me. He stood, still and silent, for quite some time while the woman on the other end yelled louder and louder.
I finally heard a moment's silence.
"Are you through being rude?" dad asked. I heard an audible gasp on the line. "Good. Now you can listen to me for a few moments. I won't be nearly as long and I won't be rude at all. I have no idea what the problem is with your daughter, Rosa, but it's apparent to me that there is one. How can you, as smart as you are in business, be so damn blind to your private life? She's not being picked on, for God's sake. She's been getting into trouble for at least a couple years. I know you find things far easier to blame on everyone but Missy, but maybe you better start paying more attention to your daughter --"
I heard Mrs. Murphy curse and hang up.
My father put the phone down and rubbed his ear. "It's true, what they say, you know. Sometimes the truth really does hurt."
I giggled. Dad didn't often make jokes, and especially at the expense of someone else.
"Why didn't you mention the trouble with Missy last night?" he asked as we went to the kitchen. I flung myself into the nearest chair. I felt exhausted and bad-tempered from the rollercoaster ride of emotions I'd had yet again today. I wouldn't get to sleep easily thanks to that call. Mom started making hot chocolate which might help me relax, though.
"Marisha?" dad said
"If I came to you every time Missy Murphy did something stupid, you'd get tired of hearing her name very fast."
He appeared startled and then a little pleased by the answer. I couldn't decide why.
"I've heard others hint she's been in a lot of trouble." Mom shook her head, but I could see a touch of disgust there that she tried to hide. "Such a shame."
"I think a lot of my class got screwed up, one way or another," I said.
"I know." She put a cup in front of me. "It isn't fair."
Odd to hear my words echoed in my mother's voice. I sipped the cocoa and thought about tomorrow.
"I went to see Akio this morning." They both turned to me, surprised. I didn't want to go on about the conversation. "And later I saw Nadine driving to the house."
"Nadine is here? I wonder why she even bothered. Last I heard, she had a bit part in some low budget movie." Mom looked bothered which made me feel better since I felt the same way. "Odd for her to come racing here."
I nodded agreement. I steeled myself for the bigger statement. "I'm going to the funeral."
They stopped and both nodded. I had the feeling something changed in our relationship, maybe because I made this decision without consulting them. I felt odd. I wasn't sure I wanted to change. Not today.
"There is going to be a small graveside service, which isn't until one in the afternoon," dad said. "Can you afford to miss a day of school?"
"Yes. I'll use the morning to study trig. I've had trouble concentrating for the last few days, and I have the test on Tuesday."
"Do you have something appropriate to wear?" mom asked with a frown, as though she feared I would dress in torn blue jeans and a baggy tee-shirt. Okay, she had reason to worry, but I had been ten at the time and hadn't realized funerals ere formal.
"I think so." I wracked my brain to try and remember something 'normal' out of my clothing. "I have a black skirt and the gray silk blouse."
"Yes, those will work." She glanced at my hair but said nothing at all.
I finished my cocoa and went to my room. I could hear dad skimming through phone messages, and even with the sound muted I could hear Mrs. Murphy grow more irate with each call. At least now I knew where Missy got her total lack of tact and manners.
Midnight came while I still sat there. I stared out the window towards the dark shape of the Calabria house for a few minutes before I took a shower and finally climbed into bed.
Then I stared at the ceiling. I sniffed a few times, remembering my poor car. I suspected Missy, but I wouldn't blame her without being absolutely sure. Maybe I was taking my role of being fair too far. They'd put those words on my gravestone --
But the thought reminded me of the funeral and Akio, there in the house with Nadine. I didn't want to feel sorry for her, but I did.
About an hour later I got back up. I went to the desk, turned on the small lamp and pulled out the picture album gain. This time I looked through the pages, burying the little stab of pain and loss when I saw the picture of Akio and Gian racing to catch Mickey Mouse. I remembered how hard I had laughed at them.
I found a few pictures from later the same night taken at Akio's house. Nadine had insisted on having a birthday party for her. I had forgotten that even Missy came by and it shocked me to see how different she had seemed before she got so thin and crazy. I think her eyes amazed me the most; there had been humor in the face of the Missy who went to Akio's party. I hadn't seen any humor since then.
I found Nadine in almost every picture, often hogging a third or more of the frame. I remember at the time thinking she acted too desperate for attention, the 30-something starlet who had hired someone to make her look like a geisha for the night, with a black wig and silk gown. She had wormed her way into every conversation so we couldn't talk without her pushing between Akio and someone else to join in.
Yes, always between Akio and someone else, as though to cut her step-daughter out and substitute herself, with her dark hair so like Akio's. I shivered a little, thinking about Nadine now. Her behavior hadn't been right.
Nadine had started wearing the wig everywhere afterwards, as though the black hair would make her acceptable as Mr. Kimura's wife. She didn't understand people despised her and her sleazy producer friends.
Gian had been there. I even got a picture of him giving Akio a birthday kiss on the forehead. They looked sweet.
I cried again.
I flipped through the pictures for a long time, reconciling myself to who we were now instead of clinging to who we had been. I wished Mr. Kimura had been in some of the photos. But maybe it was just as well, since he was the one person who was truly gone.
I put the pictures away and went to bed, but I still didn't sleep well. Maybe I'd sleep better after the funeral. Maybe after Akio left.
I found myself in a dream I hadn't had in over a year. I saw Gian dancing on stage during rehearsal of the musical we never put on that year. He and Olivia had a modern dance duet and they worked long and hard to get the steps right. I would sometimes sit in the audience and watch, trying not to feel jealous. Gian never knew how much I wanted to dance with him. I was graceless, and my few attempts at mimicking their steps had luckily been in private. Gian moved very well, but Olivia moved with grace and stole the show. She made dancing seem as natural as breathing. She'd been a year ahead of us in school, and after graduation she went to some private dance studio in New York.
I dreamed the sequence they had done the last time I saw them dance. And for one, heart-stopping moment, I became Olivia, letting Gian's warm hands guide me from move to move.
I awoke, stunned by the power of what I'd felt in the dream. I had a hard time going to sleep again.
The Deervale Cemetery is located on a sloping hillside, a bit lower than the AviTen HQ. The area is full of well-tended gardens, wind chimes, trees, benches, fountains, ponds -- but very few graves. Like everything else in our secluded little world, the place is new, ornate and refined.
We left the car parked at the curb in line with the others and walked upward towards a pile of dirt and a canopy. I felt incredibly awkward in heels and a skirt. I'd even brushed my hair down and hid the odd colors beneath a small black hat I borrowed from mom.
I felt like a fraud. I didn't want to be here, but I kept walking beside my mother. Dad talked to someone from work, but I couldn't hear the words. Every sound seemed muted while the colors grew too bright. I stared at my black shoes as they brushed through the perfectly clipped grass.
Akio sat alone under the wide, dark canopy by the casket. She held a small, worn book in her hands. Someone had covered the casket lid with cherry blossoms, and I suspected the trees would be bare when next I went by the Kimura house.
Mr. Avison arrived a moment later and took one of the chairs, though not beside Akio. She kept her head bowed. Nadine wasn't here. Too busy to come to the funeral? Why did she return to Deervale at all?
I thought about going and sitting by Akio. I didn't.
The minister spoke about the shortness of life, about the need to hold on to what love we had, and remember all that is good in our world. He told us we were blessed, here in Deervale. I somehow felt worse, as though we had taken our blessings at the cost of the good life for others. I thought about going out and buying a new car, and of all the people who had trouble finding jobs because they couldn't afford a car to get to work. I thought about next year, going to college when some people couldn't even afford to finish high school. It wasn't my fault, but at the same time I thought there ought to be something I could do, like Akio and her no-kill animal shelter.
I hadn't expected Akio to speak. She stood when the minister signaled her, and walked to his place. She had dressed all in black, her head covered in a black hat, her eyes behind black sunglasses, and she looked like a ghost summoned unwilling into the light.
"My father loved the classics," Akio said, her voice hardly more than a whisper. She placed the book on the stand before her, and kept her head bowed. "When I gained sufficient skill in English and Latin, I would often read to him in the evenings. I thought to read one last little passage today. This is from Virgil's Eclogues: A sudden madness came down upon the lover -- forgivable, surely, if Death knew how to forgive."
A sudden soft breeze blew past, shaking the little chimes in a half dozen trees. Akio glanced toward the branches with surprise and nodded, as though the breeze spoke to her. She lifted her head and I knew she watched me, even though I couldn't see her eyes. "I thank you for coming, for his sake."
She walked to the casket and put the book atop the cherry blossoms, and returned to her chair. Mr. Avison stood and took her hand. "This will soon be past, Miss Kimura," he said. His voice had lost some of its power as he grew older, but still held a sense of presence. "The police and lawyers will be finished within the week."
And then you can leave, I thought -- unspoken words by him and all the rest of us here. Go, and let us forget. I felt ashamed of the thought.
"Thank you, Mr. Avison," she said, bowing her head.
My mother took my arm and we headed for the car. I realized my father had gone to speak with Akio and I felt worse, because I couldn't do the same.
"I'm glad the funeral is over," mom said as we slid into the car. I saw people from the press at the edge of the cemetery where some held video cameras. Everyone from school would see I had been here. Ah well, word would have gotten to them anyway. We live in a very small world, here in Deervale. Besides, I had done nothing wrong.
"Nadine wasn't here." I wanted anything to take my mind off of guilt and loss and things I could never get back or change.
"I noticed. How are you doing with the trig studies?" mom asked.
I felt grateful for the distraction. "I'll study when we get home." I looked forward to it, because I could hide from everything else, and bury my thoughts in something cut off from the world. "I have the test first thing tomorrow. I'm averaging a B+. If I do really well, I might bring it up to an A."
"Good," she said. I wasn't sure if she paid attention. She glanced at me with a nod. "I was talking to Betta a couple days ago. She says Gian is doing very well, too. They worried he wouldn't be able to catch up and graduate with the rest of you."
"Gian is smart and I know he was too bored not to study."
"You kids have done well." She tilted her head as though she meant to say more but she remained silent.
I saw dad heading to the car, waving farewell to Old Man Avi as he got into his big white limo. I craned my neck and looked back at the grave. Akio still waited there, alone under the canopy. The workers had already lowered the casket into the ground and the men started to pile the dirt in in. I shivered.
Dad slid into the car and I could see his shoulders relax. I had focused on my own misery and problems dealing with Akio and hadn't considered how difficult this must be for him, to see someone he worked with buried like this. I felt selfish and childish when I wanted everything to go away.
"Mr. Avison called security in to clear the reporters away," dad said. "They'll be here at any moment. They know they aren't supposed to go beyond the cemetery gate and a few have overstepped the bounds already."
"They're going to say really bad things in their reports," I said.
"Yes, they will. But they're saying them already, so it doesn't matter what we do at this point. In another few days they'll find some other news story, and other people to hound. They better not try to get to Gian again. I've never seen Mr. Avison so angry."
He started the car, getting ready to follow the white limo out. Symbolic of our life, I thought, always following where Mr. Avison led. I imagined him as an Old World patriarch; a Moses who brought his people to the new land, and made us into one tribe. Someday, maybe, I would write the history. I was beginning to see how fascinating the story might be, even to those who lived here.
Security soon arrived in a half dozen blue cars that slipped in by the reporter's vehicles. Tall men in their tan uniforms formed a line by the gate to make certain no one tried to stop us on our way out.
Dad started to drive away. Despite myself, I glanced back once more. Akio still remained by the graveside, her head bowed. I wondered how long she would stay there. I wondered how soon she would leave Deervale.