Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Waiting for the Last Dance, Chapter Eight

Links to the previous chapters are HERE
Chapter Eight

I had no trouble avoiding Missy for the rest of the day because she wasn't in class. I had a good time in English Lit just because I relaxed. The same with Modern American History, where we debated real history and history distorted through the media. Afterwards, I raced out to find Gian, knowing I shouldn't walk alone after this afternoon's little mishap. I expected Missy to be around somewhere, waiting. In fact, I wasn't certain going with the Calabrias would be safe, either.

I found Gian waiting for me at the gate with his father standing by him. They both looked grim.

"What?" I whispered, my heart pounding too hard. Please make everything stop!

"They found Akio in the cemetery," Gian said softly. He stared up into my face. I couldn't read his emotions. "She'd collapsed."

I wasn't sure how to react. Not in front of Gian. Not over Akio. So I went still and I don't think I even dared breathe. I couldn't look at him and I don't know if I felt rage or fear -- or perhaps even hatred because Akio kept slipping into my life and ruining my calm.

"It's all right," Gian said. He took my hand and I looked at him, my breath held. "She's in the clinic. We'll take you there."

"Gian --"

"It's all right."

I climbed into the van and could see others watching. I wondered how many had heard the news. I wondered why Gian accepted my reaction and worked to help get me to Akio. I wasn't certain this was right. The calm I had found was gone and I couldn't even think straight.

We rode in silence out of the parking lot. The clinic sat at the edge of Deervale on the way out of the community. Easier for others to access, I'd heard when I asked why they hadn't built the clinic by AviTen. Besides, this was the only place flat enough in the hills for a helicopter pad in case someone needed to be lifted to better facilities.

"She's sick," Gian said as we pulled into the clinic parking lot, which is more like a private hospital. Nothing but the best for Deervale, of course. He looked at me, a little crease on his forehead. "I know the truth in my heart, Mar. And I know -- I know she needs a friend."

I took his hand in mine. This was acceptance I had never expected, and I didn't think either Akio or I deserved it. I didn't want to go to Akio but she did need a friend and I had never in my life been purposely cruel. If I didn't go, who would? Nadine was the only person she could turn to and the thought made me angry.

"Thank you, Gian," I said softly. "Can you let my parents know where I am? Tell them I'll walk to the library from here. It's just four blocks."

He nodded and smiled as I got out of the car. I hated the thought of going in there alone. I stopped and waved once before the doors slid open, one set into the vestibule, the next set into the reception area. The woman at the computer glanced at me with a little frown as I came inside. A doctor stood by the wall, looking over a chart. I didn't know either of them. I'd been shockingly well all my life.

"May I help you?" the woman at the desk asked. She could have been a school teacher. She had the look that said absolutely no nonsense allowed.

"Akio Kimura," I said softly, afraid of what they might tell me. "She's here?"

"Yes, she is," the woman said. "Are you family?"

"N-no. She has no one here since her father died."

"What about her step-mother?" the doctor asked, pushing away from the wall. I thought he might be about my father's age, but with hair edging towards gray. He had the kind of stare that made me feel as though he could read my life in my face.

"Nadine doesn't like Akio," I said with a little ineffectual wave of my arm.

"But you do."

"I -- I don't know what I feel, but I don't think she should have been left all alone in the world."

"Sounds like a good start. You are?"

"Mar. Marisha Fortier." I stopped and took a deep breath. "I was her best friend, before."

He had to know what before meant. I didn't want to go through all of the old history again, either. I just wanted . . . I don't know. I didn't want Akio to be alone. I didn't want anyone to be alone, but here was someone I could help. Like her abandoned dogs and cats; maybe I could do this for those animals she'd helped.

"Come with me," the doctor said and turned to a hall. "She's resting, but I think she needs someone to sit with her for a little while. We got some liquids into her. I can't tell when she last ate or drank anything."

Had I passed some kind of test? Compassion? I don't know. But I followed him through the center. I saw people in other rooms. I didn't look at them.

Akio lay in a big bed, her black hair fanned out on the pillow, her face pale and her eyes closed. There was an IV in her arm, and something slipped over the finger of her left hand. I could see the wires led to a machine on the wall and monitored her heartbeat.

"She's close to consciousness," the doctor said softly. Webster, by the name on his tag. "She might like to hear a kind voice. Can you manage that?"

"I think so," I said so softly I was afraid he wouldn't hear me.

But Akio did. She moved a little.

"You must know her very well," he said, a little surprised. "She's had some pretty bad nightmares over her father's death. Don't be frightened if she cries out. She gets past the nightmares pretty fast."


He pushed a padded chair to the side of the bed. I sat down, watching her and trying to sort out my emotions. He put a hand on my shoulder. I thought he was going to say something, but then he just gave a nod and left the room.

I could hear the beep of equipment monitoring her and the distant sounds of voices in other rooms, but everything felt unreal. So much had changed in two years. I couldn't turn back the time. I couldn't even make now right. I could do nothing but sit here and watch as Akio turned her head a little from side-to-side, her hair starting to tangle. I almost reached to brush a strand away from her face but my hand trembled and I stopped.

"No," she whispered. She always had such a soft voice. I'd never heard Akio yell. "No, don't hurt him!"

She said other words, whispered in Japanese. I heard the word she had used to refer to her father. She whimpered, and even in sleep I knew she felt lost and alone.

"Akio," I said softly, leaning closer. "Akio, everything is all right."

I lied, but for a few moments I could pretend and do something kind for someone who was sick and alone and needed a friend. She wouldn't be here in Deervale for long. Gian had brought me here. Maybe being in this room would make me a better person.


Her eyes fluttered open and she looked at me with a vulnerability I hadn't expected. I could hurt her: I could say a few words and wound her in ways she would never recover from and the power frightened me. I took her hand in both of mine. Her fingers felt cold. "It's all right, Akio. I'm here."

Her eyes closed. She wept very quietly.

We didn't say much at all for the next couple hours. Nurses came in and out. Dr. Webster checked in every fifteen minutes or so. I sat with her while she ate a few little bites of dinner, encouraging her to eat a bit more, until she made a face at me that was so Akio-like that I laughed. And she smiled.

"We're going to give Miss Kimura something to help her sleep," Dr. Webster said when they took the food away.

"I can stay a little longer," I offered.

"No," Akio answered. "Go home. I'll be fine."

"Okay." I stood, still feeling a little uncomfortable, even though I knew I had done the right thing. I had a little time before work at the library, and I'd had no food, either. But I wasn't sure if I should leave.

"I'm sorry about everything," Akio whispered. I saw the bleakness in her eyes and the loss of things she could never have back. "I really am."

"I know you are." I patted her arm and realized I could give her something which might help. "Akio, Mr. Calabria and Gian brought me here tonight so I could stay with you."

Her breath caught and her eyes went wide. I thought I saw something more alive in her face for a moment, as though she felt her first whisper of hope in a long time.

I followed Dr. Webster out of the room. I couldn't decide what I should feel, though things seemed better. If Gian hadn't brought me here, I couldn't imagine how I would have felt instead.

The doctor put a hand on my shoulder. "You did an excellent job. We feared she might have a relapse into her former state, the one after the accident."

"I thought that state after the accident was a reaction from the drugs," I said, startled.

"No. The reaction came from shock and her own injuries. The drugs had only a short term influence on her."

I hadn't realized Akio had been injured in the accident. I really, really tried not to feel guilty about it. I don't know why I keep trying to gather guilt to me, like I needed it. We were heading out to the front where I could see the sun setting behind a line of storm clouds. I had to get to the library soon!

"I had already started preparing the paperwork to move her to the appropriate facilities for mental health care. Her stepmother hasn't been here at all, by the way. She is in the area, isn't she?"

"Nadine will only show up if there are reporters and a chance to get her face on the screen," I said. I sounded angrier than I expected. "She's as much to blame for this as anyone. She's the one who gave the drugs to Akio before the accident."

"Did she?" Webster said. His fingers tightened on my shoulder. "You're certain? There's nothing like that in the reports I've gotten on Akio."

"When I talked to Akio the other day she said she went to a party with Nadine in West Hollywood, and Nadine gave her a drink and it made her sick and then the world went crazy. I think it's true. I knew Akio very well, and this was so -- she would never hurt anyone on purpose, especially not Gian. I don't think she took the drugs herself. Somehow . . . that makes things different."

"Yes," he agreed. "I don't think she realizes not all the blame can fall on her under those circumstances."

"Especially since Nadine hasn't taken any blame at all."

He nodded, frowning before he let go of my shoulder. "Thank you. I hope you come by again."

"I will. I'll be by tomorrow afternoon."

I stepped out into the lot and glanced down the street past the Deervale gate and towards the gas station where the distant neon light already out shown the pale colors of the setting sun. The night felt cool and a slight mist filled the air; not rain yet, but I suspected the storm wasn't far away. I knew I should head straight to the library but I'd missed dinner and I could buy a candy bar or chips at the station, and still make reach the library more or less on time.

I missed my car. I could have gone and grabbed some real food -- or at least a fast food variation -- with plenty of time to spare.

I headed out the gate on the sidewalk, giving a wave to the guard, and jogged to the station, dreading the trip back up hill in the worsening weather. I should have called my parents, but I hated feeling like a little kid. Besides, the walk gave me time to think. I'm not sure that helped, though.

The station always seemed like a sort of gatekeeper to Deervale, standing midway on a road which curved down to the lowlands. From the station's parking lot, I could see a couple strip malls, grocery stores and a sprinkling of houses nestled below -- but I couldn't see much of Deervale from here, hidden behind the hills. I stood there and thought about escaping and running away from all the insanity of the last few days. But I couldn't, of course. I had promised I would be back to see Akio tomorrow.

I gobbled the candy bar, tore open the chips, and started up the hill. I was hardly panting when I went past the clinic --

I happened to look in and saw Missy Murphy at the receptionist desk. I didn't like it at all. I knew who Missy had to be there to see.

No. She was not going to undo my good work.

She was not going to hurt Akio.

I ran across the lot and in through the doors. The receptionist saw me coming and looked startled. Missy turned around, and I saw her face grow pale and her eyes narrow. Maybe I should have called instead, but I didn't stop as I reached the doors. They slid open and I saw Dr. Webster coming down the hall.

"What are you doing here, Missy?" I asked.

"I came to see her," she said. The darkness in her eyes scared me, but I held my ground

"I'm sure you did." I startled her with my words, or perhaps my own show of anger. Dr. Webster stopped by the wall and leaned there, watching. "Dr. Webster, do you trust me?"

"Yes," he said. I heard Missy make a sound of real annoyance this time. I knew this wasn't going to go well, but I couldn't back away -- not after what I'd seen in Akio's face and how vulnerable she had seemed.

"Don't let her in to see Akio, at least not alone. At the very least, ask Akio if she wants to see her first."

They both nodded.

"You viper," she said, gasping. I saw her fingers form into fists. "How dare you. How --"

"If Akio wants to see you, there's no problem," I said. I kept calm but I took a step away from her. I thought she would swing this time, rather than setting her friends to take care of me.

"Miss Kimura is sleeping," Dr. Webster said with a frown at the two of us. "This will not be settled until tomorrow morning at the earliest. No one will be in to see her before then."

Missy spun on him, her green eyes (the color of the day) flashing.

"If there is any disagreement, I'll call the police and have you removed. We do not allow altercations in this building. Period."

She gasped and her arms began to tremble. When she spun to leave, she shoved me aside, but I stayed to my feet. I saw three nurses and maybe another doctor in the hall and all of them watched Missy with dismay as she left the building. She leapt into her car and sped away, almost losing control as she turned out of the parking lot, going far too fast.

"That was bizarre," the receptionist said.

"Not for Missy," I replied. I shrugged a little, unwilling to talk dirt about her. "I have to get to the library."

"Did you suspect she meant ill for Miss Kimura?" Dr. Webster asked.

"Yes," I said. I wouldn't lie. "She's been acting stranger than usual ever since Akio arrived for her father's funeral. I don't trust her."

"I'll post a note and description of her," the receptionist said. Her name tag read Sally Nordstrom. "We won't let her through without clearance from her doctor."

"She wears different colored contacts. I better get to the library. I'll be there for the next few hours if you need me," I said staring out into the street. A slight rain began to fall, of course. Then I gave a little laugh. "I just sounded way too melodramatic, didn't I?"

They both laughed and I felt better as I walked out into the cold evening. The sun had disappeared and the lights came on, making cones of misty illumination every few feet. I had to hike uphill to the library, of course, passing by a couple of buildings. I rushed past the hair salon. They made me nervous, staring out at my unconventional hair. A few steps later and I went past the flower shop. A wide row of trees and bushes, about two blocks long, bordered the street between there and the library. I caught the scent of spring flowers nearby. I would have liked this walk in the daytime and not in the rain.

The chips were making me queasy. Or maybe the feeling came from thinking about having had yet another bad encounter with Missy. Why had she been trying to get in to see Akio?

Maybe I had gotten too paranoid.

Because now . . . now I thought someone followed me. I could hear bushes moving and sounds like footsteps on the grass, though none too close. I had a block and a half to go. I started walking faster.

I heard something behind me. I spun --

I thought I saw shadows moving. My heart thumped harder and I almost fell.

Get a grip, Mar. Get a grip.

I turned around. I could see the wide, glass door of the library. I thought about running and then realized I wouldn't be able to hear anything coming behind. Better to go slowly. I did, finally, put my hand on my purse and the pocket with my cell phone. We all had the emergency number to the AviTen Security, which would get to us far faster than the police could get into the hills. Mr. Avignon had also insisted all the young ladies carry a little bottle of pepper spray attached to their key rings. I had found the idea rather endearing in a kind of grandfatherly way. Now, I grabbed the little canister tight in my fingers and let my hand rest on the cell phone.

I kept walking. The rain fell a little harder but I could hear something coming closer. Not on the sidewalk, but through the bushes just to my right and a few yards behind. I walked a little faster --

And someone drove by and slowed on the curve. I heard the sound of a muffled curse -- I was certain it as Missy now -- and the movement stopped behind me. I kept walking faster and almost fell as I rushed up the steps into the library building. By then the car had disappeared.

I glanced back. A shadowy shape moved through the bushes and trees. I didn't have to guess who, even though I couldn't see her clearly.

Missy had just gone one step beyond odd to downright dangerous -- and now she scared me.


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