Links to the previous chapters are HERE
I awoke Friday and realized I was about to spend my last day at Deervale High. The thought almost paralyzed me for a moment. I'd been looking forward to graduation for most of my life. Suddenly, everything felt odd and filled with potential disasters my parents wouldn't fix for me. Did I want to go on? Did I understand enough of life to avoid doing anything stupid?
I threw myself out of bed and looked around the room as though I didn't recognize anything. It took three tries to pick clothes I wanted to wear today, though to be honest the trouble had more to do with Gian than school. I even checked my hair twice.
Dad drove me to school, which felt like a closing, I suppose. This would be the last time he took me, just as he had the first day I started kindergarten in New York. I would be in college in a couple months, and supposedly be an adult. I wondered if I should feel differently, thinking about that future. Should I be an adult now? Or would that only come after the graduation ceremony?
I wasn't the only one who stopped outside the entrance and looked around with a kind of dazed shock. Today the water in the fountain sparkled with little rainbow lights someone had draped around the rim. I didn't think there could be a high school as pretty as this one. At this moment, I didn't want to go on. In fact, I wanted to go back two years and change everything.
"Hey!" Alicia hurried to join me. "How's your hand?"
"Just bruised." Mom had suggested I wear gloves at the prom, but that seemed a little too genteel for me. "This is going to be an odd day."
"Yeah," she agreed. "And the beginning of other odd things. I'm not sure I'm ready to leave."
I felt better, hearing the reaction from someone else. I appreciated her stopping to talk to me, too. We walked past the fountain and up the steps into the building. Inside they'd hung a huge banner: Congratulations Graduates. I stared at the banner, shocked -- but I don't know why. Graduation wasn't a surprise, after all.
We turned in our books in trig and sat around and gossiped for a while. People asked me about my hand and about Akio, but after a while I listened to everyone else and tried to memorize the last moments here.
About ten minutes before the end of class someone came to the door and handed a note over to the teacher. Mrs. Kipfer went out into the hall with him and returned a moment later, frowning.
"Marisha, the principal wants to see you in his office." She still had the paper in her hand, but didn't show me. "Don't worry. You aren't in trouble."
The moment of unreasoning panic passed. I suspected this had to be about my hand. I flexed the fingers before I gathered my things and shoved them into the backpack. The others continued to talk, but I could see everyone give me curious looks.
I wondered if I should tell the principal to forget what had happened in gym. Should Mary miss prom and graduation because of a few bruises? She'd never have a chance to redo this, after all. I felt angry at what she had done but I didn't have to be like her, and strike back as well. Granted, I would have slugged her if I'd had the chance at the time, but I didn't want to do more now. I guess I'm not a vengeance served cold person.
I headed out into the hall and glanced over at the curving ramp, thinking about Gian and how much things had changed in the last few days. I saw no one else. The hall felt odd and empty, even though I could hear voices elsewhere. Principal White's office sat at the convergence of the three school sections: Elementary, Middle and High School. We shared the same grounds, but the architects had done an exceptional job of making certain each group had an area to themselves. I always felt odd seeing some little eight-year-old sitting outside the principal's office.
No one there today, though a policeman left as I arrived. A rock dropped into my stomach. This had to be about more than a bruised hand.
"Marisha," Principal White said from the doorway. I couldn't read his emotions. "Come in."
I followed him through the outer area where secretaries worked and into his room. He didn't close the door. I was aware of the others going quiet as if they tried to hear us, which made me nervous. Mr. White waved toward a chair and I sat, even though I didn't want to.
"First, let me assure you Gian is fine --"
"Everything is all right." He stopped with a hand on my shoulder, holding me there until I had at least outwardly calmed. If he could have seen inside my head he would have suspended me for the language there.
He took a step away and leaned against his desk, close enough to stop me if I did anything. And I was close to doing -- something. Mary, Missy -- even Akio rose for a moment in my mind, all of them enemies.
"Gian is fine," he repeated. I wanted to believe he wouldn't lie to me. A spike of pain in my heart eased a little as I gave a nod which must have appeared sane. "Someone pushed him down the stairs to the janitor's office. His wheelchair fell over at the bottom. We took him to the clinic to be certain, of course --"
"I have to go there." I began to stand again.
He shook his head and lifted his hand before I could protest. "I already have your parent's permission to take you there, but wait a moment. We need information, Marisha. I want you to tell me everything that's happened in the last few days, both here and outside of school. We fear there's a pattern and want to put everything together before anything else happens."
I swallowed and clamped my mouth shut, uncertain what to say. Missy, I realized, was in a hell of a lot of trouble if what I told him confirmed what they thought. Or maybe they weren't already interested in Missy. Did I want to suggest they go after her if they weren't already?
Someone had pushed Gian down the stairs and I could not name another person who would have done such a thing to Gian.
I wasn't making anything up. I needed to tell him the truth about everything I knew, and even what I suspected.
"Things began going odd when Missy came to the library to tell Gian and me about Akio's father." I started the tale and the words flowed. I don't remember all of what I told him. I don't know if talking helped to get everything out of my system or if I grew angrier. I didn't leave out anything, including my suspicions about Missy and drugs.
By the end of the story, I found myself gasping, but feeling cleansed at the same time. I even felt as though I had done something right. Stopping Missy, if she was the one behind Gian's accident, was far more important than I had first realized. She had to be crazy and dangerous. I hadn't mentioned how I thought she blackmailed her friends into helping her, but I suspected once I mentioned drugs, the actions of her friends might be clearer, too.
"I don't think you should stop Mary from going to prom and graduation," I said suddenly. Mr. White turned to me with a show of surprise. "I mean I'm sure she's worried. And I don't think she'd do anything more. They're only bruises. I don't want her to miss this prom and graduation over something so trivial since she'll never have the chance again."
I don't know if he agreed or not, but I felt better.
"My wife has the car. I'm trying to reach her --"
"I can walk," I protested. "The clinic isn't far."
"I'll walk with you. No, don't protest. We don't know where Missy Murphy is." So, I had been right and they were already worried about her. "Neither do her parents, who are beginning to see the seriousness of this situation, even while protesting every time someone suggests their daughter is in trouble. I'll walk with you to the clinic."
I didn't argue, which would have slowed us more when I wanted to go. Besides, the idea of having Principal White, the terror of Deervale School, at my side appealed to me. I'd seen even Missy back down from him a few times. I left my backpack in his office as he told the others where we were going. He didn't waste any more time.
I wanted to run, but I didn't, even as we headed out past the fountain. The nice, slow walk gave me a chance to feel the spring breeze, listen to the birds and to calm before I saw Gian. I didn't want to upset him.
I spotted the Calabria van at the clinic, along with two police cars. As we arrived, a news truck slithered in and parked. I tried not to snarl in their direction. I wondered how they had gotten here so quickly and why they were let in. Did they sit outside Deervale, waiting for something to happen? Things had been busy here lately. I supposed I couldn't blame them. We had to let them in if there was real news, too.
"Hurry," Mr. White urged with a hand on my shoulder. "Let's get the police between us and the reporters."
We jogged the last few yards and rushed in through the sliding doors, startling Sally, another doctor and three policemen.
"Reporters," Mr. White said. One cop headed out the door. I felt better immediately.
"Gian is fine, Marisha," Sally said with a smile. I believed her, finally. "He's with Akio. She was upset about this and her stepmother stopping by."
"Nadine came here?" I asked. I felt a little chill, as though I knew something was wrong, and I couldn't see why.
Sally nodded and didn't look happy. "We heard yelling and told her to get out or we'd call the police. She left in a hurry. You can go see Akio and Gian."
Mr. White and I went towards the room. I could hear anxious voices, though nothing loud. When we arrived, I found Akio's room crowded with a policeman, doctor, nurse, Gian and his father. They still made room for the two of us. I went straight to Gian. He had a bandage on his hand, but otherwise he seemed fine. I had to believe the people of the clinic wouldn't let him sit around if they found anything wrong. I felt a wave of relief and I feared I would cry. I hated the stupid reaction. Anger might have been better.
He took my hand. "I'm fine."
"Who pushed you?" I asked
"I don't know," he said, annoyed. "Someone came behind me and shoved my head forward. I think they wanted me out of the chair, but I held on, and kept the balance all the way to the bottom. By the time I could turn around to see, no one was around. But I did smell perfume. Not cologne, I don't think. Something sweeter."
I'd never paid much attention to perfumes, but I knew Missy often wore expensive stuff, which might be a way to track her, I supposed. If she had hurt Gian --
"I'm really glad you're okay," I said softly.
"I bet. You'd have a hard time finding another date for the prom this late."
I laughed, along with Gian's father and a doctor I didn't recognize. The policeman stood on the other side of Akio's bed; Officer Harley, from his tag. He gave a little smile. I thought about how much worse this might have been. I wanted to curse and yell and hit something. I had climbed aboard the emotional rollercoaster ride once more, and I didn't enjoy it any better this time around.
"There's weirdness going on, Mar." Gian frowned this time and shifted a little. "Missy and Nadine are into something, I think. Nadine followed my father and me to school this morning, but she didn't try to talk to us. Then she came here this afternoon."
"Akio, are you all right?" I asked, turning to her.
"I'm fine." Her voice sounded tight and she glared with a small show of anger.
"Do you want to talk about Nadine?" I asked. Gian was right; Nadine and Missy were both acting odd.
"She wanted me to sign papers to turn everything my father owned over to her. She said because I lived in England I couldn't claim anything anyway. I would not sign. She did not take the answer well, I fear."
"Must be hard times in Hollywood," I mumbled, trying not to hope she found herself out on the streets begging for a cup of coffee.
"I told her Gian had been here to see me. She grew furious. I do not know why." Akio waved her hands in a gesture of frustration. "I begin to think she wants me to suffer."
"I think you might be right," Gian agreed. "And she wants any money your father might have had, so she's trying to trick you. I don't think a court would let her take the funds but she must be pretty desperate to try. Or stupid."
"Or both," I added. "She was never the brightest rock in the box."
The words won a little laugh from Akio which I had hoped to see. Her color got a little better too and the glare disappeared. I had a few questions, and this seemed as good a time as any to ask them.
"Akio, she was with you at the party the night of the accident, right?" I asked. I had a question I needed answered. "How did she get home?"
Everyone turned to me, including the policeman who took a file folder from the table and began leafing through the papers.
"I do not know." Akio glanced nervously at Gian and back at me. "I don't remember."
"We know about the party," Harley replied. "There is no mention of Mrs. Kimura being there."
"She insisted I go with her," Akio replied. "I hated those parties she took me to."
"Nothing in the reports," he said.
"Maybe I imagined she was there. I don't remember well."
"No," Gian said. "No, I have proof she was with you, Akio."
"Proof?" she asked.
"I have a certain diary and I read an entry, written the day before the accident. Do you remember, Mar?"
"No." I buried any embarrassment about him reading those things I had written. Was something in those pages going to help? "What did I write?"
"You felt sorry for Akio because Nadine insisted she go to some big Hollywood party and her father didn't seem to understand Akio didn't want to but you said she would go with Nadine to keep peace in the family."
"It was real." Akio relaxed and took a deeper breath. She appeared less troubled. "So much seems . . . not real any more. I don't like feeling so unsure about reality."
"She went to the party with you?" Harley asked. He seemed interested.
"She insisted I go with her." For a moment Akio closed her eyes and I could tell she tried to draw her scattered memories of a time she couldn't want to remember, as Gian didn't want to. I thought, though, they both needed this. And me, too. "I went. The man who threw the party was some kind of producer or something. He was so drunk, I couldn't understand half of his words, except he kept taking hold of my chin and moving my face from side-to-side and saying how perfect I was."
She shuddered. Dr. Webster arrived at the door, looking surprised by the crowd. He wasn't dressed for work and wore blue jeans and a black tee-shirt, which made him look far younger. Someone must have called him. "Reporters are outside, but they aren't getting in here. What's going on? You all right, Akio?" he asked.
"Fine. I found out I had not imagined everything. Nadine was the one who took me to the party!"
"Why else would you have been there?" I asked, poking at her arm.
"I don't know." She sounded more herself. I sat on the edge of the bed, and felt safe here. "I wasn't sure what I had been like before. But everything seems more real now."
"Tell me about the party," Harley said. "What happened there?"
"Nadine acted happy about the producer liking the way I looked. I thought she would be mad since she wants to be the person in the spotlight all the time. But she and the man went off into the corner to talk and she waved me away. I could tell she spoke about me. I distrusted him. I wanted to go away."
"But you stayed?" Gian asked softly when she remained silent for a moment.
"I went -- I went to get my jacket." She gave a sudden nod, as though the scene came more clearly. "I wanted to leave, but Nadine wouldn't go. I decided to walk somewhere and call a taxi to take me home."
"Why not take the car you came in?" Harley asked.
"Nadine had the keys. I didn't even bother to ask for them. She never let me drive." She shook her head and looked troubled. "I knew I'd have to find some other way home. Or call my father, but I feared he would take too long, if he could even find the place. He got lost whenever he left Deervale."
I smiled remembering how we would joke with him about getting lost all the time and I wished he was here. The policeman made notes. Everyone else had gone quiet.
"Nadine found me before I could leave. She said we would go in a few minutes. And she gave me a drink and told me to sit in a corner and sip so the others would leave me alone. I didn't know she put drugs in the drink."
The pencil on the pad stopped moving. I saw Officer Harley glance at her with his eyes narrowing and a flush of anger that I hoped Akio didn't think he aimed at her. I knew the force of what he felt.
"According to our reports, Nadine was at home when the police arrived." Harley pulled a sheet out of the file and looked it over. "She was in the shower. Her husband wasn't there, apparently. How did she get home? How did you get the car? What happened after you took the drink?"
Akio frowned as though remembering had become more difficult. We waited, all of us patient. Gian took my hand, and I wondered if he would rather not be here for this. "Go on," Gian said softly.
"I drank the stuff." She made a face. "Liquor and strong, so I sipped but before too long everything went strange. I panicked. I think I yelled. Nadine and the producer tried to calm me. I remember people with ugly faces everywhere I looked. Ugly, hateful people and I did not trust any of them, especially Nadine. I wanted to leave and get away."
"Do you remember anything they said?" Harley asked.
"They made sounds. I think I forgot English for a while. They tried to calm me. I yelled more. I think the producer wanted me out of the house. Nadine grew angry. He told her to take me and leave which calmed me. But I couldn't walk, so he got others to help carry me from the house to the car. They threw me in the front seat."
"And you drove away," Dr. Webster said.
"No," she answered. She focused on Gian and me. Her head tilted a little. "No, I did not drive away. Nadine did. I remember, because they threw me over the door into the convertible and I hit my head on the steering wheel. She had to shove me aside. She cursed and cursed and drove crazy as we left."
"She drove when you left this party?" Harley asked and made more notes.
"Oh yes. I remember I stood, the wind blowing through my hair, laughing because I knew I had gotten away from something dangerous. Crazy. Very crazy. She kept pulling me down into the seat. And she got worried. She feared to take me home. We stopped at a hotel. I think she meant for us to stay there until I was not crazy anymore."
"And you took the car?" Harley asked but I could see doubt in his face.
"No. I walked away while she went inside to get us a room. She took the keys. She had to find me. I had walked a long ways, I think. When she took me to the hotel, I screamed and screamed. I wanted out. I did not want to stay anywhere with her. We left when someone came to the door and complained. I think she panicked. I wanted to go home to my father. I demanded we go to him. I told her --" She stopped and tilted her head again. "I told her I would go to the police and they would take me home. My father had always told me to do so when I was a child and we first came to American. He feared I would be lost. I felt lost. I wanted to go home."
"You scared her," Gian whispered.
She nodded, finally. "I think I did. She told me she would take me home. And all the way, she kept saying I must never tell my father what happened or he would be angry with me."
"And you believed her?" I asked.
"I was confused. I don't know if I did or not."
"So you started home. You were still pretty high?" Harley asked.
"Yes. I don't know how much time passed. Several hours, I think."
"When did you start driving?" Harley asked.
"No." I stood suddenly and looked around feeling almost frantic. "She wasn't driving. She was never driving"
Akio blinked and shook her head and I saw the doubt in her eyes.
"We have a witness who saw the accident," Harley said. I shook my head, still refusing to believe. "And we have blurred video taken from the gas station cameras showing someone with long dark hair driving past --"
"The damned wig!" I startled everyone with my words, but Gian nodded emphatically. "She always wore a long black wig. I have several pictures of her in it, but you know, she never wore it again after the accident."
Harley still shook his head. "We have the witness. I can't tell you who because the person was underage at the time. But the witness saw Akio driving the car."
"Missy," Gian said and maybe another piece of the puzzle fell into place. Gian gave me a quick, scowling nod. "Missy Murphy is the witness."
"I can't say," the officer replied.
"You don't have to tell me. I remember." Gian took several deep breaths this time, but he couldn't dismiss the fury he must have felt. He sat still, his back straight and his hands on his knees with the knuckles white. He even had trouble keeping the rage from his voice. "I had been talking to Missy a couple minutes before. She had been waiting when I came out of the gym. She wanted me to get her into the dance class, but I didn't have that kind of power, even if I wanted her there. She wasn't happy."
No one spoke. Akio seemed as shocked as everyone. I don't think she believed, though I already did. I felt rage so strong the emotion seemed alive and moving within me. I must have sounded calm, though. "If Nadine panicked about Akio and --"
"And convinced Missy to say Akio drove," Gian continued, skipping over the part I couldn't say aloud. He turned back to Akio. "And with you so confused and horrified at what happened --"
"I screamed. I remember I screamed --"
"No, don't hurt him," I repeated, recalling the words of her nightmare, even if she didn't. She was not crying out about her father, as everyone had assumed. "Those are the words you screamed."
Akio took several breaths the color gone from her face. "I almost -- almost remember." Her voice grew stronger. "I kept saying I would tell my father what had happened. She saw Gian walking across the street and she said if I told my father, she would hurt him like -- and she hit the gas -- my God! How could she do such a thing? How could she --"
Dr. Webster moved past the others and took her into his arms while she cried. I took Gian's hand. Officer Harley pulled out his cell phone. He called someone to bring Nadine in for questioning and said they needed to find Missy Murphy as well. If people had just asked at the time -- but there had been no way they could have known the truth then. Akio couldn't tell them then. Nadine had lied and so had Missy. And no one -- even me -- had questioned the story.
Akio pulled away from the doctor. She seemed embarrassed and more herself.
She had not hurt Gian. The full impact of what we learned hit me. A year and a half of anger and feelings of betrayal suddenly changed to fury at Nadine and Missy, and even Missy's parents. They had to know something was wrong with their daughter. They couldn't have missed the changes if the rest of us didn't.
"You do believe me?" Akio asked, looking around. "You do all believe I did not drive the car?"
"Yes," Gian answered.
And that was enough for everyone else.
"I think the time has come for you to leave the clinic, Miss Kimura," Dr. Webster said as he stood. He seemed pleased. "Are you ready?"
"Yes. I want to go. Not home, but somewhere."
"My house," I offered with a bright smile. "You can stay in Ellen's room."
"Do you think so?" I saw hope and fear in her again, as though she couldn't be certain of our relationship.
"I want you to stay with me," I replied. I smiled and so did she; a little curving of her mouth, as though she didn't quite trust the emotion. "Let me call mom."
I pulled out my seldom used cellphone and called, not even bothering to leave the room, in case someone came up with any other revelations.
"Mar? What's wrong?" Mom asked as she answered, sounding worried.
"Nothing. Gian is fine. So is Akio. Can she come home and stay with us for a few days?"
"Are you sure? Everything is okay?"
"Things are very much okay." I saw the policeman lift a hand and shake his head. "I'll tell you what's going on when I get home."
"Yes, bring her here. I'll get Ellen's room ready." She sounded a little confused but happy.
"Miss Kimura will be ready to leave in a couple hours," Dr. Webster said. "Why don't all of you go on about your business? Marisha, can you return later?"
"Sure. After school." The last day of school, I remembered with a start. Well, so far I'd only missed gym, which I couldn't regret considering the way things had been going.
"Gian, you can go," the other doctor offered. "You know to call me if you have problems. Would you like to go back to school?"
"Sure. Besides, I have a special lunch for Mar and me."
"You're certain?" Principal White asked.
"Oh yes," I replied with an emphatic nod. "He has to return to school if he has food from his mother."
They all laughed.
"Please keep quiet about this turn of events," Officer Harley said as he headed to the door. "We would rather not alert either of these people we're interested in finding them."
We all nodded and began leaving. I gave Akio a quick hug goodbye. The police kept the reporters in check, but they weren't trying hard to get past after Harley told them there would be a major announcement soon, and to stay close. Principal White pushed Gian to school and I walked along while his father went back to work. Everything seemed good again, though nothing would be perfect until Gian began walking.
But for now, the world finally felt right again.