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Akio and I stayed awake far into the night, talking about so many things I couldn't keep track. I felt as though both of us had escaped from captivity and we giggled and laughed as though we were eight instead of eighteen. When she went across the hall to bed, I saw she held the teddy bear Gian had given her. I fell over on my bed, so tired I had trouble crawling under the covers.
I would have slept late the next morning, except for mom.
"Marisha -- are you awake?"
"Oh, give it a break!" I mumbled into my pillow. "Grant me one day where I can sleep past the dawn!"
I began mumbling threats into my pillow when mom pushed the door open. I rolled over, blinking and realized by the bright light from the window, that we had slept until late morning.
"Get up, Mar," mom said stepping into the room. "Get ready and come downstairs. "Mr. Avison is here."
Old Man Avi, at our house? He never visited the homes of his employees because he wanted to be scrupulously fair. He felt if he visited one, he should visit them all. He never gave private dinners, either but we had wonderful group parties at all the holidays.
And yet he came here. I looked at the house next door in sudden fear -- but no, nothing would have happened to Gian over night. Even so, I felt shaky as I stood. I hurried into the bathroom -- mom taking Akio to the bathroom in the master suite -- and scrubbed my face. I tried to make my blue streak disappear into the rest of my hair. I gave up: I couldn’t suddenly change myself. Besides, he would have seen me on the news. I did pull on good slacks and a nice blouse, however, rather than my ratty jeans and tee-shirt.
Akio waited for me in the hall looking a little worried. She wore some of my clothing which was not her usual, meticulous style and everything looked baggy on her. I glanced at my watch: a quarter to eleven.
"This is weird," Akio whispered as we went down the steps. "What does he want?"
"I don't know," I said and shrugged. "Doesn't worry me, not after everything else we've gone through."
She glanced at me as we reached the bottom stair and nodded agreement. Nothing could be as bad as what had happened over the last few days . . . and months.
We found everyone in the formal dining room, and not the den, of course. Akio and I presented ourselves like young ladies of poise and breeding. We could pretend for a few minutes, and I knew it would please my parents.
I almost snickered though when I realized Dad was in shorts and an old sweatshirt with the sleeves cut off. Mom wore jeans and a pullover, and I could see a bit of flour on the corner of her shirt. No one, plainly, had expected Mr. Avignon and his companion to visit.
"And the young ladies arrive." Mr. Avignon stood, giving us each his hand in turn. "I am quite happy to see you both looking so well this morning. This has been such a trying time, has it not? Will you sit with me for a few minutes? I have matters to discuss. Do you know Mr. Sanchie? He is AviTen's chief lawyer."
We shook hands with Mr. Sanchie and took the chairs across the table. My mother brought tea and set cookies in the middle of the table before she and my father took chairs as well. I would have thought the meeting very formal and worrying, except I knew this was Mr. Avison's usual way.
"I have a matter to discuss which concerns Miss Kimura," he said at last. His face lost the little bit of his usual animation. "And her poor father. I liked your father very much, Miss Kimura. I wish I had known -- but I didn't."
"Thank you." Akio bowed her head, and her hands wrapped around the cup of tea.
"So much of what happened this last week could have been prevented." Mr. Avignon shook his head with obvious regret. "Please explain, Mr. Sanchie."
Mr. Sanchie was a young man, with longish black hair and a Mediterranean look. He leaned forward in his chair, his hand on the cup, though he didn't lift and sip.
"I was, alas, on vacation when your father died, Miss Kimura," he said with an accent I could not place. "Unseasonable weather kept me away for several days longer than I had expected. When I returned to work, I found your father had sent me a note, which got lost amid the clutter of other papers arriving during the last three weeks. I found the paper late last night after I returned."
Akio sat quite still. I put a hand on her arm and she nodded, both to me and to the lawyer.
"I don't have the note, which the police took for evidence. However, I can impart to you what he had written. Your father was not aware of Nadine Kimura's duplicity until after she moved away to live with a movie producer. She continued paying Missy, though blackmail is a more proper term. We suspect this director talked her into confronting your father and threatening to tell Akio he had known the truth and chose her over you. He knew Nadine had been in the car during the accident, but she convinced him she would be jailed and he would lose both of you. He was in a vulnerable position."
"Damn her," my father said, very softly.
Mr. Avison nodded.
"I understand how troubling a time this was for him." Mr. Sanchie shook his head, regret showing in his face. "No matter what else, he believed he had but one last honorable thing he could do; to clear Akio and put the blame where it belonged, and to remove himself so he would bring no more shame to his daughter."
The note would have cleared Akio, even if Nadine and Missy had done nothing, and we had never suspected them. I felt better. I liked Seiji Kimura once more, and hoped there were cherry trees, always in bloom, wherever he was.
Akio bowed her head. I could see tears in her eyes but she remained steady. "I wish I could have been with him. He would have known he could not shame someone who loved him so."
"So many mistakes," Mr. Avison said softly. "So much wasted, but much redeemed as well. I am sorry for all that's happened to you, Akio. But I am very happy to welcome you back where you belong. You will stay awhile, won't you?"
"I would like to," she replied softly. "But I can't bear to be in the house, alone --"
"Of course not!" Mom put a hand on Akio's shoulder. "You'll stay here with us. You need to start considering your future, Akio. Have you made plans for college?"
Maybe she would go to UCLA with me, though we might be too late to get her in. I glanced at Mr. Avison and suspected it wasn't a problem after all. Money could make some things right.
"Thank you," Akio said.
"We have two more small matters to settle," Mr. Avison reported. He sipped the tea and nodded, as though he liked it. "These are graduation and prom. First, there have been numerous messages from people within the community requesting you be reinstated as a Deervale student, and you be allowed to attend both graduation and prom. I have already looked over your school records, and you more than qualify. Would you do us the honor of allowing this to happen?"
"I -- I would like to be with my friends. Graduation would be very nice. But I'm not prepared to go the prom. I haven't anything appropriate to wear --"
"That, Miss Kimura, is not a problem," Mr. Avison replied with a wave of his hand. I almost giggled, thinking of him as a fairy godmother. "I shall have things arranged. I will send my limo to pick up you, Miss Fortier and Mr. Calabria tomorrow night. I'm afraid I cannot arrange a proper date as well."
"I don't mind." Akio even smiled a little, finally. "I just want to see my friends again."
"Then it is settled. Good." He stood and nodded. "You were both most brave. I am proud to know you."
He left, my father walking him out. We ate the cookies and even mom looked a little stunned.
Mr. Avison was more than good to his word. He had been gone barely an hour when several dresses arrived, along with the designer who happened to own one of the most expensive shops on Rodeo Drive. Mr. Renee brought a tailoring staff as well and they made needed alterations right there. He even did a few nips and tucks on my dress and pronounced us both ravishing before he left. I thought he was being uncommonly kind when he included me with my bruised arms and my scratched neck.
Three hours after his departure, a courier from the same shop arrived carrying a large box which held everything from shoes to underclothing, for both of us. There was also a beautiful silk scarf, the color matching my dress so flawlessly I wondered how he had managed. I went upstairs and tied the cloth around my neck, hiding the scratches. Perfect.
That evening we watched TV. We played Scrabble. Akio's knowledge of the English language had certainly gotten better. We went upstairs, but we kept our doors open and rested with our heads at the bottoms of the beds so we could still talk across the hall. She had the teddy bear again. I suspected she wouldn't be without it for a long, long time.