Thursday, June 13, 2013

Waiting for the Last Dance, Chapter Nine

Links to the previous chapters are HERE

Chapter Nine

I rushed through the door into my library sanctuary, the building filled with warmth and friendly faces. Gian smiled as I came in, but he must have seen something in my face. I glanced at the door, half-panicked, and gasping from my run. I couldn't see any movement, but I feared she lurked out there. I would not be out alone until we had this problem settled.

"Something else has gone wrong?" Gian asked, rolling towards me. I saw the few patrons turn our way, all of them locals, of course. And news does travel in Deervale. We're just as good at gossip as any soap opera.

"Missy arrived at the clinic and I got her stopped before she went in to see Akio," I told him.

My words drew startled glances, even from Mrs. Berlin. No one would have expected Gian and me to have a quiet discussion about Akio and I saw people look at him, worried. They looked at me as if I had gone insane even bringing up the subject.

"What is Missy up to?" Gian asked and sounded troubled.

The looks became almost comical in surprise at his reaction. I had to bury a grin, despite the situation.

"I think she followed me here, too." I didn't want to sound paranoid, but she scared me this time. "I really made her mad. Maybe I did something stupid, but I didn't trust her, Gian. I didn't trust her at all."

He nodded. I got paper towels and cleaned where I had been dripping water. I hadn't even realized how wet I'd gotten until now. Just as I finished, a car stopped outside and I stood as the door snapped open, a breeze of cool damp air slipping in, along with Missy Murphy.

Gian already moved to my side. Missy stood there, soaking wet, and glared at me, her face pale except for bright lines of red on her cheekbones. She hadn't gotten so wet from rushing from the car into the building. I'd been right about her following me. I didn't feel any better for having the confirmation.

"Don't start anything here." I had a nasty temper when cornered, and I didn't appreciate being stalked. I had to fight to keep my voice calm. "I don't know what kind of game you're playing, Missy, but I'm tired of dealing with you."

"Me?" she demanded, her voice mostly a gasp of sound. "Me? Gian -- do you have any idea where she's been?"

"Yes, I do." He leaned back, looking calm and relaxed, which infuriated her. He did it on purpose, too. "She went to see Akio. My father and I dropped her off."

Missy swayed. She shook her head, denying Gian's words. "Why?" Missy asked. Her voice sounded faint. "Why would you take her there?"

"Because sometimes a person needs to leave anger and hatred behind. I can't forgive her, but I don't want to be like --" He stopped himself. He didn't have to say the words: I don't want to be like you.

Missy spun and ran out of the building. I saw her fall on the last steps, get up and rush into the car, though she remained there, a shadow within a shadow. I knelt and began cleaning the water she had dripped, trying to cover how shaken I felt.

"Damn. I don't think that's good." Gian pushed both his hands through his hair.

"I'll call her parents." Mrs. Berlin shook her head as she went to her office. The others returned to their books, but I could feel their eyes on us still. I stood and went to the nearest chair, feeling drained. Outside, the rain fell harder. Missy suddenly gunned the engine and raced away, far too quickly in this weather. I held my breath, expecting to hear a crash.

Instead, I heard the sudden wail of a police siren. Well, she'd created the trouble for herself this time. From the sound, I suspected she didn't intend to pull over, either. Maybe I'd get lucky and they'd take away her car and license this time, and I could feel safer on the streets for a while.

"What a damn mess." I turned to Gian. I had things I wanted to ask and this seemed as good a time as any for the subject. "I -- I want to ask you some questions -- about the accident."

He frowned and nodded.

"Akio told me something the other day. I think Nadine, or someone at the party Nadine took her too, gave her the drugs in a drink. Do you remember anything in the reports or the trial about Nadine?"

"I don't recall." He shifted a little, and lifted a hand before I could apologize. "I wasn't out of the hospital yet, and Akio wasn't mentally able to stand trial. They had a hearing and remanded her to the hospital. I never heard anything more."

I tried to figure out what I wanted to do next. I wanted to block Missy out of my mind. Unfortunately, she had linked herself to the problem with Akio, and I couldn't begin to guess why except she was trying to get her talons into Gian and maybe she thought he would appreciate her doing something nasty to Akio. She obviously didn't know Gian at all.

I shivered. I had to think of something else.

"Mar?" Gian asked softly.

"I want to check the newspaper reports. I would hate to think Nadine got off without anyone even realizing she'd been involved."

"I don't know if I care anymore," he admitted. Then he looked me in the face. I didn't want to see him so troubled, but before I could say anything, he shook his head and put his hand on mine. "No, that's not true. Of course I care. I'm just not sure I want to get dragged back into the nightmare again."

"I'll drop everything," I replied. I meant it, too. Gian was far more important to me than Nadine and anything she might have done. "Forget I mentioned anything."

He remained still for a long moment and finally took a deeper breath. "No -- I want to know, too. We'll check. I want the truth more than I want peace. I think there might be some newspaper files here we can start with after we get work done."

Mrs. Berlin came out of the office. She couldn't reach the Murphy's, but after hearing the police siren, I didn't think talking to them would matter anyway. No doubt they'd learn about their daughter's latest brush with the law before too long.

We rushed through shelving books, updating computer files and all the other little things we needed to do tonight. I cleaned the floor once more. I think Gian focused on the work better than I did. I couldn't decide what I wanted.

We barely had half an hour before closing when we finally went to work looking for information. We began with the Internet and found a remarkable lot of material available, though some had an access fee. Mrs. Berlin let us use the library's code to go through those files.

We didn't locate anything very satisfying, though.

"This one also mentions Akio was coming home from a party in West Hollywood." Gian tapped the screen. He had begun printing some of the material. We had a dozen reports already. "Not the kind of thing Akio would go to, but I see no mention of Nadine at all. And no address for the party. Maybe Akio doesn't remember things right. I know she got pretty messed up, mentally."

"Yeah, you could be right." I didn't want to admit how much I wanted Nadine involved, for fear I would sound -- well, too much like Missy, I suppose.

"There's an unnamed witness." Gian sorted through some papers and held one up. "Maybe that's her."

"Nadine, go 'unnamed' in a newspaper? She'd sue them."

He smiled agreement and glanced at his watch. "Let's hustle. Dad will be here soon. We can ask him. I know he has copies of the police reports and stuff."

I nodded, anxious to get my hands on those reports, but then I felt a cold sweat and wave of illness sweep through me. I didn't want to read about the accident and what had happened to Gian. I didn't want to read about Akio. But I would, if I wanted the truth, and I could see Gian felt the same way.

Mrs. Berlin shooed us out and locked the door. The rain had stopped but the night felt cool where the breeze blew past. I held the papers close and found myself staring at the bushes, waiting for them to move and for some Halloween version of Missy to leap out. I buried the image deep in my brain and hoped it didn't revisit me in the middle of the night.

Summer wasn't far away. I couldn't wait to go laze around in the pool for a while and relax. I would get past this trouble.

Gian's father had arrived, giving me a nod as though my being with his son was perfectly normal. I got into the backseat and Gian in the front, silent while his father put the wheelchair in the back and then got in.

"Dad, I need to ask about the accident," Gian said. His father frowned, but didn't appear particularly worried. "We found out Nadine took Akio to a party where she got the drugs. We think Nadine Kimura slipped her the drugs without Akio knowing. Was anything in the reports?"

His father pulled his seatbelt into place, and eased the van forward before he spoke. "I do not remember any reference to Mrs. Kimura at all. You think this may be so?"

"I think so," I replied, trying not to doubt.

"Then we shall check the reports."

None of us spoke on the way home. I wondered where Missy was tonight and tried not to get too upset over what I thought I might read. I went with them into the Calabria house and heard Gian say something to his mother in Italian.

Mr. Calabria brought out several file folders while I called my parents on my cell phone.

"Mom, I'm over at the Calabrias and we're checking something out. Maybe you remember. Was there any mention of Nadine Kimura being at the party with Akio before the accident?"

"I don't think so." I heard worry in her voice. "Mar? What's going on?"

"I talked to Akio -- and well, she mentioned something. I think Nadine slipped her the drugs, mom. If she did, she's not taken any of the blame."

"Oh." I heard her saying something and my father answer. "Your father says Nadine came to AviTen today, making a bit of a stink over the fact she isn't allowed into Seiji's office. People have begun to wonder why she's here and what she wants. Mr. Avison was pretty mad at her over not taking care of Akio. He had no idea Akio had no one to turn to. I'm glad you went to see her."

I felt better. "I'll be home soon. Oh, and I had more trouble with Missy today. You might hear from them."

"The Murphys are making themselves amazingly unpopular," she said. "Don't stay too late. You do have school tomorrow."

"Okay. Bye!"

I went into the dining room where I found files and papers spread out on the table. Mrs. Calabria brought in sodas, chips and homemade cookies. I patted my stomach, certain I put on weight just looking at the food.

Gian and his father sat close together, going over some of the reports. Both appeared very serious. I didn't want to intrude, but Gian patted the chair beside him. I settled there and took the paper he had held.

"This is the first report." His hand shook a little.

My hand shook as well.

I had trouble reading the reports at first. Gian had been badly hurt and the girl driving the car -- unnamed, underage -- was injured and crying hysterically and speaking in an Asiatic language they couldn't understand.

Then I found a part of the report about a minor who had witnessed the accident. I remembered reading that in the newspaper reports as well.

"Any idea who this other one is?" I asked, tapping the paper.

"No," Gian said with a frown. He shifted in the chair. I hated to see him so obviously uncomfortable. "I've been trying to remember if I was maybe walking home with someone. For a while I thought you might have been with me, but my parents said you were home. I know I was coming from the gym. I remember the night being damp and wishing I'd been smart enough to wear a jacket." He stared at the wall, silent for a moment. "I saw the car lights coming at me and swerve when I tried to jump out of the way. And someone screaming."

"I'm sorry," I whispered.

"I'm getting past this. I'll be walking again soon. I need to settle everything, because there's obviously something about this has bothered me, Mar. So let's see what we can find."

He picked up the next paper.

We went through everything. Twice. I read the statement from the underage witness several times, trying to get a feel for the words. The police had blacked out the name on the papers, but this had to be someone from around here to be walking in the area at night. From the way the person talked -- there was a verbatim report, sans the name -- he wasn't too young. I wanted to find him and ask what he saw.

"Nadine wasn't there," Gian said. He nibbled at a cookie. "The police wouldn't have ignored her presence."

"She might still have been at the party," I suggested.

"No," Mr. Calabria handed over a paper. "See here. She was at the house, within half an hour of the accident. The police went straight there from the scene to say they had Akio."

"Mrs. Kimura had been in the shower," Gian said, looking at the report. "So she left Akio at the party and came home --"

"How? Taxi?" I asked. "I can't imagine Nadine leaving Mr. Kimura's fancy convertible behind and coming home in a taxi, and especially not leaving the car for Akio to drive. She hated letting her have the car at all."

"I don't know. Maybe she wasn't at this party." He glanced my way, as though fearing the words would upset me.

"True. Akio might not remember anything right."

Gian patted my arm and I thought maybe he even understood. I wanted to know the truth. We went over the papers some more, and eventually his father wandered off. Gian and I stayed and talked for a while, though not about the accident, just about life. He even made me laugh about Missy stalking me in her high heels . . . though he plainly worried what she might do.

"I like you, Mar." He bowed his head, dark hair covering a slight blush. I'm not sure he meant to say those words aloud.

I tried very hard to keep my voice calm. "Gian, I like you, too. A lot."

He appeared troubled. "Mar, I appreciate you saying so. I really do." I could hear the 'but' in his words. My heart dropped. "But I don't know if I can believe anyone right now. Everyone has treated me differently since the accident. I don't mean to mistrust people's feelings, but after dealing with Missy . . . I'm sorry, Mar. I don't want to put you in the same boat with her. But how can I be sure what you feel isn't pity?"

"I've cared about you for a long time," I said.

"We've always been friends. I care about you. And if this --" he tapped the wheelchair -- "hadn't happened, I might . . . How can I be sure, Mar? I'm sorry to distrust your feelings, but I can't sort things out. I don't think even you can be sure --"

"Oh yes I can." I suddenly grinned and stood. He looked at me, shocked and worried, shaking his head as though nothing could convince him. I thought I might have the answer, though. "I'll be right back!"

I went out front, told his parents I would return in a moment, and ran to my house, despite the cold and wet. I didn't dare think about this. I had to be brave and follow through. What I was about to do --

"Marisha?" dad asked as I rushed into the house. He stepped out of the kitchen, startled. "Something wrong?"

"No," I said, breathlessly. I slowed before I went up the stairs. He would think the color in my face came from the run and not imminent embarrassment. However, I would live with the discomfort if I could show Gian the truth. "I need to grab a couple things. Don't want this to go on for all night!"

"We got a call from the Murphys. They've hired a lawyer to sue us."

"Ha. One blood test on their darling little daughter and they'll need the lawyer for something else." My father blinked. He wasn't used to me being so blunt. I paused at the staircase, a little contrite. "Missy is getting herself in more trouble than she'll ever get out on her own. Her parents are blind. Worse than blind. They're making sure she doesn't get any help by blaming everyone else. I'm not going to feel sorry for them. Or worry about them."

"Good," he said. "Though compassion is not uncalled for."

"Maybe after they get Missy off the street and she stops harassing me I can feel more compassionate," I replied, giving him the honesty he deserved. "But right now, she's making my life miserable for no reason."

He nodded agreement and went back to watch television. I headed upstairs, working to recall the determination I'd had when I left the Calabria house. I went the closet in my room and pulled down a box from the shelf. Then I went to the desk drawer and pulled the journal out and dropped it in, as well. I didn't look inside. I feared I would lose my nerve.

Dad came out and got the door for me. He didn't ask.

By the time I put the box on the table in front of Gian, my hands began shaking. I dropped onto the chair.


"This is proof." I reached over and pushed the lid off. "This is years and years of proof."

He began to pull out the diaries I had written over the last seven years. And my poetry. I cringed at the thought of those poems scribbled in pages. However, I had been careful to date everything, and I'd even written most of the poetry for Gian, though he never saw it, of course. He picked up one diary and began go through the pages: one page, another and as I watched, his face went bright red.

"Oh God." I buried my head in my hands, my heart pounding. "What have I done?"

I heard papers rustle and pages turn, and sometimes he made odd little noises. I didn't look. I could barely breathe. I had done something I swore I would never do: I had shown Gian what I had written about him.

He read some more. I wondered if I could crawl under the table and hide until I could escape.

"Mar?" he asked softly. His hand touched my arm. I shook my head. "Hey."

I peeked out between fingers. He smiled; a truly sweet smile, too. He pulled my hand away from my face, put my fingers to his lips . . . and kissed them.

You know in those old, silly movies how the woman swoons when the gentleman finally kisses her? I always shook my head in despair at such inane scenes. I won't again. Oh, I didn't faint or anything stupid like that, but I suddenly understood how they felt. My body went into absolute overload and I couldn't breathe for an entirely different reason. I couldn't even think clearly.

"You believe me?" I whispered, my voice trembling.


"And you don't -- you know -- feel as though you have to like me because --" I waved a hand toward the box.

He shook his head and laughed a little. "No. I feel nothing but honest to God relief. I didn't want to ruin our friendship by telling you I felt something more. Especially now."

Marisha Calabria. I had never dared try the name out before.

Gian pushed his chair away from the table, turned, and leaned close to me. We kissed, for the very first time. It took my breath away. I wanted to throw myself into his embrace but I was afraid to hurt him. We wrapped our arms around each other, and kissed again . . . .

"Well," Mr. Calabria said.

We pulled apart so fast Gian's chair slid two feet before he stopped. I turned to the doorway and found not only his father, but his mother as well. I know I went bright red. I couldn't move. I felt absolutely mortified.

"I have cake and ice cream," his mother said with a bright smile. "I think this is time for a celebration, yes?"

"Celebration?" Gian asked. He seemed as stunned and confused as me.

"Long past time the two of you go beyond the awkward age," his father said as his mother hurried away. I saw her shoo the other kids off, too, thank God. I couldn't have faced them as well. "However, I do expect the two of you to be --"

"Don't worry," I hurriedly blurted out. "Don't worry about anything like that."

This time Gian put his head in his hands, but I realized he had started laughing. A moment later, I did too, and his father joined us. His parents settled at the table and we had excellent spice cake with homemade French vanilla ice cream. We talked about odd things -- Italy, television, food -- and school and graduation. We didn't talk about the accident, Missy or Akio.

"I know this is kind of late." Gian gave a little embarrassed shrug. "But would you go to the prom with me?"

I squeaked. They all laughed as I nodded emphatically because I couldn't speak. They laughed some more. Prom was on Sunday. I needed a dress. I needed to do something with my hair. I needed --

All I really needed was Gian as my date. I couldn't remember the last time I had felt this good. I think I would have been as thrilled if he'd asked me to go to the movies or the mall. This would be our first date.

"I better get home." I glanced at my watch and found it was after ten. "I'll see you tomorrow, Gian."

"Tomorrow." His hand caught mine when I reached for the box. "Can I keep these for a while?"

"Oh no! They're awful!" I wailed.

"But they're real." He looked serious, his dark eyes staring at me. "I want to read some more, Mar."

I calmed. Why not? "Sure. There's nothing I have to hide. Except the writing is mostly so childish."

He smiled. We didn't kiss good night, but he did come with me to the door. I think I flew across the lawn to home. I think I was even, God help me, humming by the time I came into the house.

Mom and Dad were still watching TV. They seemed tired, and I knew none of this had been easy for them, either.

"Sorry, that took longer than I thought." I headed towards the stairs. "Oh -- do you think I can fit into Ellen's prom dress? I'm going after all."

Mom grinned as she stood. "Gian finally asked you, huh?"

"That obvious?" I asked. I had, at least, stopped humming.

"Yes, that obvious. I think we won't have any trouble with Ellen's prom dress. Don't worry."

I went to my bedroom. I didn't sleep much, though. For a long time I remained at the window and watched the Calabria home slowly go dark and I quietly celebrated such a wonderful night.

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