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I refused to stop running. I don't know if anyone followed or tried to stop me and I didn't care. I heard voices yelling, but I didn't listen as I did my best to follow after the car, keeping the blurry image in sight long enough to see what direction Missy took after leaving the school lot. She wasn't driving very fast which meant she might be having trouble with Gian. I wanted -- I needed to be there. I had to keep going.
At first I thought Missy had headed for home. I took short cuts while she took the long, curving route along the streets. I darted between houses, skirted fences and pushed through hedges and didn't care if they scratched me. I almost dropped my nearly-empty backpack, but I might need my phone and I didn't want to stop to dig it out. I kept going, gasping and crying, and the pepper spray wasn't the only reason.
I could hear sirens now. They'd save Gian.
But I continued to run.
I came through the last yard in time to see Missy drive straight past her house. I cursed and gasped and kept going, racing along the sidewalk now since the car disappeared around a curve. My eyes were clearing. I hadn't gotten much of the spray in them. At least I could try to keep her in sight before the police arrived.
I had a little downhill stretch, then up the next hill, but I'd gotten my breath back at least, if not my wits. I reached a crossroad and didn't know which way to go. The street to the right led to nowhere important -- a wide circle which would curve back to Missy's house and on to the library and the way out of Deervale.
The road to the left led to Gian's house and mine. Would she go there? Could Gian convince her to take him home? I stopped and tried to listen, but the sound of the police cars drowned out anything else. I didn't know where to head. I started running again.
I found myself on the street to Akio's home. Nadine's home.
If she went right, the police would find her before she could get out of the hills. If she went left, she would take Gian home and he would be safe. But if she went ahead. . . .
I ran towards the Kimura house and the danger I feared might lurk there. As the road curved uphill and I could finally see the house. I went to my knees and gasped. I couldn't even hear the police cars now. No sounds at all, except for dogs barking. I tried to listen, to hear Missy or Gian or --
I leaned against a brick wall and slid down onto the grass, fearing I would be ill. My eyes hurt.
I heard a sound and found Akio running towards me. She came to a gasping stop and knelt in the grass. She gasped as well and I knew she, too, had run here to help.
"I -- I was already dressed and waiting. The police were still there at the clinic. I heard them say Missy had taken Gian. I ran and ran. I could see you sometimes. I feared she would go to Nadine. If she hurts Gian -- if she hurts Gian again --"
I hadn't put the problem into the full context. I wrapped my arms around Akio and held her for a moment. We both stood.
"We need to get in there, Akio," I said, looking towards her house. I could see shadowed movement at the window and pulled back, my heart pounding. "How can we --"
"Through the back, like I used to do," Akio said.
"The alarms --"
"They are off. I didn't know the new codes. Neither does Nadine. Should we? Should we go in? Or should we wait? The police will come this way soon."
"I don't trust Nadine or Missy and the police won't let us help. They won't be able to get in quietly." I tried to pull some sanity into place, but I knew I was missing a few key pieces. What I was suggesting wasn't sane. "We can be there to help Gian if he needs us. And we can get the door open for the police."
Akio nodded. She led the way and I followed, grateful she had come along. Maybe doing this was stupid. Maybe we shouldn't, but I felt a growing rush of fear at the idea of Gian alone with those two.
We soon reached the edge of the yard and darted along the fence. The cherry trees had lost the flowers on the lower branches, all gone to the gravesite, as I had suspected. Akio led the way past them, her hand brushing against the trunks, as though she patted the arms of old friends.
I knew you couldn't clearly see this area from the house because of the garden and the trees. I held my breath all the way to the backyard. We passed the side door, ducking low below windows. The police weren't even here yet.
I had to do something.
In a moment we went around the edge of the garage which was a very narrow fit between the building and the fence. I think the police would have had a hard time getting in through here which left us, right?
I spotted Missy's car, halfway into the garage, as though she'd had sense enough to try and get out of sight. I think she must have hit Nadine's convertible, too. I could hear loud voices and feared that even if Akio used her key, we might walk straight into trouble. Better to go to the back of the house rather than facing them before we were ready.
Akio started climbing a tall cherry tree, ignoring the swarms of bees and butterflies. I scrambled after her, wishing I'd had more practice in tree climbing in the last few years as I scraped my palms on the hard bark. I heard a car go by in the street and then another one, all normal and calm. Akio reached for a limb and swung out over a branch, and dropped into the hot tub area. I hurried and did the same, without thinking. No one had used the fancy, oriental-designed hot tub in a long time, and debris even half covered the door into the house, which plainly wouldn't open without a lot of work. Weeds had grown around the outer edge and dirt covered the bench by the wall. The cover sat to the side and rainwater and leaves littered the bottom of the tub. Akio looked around with a sad shake of her head, reminding me of how much her father had loved this spot. The memory felt like a knife in my gut as I realized how little I had thought of Akio's loss during all of this. I felt evil and self-centered.
She climbed the wooden bench, reaching towards the small window which led into the house. Akio had slipped out of it to get away from Nadine some nights, turning off the alarm when she left and back on when she came home. The opening looked tiny, I thought in dismay. I feared I wouldn't be able to fit through there with her, even though I had a few times in years past.
How had our lives come to this? I wanted not to do something which could get us killed. Nadine could have easily killed Gian when she hit him with the car and luck alone saved him. If she had that little concern for others, we wouldn't be safe with her.
The realization of how little she cared about Gian made me angry. Probably not my best emotion, but the rage gave me strength, if not wisdom. Akio had a little problem with the window and I helped her work at the edging. Obviously, no one had opened it in a long time and dampness had made the wood swell. We finally worked a corner free. I felt as though we stood there for hours.
I could hear voices as the window slid upward. Akio pulled herself to the ledge, stuck her head inside and began to slide through. I watched until she was safe inside -- safe not being the word I really wanted to use. I pulled myself up, blocking most of the light from the window, but I could see Akio by the door into the hall and hoped she had sense enough to wait for me. Panic got me moving. I shoved the backpack up so it draped over first and started to squirm through, holding my breath -- and panicked when I felt myself wedge into the opening. My butt was too big! I knew it!
Akio caught my arms and yanked hard, her face set in worry. I heard cloth tear and then I came through, almost falling on her. She took my backpack and put my hand on some sort of long horizontal pole -- clothing hanger, I thought -- and I swung over and landed quietly -- except for the pounding of my heart.
We were inside.
I fought the growing panic, reminding myself we faced Missy and Nadine, not horrible monsters, lurking in the dark. They would not send me cowering into the corners. I knew their faces. I could even hear Missy, her voice strident and fast with panic. So much so, I couldn't make out many of the words.
"Oh, they'll figure where you went soon enough," Nadine said, sounding calm. The words slurred a little. I suspected she'd been at the liquor. Maybe she'd pass out and we'd only have to deal with Missy.
"They don't know!" Missy sounded panicked enough for both of them.
"There aren't many places you could run to, you twit. If they have the connection figured out, they'll come here. They'll have the roads blocked off and can search street-by-street anyway. Unless you intend to hike out, there's nowhere you could go. And if they have figured out about the accident --"
"They have," Missy said. "What can I do? What can I do?"
"There's always Kimura's way out. You want my pistol?"
"This is your fault! This is your fault and you'll pay for what you did --"
"Don't you dare threaten me!" Nadine ordered, her voice growing louder. "Shut up now, you stupid little bitch."
"Get me out --"
"I said to shut up!"
I heard the unmistakable sound of a slap and Missy yowled. I hadn't heard Gian at all and I hoped he wisely kept quiet in the face of this insanity.
Akio pulled the hall door open a little more and looked out. I tried to remember the layout of this part of the house. This little room opened to a long hall led to the living room and dining room on the left and the kitchen area on the right. Nadine and Missy were in the living room, and we would have to go past the opening to get to the front door or to the side door to the garage. Those were the only doors we could open to let the police in unless they climbed the cherry tree, too.
Nadine had a gun from what she had said. The thought worried me.
Akio slipped out of the room, her steps almost silent on the carpeted floor. I walked close behind her. Missy wept, and I could hear movement. A car went by outside and I thought I heard the sound of a curtain moving; the house felt uncommonly still except for Missy and Nadine. Empty.
"There goes another cop car." Nadine sounded calmer. Definitely on a rollercoaster ride of emotions all her own, and I didn't think the calm came naturally. "They're heading to AviTen. Now is the time to get out of here."
"Where can we go?" Missy asked, and sniffed.
"I don't give a damn where you go. But as long as I have Gian, they won't stop me."
"You can't leave me!"
Akio gave me a worried glance as she slid forward along the wall, avoiding the artwork as she edged towards the living room opening. I moved behind her, tempted to crawl because my legs trembled. The run, the emotions -- Nadine had a gun! -- made me almost freeze. I didn't want to do something stupid, though I suspected being in here had already put me far past that point.
"I'm going to get out of this," Nadine replied. Her voice had the sound of someone who would do anything. She had probably sounded the same way right before she ran down Gian. "If you want to survive, boy, you better cooperate. You and I are going places."
As we reached the opening to the living room, Missy screamed. I froze in fear and horror, until I heard the sound of fighting. Missy, I suspected, had gone mad and attacked Nadine.
Akio leapt past the opening. I followed and --
Nadine saw me as I threw myself to the other side.
"Someone's here!" she screamed, shoving Missy aside with strength brought on by panic. Her face bled where Missy's nails had scratched three long furrows into her cheek. "Stop, you stupid bitch! Someone is in the house!"
Missy still yowled and attacked again.
"Go!" I whispered close to Akio's ear. "Get the door open! I think she only saw me! Go!"
Akio barely hesitated before she ran towards the side door. Wise, since Nadine would have seen her if she had gone out the front. I stayed still long enough to get some control and then I forced myself away from the door and into the living room. I had to keep them focused on me for a few moments. Akio wouldn't take long to get help in here.
Gian sat on the sofa, his head back but looking very calm, until I came into the room. He panicked even when I tried to give him a reassuring nod. He didn't know about Akio, unless he had been watching when she slipped past.
Liquor bottles and empty beer cans littered the table and floor. The smell of weed was so thick I thought I would be ill. I hadn't noticed the stink of the place until now, as though the scent clung to Missy and Nadine. I knew this mess came from Nadine, the pig, which made me even angrier, as though she had desecrated Mr. Kimura's grave.
Missy knelt on the floor, sobbing hysterically, her makeup running in ugly black lines on her face. She saw me at the doorway and hysteria turned to rage in a heartbeat. Even before Nadine could react, Missy leapt like a wild animal springing from a crouch for the kill. We collided with a force that took my breath away as we fell.
I was fighting an animal. She clawed, bit, yowled as we rolled on the floor. I looked at her eyes once and shuddered. They didn't look human.
I tried to hold her at bay, aware that Nadine was going back for Gian and trying to get him up. Once Akio got the door open, the police would get inside. They had to be close. I just had to --
I heard a shout from somewhere nearby. Nadine cursed and reached for something on the table.
I panicked and shoved Missy away, not even trying to stop her from scratching me this time. She fell and hit her head on the table, stunned, though not unconscious. Everything moved too quickly, though. Nadine brought the gun around and aimed towards the doorway, but when I moved she turned on me --
Gian pushed himself up. Standing! He took a wobbling step forward.
Nadine's eyes narrowed.
"Bitch," she said glaring at me. "I should kill all of you children. Ruined my life -- all of you --"
More sounds nearby. The gun steadied --
Gian threw himself at her. She yelped and staggered, the gun firing and a bullet hitting the wall. She didn't fall, though he did. He had created enough of a distraction, though. I rushed to my feet, fished my keys out of my backpack and aimed my own pepper spray straight into her face.
She couldn't even scream as she gasped and swung the gun around, pulling the trigger. Gian grabbed my ankle and pulled me down, though I was already diving for the floor. I could hear the police yelling and the sounds of sirens in the driveway. Distractions, I thought. She fired again, but I didn't think she could see anything. Her eyes streamed with tears and had swollen closed. Someone leapt over the top of me and shoved Nadine to the floor as police crowded into the room.
"Are you all right?" I asked, grabbing hold of Gian's hand.
He turned over and sat up, using the table to support his back and wincing as he moved.
"The doctors told me I needed to get on my feet and move more," he said. "Somehow, I don't think this was what they had in mind."
I laughed, hoping I didn't sound too hysterical, and held tighter to his hand as they dragged Nadine out. Someone else took hold of Missy, but she cursed and tried to fight. They put her in cuffs, which seemed to shock her and I watched with relief as they took her away as well.
"Ambulance on the way." Harley knelt beside the two of us. "Just to get you to the clinic, Gian. Don't argue. You two all right?"
"I'm fine." I dabbed at the blood on my neck, feeling as though a crazed vampire had attacked me. I began to shake in the aftermath of this insanity.
"And I'm okay," Gian insisted, but he winced when he tried to move. I got scared for a moment, but he didn't seem worried. "How did you get in here, Mar?"
"Akio and I climbed in the back window," I said. "She went and let the police in."
"You're both crazy."
"Yeah, I know." I suspected he would be the first of many to say those words. I wanted to tell him I feared what might happen to him here with Nadine and Missy.
He knew without me explaining. I could see the truth in his face; the combination of embarrassment and gratitude. Having him safe was worth all the crap I knew Akio and I were going to face.
Akio and I rode to the clinic with Gian who sighed and let the people fuss over him in the ambulance and in the building. They checked him out, including more x-rays. He was fine and could go home with a few pain pills to get through this. The police asked us questions, and eventually brought his wheelchair, which had a few dents, but since he wasn't going to be in it much longer, he didn't seem to mind.
Dr. Webster cleaned my cuts and slapped on a couple bandages. By then, my parents arrived and Gian's weren't far behind. I felt so sorry for Akio until Gian's mother began fussing over her and my mother joined in. Akio appeared so startled, I smiled. Her mother had died when she was a baby, and I don't think she'd ever had someone fuss over her the way they did.
She would come home with me tonight.
By the time we were ready to go, reporters had flooded the parking lot, and I think we even had a few moments of CNN's Breaking News as Officer Harley told the story, clearing Akio at last.
I learned Missy was already heading for a private hospital where they would treat her drug addiction and test her mental state, though I think the last was pretty much a foregone conclusion despite her mother's tirade when she arrived about how they had mistreated her daughter. I thought maybe they ought to be doing mental testing on the whole family.
They had transported Nadine to jail and I hoped she rotted there. I hoped her producer boyfriend was ruined and the people reviled her name as the worst of the evil step-mothers who ever lived.
Gian, Akio and I went out together, hurrying past the cameras, shouts and questions as we headed to the Calabrias' van and got in. I didn't care what they asked or what they wrote about us this time.
I held Gian's hand as we drove away.