Friday, June 28, 2013

Flash Friday # 49 -- Return

Tiran's fingers caught hold of the slimy rock above the water's edge as he carefully pulled himself out of the icy moat. Slow movements, like he had made crossing the water. He did nothing to wake the dragon, which was used to things trying to race across to reach the wizard's tower. Tiran had moved with the languid twists of a fish, hardly creating a ripple.
He would succeed at something none had accomplished in his lifetime. He held his breath, though, as he pulled himself across the rough stone surface until he was at least a body's length from the water. Here he could rest.

Not safe, of course. However, he had been at the work of getting here since sunset, and dawn now neared. He had to be up the tower wall before the sun came fully over the horizon or he wouldn't survive. The rocky walls awoke at dawn and he'd seen them eat birds on occasion. Not a pleasant way to go. And the gargoyle on the roof kept anyone from flying in, too.

Tiran started upward again using subtle magic he'd learned -- very careful magic, and nothing showy like he used to love. He'd trained for this day for years. He'd planned it from the day Wizard Muna had told him he was not going to study in the tower. Tiran, sixteen, hurt and angry, had not gone home to his mother. He'd taken to the road, found work with the petty magics he already knew and started learning other magics as well. He learned other things from thieves he met along the way who taught him all he needed to know to do what Wizard Muna claimed was impossible -- break into the Wizard Tower.

The climb was easier than the swim. He had practiced on stone walls with far less purchase for his fingers and toes, training himself for the six-story climb. He'd scaled other towers for the practice. He'd borrowed books of magic from a couple dangerous places -- and returned the books before they were missed. He learned everything he needed, and more.

He used a whisper of magic to feel out the obvious traps most people would miss, but did not use magic itself to make the climb. The tower would have sensed the power and thrown him off. Or ate him. Or the gargoyle would pluck him off. And eat him.

Tiran waved away birds, saving their miserable feathery lives, though they complained. The sun was almost a line on the horizon. A bit of fog, but no clouds, of course. That would have given him a little more time. Oh, no. Don't make this easy.

Up and up. His arms ached. There was no going back. If he didn't get up to the window before the light did, the tower would eat him. If he dropped back into the water, the dragon would eat him. The gargoyle wouldn't save him, for all they'd known each other well. Just his job, he'd say.

Why was this so important again? Oh yes, prove himself. Right. Maybe he should have proven himself by becoming a very rich and powerful thief. Or learned more magic elsewhere and used it to pull this damned tower down. Or --

The last seven years of his life had been dedicated to figuring out how to get into the Wizard's Tower. He had to prove this to himself and there was no going back down and rethinking it anyway.

His father had always told him he was stubborn.

The window was only an arm's length away. He started to reach and then thought better of it. Too easy. A slight whisper of magic -- almost too much; he thought the rocks started to stir beneath his fingers and toes -- but he found what he feared. The window would have snapped shut on him, crushing hands at the least and probably head if he had been scrambling inside.

Damn! How could you get inside? No one could hold the position of Wizard without having figured out a way to get in this window. No other window would do. He couldn't pull himself up on the ledge and he was running out of time.

Then he remembered something Wizard Muna had taught him -- one of the earliest lessons. If you can't find an answer straight on, come at it from a different angle.

Trap on ledge -- not on window itself.

He scrambled up to the top of the window, felt quickly for magic, glanced to see the sun starting to peek over the horizon -- and threw himself around the upper edge and into the room.

Did it! Damn! He'd done it!

Wizard Muna looked up from his desk.

"Well, there you are. I expected you last year. I trust you are ready to get back to work? Learned all you could out there, did you?"

Tiran stood and brushed off his clothing. "You expected me back."

"Yes, of course. And you owe your mother an apology, young man. A few notes saying you were fine was hardly polite, though she did love the glass cat. Well? Well? Did you learn more magic out there or not?"

"Yes, actually, I did."

"Good, because that's the real test. No one can be a Wizard here if all they do is lock themselves up and think they can learn it all reading some books and staring at the walls. Now go on and tell your mother you're back. I'll expect you here at noon. We have a great deal to discuss."

Tiran stared at him for a moment. Then he nodded and headed for the stairwell.



"It's good to have you back, son. You did well."

He grinned. "Thanks dad. I'll see you later." 

The End
962 words

Find more of the Forward Motion Flash Friday Group here:

And don't miss out on

for more fantastic quick reads!


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Waiting for the Last Dance, Chapter Fifteen (End)

Links to the previous chapters are HERE

Chapter Fifteen

By Sunday afternoon, Akio and I both decided prom was actually a form of torture adults visited on graduating classes as a sort of final revenge.  Mom woke us early and started preparations.  The first wasn't so bad:  A personal massage, pedicure and manicure at a wonderful place in Thousand Oaks.  We left there to get our hair done, despite my misgivings.  They trimmed a little of Akio's beautiful long black hair, followed by a shampoo.  I knew the stylist looked at mine with hidden despair.

"What do you suppose would look best?" mom asked, leafing through the magazines.

"I think we should start with a color.  I don't think the blue stripe is going to cut it for prom."

"True," she said, nodding.  "I think a stripe or two with a bit of silver and gold, to match the dress would be better."

I love my mom.

They trimmed, dyed and plucked.  I wasn't sure I looked like me in the mirror, but I didn't mind for one night.  They also provided makeup and showed how I could cover most of the bruises.

We stopped and had salads for a late lunch, and got home with enough time to dress.  Mrs. Calabria came over to help Akio.  She had no older daughters and she seemed to take delight in everything.  She made Akio laugh.  I loved her for it.

At six Mr. Avison's limo arrived, having already picked up Gian.  He came to the door, looking incredibly nice in a tux.  He had corsages for us both and he didn't make Akio feel as though she intruded on our first date.  I loved him all the more for the way he treated her.

We held the Deervale prom at a fancy club by the beach, which meant a long ride in the limo.  We joked about the people we passed, and the faces turning our way.  I knew how lucky we were, on so many different levels that the feeling nearly brought me to tears.  I held back my emotions, determined not to let anything spoil this night. 

Mr. Avison had rented the place for the prom, arranged for the food and the music -- which turned out to be a group who had their first top ten record on the charts.  There were reporters, which I thought odd, until I saw how they turned their attention on Akio, Gian, and me.  But they stayed back, taking pictures and not intruding as Akio and I flanked Gian's wheelchair on our way in.

I had a night out of a dream.  We laughed and talked with everyone, marveling at how well most of us cleaned up.  How adult we looked, though to be honest, we didn't act it much most of the night.

Some of Missy's friends were there, including Mary, but the fight had gone from them.  Mary even came and apologized to me.  I forgave her.  I forgave them all tonight -- at least the ones who attended the prom. 

Akio spent time with Gian and me, but sometimes others whisked her away and she even danced with both George and John Forest.  She had acted shy and awkward at first.  The others drove the shyness out of her and by the end of the night she was our Akio once more.

The party went until 1am and the call for the last dance.  I didn't want the night to end.  Friday afternoon was graduation and afterwards b we would scatter to the winds.  I might not see some of these people for a long, long time.

The band played a slow dance, just a guitar and the drums.  I saw Akio dancing with the lead singer.  My.  She had lost her shyness.

Gian pulled his wheelchair over in front of me.  Time to go, I thought and sighed as I stood.  I didn't want this night to end.

He leaned forward and took both my hands. 

And then he stood. 

My breath caught as he wrapped his arms around me and leaned close. "One dance," he whispered.  "If you hold me tight, we can do this."

And finally . . .

Finally, I danced with Gian.

The End

Waiting for the Last Dance, Chapter Fourteen

Links to the previous chapters are HERE

Chapter Fourteen

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!"

"Marisha!  Akio?"

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.

Waiting for the Last Dance, Chapter Thirteen

Links to the previous chapters are HERE

Chapter Thirteen

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.