§ § § - June 25, 2007
Mariki and her staff in the kitchen had done a fine job of setting up several round tables in a small grouping in the main house's side yard, and they were now busily constructing a buffet that consisted of an eclectic collection of both Hawaiian and jordiska dishes, plus a few mainland-American items for the sake of their guests. Christian's and Leslie's friends, as usual, were there along with their children; also in attendance were Taro Sensei and his three children, Julianne Ichino and Adam Ryerson. It seemed to Roarke that the gathering had separated itself into several distinct groups: the adults, sitting around the tables chatting; the older children gathered on the porch steps and railing, also chatting; and the younger children chasing each other all over the yard, weaving between the tables and endlessly shouting and squealing with laughter. Even Tia Sensei, a precocious little girl who at nearly three was able to carry on a conversation, had joined in the fun and made fast friends with Karina Enstad.
Janet Littleton and Ivy Krakowski were the last to arrive, and their entrance caused a flurry of interest among the others. Leslie arose and introduced the sisters to their friends, then showed them to a table where Myeko and Nick Okada were sitting along with Taro, Adam and Julianne. "Room for two more?" she asked.
"Sure, grab a chair," Nick said amiably, and everyone shifted a little to make some room for the new arrivals. Janet smiled and greeted them; Ivy managed a small, shy smile and slowly took her chair, glancing at the buffet.
Taro Sensei had been staring at her with rising interest from the moment Leslie brought her and Janet over to the table. He was fortunate enough to find himself seated next to Ivy, and smiled at her now while Janet answered Myeko's questions about where they came from and what they thought of Fantasy Island. "I haven't eaten yet," he said to Ivy. "Want to come with me and check out the buffet?"
"Okay," Ivy agreed, trying not to sound reluctant, and got up simultaneously with him. Leslie, halfway back to the table where Christian sat with Kazuo and Katsumi, Grady and Maureen, and Roarke, paused to look on with surprise and some hope.
Taro handed Ivy a plate and peered across the buffet, which was set out on a long rectangular table. "Sure is a lot of food," he commented.
"There's a lot of people," Ivy said shyly, and when he laughed, she blinked at him in surprise.
He nodded. "True," he said. "If anybody on this island can cook for an army, it's Mariki. My sister Myeko's been friends with Miss Leslie since she—Miss Leslie, I mean—first came to live here, and we used to hear stories from Myeko about how Mr. Roarke's cooks were always trying to fatten Miss Leslie up. Guess Mariki's still at it."
"Princess Leslie doesn't need fattening up," Ivy said. "She's just fine like she is."
"Yeah, I think so too, and I'm sure Prince Christian agrees." Taro chuckled. "I work for him, and he's a really great boss. Can't ask for better."
Leslie smiled and resumed her seat beside Christian, who was deep in discussion with Kazuo and Grady about the best way to execute some soccer play. In light of that, she kept an eye on Taro and Ivy, hoping that he could put her at ease enough to show her that not everyone cared as much about her mole, or the scar it had left behind, as much as she thought they did.
Before she knew it, though, her attention was distracted by Maureen, who poked her on the shoulder as she paused with a plate in her hand, having just completed her own tour of the buffet. "So these two were guests of yours this past weekend?" she asked, sitting.
"Yep. I don't honestly know how much of a success it's going to be, if you want the truth, but Taro making friends with Ivy is the best sign I've seen since Ivy had her makeover on Saturday." Leslie let her gaze drift back to the two moving slowly along the tables, and Maureen followed suit.
Myeko scooted over to them then from her table, and knelt down beside them to keep their conversation fairly private. "Where'd you find that woman, Leslie?" she wanted to know. "She's the first female Taro's shown any interest in since he divorced Iriata and brought his kids back to Fantasy Island. Who is she?"
"Her name's Ivy Krakowski and she's from Wisconsin, and unless I miss my guess, she and Taro are the same age. Her sister brought her here for a fantasy, and we weren't sure it was really going anywhere. But Taro's interest in her is a great sign."
"Wow," said Myeko, amazed. "I'd love to know what it is about her that hooked him like that. Not after he swore up and down last year that he wasn't going near any women for a long time—maybe not till after Tia was out of college. He told us that at a family cookout, and my parents looked a little surprised. I think they had a good laugh about it later, in private. Wait till I tell them about this."
"Don't be too quick to spread the news," Leslie cautioned. "Let's see how this goes first. Technically, Ivy's fantasy isn't over yet."
At that point, Dawn Okada, now almost six, came to a halt beside them. "Mrs. Enstad," she asked, "when's the cake coming out?"
Leslie, Myeko and Maureen laughed. "Pretty soon, honey," Leslie assured her, ruffling her shiny black hair.
"Did you eat the tuna salad I got you?" Myeko asked sternly.
"Yes," Dawn said, bobbing her head.
"And the carrots with ranch dressing?"
"And how about the—"
"I even ate that, Mommy," Dawn insisted. "Now it's time for dessert!"
Myeko rolled her eyes, making Maureen and Leslie laugh. "Her logic kills me," Myeko said through a sigh. "Well, like Mrs. Enstad said, the cake'll be out soon. Mariki has to get finished baking it first. Go back and play with the other kids."
Dawn leaned in to her mother and stage-whispered, "Mommy, Cat says she's a princess. But I don't really believe it. Princesses never come here." With that, she turned and skipped away to rejoin Cat Bartolomé, also known as Princess Catalina of Arcolos. This time the three friends broke into loud, sustained laughter.
Michiko came to join them, dragging her chair from the table where Camille, Lauren, Brian and Jimmy were sitting and chatting. "You sound like you're having a lot more fun than I am. What's the joke?" She laughed delightedly when Leslie told her.
"What was making things so boring over there?" Maureen asked.
"They're talking about boats," said Michiko. "Jimmy and Camille are apparently considering buying a sailboat, and Brian and Lauren are giving them all sorts of arcane advice that completely escapes me. So Leslie…tell me, did Christian have another tantrum about the party for his birthday this year?"
"Never fails," Leslie said with amused resignation, tossing a glance over her shoulder at her husband, who was in the midst of a detailed recitation complete with hand gestures. "I finally called him out on it, and I think he was a little startled, but he gave in like he always does. I hate to think what he'll do next year when he turns 50."
By the time the cake had come out, been served and eaten, and the presents had been opened, Taro and Ivy were sitting at a table all by themselves, talking earnestly with their heads close together. Activity swirled around them as guests began preparing to leave with their children, and Roarke and Mariki helped Christian and Leslie start loading the car with the gifts and any leftover food. For a while nobody noticed, not even Janet, who as she pitched in with the cleanup was talking animatedly with Tabitha Ordoñez.
But then, as Leslie was searching beneath a table for a collection of pebbles that Tobias had amassed and then managed to scatter all over the lawn after a fall, she heard their voices nearby, just loud enough to pick up the words. "Looks like they're starting to pack up to go," Taro remarked. "You know what? You're almost the only one I've talked to since this party started, but I never had such a great time at a party before."
"Neither have I," said Ivy, sounding very surprised. "To tell the truth, well…I've never really been to an adult party."
"Aw, c'mon," scoffed Taro. "Why not?"
From the corner of her eye, Leslie saw Ivy shift in her seat and draw back the hair on the right side of her face. "Because of this."
Taro squinted at her, then frowned. "Huh, I didn't even notice that. Whatever it was, I hope it wasn't too bad."
"Worse than you can probably imagine," said Ivy. Her tone was cautious, but there was an undercurrent of wonder and hope in it. "I, uh…I used to have a mole here. It was a monster—a little bigger around than this scar. I was born with it, and it caused me no end of trouble all the way through school, but especially high school."
"Wow, I'm sorry to hear that," said Taro, but he seemed puzzled. "So wait a minute, you mean the mole prevented people from inviting you to parties?"
"Pretty much. You'd have had to see it to believe it. I have a picture…" Leslie tried to look busy searching for her son's rocks while Ivy rummaged in her purse for the senior photo she had shown Leslie and Christian. To tell the truth, she wasn't thrilled about having Tobias stuff his pockets with small rocks that undoubtedly would be distributed throughout the house, but hunting for them gave her an excuse to eavesdrop. Okay, I'm shameless, she admitted to herself, but I really want a happy ending for Ivy, and I hope Taro's it!
Taro let out a low, soft whistle then. "I see what you mean," he murmured. "But it takes a really shallow mind to focus on that and overlook everything else." Leslie could see him set the picture on the table and lean toward Ivy a little. "Like I said, I never saw any scar till you showed it to me. I've been sitting here talking to one hell of a smart woman with a great sense of humor and a lot of interests. Someone I wish I could know better."
"Well…" Ivy hesitated a moment; when she spoke again, Leslie could have sworn she was smiling. "I'm actually due some vacation time, and I think this island would be a great place to spend it. I-I'd like to get to know you better too. You're probably the first guy I ever met who saw anything beyond that scar."
"Great," Taro exclaimed. "We could start with dinner tonight, if you want. The pond restaurant at seven?"
"I'll be ready," Ivy agreed.
Leslie grinned to herself and began to put some real effort into her search. By the time Christian came looking for her, she had a small handful of rocks. "Hmm," he said, crouching on the ground beside her, "what on earth are you baring your teeth so hard over?"
Leslie giggled. "I'll tell you on the way home," she promised. "Here, see if you can find any more of your son's rock collection."
§ § § - June 26, 2007
Roarke and Leslie saw Janet Littleton off on the plane on Tuesday morning, and had to admit to amusement at her pure shock over Ivy's decision to stay on for a while. "I never even saw her sitting with that guy all the way through Prince Christian's party," she said in a daze. "And now she's staying so she can give this maybe-romance a fighting chance? I'd never have believed she had it in her."
"When the right person comes along, it can make an enormous difference in one's life," Roarke said. "And it happens most often when you least expect it."
"I guess so," Janet mused. She shook her head to herself, then focused on him and smiled broadly. "I want to apologize for my complaints over the weekend. I should have known you had something in mind for Ivy."
Roarke chuckled. "No apologies necessary," he said. "Your sister is well on the way to having a fulfilling life and making new friends, and perhaps even finding that romance you mentioned. You wanted only her happiness."
"And you helped her start finding it," said Janet. "Thank you, Mr. Roarke. And thank you too, Your Highness." This she addressed to Leslie, who simply smiled back and privately wondered if she'd ever get used to being called by the honorific. "And before I forget, please give Helen Trask my thanks, too. She turned Ivy into quite a knockout. I always knew there was a cute girl under all that hair, but even I never realized just how cute."
They all laughed, and Janet headed for the plane, waving back at them over her shoulder and beaming, without ceasing her stride. A few moments later, the seaplane's engine coughed and sputtered, and it began to taxi away from the dock.
"So," Roarke said as he and Leslie climbed into the nearby rover in which they had brought Janet to the plane dock, "has Michiko been enjoying her summer at home?"
Leslie nodded. "I think she and her mother have been getting a lot closer to each other since her father's funeral. Not that they weren't already, but now even more so. She told me she's a little afraid of losing her mother before too much longer, and she wanted to strengthen the ties between them. It's hard to blame her for that. I think she also wants to get to know all her nephews and her little niece—Hachiro and his wife are supposed to be bringing their family for a fairly extended visit sometime in August, I think."
"I see. And has Mrs. Tokita made a decision about selling her home?"
"Not so far. But who knows, something might just come up. Anyway, do you need me for anything? If you don't, I think I'd better get home. I've got an awful lot of food shopping I need to do, or I'm going to hear back from my family."
Roarke laughed. "By all means, go." He watched her hurry to the car that was waiting in the lane, and sat for a few minutes in the rover, thinking about the incredibly odd letter he had received in the previous day's mail. He had never had a fantasy request quite like this one, and he intended to think it over very carefully before he responded to it. He might even ask his daughter's opinion. Even if he did decide to grant it, it would be some time before the guest came here; so he decided to take a break and indulge in a long walk.
He stepped out of the car and stood in the sunshine for a bit, just enjoying the warm sensation on his shoulders. Would this possible future guest ever be able to bask in such simple pleasures again? There, indeed, was the big question; the answer would be a long time coming.
That cliffhanger is for a story that's a bit down the road, so I hope you can stand the wait! [grin] Thanks to PDXWiz for the idea behind this story; he was really taken with the Helen of Troy/Helen Trask character played by Jill St. John in the episode "Paquito's Birthday / Technical Advisor", which first aired on May 23, 1981, and (as well as Ms. St. John) featured Randi Oakes (Nancy Harvester), Jim Stafford (Gene Jefferson), A Martinez (Manuel Lopez), Linda Cristal (Consuelo Lopez), Victoria Racimo (Doña Dolores), Jerry G. Velasco (José), Susan Saldivar (Elena), and Anthony Trujillo (Paco Lopez).