A/N: A thousand apologies for my long absence! My only excuse is that this story took me three months to write, and I had just a few too many distractions, so that the muse sneaked away from me. I finally finished it on December 16 and here it comes…a summer story, just in time for Christmas. (ha ha) Oh well, enjoy anyway…
§ § § - August 11, 2007
Michiko Tokita Bartolomé, queen of Arcolos, wearing a well-aged Fantasy Island High School T-shirt and a pair of turquoise denim short-shorts with a few holes in them, knelt in her mother's garden tugging a carrot out of the ground. Her daughter Catalina, going on six, crouched beside her, gingerly balancing herself on the balls of her feet while using Michiko's thigh for support. "That's a carrot?" she asked.
"It certainly is," said Michiko, grinning at her.
"It's dirty," Catalina announced, wrinkling her nose.
"All vegetables are dirty when they come out of the ground," Michiko told her, dropping the carrot in a large basket nearby and reaching for another. "We wash them before we cook them in anything, I promise."
"I hope so," the little girl mumbled, watching Michiko pull up the next one. "I'd never want to eat any dirt. But Madi…why doesn't Grendé-Madi have a greenhouse like at home?"
Simultaneously amused and saddened, Michiko laid the latest carrot in the basket and turned her full attention on the child. "Catalina, listen: very few people live in the kind of palace we do. Usually only other royalty does. My mother grew up orphaned and very poor in Japan, and she learned to grow her own vegetables and any other food she possibly could. She did it in a patch of dirt very much like this, and let the sun shine right on the plants and watered them herself from a pitcher. And she did this even after she met my father and married him, and had me and my brothers and sisters. We always helped my mother in her garden, and we all grew up eating home-grown vegetables just like this."
Catalina stared wide-eyed at her. "Grendé-Madi was orphaned?"
Michiko nodded. "That's right," she said quizzically.
"Then maybe Mr. Roarke could help her find out about her family," the child said brightly. "She could know who her mother and father were and if she ever had brothers and sisters, like you and Papi do."
Michiko had to smile. "I don't think Mother really wants to know," she mused, reaching for another carrot. "She was very happy with my father. And she's gone this long without trying to find her family; if she really wanted to know, she would have tried it a long time ago. I don't think it's very important to her."
Catalina made an incredulous noise, but fell silent a moment or two, watching Michiko hoist the last few carrots out of the soil, shake off the worst of the dirt and let them fall into the basket. Then there was a shout from some little distance, and Catalina leaped to her feet. "Madi, they're here! I can hear them!" She raced around the side of the house and was gone in an instant.
Michiko stared after her for a moment, wondering what she meant; then she remembered and sighed to herself. Her brother Hachiro, his wife Lani, and their large family were supposed to arrive today and would be staying till the end of the month. She wasn't sure if this was Hachiro's decision, or something Lani had pushed him into; but she did feel it was a good thing they were here. Hachiro had spent far too much time away from the family, and it was past time he reconnected. She pushed herself to her feet, grabbed the basket handle and brushed off her knees and shins before returning to the house via the back door.
She was busy washing the carrots and other vegetables in the sink when one member of the noisy mob migrated from the front entry to the kitchen. "Michiko, there you are," exclaimed Lani Tokita, hugging her from behind without waiting even long enough for the laughing queen to dry her hands. "Gosh, it's great to see you again. It's been too long."
"Much too long," Michiko agreed, snagging a towel and wiping her hands with it. "Hi there, Lani, are you surviving the summer?"
"So far so good," Lani quipped with a wink. "Actually, you'd be surprised—the boys keep each other pretty busy, and I really have to worry only about Tyler and Olivia. Griffen turns four soon, so he's decided he's graduated to hanging out with his older brothers now." They both laughed. "You're looking good."
"I've had a good summer," Michiko said with a smile. "It's done me a lot of good to be here at home. In some ways I don't want to go back to Arcolos, in other ways I can't wait to head out. I miss Errico and the kids, and anyway, I want to be there to see Paolono finally get married to Lindalia."
"Whoa…the heir to the throne's tying the knot? I didn't hear about this," Lani exclaimed with quickening interest.
"It's not common knowledge yet," Michiko said. "Errico told me just this morning—he says Paolono proposed a couple of days ago and came to him yesterday to get formal permission. Which was just a matter of outdated protocol, since almost the whole world knows Errico's dying to get his sons married off. The wedding's been set for next spring."
"Wow," murmured Lani, looking wistful. "Just once I'd love to see a royal wedding in person. I remember watching Charles and Diana get married on TV when I was a kid."
"Then we'll be sure to invite you," Michiko offered. "Let Hachiro deal with the boys and Olivia by himself for a while, and he'll see what you go through every day."
Lani released a bark of laughter. "Oh, that'd be suicidal. I'd probably come back and find the house burned down." They both laughed again. "But let's put it this way, I'm not turning it down outright. So…why don't you come out and say hi to the gang."
Michiko followed her out to the entry, where her five boisterous young nephews and excited little niece were being introduced to a thoroughly delighted Miyoshi; Lani's sons from her first marriage, Aaron and Ephraim, stood slightly apart, watching. Aaron, always an easygoing boy, was smiling a little, but Ephraim wore his characteristic scowl and had his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his baggy, knee-length jean shorts.
Hachiro finished introducing Tyler, the youngest boy at two and a half, and lifted the little girl, Olivia, so that Miyoshi could take her. In Japanese he introduced her, then said to Olivia in English, "And this is Oba-chan." He pronounced the Japanese word slowly and carefully. "Can you say that? Oba-chan."
Michiko did a quick estimate in her head and realized Olivia might have some trouble pronouncing the word, at about twenty months or so. "It's okay if she can't say it."
"I'm sure Mama-san would like to hear it, though," Hachiro said and peered at the little girl. "Say Oba-chan?"
"Oba-tawn," Olivia finally parroted, looking at her father instead of her grandmother, which made everyone laugh except for Ephraim. Miyoshi giggled, sounding almost like her little granddaughter, and gently bounced the child.
Lani leaned a little nervously to Michiko. "Does your mother speak English?"
"She can speak enough to get by, but she's much more comfortable with Japanese," Michiko said. "But she doesn't mind using English for your benefit. She wants to be able to communicate with her grandchildren."
Lani nodded, looking a little more at ease, then cleared her throat. "Listen, I was hoping we could sit down and talk a little while—just you and me by ourselves. I haven't really had anyone to unload on."
Michiko studied her sister-in-law and nodded back. "All right, just say when."
"Is now a bad time?" Lani wondered.
"Well, no." Michiko's eyes widened with surprise. "I guess it's just that you just got here and I thought you'd want to relax a little."
Lani scoffed lightly, "Oh, the trip wasn't that long. Just let me know where a good private spot would be."
Michiko made a quick excuse to her mother, who barely seemed to notice in her joy over Hachiro's kids, and led Lani down to the same rumpus room where they had talked with Myeko a couple of years before at the massive family reunion. "This is usually the best place to get some privacy. There should be some beverages back here…" She went to the small wet bar in one corner and pulled open the miniature refrigerator tucked under the cabinet. "We've got about five different kinds of soda, and there's what's left of a jar of sun tea in here. And it looks like Mama-san mixed up some lemonade for Catalina."
"I'll have a soda, any kind," Lani decided, and Michiko extracted two cans and pushed the door shut with one foot, coming to join her on the long sofa that pulled out into a bed. It was here that Aaron and Ephraim would be sleeping; the other boys would share Saburo's old room, using sleeping bags and extra pillows, while Olivia stayed in Hachiro's old room with him and Lani.
Lani popped the top and drank deeply. "Ahhh," she sighed, finally lowering the can, "that hit the spot. It might not have been a long flight, but I sure got thirsty." Michiko chuckled in acknowledgement. "Well." Lani shifted in her seat, one knee bent atop the cushion, so that she faced Michiko. "I'm sure you know all about Hachiro coming here back in May, and why."
Michiko made an affirmative noise, wondering why Lani had chosen to bring this up three months later. As far as she knew, Hachiro and Leslie had forged a friendship, albeit a tentative one, and she had had no indication that anything was other than all right.
Lani nodded and gulped down some more from the can. "I'm sure you know it was a pretty sizable shock to me, to realize he had this crush on your friend all this time, even though he's always said he loves me."
Michiko tilted her head at Lani. "Are you one of those people who think you can be in love with only one person at a time?"
"Well…I don't know about that. I can't say anything about it," Lani admitted, her face turning pink. "I've never had it happen to me, but I know some people who have, so I guess it's possible. I just…it's just that it really bugs me to know that what he felt for your friend never really died. And—well, this is the crux of the problem for me. If he's felt that way about her since high school—I mean, come on, it's, like, thirty years!—who says he'll ever stop feeling like that, even though he's said he's trying to?"
Michiko drew in a deep breath; she had wanted to talk to Leslie about this, but had been afraid to bring it up, unsure of Leslie's reaction. "Lani, have you really talked to Hachiro about this? I mean, since he came back from talking to Leslie?"
Looking caught out, Lani reluctantly shook her head. "No. But I'm not sure I want to. I think I'd be afraid to hear the plain, brutal truth." She sat up. "You were still here when he came back and spoke with her. What'd he say?"
"I don't know, and I haven't asked Leslie any more than I asked Hachiro. That's just between them, and I won't hear anything about it unless Leslie decides to tell me. Hachiro certainly won't." Michiko smiled wryly and Lani mirrored it, rolling her eyes.
"Maybe I'm being neurotic," Lani muttered, "but…I just want to understand it."
"Some things defy understanding," Michiko remarked, sipping from her soda can.
Lani nodded. "I know. But it's eating me alive, Michiko. I just want…" She hesitated a moment, staring into the can, then met her sister-in-law's gaze. "I've never met her. I'd like to, just to see what it is Hachiro's so hung up on."
Michiko frowned. "Lani, I don't want to start anything, but I think I need to explain something to you. Leslie isn't out to take Hachiro away from you. They were nothing but antagonistic toward each other for years and years, and if she can bring herself to treat my brother with civility, then I admire her for that. Let me set the matter straight: whatever feelings there are here, they're one hundred percent Hachiro's. Leslie's married, she's crazy in love with Christian, and I'd be surprised if she was really interested in maintaining an ongoing friendship with Hachiro even after they got back on speaking terms. If you're going to take out your upset feelings on anybody, it better be Hachiro."
Lani blinked, looking startled. "Whoa. Well, I guess you told me."
"I'm sorry," Michiko said earnestly, consciously relaxing. "But I don't want to see Leslie being unfairly blamed for whatever Hachiro feels about her. She never wanted his attention and she still doesn't, even less so now because of her husband and family whom she loves dearly. Leslie and I have been very close friends since we first met in the eighth grade, and the way Hachiro treated her through our school years always made me so mad that I'd side with her. If I do introduce you to her, I just want you to remember that she isn't the least bit interested in Hachiro."
Lani nodded. "Okay, okay. Hachiro said pretty much the same thing, that he knew she never returned his feelings and she was never going to. What I'm upset about is that he still has those feelings." She raised her soda can at Michiko when the latter began to speak. "No, don't try to defend him. He's had them so long, I'm sure they haven't disappeared only three months after he made nice with her."
"Then tell me this," Michiko said. "Since you're convinced Hachiro still has a crush on Leslie, have you talked about it with him since he, uh, 'made nice'?"
"Why bother?" Lani said irritably. "It's like panning for gold in the Sargasso Sea to get him to talk to me about anything other than everyday crap. Maybe worse. I could probably get more gold out of the ocean than words out of Hachiro."
Coolly Michiko remarked, "Well, then, if you refuse to even try to talk to him about it, you don't have any right to be annoyed about whatever feelings you think he has."
Lani's face acquired a heavy brick-red hue and she let her head fall forward. "I guess I don't," she muttered. "You're the first one to have the guts to say that to me." She looked up, a little warily. "Look, I know you've told me your friend isn't to blame, but I'd still like to meet her first. To ease my mind."
Michiko let her stew a minute while she took another drink from the can; she wasn't crazy about Lani's attitude, and thought she might make a stab at encouraging Hachiro to talk to his wife and try to ease her suspicions. After a moment she said, "Well, I could do that, but not today—Mr. Roarke and Leslie are in the middle of their business this weekend, so she probably won't have any time to get away unless we go to the luau and see her there. I really don't think she needs to spend all weekend laboring under the idea that you think it's her fault Hachiro feels the way he does."
Lani scowled. "I'm not going to blame her for anything! I just want to meet her!"
"Calm down," Michiko said a little forcefully. "I realize you're under stress, but you're handling it all wrong. For the sake of your marriage, you'd better talk to Hachiro, and do it soon. If you let it fester like this, you two may very well end up divorced, whether you want it that way or not."
Lani made a noise and stared out the door leading into the backyard; Michiko waited, but Lani said nothing else, and finally she got up to leave. "I'll leave you alone to think about it," she said quietly and returned to the kitchen to continue washing the vegetables.
She found Hachiro in there talking with their mother; they looked up and smiled when they saw her. "Come and sit down," Miyoshi offered.
Thinking to tell Hachiro about Lani, she sat, but he spoke first. "We've just been talking about what Mama-san should do with this house."
"I know you want to sell it," Michiko began slowly, "but…"
Miyoshi smiled knowingly. "I have heard protests from all sides," she said in a gentle voice, speaking Japanese as she did within the family. "I owe no money on it, and it is no great expense to me. It's simply too large for me to keep up when I live here alone."
"Isn't it possible to pass it along to one of us?" Hachiro persisted, reminding Michiko of a conversation they'd had in May. "You wouldn't even have to leave it then."
"None of you would take it," Miyoshi said, her voice still gentle, warming the words with a wistful little smile. "You have your life in Hawaii, Michiko and Reiko both live in Arcolos, Kiichiro and Kayoko have their own home on this island, and Saburo and Kalani have no need of a house this large. Their children are all grown and have homes of their own. And your children and Reiko's are still young."
Michiko felt inexplicably out of sorts. "And I'm sure you wouldn't come back to the island," she muttered at Hachiro.
He stared at her. "What's your problem?" he asked, reverting to English.
Michiko used the same tongue. "Lani," she said shortly. "When you came here three months ago to straighten things out with Leslie, did you ever tell Lani what happened? Did you and she ever really sit down and talk about it after you went back home?"
"I told her what happened," Hachiro said warily while their mother listened, "and she said she understood. I figured the matter was closed."
"Then either she's had a lot of time to think about it and second-guess her initial answer, or she outright lied. It's been bothering her. She just talked to me about it downstairs. She thinks you're still in love with Leslie and that you always will be, because you have been for so long now. If you two don't get this out in the open, Hachiro, she'll find some way to use it against you and drive a wedge between you two. Unless you want a second divorce under your belt, you'd better clear the air with her."
Hachiro looked as if she'd taken a sledgehammer to his knees. For a full minute he sat there and gaped at her. At last Miyoshi filled in the breach. "Hachiro, I want you to tell me the truth," she said in an unusually stern voice. "Are you still in love with Leslie?"
Hachiro visibly squirmed, reminding Michiko of Catalina when she was in trouble with Errico, and opened his mouth, but said nothing. Looking helpless, he gave his mother a desperate glance and admitted, "Well, maybe some."
"Is that the truth?" Miyoshi persisted.
He threw his hands in the air, exasperated. "Look," he snapped, "I've said it before—I don't have a magic switch to shut off that crush, okay? I've been working on it, and going over what Leslie told me, and making myself understand that I've got a damn good situation here with Lani and the kids, and I'd be the ultimate in stupid if I threw all that away. Why doesn't anybody just try putting themselves in my shoes, just once, and try to figure out what they'd do in my place? Instead, I get excoriated to within an inch of my life, and my own wife thinks I'll betray her at the drop of a hat. I suppose the whole lot of you are waiting for me to live down to your lousy expectations of me." He shoved his chair back and arose, apparently unaware of Michiko's and Miyoshi's startled stares. They both recoiled when he opened his mouth and raised his already loud voice to shout, "There, Lani, I hope you heard all that! Go ahead and leave me if you're so sure I'm about to walk out on you!" He didn't wait for a response from anyone but slammed out the back door and jogged across the backyard, ignoring the kids playing there.
Michiko blinked at her mother, who sighed gently and wrapped her hands around her teacup. In Japanese she murmured, "I fear we pushed him much too far."
"Where do you think he's going?" Michiko asked.
Miyoshi shook her head. "He has done that for many years, I'm sure you remember, Michiko-chan. He needs to be alone for a time, and perhaps now that I look back, we all pushed him too far, too often. It's best if we let him be."
Lani appeared in the doorway then, looking astonished. "What was that all about?"
"Hachiro just stormed out the door under the impression that no matter what he does, he's going to lose you before your vacation's over," Michiko said in a flat tone.
"Oh," Lani said, startled.
In her careful English, Miyoshi addressed Lani with a gentle smile. "Come and sit, Lani. You have not spoken to Hachiro? Is difficult for him. He tries so hard, but maybe he feels no one believes him. And now he need that."
Lani went brilliant scarlet again and dropped her head into her hands. "I feel like I can't do anything right. I'm jealous of the way he feels about Leslie Hamilton, or whatever her name is now. I'm jealous because he never talks to me, so I don't know how he really feels, and all I can think is that if Leslie'd let him, he'd probably gab his head off at her. I hate feeling this way, but I can't help it."
"Hachiro always quiet," Miyoshi reflected. "Not easy for him to speak about feelings."
Michiko ventured, "I think Hachiro always felt a bit lost within the family. Saburo knew what to expect, being the oldest child and the oldest son as well. And Mama-san, we girls knew you and Papa-san wanted us to be dutiful daughters, to be good people and to make good marriages and be good mothers. But there were no clear-cut expectations of Hachiro, and he kind of ran wild."
Miyoshi regarded her with some surprise, as if impressed by her view. Then a sadness filled her black eyes and she murmured, "Perhaps Masato and I spoiled him."
"Maybe just a little, Mama-san," Michiko said with a forgiving little smile, reaching across the table to take her mother's hand. "You know, though…I think maybe he's tried hard to grow up, all on his own, without much guidance and without asking us for any, because he probably felt we'd only look at him with censorious eyes and criticize him."
Lani's face went from red to white. "And I've been pushing him too," she exclaimed in horrified realization. "I've spent the whole summer being cool to him. Sometimes I've given him the cold shoulder. I just couldn't get over the idea that he still loves Leslie."
"You should be telling him all this," Michiko said, gentling her voice, trying to tamp down her lingering annoyance with her stubborn sister-in-law.
"I would if I knew where he was going," Lani said.
Miyoshi wrapped her free hand around Lani's. "We wait for him to come back," she said, "and then you tell him. Is best if you do. For sake of your children."