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Mile Markers

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Read Chapter Five of The Angel's Guardian!

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AN INCREDIBLE oddity occurred whenever she watched Yaeko Mitsaki’s performance, which she did dozens of times. It was the sense of her being expanding like the first moments after the Big Bang. She would inhale and the feeling was like nothing she’d ever experienced. Her lungs … felt tremendous in size. The air rushing into them was charged with … with … joyful tranquility. That’s what she called it. Joyful tranquility. It was as though she could breathe forever, and it came to her then that in the ecstatic rush that swept her up out of her despair years ago in the hospital that she had experienced this sensation before. But that moment had been so sudden and so unexpected that everything was blended instantly into a single overwhelming rapture that impressed itself upon her being without differentiation. At peace now, with these open, lonely days waiting for her to step into them, she could delineate the sensations one by one.
There wasn’t a single viewing of that performance that didn’t bring her to tears. She watched it only occasionally, because Yaeko’s beauty, both musically and physically, brought with it almost unbearable agony. Connections formed and were broken and renewed; the sun set and was born again; the great planes came in and took off. High over the Pacific, she occasionally glanced out a window and imagined Yaeko playing, and let her spirit spread its wings and glide through the plane’s fuselage into boundless space.
When Dr. Akimoto saw her again, the first thing he said was: “The fog is gone.”
She had been waiting anxiously to talk to him, but now wasn’t the time. She simply said in return: “The fog is very gone,” and smiled radiantly and walked off to resume her duties. When her break came, she went to him. He stood to admit her to the next seat in; she took it and sat.
“Yaeko Mitsaki,” he said unnecessarily.
“I’ve never heard—I’ve never seen—anything like that.”
He laughed softly. “I suspect no one has.”
“Who is she?”
“That, I believe, is the question the entire nation of Japan is asking this very moment. Soon, I suspect, the entire world will be asking it.”
“Have you met her? Were you at that performance?”
He shook his head. “I got that DVD from my friend. He’s an editor for a classical music magazine. He wants to be her manager. I have never seen him so excited before, and I’ve known him more than forty years! We grew up in the same neighborhood and went to the same schools. He gave me that DVD and told me it would renew my faith in humanity. It did.”
He gazed at her with a piercing smile. “Tell me, Elizabeth, what did it do for you besides end your depression?”
She chuckled impulsively. “I … I couldn’t even tell you.” She stared blankly past his shoulder. “Watching her … it feels like … like a revelation. That’s it.”
She refocused on him. “That’s it! A revelation.”
“As in religious?”
“Yes,” she said immediately. “Yes, exactly! When I watch her it’s like an angel is revealing herself to me and giving me life-changing news. Like that.”
“If it isn’t too personal, would you share with me the life-changing news our astonishing angel has given you?”
Elizabeth thought for a long moment.
“I am more—I am infinitely more—than just this—” She lifted her arms. “I am not just a body. I am not just flesh and bones. I am infinitely more. Infinitely.”
“That’s very interesting. My friend Izumi spoke of infinity as well. He told me that the night after watching Yaeko Mitsaki’s performance for the first time, he had a tremendous dream of walking on a great pier that went on, in his words, forever. When he woke he was crying—crying for joy.”
“I so wish I could meet her. I wish I could warn her …”
“Warn her? About what?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “This world. People. You have no idea how many times I’ve prayed for her.”
Dr. Akimoto didn’t respond, so she pressed on.
“I pray for her happiness, that she’s a happy young girl. I pray that her parents …”
“I pray,” she said after a long moment of quiet, “that her parents are nothing like mine.”
“What were your parents like?”
She shook her head.
He didn’t press her.
“From everything I’ve read—and I fully recognize that the media aren’t reliable by any stretch—her home life is happy. I’ve watched interviews …”
“I have too,” said Elizabeth. “Well, just one, actually. I don’t understand Japanese, so I didn’t understand what was being said. I turned on the TV one day while on layover in Tokyo, and there she was. She seems like such a pretty, shy young girl!”
“That would be accurate,” said Isao with a nod. “From what I understand, she’s recording her first album and is set to go on tour.”
“Really? Oh, that’s wonderful news!”
Her face fell. “But I … damnit …”
“You don’t understand Japanese.”
“How can I keep up with her if I can’t understand what the hell is being said about her? I’ve tried Internet searches, but either I can’t read what’s being said or no one outside of Japan knows about her! It’s maddening!”
“Please allow me to be your source of news about Yaeko Mitsaki,” he offered. “Do you use email?”
She nodded sheepishly. “I just started. I’m not what you call an early adopter.”
“Give me your email address, and I’ll keep you abreast of all news about the Young Master.”
“Is that what she’s being called now? ‘The Young Master’?”
He nodded.
Elizabeth smiled. “That’s so perfect.”
Yaeko Mitsaki had changed her, and she couldn’t wrap her mind around it. It wasn’t just that the depression she’d suffered was gone, but something else was gone too. She couldn’t figure out what it was. It was as though not only had the fog lifted, but the landscape before her had changed as well, had “cleaned” itself (she couldn’t think of a better word, despite trying many times), but in a way that wasn’t obvious, but extraordinarily subtle and sublime.
The loneliness that had been her lifelong companion was there still, and even more potent. Instead of casting her down, though, it attained a beatific glowing splendor that elated her as much as it pained her. Day-to-day objects seemed to surface from the thick murk of mundanity, presenting themselves to her uniquely, even though there might be ten identical ones next to it. She didn’t wear glasses, but it was as though she had been fitted for lenses that brought everything into wondrous relief for the very first time.
She was alone. For the first time in her life she knew what that truly implied. She came to cherish the pain of it, because now elation came with it too. Everything seemed brand new, breathlessly focused, and bathed in light, but one not of this world. It painted her universe, each thing to its own, with its own halo, freshly.
Isao was true to his word, and to a degree that surprised her. She became accustomed to three or even four emails a week, each one complete with five or six links, sometimes more, that led to news about Yaeko Mitsaki—‘The Young Master.’ She’d click on them and find that they led to the original article, in unreadable Japanese, and then to a translated English version. She clapped excitedly when she read that her first album, Inspiritus, had been released. On the red-eye three weeks later, as Isao was taking his seat before take-off, he approached and handed her the new album. The cover was in purple and gold and had a picture of Yaeko with her violin and a shy smile on her face.
“I knew you couldn’t wait for it to be released in the United States,” he said, “so I took the liberty of buying you a copy. My friend Izumi has reviewed it. He has never been effusive in his entire career—that is, until he reviewed this.”
“Thank you!” squealed Elizabeth. Mary, who was also working this flight, came up behind her. “Oh, wow!” she whispered. Elizabeth had shared the DVD with her, and now she was as excited as Elizabeth. “Is this it? The new album?”
Elizabeth nodded. As Dr. Akimoto went to his seat, they gaped at it.
“Oh, hell. This is going to be torture!” complained Mary before Elizabeth could. “We’ll have to wait until we land before we can listen to it!”
“Twelve hours,” groaned Elizabeth. “At least. Make it thirteen or fourteen, depending on Tokyo traffic!”
“That’s not right!” said Mary, who hurried back to her duties.
It was a busier flight than usual, and so Elizabeth didn’t get a chance to talk to Isao for almost two hours. He offered her a seat, but she knew she wouldn’t get a chance to relax as she could so many times in the past. She had come to think of him as a friend, and she told him that after thanking him for the latest batch of emails.
“I take it you’ve already listened to the album,” she said, leaning against an empty seat across from him.
“Of course,” he said. “It’s magical. I think you will be as moved as ever.”
“Son of a bitch!” she murmured. “I wish I could listen to it! If this flight weren’t so busy, I could! Why would this flight have to be the one where I can’t just sit down like I always could and pop it in?”
“Indeed. It’s well worth the wait.”
He smiled. “I’ve got another gift for you. Ready?”
“What is it?”
She felt like a little girl at Christmas!
“I think you’ll really like this one. Izumi would like to meet you. Are you available tomorrow for lunch?”
Elizabeth blinked. “You’re kidding, right?”
He shook his head.
“Of course I am!” she shouted. Several nearby passengers turned to look at her. “Oh my God, this is great!
Izumi Ishikawa appeared as distinguished as his best friend. As Isao watched, he took Elizabeth’s hand at the upscale sushi restaurant in downtown Tokyo and said in perfect English, “Isao told me how pretty you are, but he did not do an adequate job of it!”
Elizabeth, smiling, thanked him, and they sat.
Izumi had bright eyes and graying temples, and smelled of very expensive cologne. He too wore Armani, along with a Rolex. It came to her then that Isao didn’t wear a watch, and after complimenting Izumi on his, remarked on the fact.
“Time and I do not generally get along,” said Isao, taking a sip of water. “I follow its dictates only to the degree that I meet my obligations in an appropriate fashion.”
“Your obligations, I fear, just doubled or quadrupled,” said Izumi lightly. “Maybe I should have my jeweler talk to you about the new models—?”
“I will wait until I land, thank you,” replied Isao. “After all, aren’t the Swiss known for their watchmaking ability?”
“Swiss?” asked Elizabeth. She glanced at Isao, puzzled. “Are you going to Switzerland soon?”
He smiled sadly. “I am moving there.”
That stunned her. “Really? Are you going to consult like you did for UCLA?”
He shook his head. “I have taken the position of Senior Head of the Psychiatric Department in one of the largest hospitals there. Izumi was the one who got the ball rolling after I expressed an interest in the job.”
“That’s great! Do you know … what do they speak in Switzerland? Swissian? I don’t know!”
The men chuckled.
“German!” exclaimed Izumi, puffing his chest out.
“French,” said Isao somewhat more quietly. “But I am fluent in both, as of course are the Swiss.”
Elizabeth hated moments like this, when both happiness and sadness fought for supremacy at the news of a friend’s good fortune. She knew social graces demanded a smile and hearty congratulations, even a hug, or, at minimum, a handshake, but she knew Isao Akimoto could easily read her, and so she let herself be completely honest. She gave him a smile, but it couldn’t be mistaken for any that came without a lengthening shadow of sadness. He saw it and reached for her hand.
“The red-eyes have come to a close,” he said, and she could tell that he too was sad. “No more trips to Los Angeles and very nice chats on the way home.”
“When do you leave?” she asked.
“A month from today,” he replied, still smiling sadly. “I wanted to tell you right away.” He added quickly, “But this is not good-bye. There is something my good friend Izumi would like to discuss with you, something that will keep us in touch and, if it works out, as he thinks it will, will provide you a new route to fly, if you are up to it.”
She blinked. “You mean, flying from the US to Switzerland?”
The waitress interrupted and took their order. Elizabeth hadn’t even glanced at the menu, and so ordered the same thing Isao asked for, even though she didn’t understand a word of what he said, merely gesticulating at him and then back at herself several times and nodding enthusiastically. The waitress smiled in understanding and walked off, but not before Izumi ordered a round of sake, which Elizabeth understood perfectly.
“I believe you can be of service to Yaeko Mitsaki,” said Izumi.
Elizabeth glanced excitedly at Isao, then back at Izumi. “Really? How?”
“I work with Yaeko’s current manager, who is trying to schedule a European tour.”
“A tour?”
She waited. Izumi seemed suddenly uncomfortable.
He and Isao launched into high-speed Japanese. Elizabeth waited.
“Forgive us,” said Isao after returning his attention back to her. “That was quite rude. It won’t happen again.”
“That’s perfectly okay,” said Elizabeth, taking a sip of sake, which the waitress had just served.
“Oh, no, no,” chided Izumi. “One doesn’t sip sake.”
He lifted his glass and in a single motion tipped the contents into his mouth.
Isao did the same, but not until Elizabeth had lifted her glass with him. She swallowed and winced. “Whew!”
“Another?” asked Isao.
“Yes, please,” croaked Elizabeth, feeling the liquid burn down her gullet. She didn’t drink beyond the odd glass of wine before dinner, but she enjoyed the company of these men, who seemed intent on putting her at ease.
“I have taken the liberty of speaking with your supervisor through an executive friend I keep in touch with who happens to work at your airline. Your supervisor is Ms. Kitness, correct?” said Izumi as they were served the first round of sushi a minute later.
Elizabeth, taken aback, nodded.
“Ms. Kitness speaks quite glowingly of you,” he went on. “She said your attention to passenger comfort and satisfaction was, as she put it, ‘top shelf.’ She agreed to transfer you to the new route whenever you are ready—and, of course, assuming you wish to be transferred; it’s entirely up to you—and also agreed to a significant raise. If the tour happens, you’ll personally see to Yaeko Mitsaki’s comfort.”
The raise was great news, but it glanced off Elizabeth almost without notice. All she heard was “... you’ll personally see to Yaeko Mitsaki’s comfort.”
She came back to herself. “You … don’t need me right away?”
“The tour isn’t set in stone at this time,” answered Izumi as he ate. “When it is, I—or, rather, one of my associates—will contact you. It will probably be a while yet. Still, you may take the new route whenever you please. In the meantime, I would like to give you something.”
He put his chopsticks down and reached into his suit coat. From it he pulled out a silver-green envelope, which he handed to her. Elizabeth opened it and read on the ticket inside:
The Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra
Yaeko Mitsaki
She didn’t see anything else: not the date or time or even the venue. She saw Yaeko’s name, and that was all she needed to see. She gawked at the ticket like Charlie Bucket did the Golden Ticket. It didn’t seem real.
“I would be very pleased if you’d accompany me,” said Isao. “We also have backstage passes after the show. We will finally get the chance to meet our astonishing angel!”
Elizabeth remembered little else of lunch save Izumi’s general kindness, and that the concert was tomorrow night, and that she agreed to stay at Isao’s home for the rest of her stay (“purely platonically, please let me assure you”), and that he would send someone to her hotel to retrieve her and her belongings later.
Izumi kissed her hand at the entrance to the restaurant; she said good-bye to him and Isao, and hopped into a cab back to her hotel.
The ticket wasn’t long out of her sight at any time. She finally acknowledged that it wasn’t going to stay in her purse and simply kept it snug in her grip.
Yaeko Mitsaki had never met her. But in a very real and significant way, she had changed Elizabeth forever. She wished she could return the favor someday, and uttered a silent prayer that she would be blessed with the chance.
Things were looking up. Watching the city of Tokyo pass by, she wondered how long it would be before it all came crashing back down.
Dr. Akimoto’s home was small but very well appointed and cozy. Elizabeth put her belongings in the spare bedroom and joined him in the garden for tea. The garden was no more than a thousand square-feet, but was meticulously tended and gave the feeling of privacy and quiet. Isao’s home was near the top of a hill in the Tokyo suburbs; Elizabeth had taken a moment before joining him to look out the living room windows. Beyond the other homes, the Tokyo skyline rose distantly in haze. She closed the door and went to the garden, where he sat at the table. He smiled and poured tea.
“It is good to be home.”
“Won’t you miss it?” she said, sitting. “It’s quite beautiful.”
“As is Switzerland.”
“Have you ever been there before?”
“Oh, yes. My brother’s second wife is Swiss. He has lived there for more than a decade now. I try to visit at least once a year.”
She took a sip of tea. “It’s not like I’m looking a gift horse in the mouth, but … I must admit that Izumi’s description of my duties with Yaeko was quite vague. Don’t get me wrong—I’m very excited to do it.”
“There are many details he hasn’t given you because the tour really isn’t even in the planning stage.”
She knew that; she was simply hoping, more than anything, that things had progressed even a tiny bit in the past three hours since they spoke at the restaurant.
“Izumi is working with Yaeko’s current manager behind the scenes. I can tell you this because you’re out of the loop, but please don’t repeat it to anyone: the Mitsakis don’t like Yaeko’s current manager. He’s apparently a very demanding fellow, and somewhat unfriendly as well. They are quietly seeking to replace him. Izumi has been angling to be their first choice if and when they ever get around to firing him. We’ll see what happens.”
“Oh, I hope he gets the job!”
“As do I. Funny thing about my friend Izumi: when he was growing up, he gained a somewhat undeserved reputation as a slacker. He did not achieve high marks at school, and everyone thought he would make little of his life. But then in high school he discovered classical music, and the rest is history. He is probably the finest classical music critic in the world today. But then,” he grinned, “I am quite biased, just as I am with you.”
She smiled. “I really appreciate that you told him about me.”
“There isn’t a kinder man in the world.”
“I get that feeling.”
“The concert isn’t until tomorrow night, and if I may be so bold, I’m guessing that you didn’t bring anything to wear to it.”
“Oh, I’ve got a couple outfits that should work.”
“I am sure you do,” he said diplomatically. He took a sip of tea and placed the fine porcelain back on the saucer. “But would you indulge me and let me indulge you?”
“How so?”
“Some of the finest fashion designers in the world live in Tokyo. I am very fortunate to know one of them. He’s my nephew. Please let me indulge you, Elizabeth, and take you to him tomorrow after brunch. No strings attached; it’s my treat.”
Elizabeth was flabbergasted. “Oh, no, I couldn’t. It would be way too expensive!”
He reached across the small table and gently touched her wrist. “Please. Allow me. Please?”
“Okay,” she said, very reluctantly. “Okay.”
“Dai will be most excited to tailor a gown for you, I am certain,” said Isao, smiling in victory.
Finding his nephew’s shop in the impossible maze that was Tokyo’s fashion district took some time, but eventually they got there. The shop was tucked between several others well down what appeared at first glance to be little more than an alley.
Dai Akimoto was young, just twenty-six, but was already recognized as a budding fashion genius. He was tall and rail thin, with a triangular plate of black hair across his gaunt face that hid one eye. He wore an unconventional high-collared embroidered shirt and bright red pants that looked like they were silk: very shiny and light. His mannerisms bordered on effeminate, and came with an edge of cold disinterest, something like a Bond villain. He greeted Elizabeth with a bow and kiss on her hand and perfect, easy-to-understand English:
“It is a great pleasure meeting you, Ms. Finnegan.”
Elizabeth, please,” said Elizabeth, a little taken aback.
Elizabeth it is,” said Dai, looking her up and down.
Isao, standing to the side, nodded. “I didn’t lie, did I?”
“Indeed, no!” smiled Dai. “You are lovely indeed, Elizabeth! Please come on back. I am sure we can put something together that will have them raving tomorrow night!”
It was then that Elizabeth noticed that a classical violin was playing on the stereo, and asked, “Is this…?”
“It is,” said Dai. “This way, please.”
“Oh, wow,” breathed Elizabeth, following him. She was suddenly torn by the need to hear Yaeko’s first album with no distractions and making polite conversation.
The music seemed to lift her off her feet and push the high walls of the store back and stoke the tired fire in the hearth of her spirit.
“I’ll probably have it on loop for a month,” quipped Dai, who stopped to speak to an employee.
The woman glanced at Elizabeth, smiled, and left.
“I’ve got something else to show you,” he said. He motioned at the woman’s retreating back. “She’ll bring it back to us.”
He walked into a softly lighted room. She and Isao followed. The room seemed to flow with a shock of colors and materials, and smelled lightly of spicy incense. There were mirrors in every corner, and cushy black seats, an ornate white table to sit at with a tea setting and various pastries already waiting. Up three stairs at the far end was a wrap-around set of floor-length mirrors. Dai motioned Elizabeth in that direction. “Shall we get you sized up?”
He was incredibly proficient. He quietly and quickly ran the tape measure over and around her. He didn’t write down the measurements, even after gathering what she guessed had to be a dozen or more of them.
Isao sipped tea and smiled contentedly from one of the cushy chairs, nodding approvingly every now and then.
Neither Dai nor Isao said much to her, as if they knew she wanted to listen to Inspiritus without interruption. She was grateful for that. Dai’s flitting about seemed removed from her immediate reality somehow, along with the pressing cares of her life. She closed her eyes and floated away.
Dai’s assistant soon showed back up with a long white tube in her fist, which she handed to him. He stood and dropped the tape measure about his neck and thanked her. She bowed and left. He turned to face Elizabeth, who came back to Earth.
“I would like to give this to you,” he said, and handed it to her.
Isao had stood and approached. “Is this what I think it is?”
Dai, smiling knowingly, nodded. “Go on! Unroll it!”
Elizabeth had noted by that point that it was a poster. With Isao’s help, she unrolled it and looked. She gasped.
It was a large and gloriously emotive photo of Yaeko Mitsaki as she played her violin. She was surrounded by others, not as large, their names beneath them: Viotti, Spohr, Paganini, De Beriot, Bull, Bell. At the bottom of the poster, in big block letters, was the caption: “FIDDLING WITH ETERNITY.” The letters had red scribbling over them. Elizabeth pulled focus and looked closer. The red scribbling was in Kanji. She gazed up. Dai smiled.
“Is this…?”
He grinned. “A poster autographed by Yaeko Mitsaki?”
She nodded.
So did he.
“Hang on to this,” he said. “It is already worth a lot of money, I am certain.”
“This is awesome!” she cried, beaming. “Thank you both!”
The gown Dai fashioned was both stunning and suitably unique: A flowing mix of pinks and blues with a shiny strapless bodice that nicely accented her shape. It was both flirty and feminine, and she felt as he put the finishing touches on it that she was finally getting the prom dress she’d always wanted as a teenager but never received. She didn’t get to go to prom, and it had, like so many things of that time, hurt her. But if this was the tradeoff, she considered, then she got by far the better deal. She beamed into the mirror as Isao and Dai and his helper appraised her.
“Well now,” said Isao, nodding, “I believe I can say without qualification that I will be accompanying the most beautiful woman in Tokyo to the concert.”
“I don’t know about that,” grinned Elizabeth, turning in place and looking over her shoulder into the mirror, “but I appreciate the compliment. Thank you so much, Isao.”
“Great work, nephew,” said Isao, shaking Dai’s hand.
Dai bowed to Elizabeth at the door; in return she gave him a big hug.
“You are a talented and extraordinarily kind person,” she said as he held her unsurely back.
It wasn’t how things were done in Japan, she knew, but she didn’t care.
Isao, waiting a few feet away, smiled. He held her gown, now on a hanger and covered.
She left Dai looking flustered but very pleased.
Getting ready for the concert later that evening, she heard a loud thump and the sound of breaking glass. She emerged from the bathroom and looked around.
He didn’t answer.
She hurried into the dark hallway, found the switch, flipped the lights on. The sound came from the kitchen. She glanced around the corner.
He was on his side. Several dishes had shattered around him. She ran to him. He was unconscious.

“Isao?” she cried. “Isao? Isao?

Thank you so much for reading this five-chapter sample!
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The next novel in the Melody & the Pier to Forever saga
is The Failure of the Saeire Insu,
which should (hopefully) be released sometime in 2020.