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Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Great Highway Started Here

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If you read Melody and the Pier to Forever: Book One, you know about the hell Yaeko Mitsaki went through after the car crash that crippled her and killed her parents, manager, and teacher.

She was in a coma for four months. At one point in the middle of it she rose to consciousness enough to hear someone close to her--someone who seemed to be carrying something metal. She felt a great pain, and cried out. In response, she heard a woman call to her to come back, to keep fighting, that she was missed.

That was Elizabeth Finnegan, who would become her future guardian.

The chapter I'm writing currently in Book Three has a very strong connection to this chapter.



“This will be difficult. You must prepare yourself.”

   He pulled into the hospital’s covered parking lot and gazed at her after turning the vehicle off. “All right?”

   She took a deep breath, nodded, and opened the door. They walked to an elevator, which opened as they approached. A man stepped out of it and gave him a nod of recognition, which he returned. They got in and the doors closed. The elevator ascended and twenty seconds later the doors opened.

   They were a hundred feet from the front entrance. Isao motioned for her to precede him. She walked out and waited, and hand in hand they went to the entrance and through.

   This was a large hospital, at least thirty floors. The lobby was spacious, bright, and cheerful. Many spied Isao and greeted him as they strode towards more elevators, this one a bank of at least eight of them, four to a side. He pressed the button on the closest one to the right. They waited as others gathered behind them.

   She took another deep breath.

   The doors opened and a boisterous crowd spilled out. When the car was empty she stepped inside. Isao pressed for floor 16 as others poked for their destinations. The doors rumbled closed and the elevator shot skyward. The motion added to Elizabeth’s adrenaline.

   When the doors split wide, he turned and stared at her. They were alone.

   “Are you ready?”

   She held up, then nodded nervously.

   “I release you from your burden of silence. Come.”

   He took her hand.

   They walked to the admittance desk. Several nurses saw him approach and greeted him with a wave and smile, which he returned. The one sitting at the desk said with a strong French accent, “Good morning, Doctor.”

   “Good morning,” he said. “This is Elizabeth. She will be visiting the Young Master.”

   The nurse gave Elizabeth a quick but courteous nod. “Please sign in,” she said, handing Elizabeth a clipboard with pen attached.

   As Elizabeth signed her name, Isao asked, “How is she?”

   “Unchanged,” said the nurse. “We’ll be adjusting her traction in a little while.”

   He glanced at Elizabeth. “Shall we?”

   She handed the clipboard back, gathered her wits, and walked with him into the hallway. A little past halfway down it they stopped at the left door, which was closed. Room 1636.

   “Okay,” he said. “Let me remind you that she is in skeletal traction. Don’t look too closely at it: it isn’t pleasant. She’s just been released from the ventilator. She’s breathing on her own now. Still, make no mistake: she is in very bad shape. She’s covered in casts and hooked up to monitoring equipment. Someone will be in shortly to adjust her traction, as you heard. She’s in it to help her broken bones heal properly. If nurses come in while you’re in there, give them whatever space they need. If they tell you to leave, do. I’m heading to my office. It’s on the twenty-fourth floor, third door down the left corridor. Come up anytime. Okay?”

   He squeezed her hands. He must have seen the fear in her eyes, because he squeezed harder and said, “This is no drill. Here you go.”

   With that, he turned and left her.

   Elizabeth gawked after him, thinking of Madelyn, then gathered herself and opened the door to Yaeko’s room.

Her first reaction after glancing at the bed and the individual in it was blank confusion. For a moment she was certain Isao had brought her to the wrong room, because the person lying there couldn’t be Yaeko Mitsaki.

   The Young Master was covered head to toe in bandages and casts. Her face was unrecognizable, a perverse, swollen, black-and-blue mass. Her beautiful black hair was missing, her head shaved. At its crown was a vicious hook with a long screw sticking in her skull that kept her utterly immobile. Two hooks attached by stiff cables that connected in an uncaring gray canopy of thin, twisting metal elevated her legs and feet.

   She was pulled tight as though on a modern-day torture rack.

   Her arms were a brutal abstract painting in bruises where they weren’t covered in bandages or stitches. Her right hand—the one farthest from Elizabeth—was in a partial cast. The left had been untouched by the crash and was resting next to her hip.

   Elizabeth found herself moving towards the bed as though summoned there by remote control. She pulled up a chair and sat. She went to take Yaeko’s hand, hesitated, and then completed the motion.

   They were together at last.

   Yaeko’s hand was soft and warm. When Elizabeth touched it she stopped breathing. Tears blurred her vision. She brought Yaeko’s hand to her lips and kissed it.

   “I’m so sorry, honey. I’m so, so sorry.”

   Where was Yaeko going to go when (if!) she got better? How the hell could anyone recover from this? Who was going to look after her? Who was going to be her guardian? She was an orphan now. She had no one.

   The world thought she was dead. Only those in this hospital and a handful outside it knew otherwise. Elizabeth was one of those very privileged few—“the network.” One of them was going to be her guardian.

   Who was going to look after her? Who?

   Izumi wanted her to make herself unforgettable to Yaeko, but not to interfere with her “waking” recovery or to make herself too known, whatever either meant. If she did, the “great highway” would be lost. But to whom? To Elizabeth or Yaeko, or to both?

   What was the “great highway”? Was it an interstate leading to a new city that Yaeko would live in after she got better? Elizabeth thought of the huge multilane freeways winding through San Diego—Interstate 5, perhaps? Or maybe it was I-8 or I-15. Maybe it was another big road in, say, Los Angeles or some other city altogether.

   Highways took people places. They were meant to convey them from point A to point B.

   Was Elizabeth supposed to drive Yaeko up that “great highway” when the time came—that is, assuming she somehow made herself unforgettable while not making herself “too known”? How was that even possible?

   How did moving to Imperial Beach fit in all this? It was obviously crucial, at least in Izumi’s view. And who was kidding who here? His view was the only one that mattered!

   He had set aside two hundred thousand dollars just to see that it happened! Two hundred thousand dollars!

   She gazed at Yaeko’s face. It was unrecognizable; still, Elizabeth saw—no, she felt—her beautiful, innocent beauty still trying to shine through, however weakly.

   “If you let me, Yaeko, I will take care of you. I will be your guardian. You just know this, little girl,” she whispered fiercely, hearing Auntie resonate in her voice, “you are not alone. I will be your strength. If you let me, I promise that you’ll never, ever be alone. Ever. Ever. Ever!

Yaeko’s violin was in the far corner behind a chair. Elizabeth stood and went to it. She reached for the case, hesitated, then grasped the handle. She sat and opened the case.

   There it was—the instrument the Young Master had used to bring forth all that awesome, inspiring, heavenly beauty. Elizabeth cautiously reached for it. It seemed as central to Yaeko’s being as the hand Elizabeth had just let go of. The bow was in its silk sheath; she turned and reached for it and pulled the sheath off.

   She thought of her own violin at home. She hadn’t played it in years. She couldn’t bring herself to thrift it or sell it. Oh, she took very good care of it; she kept it tuned and spotlessly clean. But she no longer played it. It was instead her silent companion, her last witness to a horrible time—much like Blue was. Its presence honored her survival, and so she honored its silence.

   She refocused on Yaeko’s violin.

   In a world literally choking to death with destroyers, with consumers, with the indifferent, Yaeko Mitsaki was a genuine creator. She was, by dint of her very existence, the mortal enemy of the destroyers and consumers and the indifferent. She was anathema to them. She was a true gift, the music of heaven itself given flesh and bone, and this hateful world did not deserve her.

   The door opened.

   A nurse carrying a tray laden with several metal instruments walked in. She gave Elizabeth a quick smile as Elizabeth got quickly to her feet, closing the case and resheathing the bow and putting them back in the corner.

   “No need to leave, Ms. Finnegan,” said the nurse with a smile and shake of her head. “I just need to adjust her traction and I’ll be on my way. Please stay where you are.”

   She had a nice Midwestern accent.

   Elizabeth smiled companionably. “You’re American? Where are you from?”

   The nurse came around the bed. “Cheyenne, Wyoming. You?”


   “You have a Southern accent.”

   “I was raised in Oklahoma and Texas. But California is my home.”

   “And here we are in Switzerland helping this poor girl from Japan.” She got the metal fittings fixed to the frame and looked over her shoulder with a wistful grin. “Isn’t life strange?”

   “Indeed, it is.”

   The nurse took hold of the handle of the crank—or whatever it was—at the foot of the bed, and with practiced, cautious, steady effort pushed down on it. Elizabeth glanced at Yaeko: her body seemed to straighten and lengthen very slightly.

   She suddenly twitched and cried out.

   The nurse let go of the crank and flew around the bed, hypodermic needle in hand, which she pushed into the IV bottle hanging next to Yaeko’s bed.

   Yaeko cried out again, then again.

   Elizabeth went to go to her, but stopped when the nurse held up her hand and shook her head.

   “Yaeko? Yaeko?” cried Elizabeth, unable to stay silent. She clutched herself at the sight of Yaeko’s constrained, writhing agony, “Come on, baby girl—come on … come back. We miss you. Come on, Yaeko—fight! Fight your way back!

Yaeko cried; so did Elizabeth. Other nurses rushed in; they helped to steady her head and feet. Yaeko cried out twice more, and then she fell still and silent.


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