And now, here was Carmen, at the orientation meeting for the first-year residents who would start on Monday. Ginger wondered why she stayed outside the meeting room, waiting for Carmen to come out.
At last, the meeting was over, and Ginger saw Carmen coming out. But just as Carmen noticed her, Ginger saw her eyes fasten on someone else.
It was Mamoru Chiba. Of course, he would have to show up now.
But she had waited for a long time. Ginger pushed her way past Mamoru and stuck out her hand. "Hi. Remember me?"
"Of course." Instead of taking her hand, Ginger hugged her. "It's been too damned long."
Ginger was crying, and she knew Carmen was, by the way her body pulsed in her arms. When they were both done with that, they disengaged. Ginger saw people staring, for a moment, but they all moved on once they were caught. Except Mamoru.
"Chiba. What do you want?" Ginger asked, brazenly.
Mamoru was taken aback. "Actually, I wanted to see if you would go out with me tonight. I didn't know Carmen was here."
"Just got back a few days ago," said Carmen. "I'm staying with Usagi's family for now."
"You are?" asked Mamoru. "Are you back in the program?"
Carmen said, "Yes, do you believe it? I don't think I'll ever hear of another hospital offering a residency to anyone who didn't show up for their first offer."
"Yes . . ." Mamoru turned to Ginger. "You haven't given me your answer, Ms. Han."
Here it was. Ginger Han had been allowing herself to wonder if there was a future for her with Mamoru Chiba. They'd had dozen dates, spread out over nearly a year, but each one had been more involving than the one before. A kiss with Mamoru had felt more intimate than all the sex she'd ever had.
But here was Carmen, and here was magic between her and Mamoru, no matter how decent he was being about it.
Ginger said, "Chiba, I have this rule. I don't date interns. See me next year."
Mamoru actually recoiled an inch or so, though he didn't lose much of his smile.
Then Ginger heard Carmen say, "I've got the same rule, Chiba. So run along now. I have a lot of catching up to do with Ginny."
Mamoru held up his palms, made a pushing pantomime, and then walked away.
Ginger wasn't able to ask any more questions until they were out of the hospital. Then she said, "I can't believe you said that! Do you mean it?"
Carmen said, "For now. And I saw you. You didn't tell me you fell for him."
"You haven't told me sh--" Ginger stopped herself. "You haven't told me anything real for a long time."
"You mean, about the 'Christmas Miracle?'" said Carmen sarcastically.
Ginger said, "I'm not some idiot reporter. And I don't really mean that . . . I mean, what is really going on with you?"
Carmen looked at Ginger for a long time before saying anything. Finally, she asked, "Are you really sure you want to know all of it? Because once you know, it's going to change your life."
Ginger said, "I want to know . . . I need to know. Change my life?"
Carmen said, "Yes. I mean that . . . Are you free until Monday?"
"Ginger said, Yes, I am . . . I thought we might do something. Go to Santa Cruz, or maybe fly up to Lake Tahoe. So I traded off."
"Thanks . . . I need to make a phone call. Watch my stuff." Carmen set down her shoulder bag, and then walked off. Ginger watched her walk to a spot far enough away so she couldn't hear, get out her cellphone, and use it. She talked for quite a long time, occasionally giving her a little wave. Then she finally came back. "Back to your place for some things, and then we're off."
"For where?" asked Ginger.
"For my place," said Carmen. "I'm staying with Usagi's family."
Ginger Han exclaimed, "With Mamoru's ex? I thought you were joking!"
Carmen said crisply, "No. Come on, we need to get going. Where's the Benz?"
Ginger said, "I don't have it. My mom and dad won't pay my insurance any more, so I gave it back. I never used it much here, anyway."
Carmen asked, "What have you been doing?"
Ginger said, "Bumming rides. Mostly from Mam--from Chiba."
Carmen said, "Gotcha. Here, call him up." She handed Ginger her cellphone.
Ginger said, "I just told him I wouldn't date him. So did you."
Carmen said, "This isn't a date. Call him."
Ginger Han had called Mamoru, and he had arrived promptly--actually, within minutes. Whatever it was that Carmen had promised to tell her, she obviously wasn't going to spill in front of Mamoru . . . unless he already knew. But Mamoru had always been a person of secrets; Carmen hadn't been.
There was something else that Ginger thought about a lot on the long crawl through Friday traffic. She had seen Usagi, or Usako, as Mamoru nearly always called her, only once, years ago now, and had never spoken with her. Now she was going to spend a weekend under the same roof with Mamoru's mysterious ex.
Ginger Han's parents were both architects and she had thought she would become one herself before meeting Carmen and deciding to switch to medicine. That, and the need to focus on something she was confident with, led her to start evaluating the mansion as soon as she saw it. Her first comment was really to Carmen, though of course Mamoru could hear as well. "My mother and father would throw up if they saw this place!"
"Why? What's so bad?" asked Carmen.
Ginger said, "Well, just look at the front! Pillars from all three orders! And they look like they just hold up the upper floor! No transition. I bet they started building this in the late Thirties, and then added the pillars in 1940 or 1941."
"Why?" asked Carmen, sounding bemused.
Ginger said, "Because it's a pathetic attempt to make this place look like Tara. You know, Gone With the Wind? The movie came out in 1939. Inspired a lot of bad architecture."
At that time, they had negotiated the front driveway and Mamoru had stopped in front of the front door. Ginger looked up to see two blondes, both holding children. One was Minako Aino, who waved and smiled at her as Ginger looked up. The other, slightly shorter, was Mamoru's ex.
They were not the only people there. As Ginger got out and fetched the few things she had brought from her tiny apartment, two women and a man, younger than either of her parents but clearly of the generation before her own, talked to Mamoru in Japanese. Ginger had some Japanese, but they were speaking very fast and actually arguing, if politely; she didn't follow much of it and didn't try, because it was private. But she did not fail to catch that the older people wanted Mamoru to stay. And as she passed by the two blondes at the entrance, she saw a little strawberry-blonde girl looking at the scene with sad eyes. Then the little girl looked up into Ginger's eyes, and Ginger knew she had an enemy.
Looking away and down for a moment before she went inside, Ginger saw someone she hadn't noticed. Standing beside the steps up to the too-narrow portico was a little man--a midget. He looked up at her smiling, and put a hand to the bill of his cap, which bore the legend: "Because I'm the Boss and You're Not." Ginger realized that he was in a perfect position to look up her skirt.
Ginger hurried inside.
Ginger like the interior better. There was a vast, high-ceilinged front room that ran the width of the house. She could see rooms high overhead, with two broad stairways leading up to a complete walkway. "Looks like an old hotel."
"Not surprising," said an unfamiliar voice. "The woman who put it up was an heiress. Her family made their money in hotels." It was the little man. He held up his hand, and Ginger took it for the moment. "D.A. Alverson. I'm the current owner. And yourself?"
"Ginger Han. What does the D.A. stand for?"
The little man said, "Don't ask. 'Dick' will do, if you want to be familiar."
Ginger said, "I've heard a little bit about you before, Mr. Alvarson."
The little man said, "Actually, 'Doctor,' if we are being more formal, Ms. Han. I've acquired a few degrees over the years."
Mamoru's ex swept up to them and spoke to Alvarson in Japanese. "Let her go, please." Then she switched to English, and said to Ginger, "Come, I'll show you your room."
Five hours after she arrived, a little past midnight, Ginger was at last alone with Carmen in the room they were sharing. Carmen was saying as she got into her bed, "I'm glad you're here tonight. I think I'll sleep better."
"Why?" asked Ginger.
Carmen said, "Well . . . Aly slept in my room ever since she came back. I got used to having someone around, I guess . . . She says she's doing all right, but I think she's having the same feelings . . . I miss the little frog, you know?"
Ginger said, "It's only been a few days."
Carmen said, "Yeah . . . Yeah, I guess . . ."
Ginger waited a moment before saying, "All right, we're finally alone. You want to tell me what is really going on with you, Carmy?"
Carmen sat up in her bed, put her pillows behind her back, and curled up, hugging her legs with her arms. Ginger had seen this a few times before; it was the sign she was going to talk for a long time.
"What do you think of Mamoru's ex now?" asked Carmen.
"Which one?" asked Ginger.
Carmen said, "The one that counts. Usagi, or Usako, like he always calls her."
Ginger said, "Yeah. Her dad calls her that, too, I noticed."
Carmen said, "Well, what do you think of her?"
Ginger said, "I don't know . . . just a girl with a couple of little kids. She's a good mom. She's really good looking, but Minako looks even better. She's not dumb, but compared to Ami? And I can still see there's a thing between him and Rei. I just don't see what he sees in her . . . except . . ."
"Except what?" Carmen prompted.
"Well, the way she gets people to jump. It's like isn't paying attention to what's going on, and suddenly, she tells you to do something, and you do it . . . Actually, that's kinda like my mom." Ginny shrugged, with hands in the air. "Maybe Mamoru likes a woman who can boss him? I didn't see that. That's not me . . . But what does any of that have to do with what's going on with you? Have you really fallen for Mamoru? I thought you were after him because he was the hardest to get. That's you, Carmy."
Carmen said, "It was me, when I started . . . "
Ginger said, "Is that it? You've really fallen for Mamoru?"
Carmen said, "No, that isn't it. He's gotten to me, but you're the one who has really fallen. Don't try to B.S. me about it. I know it. And Usagi knows it. That's why I'm telling you this stuff."
Ginger asked, "Are you trying to talk me out of--"
Carmen riposted, "Out of what? You don't date interns, remember?"
Ginger realized Carmen had, once again, caught her out. "All right . . . I want to try with Mamoru. And I'm going to give him my best shot. And you aren't going to talk me out of it, Carmy. Not you, not Usagi, not anybody."
Carmen said, "Then do it. You have my blessing. You have Usagi's blessing."
Carmen said, "You do . . . really. And that means a lot more than you think it does."
Ginger Han said, "Carmy, you're talking crazy here."
Carmen said, "Give me a minute! . . . Just listen, okay? Okay?"
"Okay . . ." replied Ginger uncertainly.
Carmen looked away from Ginger, bending her head down. "You've heard a lot of crap on TV by now about the 'Christmas Miracle,' haven't you?"
Ginger said, "Yeah. Some really bad stuff."
Carmen said, "Well, since we didn't tell them everything, they made stuff up. I'm gonna tell you what really happened. My parents don't even know this, Ginny. Usagi wanted to tell them, but we talked her out of it, Aly and I. And Ami."
"Usagi? Ami? What do they have to do with Aly?" Ginger asked.
Carmen did not turn back to Ginger. She went on. "The night Aly came back, I was alone in the house. I got a call from Ami. She told me to go open the back door. I know, it was crazy, but I did it. I waited for maybe a minute, maybe two, freezing my ass off. And then they were just there. Usagi, and Ami, and Rei, and Minako, and Mako--she's that tall one with the ponytail. And they'd brought Aly with them."
"They stayed for maybe an hour. Mako made some herb tea for everyone, and Usagi pretty much cleaned out my refrigerator. Finally Aly told Usagi and Minako they needed to get home to their children. And they went out the back with the others, and they were gone."
Ginger said, "You mean, they found Aly and brought her back? After all that time? Why--"
Carmen said, "They found her . . . and they brought her back."
"How?" asked Ginger.
Carmen said, "I don't know. I don't think I want to know all of it. Aly won't even tell me . . . But they brought Aly back. Brought her back . . ."
"Carmy, I don't understand."
Carmen continued to stare down. "Do you remember hearing about that cabin? In February?"
Ginger said,"Yeah, I remember." That had looked like the end, when they had found the bodies of all the girls under the cabin. "But Aly said she didn't remember . . . you mean she does remember?"
Carmen said, "No, not the cabin . . . but she remembers the guy."
Ginger exclaimed, "Why didn't she tell the cops? He's still out there!" Xavier Goudan, the Cabin Killer, had never been arrested; that would have been news much too big to miss.
"No, he isn't," said Carmen quietly.
"How do you know that?" asked Ginger.
Carmen said, "Because Usagi told me. They found him, too. He's dead."
"You believe her?" asked Ginger.
Carmen said, "Yes, I do. When the Angel of Death tells you someone is dead, you believe her."
Ginger Han repeated the phrase, "The Angel of Death."
Carmen said, "Yes . . . sitting there in my kitchen with her black wings, scarfing down all my mom's herring, she told me what he looked like, what he said, and what they did to him . . . They call themselves senshi--that means "soldiers" in Japanese--" "I know that, Carmy," Ginger interrupted, "I can still speak pretty good Japanese." "Just listen, Ginny," said Carmen. "Whatever they call themselves, they're like angels. And Chiba is one of them. That's what you have to know."
Ginger said slowly, "Right . . . you want to tell me why this Usagi wants me to take her old boyfriend?"
Carmen said, "I can't. I don't know. Aly does, but she won't tell me that, either."
"Right," said Ginger.
Carmen Gonsoles said, "You don't believe any of this, do you?"
"No," said Ginger Han, "I mean . . . the Angel of Death?
Carmen Gonsoles sighed. "It's the truth, Ginny. It really is."
Saturday morning. As usual for Ginger, it began with a brief pang from the time when she was serious about following her mother's faith, but that soon passed. Then she looked at Carmen, and found her still asleep.
Ginger looked at Carmen for a long time, thinking of the tale she had told. Did she really believe it? Carmen had set up some quite elaborate hoaxes before, but not with Alison . . . no, she believed it. Should she tell anyone? Who? <Mamoru? No, not Mamoru, not yet . . . >
With those happy thoughts, Ginger slipped on her robe and quietly left the room. The main room below was empty. She heard faint sounds of a television somewhere. She decided to follow it. Presently she smelled starch, and heard the soft hiss and muffled thumps of an iron. All these clues led her to the laundry room, where she found Usagi ironing while her older daughter held her younger one in her arms in front of a small portable television. The older child gave Ginger another look.
Usagi said, "Be nice, little moon. She is a nice lady."
The older child said, "She wants to take Mamo-chan away."
Usagi said, "No one is going to take Mamo-chan away from us, little moon. Be polite, speak English now." Usagi put the iron into a wall rack, and went to her girls, kneeling down behind them and taking them in her arms. "Be nice, please . . . You are worried about something, Han-san?"
Ginger said, "Yes . . . Carmen told me a crazy story last night. I think what happened to her sister affected her. Do you know anything about it? It was about you."
Usagi said, "She said she wanted to tell you because you were her friend, and she didn't think she could be your friend if she didn't."
Ginger said, "Wait a minute . . . do you know what she told me? I mean, she told me you were an angel. She said . . . well, she said some other stuff, but she told me you had wings."
"Wings? . . . like these?"
Ginger Han stumbled back. Usagi now had great black wings, folded around her children. Jewels studded her hair, including four rubies set in the eyes of two silver skulls which now adorned the little buns she wore. Ginger saw the older girl pull down a wing far enough to peek out at her. "Are you going to turn her into dust now, okasan?" asked the girl.
The Death Angel said, "No, little moon. Han-san is a nice lady. Her heart is good. It is full of love. She loves Mamo-chan, more than she thinks. If he chooses her, she will love him forever. She will make Mamo-chan happy. That's what we want for Mamo-chan, isn't it, little moon?"
"Yes, okasan," said the girl, dropping back into English, but still using the Japanese word for "mother."
"Usako! You frightened her."
Ginger Han jumped. It was Usagi's father, right behind her.
"I am sorry for that, otousan. But I had to show her, or she would think Carmen-chan has lost her mind."