|A Year and Change|
ROLAND DESCARTES' first thought about the invitation for him to perform at the American White House was (of course) <why has it taken so long?> But to his credit, his next thought was that that it would be an opportunity to help reconcile his family.
Roland had fathered five children with his first wife. Luisa had tolerated his philandering from the beginning of their marriage; it was part of his nature. In fact, he had played it up; the press had put him with far more women than he had actually had affairs with. The publicity was actually good for his musical career; it made him interesting enough so that even people who weren't great fans of classical music would attend his performances, and perhaps buy his recordings.
It was so ironic that his brief encounter with an obscure Japanese woman could have caused the trouble; when it had begun, he doubted it would have been worthy of a footnote in his memoirs. At first, he had just wondered if he could control the mannish girl, and then if he could actually seduce her. Then he found out she was the companion of Michiru, a prodigy who was already making Roland jealous. When Haruka actually slept with him, he found her to be much more than he had expected--in fact, too much. She aroused feelings in him, and raised questions, that were very unsettling. He had left Japan early, simply to get away from her. And that would have been that, he had thought.
Scheduling his performances so that he did not encounter Michiru (and, therefore, Haruka) did not cause much comment with his various managers over the years (he had gone through three). Michiru did not perform in public that often, but when she did, she attracted a lot of attention. His managers assumed that Roland Descartes did not care to be outshone at any given performance. That was true enough, so they did not look further.
Years passed. Luisa and all but one of the children died in a senseless automobile accident. After the funeral, he had sent Adrienne to live with their mother's parents for awhile.
And then he had gotten an invitation -- a ticket for an afternoon recital in Oakland. The note accompanying it was from Michiru, not Haruka. Curious, he accepted.
The recital was for young musicians. They were all competent, but none really interested Roland Descartes until Michiru introduced Titania. Roland had heard that Michiru and her lover were raising two children, but he had never met them or seen pictures.
Titania had exceptional talent. She was just a child of nine, but she already played with style, although not Michiru's style. In fact, the child did not look anything like Michiru . . .
He stayed after the recital to speak with Michiru, and the child . . . and Haruka. And that is when he discovered that Titania was Haruka's child . . . and his.
Roland acknowledged her immediately, without thinking what it would mean to his other child. But it brought disaster: his in-laws began to fight him for custody of Adrienne, and Adrienne resented Titania. Roland was wise enough to see that he should have anticipated jealousy; Adrienne was his child, after all, and Titania had the special talent she and her siblings had all lacked.
None of his troubles with his first family would have ever persuaded Roland to give up Titania once he had discovered her, though. He had fallen in love with his daughter. That was why he had drifted into renewing his relationship with Haruka, and then marriage, and then into the three-cornered menage with Michiru.
And now, of course, he had fathered children by both of Titania's "mothers," Haruka and Michiru. He could not help in basking in that accomplishment, and he knew they would be talented, heirs to his musical heritage. But there had to be a place for Adrienne, too.
He insisted that all his children be allowed to attend the performance in his reply. It was only after he had sent this off that he consulted Michiru, and discovered that she had been sent her own letter from the American White House.
Perhaps it was because the coming performance in the White House, or perhaps it was because Adrienne really missed her father, or perhaps they were tired of fighting. For whatever reason, Luis and Natividad Carnera decided to consider letting their grandchild go back to Roland Descartes. But first, they would spend a few days together, to see what actually went on in his household.
Adrienne was the only surviving child of Luisa and Roland, twelve on the day when she was about to meet her half-sisters. And, while she wasn't supposed to be reading tabloids, she knew all the reputed, lurid details of her father's new wife and her lover--also his lover now. Adrienne was prepared to forgive her papa anything, but these new women who had taken her mother's place--she was prepared to hate them.
It was easy to resent Michiru. She had a reputation as a difficult performer. Watching her perform on television, and listening, Adrienne decided the woman must be made of ice. But Haruka, in theory her new stepmother, was mostly an unknown. All Adrienne had been able to learn, was that Haruka came from an important family in Japan, and that she had raced cars and motorcycles as a teenager. And, of course, that she usually dressed as a man.
Adrienne could understand enough Basque to follow her grandparents' conversation--they assumed, wrongly, that their grandchildren, who had grown up mostly in Paris and Madrid, would not know much of that ancient language. But Luisa had made a point of teaching her children, and Luisa had been her best student.
Her grandmother muttered, "I do not like to see him bringing his women into this place. It was Luisa's. He should have moved elsewhere."
Her grandfather shrugged. "If he thought about it at all, he probably thought he would lose money selling. Roland has always watched his centimes." He pressed the button at the front gate.
Adrienne agreed with her grandmother. This place, with its courtyard, was the first home she ever remembered, and thinking of her father's new women living here was salt in her wounds. Like many French homes, it looked seedy from the outside, a deliberate attempt to foil the tax appraisers. But inside it had been wonderful . . . and now it was given over to . . .
A black-haired girl came out into the courtyard, a child of seven or eight. She was dressed in a crisp white middie-dress, and carried a lovely porcelein doll in one arm. She looked very Japanese, except that her eyes were green. Wordlessly, she released the gate, and stepped back to wait for everyone to come in.
Adrienne's grandfather got down on one knee to speak with the child. "Who are you?" he asked in English, choosing the language he thought she was most likely to understand.
"My name is Nereid," the child replied in Basque.
"You speak Basque?" asked grandfather, startled.
"I can speak many languages," answered the girl, switching to English. She closed the gate behind Ramon, the last to enter, and walked briskly ahead of them back to the house. Once inside the vestibule, she slipped off her shoes and into slippers. She pointed out the house slippers to the others. "Please, leave your shoes here."
"You follow the Japanese customs here?" asked Adrienne's grandmother.
"Yes, for shoes. Please, maman says no shoes in the house. Even Mr. Descartes does not wear shoes in the house now."
They all replaced their shoes with slippers, while Nereid watched. Then she led them inside.
"Where is Anne-Marie?" asked Adrienne.
"She is away for a few days," answered the little girl.
"Will she be back in time for us to see her?" Adrienne asked.
"I don't know." Nereid looked closely at Adrienne for a moment. "I will talk to maman about it later."
"Where is everyone else?" asked Grandfather.
Nereid said, "The babies are asleep. Titania and all the grownups are practicing. Don't you hear them?"
Nereid said, "Oh. I'm sorry, I thought you could. I hear better than most people. Come, I will show you the babies."
The child led them all to the nursery, which had been the room Adrienne and Renee had shared when they last lived with their father. The infants were sleeping in their cribs. One of the children was obviously going to look much like Roland; the child had the same ears, and a considerable thatch of hair for an infant of nine weeks, of the same auburn color as her father's. The other did not have much hair at all, but the eyebrows were startling: dense as Roland's, but robin's-egg blue.
"This is your sister?" asked Adrienne.
"Yes," answered Nereid. "And your sister too. Her name is Amphitrite Marie."
"And the other?" asked Grandmother, putting a restraining hand on Adrienne's shoulder.
Adrienne narrowed her lips. She did not like having this child of a stranger bearing one of her mother's names. She blurted, "Did my father pick that name?"
Nereid turned her eyes on Adrienne for a moment before answering. "I think you should ask your father and Tenou-san about that."
And just at that moment, Hecate Luisa stirred. Her eyes opened, and fixed on Adrienne. Suddenly, Adrienne felt very ill, and had to run from the room.
Adrienne did not think it unusual that her father would not interrupt his practice. Music was a part of his life he never compromised. She could barely hear the practice in the bathroom. Before Adrienne had been born, her father had put in an expensively soundproofed practice studio to stop complaints from neighbors. She remembered many agonizing hours there, trying to please her father and her mother. But what she heard, conducted through the pipes, was not like what she remembered; no yelling, and no horribly missed notes. Two violins were playing; one of them must be Titania's.
Grandmother came in and fussed over her, but Adrienne said she was fine now, which was the truth. But the nausea had been real enough.
Coming out of the bathroom, Adrienne heard an unfamiliar man's voice call to her, "Are you well?"
Adrienne looked up-far up-into the face of the stranger, a handsome, clean-shaven man with orange-blonde hair, taller than her father, far taller than Grandfather. He was holding one of the babies, the one who looked like her father, the one who had looked at her just before she had gotten sick.
Adrienne answered, "I am well now. Who are you?"
The strange man bowed toward her. "I am Haruka." The man was a woman, was her father's new wife. "You are Adrienne?"
"Your father should be finished in a few minutes," said Haruka.
"Roland has not seen us for almost a year," said Grandmother. "Could he not cut his practice short this one day?"
Haruka's face became very rigid for a moment. "Roland is Roland. Come, have some tea while we wait. And pastry, if Neri-chan has not eaten it all." The child, who was holding the other infant as she emerged from Adrienne's old room, said nothing, but gave Haruka a noticeably icey look.
Grandfather did not have trouble talking with Haruka, for he was a car enthusiast, and Haruka knew a great deal about cars. But nothing important was said, except that Haruka revealed she had given up racing because of a disagreement with her parents. "But that was years ago. Why did you not return to it?" asked Grandfather.
"I had other things to do," answered Haruka. As she spoke, Adrienne saw her father enter the room, along with Michiru, and a girl a little taller than herself. Titania looked very much like Haruka, except that she had the hair and the heavy eyebrows of Adrienne's father-and of Adrienne. Haruka kissed her daughter's brow, and then kissed Michiru, full on the lips. Adrienne wasn't as shocked by that as she had expected to be; it looked so natural. <But they have been lovers a long time>, Adrienne thought. Her father was the new element here, she saw; the third element to be fitted somehow into the older, lasting relationship.
But while Adrienne could always reason with at least part of her mind, she was still only twelve, and what she felt toward Haruka was, still, resentment, though just a little less of it now. Whatever her nature, Haruka was a mother. Besides, Adrienne had Titania before her now, the true center of the storm. And Titania was looking at her.
The day ended without a single chance for Adrienne to be alone with her father. Adrienne found that she was to sleep in Titania's room. She got the bed; Titania unrolled a futon and lay upon that, under a garish handmade quilt with moons and stars and rabbits sewn upon it.
"Where on Earth did you get that quilt?" asked Adrienne, just as she was about to switch off the light.
"Auntie Usagi made this for me," answered Titania. "I cannot remember not having it."
"Auntie Usagi?" asked Adrienne.
Titania said, "She is . . . She is the leader of okasan's old group of friends. Okasan and maman came to America because of her, when she was about to have her first baby. That is why I was born in America. I am really an American. I have been to Japan only a few times. I can speak Japanese, but I cannot read Japanese very well at all."
"But you play very well," said Adrienne.
A short silence. "I have a special gift. But it costs me . . . I do not think you have to practice two hours a day, or four when it is not a school day."
"Papa made me practice at least two hours," responded Adrienne. "He will make me practice again."
Titania said, "No, he will not. Maman--Michiru-mama--made him promise he wouldn't force you."
"She did?" remarked Adrienne.
Titania said, "Yes . . . Neri-chan has a good ear for music, but she does not have the same gift for playing as maman or me, or even okasan. Michiru-mama does not make her practice as much as me. She won't let our otousan--our father--make you do more than you should."
Adrienne said, "Oh . . . I guess I should thank her for that."
Titania said, "If you want . . . but wait until otousan is not around."
Adrienne switched off the light. But she could not sleep. After a few minutes, she said, "Titania?"
"When did you first know about me?"
After a pause, Titania answered. "I knew I was a love child as soon I was old enough to understand such things. But I did not know who otousan was until he came to one of my recitals. Your mother was already gone by then. Otousan did not know about me before that."
Adrienne sensed there was something more. "What about my mother?"
The pause was much longer this time. "She did know. Neri-chan found some old letters from her to okasan. We did not read them, but they were from your mother . . . how did you guess?"
Adrienne said, "I found some pictures of a little girl in maman's things once. I did not know they were of you until today."
"Oh . . . do you hate me, Descartes-san?" asked Titania.
This time Adrienne made the long pause. "I hated the idea of you. And I do not like that papa has spent so much time with you. But you seem to be a good person."
"Thank you," said Titania.
"Do you know why papa gave my mother's name to your sister?" Adrienne asked.
Titania said, "He did not. Okasan picked out that name. Otousan was away when Heka-chan and Mafi-chan were born."
"Oh . . . Why does your sister have a Japanese name when you don't?"
Titania said, "Hecate is not a Japanese name. Hecate was a Greek goddess. And it is the name of a moon of Uranus, like Titania."
Adrienne said, "Really? Why did your mother choose those names?"
Titania said, "Uranus is her planet . . . it goes along with her sign . . . it is sort of a tradition with okasan and her friends. Many of their children are named for things in the sky. Auntie Naru has nine children, and they are all named for stars in the Pleiades . . . That constellation is called subaru in Japan, you know. There's a little chart of it on the cars."
"Oh . . . do you have a middle name?"
"Yes. It is Nancy."
"Nancy?" asked Adrienne.
"After Auntie Nancy," Titania said.
"Who is she to you? A real aunt?"
Titania said, "No. She is the sister of Jimmy-chan. He was the father of Sarah-chan, Auntie Usagi's first child."
"Why did your mother give you her name?" asked Adrienne.
Titania said, "Auntie Nancy saved okasan from a bad man once. And she helped get okasan get back together with Michiru-mama. It was a long time ago, when okasan was pregnant with me . . . Auntie Nancy lives far away. I have not seen her very often, but it is always nice when she visits."
"Oh . . . that is interesting. Exactly how did your Aunt Nancy save your mother?"
Titania said in a matter-of-fact way, "She made the man chase her so okasan could hide. Because okasan was pregnant, Nancy-san thought it wasn't safe for her to fight."
"Your mother fights?"
Titania said, "Yes, she is a very good fighter. She can teach you some things, to keep yourself safe. Although she is not as good a teacher as Uncle Yuuichirou for that."
Adrienne asked, "And who is this Uncle Yoo-whatever?"
Titania said, "Yuuichirou. He is married to Auntie Rei, another one of okasan's old friends from Japan. Auntie Rei had a love-child with him first. Like okasan, Auntie Rei did not tell him about it. But his mother found out. I think Auntie Usagi wrote to her. Anyway, Kumada-san married Auntie Rei as soon as his mother told him about Deja-chan. So Deja-chan does not remember when her okasan was not with her otousan. Uncle Yuuichirou learned martial arts from Auntie Rei's grandfather. He was a famous master in Japan before he became a priest. Now Uncle Yuuichirou teaches fighting. But he spends most of his time at home while Rei works. She is a lawyer . . . Uncle Yuuichirou taught me and Neri-chan how to ski, too. He is quite a good skier . . . do you ski?"
Adrienne said, "Yes. I used to ski with my father . . . our father a lot. He did not tell you?"
Titania said, "He has not told me much about you and your sisters and brothers. Most of what I know, Ann Marie told me. But she did not want to tell me much . . . Ann Marie does not like me much. She likes Neri-chan fine, but she loved your mother very much, and you and your brothers and sisters."
Adrienne said, "I guess she doesn't like to see our place being taken . . . But she hasn't written or called me much."
Titania said, "That does not sound right . . . I have seen her writing letters to you, a lot. Maybe your grandparents kept them from you."
Adrienne said, "Maybe . . . They really don't want to give me back to Father."
Titania asked, "Do you want me to go away? Back to America or to Japan, so you can have our father to yourself again?"
Adrienne said, "That is not going to happen . . . papa will never let that happen. I have seen how proud of you he is."
Titania said, "It is good for me to be with otousan, but is it bad for you?"
Adrienne found she was beginning to feel for the voice in the dark. "I wish papa would be proud of me like that. But I don't have your gift."
Titania said, "I am sure you have many gifts I do not have"
Adrienne said, "Thank you . . . Let's go to sleep now."
Adrienne woke up to the familiar sound of rain against the window, and gusting wind. Titania had gone; her futon was no longer on the floor. The room was chilly. The old home Adrienne loved had much character, but it had always been difficult to heat. She pulled up the covers while she thought whether it was worth getting up just yet, and felt something odd. She sat halfway up and saw that Titania's quilt was over her other bedclothes.
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