The Olsen Home
Fire. And smoke. Acrid smoke filling her nostrils.
But mostly fire. The flames. The brightness of them as they surrounded her. Consuming the unfamiliar building. Licking her flesh.
She awoke with a start. The darkness was never so welcome as when she awoke from the dream.
The firefighters and doctors had said she was most likely unconscious when the fire started, but Akiko wondered if she had awakened, if only for a moment. As for her sight, no one could say for certain when she had lost it. It seemed to be from around the time of the fire. She could remember the sensation of sight, just as she could “see” in her dream. But she could no longer experience vision. Seeing was one of the few things she could remember from before the fire. Before three months ago.
The doctors were still trying to determine exactly why she couldn’t see. She did not appear to have any physical injury to her eyes. It was possibly the result of smoke inhalation. Or it could be neurological. Or psychological. It didn’t really matter. Her waking world was darkness.
Just as she wondered what time it was her alarm clock buzzed. She reached out to where it rested on her nightstand and switched it off. She sat up, the comfortable bed making her reluctant to start her day. She could already smell the bacon Mrs. Olsen was cooking downstairs.
She washed her face and got dressed. She never had to worry about what colors she wore. When Mrs. Olsen had bought her clothes, Akiko had asked for everything to be either black or charcoal grey, so she wouldn’t have to worry about clashing. No one at school ever said anything about her clothes, so she could only assume her foster mother had complied with her request.
As for school itself, Akiko felt very fortunate to be attending the public high school. The institute for the blind worked closely with the school and provided a personal aide for Akiko in the form of Mr. Treacher. “Mr. Treacher, the blind teacher,” the students called him, which sounded funny to Akiko. It made it seem as if Mr. Treacher was the one who was blind.
She ate her breakfast quickly. She was anxious to get to school, not so much for the class work, but because of Sarah. The two girls shared several classes and had become friends. It was Sarah who had told Akiko that Tommy Porter liked her.
“He always eats lunch with you,” Sarah had pointed out. “And you should see the way he looks at you.”
Akiko had been skeptical. “Why would Tommy Porter be interested in a blind girl?” she had asked her friend.
“You are the new girl,” Sarah replied. “The new girls always attract the attention of a few guys, no matter who they are. And you are cute. Exotic-looking. I think Jenny McGivens is jealous of you.”
“Jenny McGivens the cheerleader?” Akiko had asked incredulously.
“Mmm hmm,” Sarah answered. “Besides, you haven’t seen what Tommy looks like.”
Akiko giggled. “Is he ugly? Deformed or something?”
“I’m not saying anything,” Sarah said smugly. “Just don’t sell yourself short.”
This particular day, Akiko was looking forward to seeing both Sarah and Tommy. Recently Tommy had made a habit of reading to Akiko in the library between lunch and their next class. She had been learning Braille with Mr. Treacher, but she had a long way to go until she was fluent. Besides, all of the books in the school library were either print books or ebooks.
Akiko took the bus, naturally. It was crowded and noisy and smelled of unwashed teenagers and clashing perfumes. Akiko found it difficult to engage in conversation on the bus because of the noise. Instead, she sat quietly, catching bits of conversation.
“Oh, my god! I can’t believe....”
“WHAT?? You’re kidding!”
“...for Friday’s test....”
When the bus arrived she waited for the other students to leave before she herself stood to get off. That was how she usually did it. It wasn’t that the others were mean; but teenagers could be very self-centered. They seemed to forget she was there and needed just a little more time to exit the bus. Her cane was already folded and stored in her backpack. She hated her cane and rarely used it. Carrying a white cane made her feel handicapped. She often wouldn’t wear her glasses, either. “Why should I wear glasses?” she had asked Mrs. Olsen. “They don’t do anything for me. If people get creeped out because of my eyes, they can look away. Or just deal with it. I never wore glasses before.”
She had stopped then, wondering if her last statement were some kind of latent memory, or just her stubbornness talking.
In any case, Mrs. Olsen always insisted she wear her dark glasses and carry her cane. She took them with her, but she always folded the cane and put it in her backpack. Today she kept her glasses on.
“Enjoy your day, Miss Akiko,” a husky voice said as she started down the short steps to the door. Three steps, and then the big step to the pavement. When she had first ridden the bus, she had to pay special attention to the steps. Now it was almost automatic.
“Thanks, Mr. Johnson,” she said. Mr. Johnson was the bus driver. He always told her to enjoy her day when she got off the bus. That was another reason she liked to wait until the others had left.
She stepped down and could feel the warm sunshine on her face. She headed toward the building and was almost to the door when she wondered what
After lunch, she and Tommy headed to the library as they had done for the past few weeks. She had put away her dark glasses after first period.
Tommy was reading Shoe Marks. It was a paranormal novel supposedly inspired by true events. As he read to her, Akiko wondered about him. It was hard for her to believe he had any interest in her, yet here he was, spending time with her when he could be doing literally anything else. She wondered if he could fall for a girl like her. Then she wondered if she weren’t falling for him. She reached out. Her hand found his shoulder, and she kept it there as he read to her.
He read right up until the bell rang, like he always did. They both stood. Akiko felt a strange warmth inside, and a giddy feeling in her stomach like water in a brook gurgling inexorably toward the sea, only warmer. The corners of her mouth turned up in a smile. “Thanks,” she said.
“I was wondering,” Tommy said quickly. There was a quaver in his voice and Akiko was suddenly and inexplicably acutely aware of her own heartbeat. “Maybe we could go out sometime.”
Akiko felt a smile break over her face much as the warm sun had done when she stepped off of the bus that morning. “I’d like that.”
* * *
Akiko had no memory of the rest of her school day. It wasn’t like the lost memories of her life before the fire. But she couldn’t focus on anything. Her teacher’s words were no more important than the drone of an air conditioner in her ears. She would suddenly find herself seated at her desk in class with no memory of having walked there. Mr. Treacher was there beside her, as always during classes, but he may as well have been far out at sea. All Akiko could think about was Tommy: his voice, his scent, the way his hand had felt on hers when she had given him her phone number.
She felt Mr. Treacher nudge her, trying to bring her focus back into the classroom. He wasn’t rough, but his elbow wasn’t exactly gentle. Not like Tommy’s hand. Mrs. Forsythe, her English Lit teacher, was reading Poe. Why did they have to study Poe? Edgar Allen was dead. Akiko had no doubt he had been creepy when he was alive. Annabel Lee made her shudder in disgust. Though Poe only mentioned “lying down by the side” of his beautiful Annabel Lee, Akiko was certain the poem was about necrophilia. She shuddered again, and Mr. Treacher put his hand on her shoulder. It was a touch that was supposed to remind Akiko to sit still.
Why would Poe write such a thing? Why would anyone want to focus on the death of a lover? Why not write about the joy of life with the someone you love? About the smiles and the laughter, about long walks hand-in-hand with Tommy. About how Tommy is such a pillar of strength; how he will be her shoulder to cry on when she feels she just can’t go on anymore.
Great, Mrs. Forsythe had called on her. She had probably asked a question, and since no one had offered an answer, she had called on Akiko. Why today? Why was this the one class she and Tommy didn’t share?
She fidgeted in her seat. “I’m sorry,” she said, hoping she might at least get credit for her honesty, “could you repeat the question, please?
The Olsen Home
“No,” Mrs. Olsen said.
“But...” Akiko tried to protest.
“You’re too young to date. What happens when your parents get you back and find out you’ve been dating? And a boy clear across the country at that.”
Her parents. They still hadn’t turned up. As for Akiko, she had been easy to identify in spite of her memory loss. Post a few pictures online and someone was bound to respond. She was Akiko Yamada, daughter of Hiroshi and Jayne Yamada of
“Besides,” Mrs. Olsen said, “Where would you go? What would you do?”
“I told you. We’re having lunch at Cafe Claude, and then hanging around
Akiko sighed in frustration. She wanted to whine, Mom! but sonkei insisted she refer to her foster mother as Mrs. Olsen. (Sonkei? What did that mean? Where had that word come from?)
“Kathleen.” It was Mr. Olsen. Akiko had heard him out in the hallway, but now he entered the room to offer his opinion. “Let the girl go. She’s a teenager. Nothing is going to happen in two hours at the Square. Besides, how do we know she hasn’t dated already?” That’s a fair question, Akiko thought.
“But she’s....” Mrs. Olsen stopped suddenly, leaving her remark unfinished. Mr. Olsen finished her thought for her.
“Blind? You always said you didn’t want her to think of herself as handicapped. It’s not like she’ll be alone.”
“After finals,” Mrs. Olsen said. “Then...we’ll see.”
It’s Tops Coffee Shop
Akiko liked it here. The burgers were amazing (as her nose always reminded her whenever she visited), and the desserts were out-of-this world. It was busy today, as usual.
The school year was over, all of her finals complete, and Akiko was assured that wherever she might end up next fall, she would be a high school sophomore. She had done well in the weeks at
To celebrate the end of the school year, Mrs. Olsen had brought Akiko here, to her favorite restaurant in town. They sat in a booth near the front of the restaurant. Akiko decided on the Blue and Bacon Burger with fries. Mrs. Olsen ordered an omlet. She always made a point of eating healthy. Akiko wondered if Mrs. Olsen thought of herself as fat. From the times Mrs. Olsen had hugged her, she didn’t feel fat.
They talked. They talked about how proud Mrs. Olsen was of Akiko. They talked about Tommy (of course). They talked about everything except Akiko leaving. Although her parents had still not been found, there were several leads on Akiko Yamada from
The food arrived and they fell upon the meal. Akiko enjoyed her burger; the tangy bleu cheese and the savory bacon. The conversation continued between bites.
Akiko became aware of a problem at the counter, where the cash register undoubtedly was. From the gasps and murmurs around her, she suspected others were aware as well.
“Put it in the bag,” a man suddenly shouted. Akiko could hear distraught whimpers from the other side of the counter.
By now people in the diner were yammering. It was difficult for Akiko to separate one voice from another, although she was acutely aware of where everyone was.
“Hands up,” the man shouted, and by the sound of his voice Akiko could tell he was facing the dining room now. “As I come to each table,” the man demanded, “you will place your cash, jewelry, and other valuables in this bag.”
Akiko put her hands up beside her head. She could hear the man, two tables behind her.
“In the bag,” he growled.
“Okay! Okay, don’t shoot,” a woman pleaded.
Akiko listened carefully. She could hear the man walk to the booth immediately behind her. The man hadn’t spoken to a partner, and from the sounds in the room she concluded he was working alone.
She heard the rustle of his pants as he stepped back from the booth behind her and walked towards Mrs. Olsen and herself. In the merest fraction of a second, Akiko balled her right hand into a fist and swung hard to her right and behind her. She felt her fist connect with the man’s midsection, just as she had known it would. She heard the rush of air leaving his lungs and brought her fist up to connect with his face just as he was doubling over. She was sure he had a gun, and she knew she had to get it away from him to keep him from getting off a shot. Or worse, firing it accidentally. She hooked her arm back toward herself, trapping his outstretched arm. With her left hand she grabbed at his hand, digging her fingernails deep into his flesh and driving his hand down onto the table top. She heard him scream, heard the gun strike the table before clattering to the floor. She kept her hold on his hand as she drove her other elbow back, catching him in the throat.
In one swift movement, she leapt out of the booth, kicking high. Her foot struck his jaw, and before he could fall Akiko delivered a powerful kick to his midsection.
People were shouting in alarm. She heard him hit the floor, and she leapt on top of him. He was fighting back, swinging at her. She tried to restrain him, but he managed to strike the side of her head with his fist. She curled her fingers into a Bear Claw (why had that term suddenly jumped into her mind?) and brought it down swiftly toward his face. She caught one of his eyes, as she had hoped. She grabbed his right arm and leveraged him over onto his stomach, sitting on his back. She kept his arm twisted behind him, took one of his fingers and bent it back sharply, teaching him a new kind of pain.
“Someone call 911,” she said calmly.
The man was cursing, calling Akiko all sorts of foul names. When she got tired of hearing him, she bent his finger back more. She knew it wouldn’t break. Probably.
End of Chapter One.
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