Enter the Darkness
Chapter 7: Trial by Ordeal
The rest of that year went by in a blur for me. I was so busy I barely noticed the passing of one month into the next. Besides the extra school work I was doing, soccer season got into high gear when we got back from Christmas break. I also began taking karate lessons from retired U. S. Army Lt. Colonel Masahiro Yoshino. He was an ancient Japanese vet from World War II who agreed to teach me, since he had no sons to whom he could pass his knowledge. He required me to study with him two hours a day, every other day. He taught me martial philosophy, Japanese history, judo, kendo, as well as karate and a Japanese version of knife fighting. Not unlike Ralph Machio in the movies, I was practically his servant. By the end of that summer I had steel cables for muscles that you could literally see when I wore shorts and t-shirts. I doubt there was enough fat on my body to grease a cake pan. As I got better with my martial arts studies, my soccer skills soared even further than they already were. I was now getting visits from the local high school coaches at my games.
About a month before school was to start back up for my sixth grade year in the Fall of 1986, daddy got permission from Mr. Yoshino to let me go with him to New York for two weeks. Technically it was TDY for him, but since it was another temporary analysis assignment at Griffiss AFB I was going to accompany him so I could visit my grandparents and cousins in Oneida. Instead of the transport plane they put us on the last time we went up to New York, daddy was booked on an afternoon commercial flight out of Dulles to Syracuse with a stopover at JFK. When we got to Syracuse daddy got a rental car and we drove to Oneida.
It was late when we got to my grandparents' house but the lights were on. As soon as we were out of the car the front door opened and Anika came running out of the house. "Alexa! God I missed you!" she yelled, catching me up in a hug. She was fifteen and already had the figure of a woman. She was wearing what looked to me like a designer dress, diamond earrings, leather shoes, and the smell of a subtle but nice perfume enveloped me as she enfolded me in her arms.
Aunt Sabrine and Jake came out to greet us too. While daddy hugged Aunt Sabrine, Jake, now thirteen, shook my hand and grinned at me. "You look buff, cuz. What have you been doing?"
"Soccer and martial arts."
"Damn! You look like you could kick Anika's boyfriend's butt and he's on the varsity football team," he told me with a sly glance at his sister.
"She could not!" Anika yelled back, then turned red and looked apologetically at me.
I shrugged back at her with a smile right before Aunt Sabrine grabbed me in a tight embrace. "I missed you, kiddo," she told me, her voice thick. She smiled and felt my arm. "And I think Jake is right, you do look buff."
The next morning I was up first. I slipped on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt and went into the backyard to run through my kendo drills with a spare broomstick I found in the garage. I quickly went through those and then stilled my breathing with my eyes closed. When I was calm and at peace with my surroundings I began my karate drills. Each movement fluid, muscles flowing with the move, one into the next into the next, all with my eyes closed. I was centered and still, even as I moved. Striking imaginary foes, watching them fall at my feet in my mind. With a last open-handed strike to the throat and a sharp exhale, I straightened and opened my eyes...
... To see almost my entire family plus Mickey and Janine watching me with odd expressions on their face while they nibbled on toast and bacon. I was covered in sweat and needed a shower but the looks I was getting seemed to indicate that a discussion was coming.
They all shook themselves and had the good grace to look semi-embarrassed for staring at me like I had grown two heads. "You learned all of that in less than a year?" Aunt Sabrine asked softly, her eyes still wide.
"Master Yoshino says I am the best student he has ever seen," I shrugged and replied by way of explanation.
"That was real cool, Alexa!" That was Jake, and Mickey was standing next to him nodding her agreement. I saw future pleading with Aunt Sabrine to take karate lessons in his eyes.
Anika looked stunned into insensibility. Her eyes were wide, her brow furrowed, and her mouth slightly open. She was already dressed for the day in another beautiful dress that looked like it had come out of a designer's workshop: all silk and lace and pearl buttons with gold threaded trim. She had lavender leather high-heel shoes on and her makeup was model-perfect. Janine was standing next to her and she was looking like the British lady she was. If Anika had developed into womanhood, Janine had blossomed. She was beautiful, ladylike, and was dressed even more upscale than Anika.
And she had a look on her face that bordered on outrage. I think I have mentioned before that Anika is not a liberated woman. Well, Janine is even worse. Despite Margaret Thatcher and Geraldine Ferraro and Sally Ride, Janine's mind worked almost like a woman out of the Middle Ages. She shuddered and blinked rapidly a few times when she realized she was staring and then turned and went back into the house. Anika looked apologetically at me and followed. I heard a snort and looked over at Mickey and Jake but couldn't decide who had done it.
It was then that I noticed that daddy was not in the crowd at the back door. "Where's my dad?"
Aunt Sabrine came down the three steps to the yard with a kind smile on her face. "He had to leave early this morning to go to work. He said to let you know he would be back around seven tonight and that you were not to go out without your things," she said gently. Then her face darkened and she whispered, "Does 'your things' mean what I think it means?"
Since she had the same look on her face then that she had when she found out about me walking around with knives and learning how to use them, I made the safe assumption that she meant my knives and nodded, trying very hard to keep an impudent grin off my face. Her eyes scanned my skimpy clothing and cleared, the smile returning since she correctly guessed that I could not be hiding a knife in the clothes that were clinging to my body with sweat.
"I need a shower," I said before running past everybody into the house.
I grabbed a pair of athletic socks, a pair of panties, a pair of loose jeans, a blue t-shirt, and a loose button-down shirt with short sleeves from my bags and my knives and knife harness from the nightstand and hit the bathroom before anyone could bug me. The reaction of Anika's seeing me workout was sort of disheartening. I had been writing her every week since we first met and she was really the closest thing I had to a mother so her reaction was depressing and jolting and uncomfortable. I turned the shower on hot and quickly soaped myself down and rinsed. Then I just let the water hit the back of my neck as I leaned against the shower wall and pondered the path my short life had taken so far. I probably would have been in there longer but someone had apparently taken a shower while I was outside and the hot water ran out on me.
I had come to no earth-shattering conclusions and as I got out and dried off, I tried to put it out of my mind. Anika and I were never going to be the same person. I was never going to dress up in designer outfits, wear make-up, and pine away after the boys in the neighborhood. And Anika was never going to roll around in the mud playing football, practice for ten hours straight trying to learn a back kick, and carry sharp objects with the intention of hurting people if they messed with her. I would always love my beautiful cousin, but I would never understand her and I guess the same would have to go for her. I hoped.
Mickey was still in the house when I was dressed and went down for some breakfast. Fake smiles all around were what greeted me when I entered the kitchen. Anika and Janine were gone but everyone else was still there. Aunt Sabrine brought a plate of pancakes and bacon to the table for me, her eyes were troubled but the smile she flashed me was kind and genuine.
Grandpa, who was still asleep when I was putting on my show, came into the kitchen looking tousled and grumpy. "What is with all the noise so early in the morning?" he demanded as he plunked himself into a chair and took the cup of coffee Grandma handed him. Grandpa was never in a good mood in the morning until he had at least two cups of coffee.
I quickly ate my breakfast and then bolted with Mickey in tow.
When we were several streets over from my grandparents' house, I looked at Mickey and asked something that I had been wondering since last year's trip to England. "Is there something between you and Jake?" I almost laughed as her face first went pale and then beet red, her eyes about as wide as was possible without her eyeballs falling out. She didn't say anything for a minute or two so I asked, "Does that mean yes?"
Mickey looked over at me and her look was almost afraid. "I know how you feel about boys, but I am over a year older than you and Mom says that my hormones have started to kick in. I had to start wearing a bra and I suddenly found Jake to be really cute, instead of just cool to hang out with. He broke up with his girlfriend over me just after the New Year because she was getting jealous of me. That started me thinking about Jake in a different way and I think it made him look at me differently too because it wasn't long after that that we started being real uncomfortable around each other," she explained, her face red with embarassment, though whether it was remembered embarrassment or that she was just uncomfortable talking about it with me, I don't know. "My mom noticed and we had a couple of long talks. I guess Jake talked to someone too because we both came to the conclusion that we needed to talk at about the same time. We still hang out like we used to, but now we also go to the movies or out to eat in town every once in a while. Besides, he is kinda cute, isn't he?" she asked with a hesitant smile on her face.
I was about to ask, in a really incredulous tone of voice, "Jake? Cute?" Then I really thought about it and I shrugged and said, "I guess. I mean, he's just Jake. My cousin. I don't know. I guess I just haven't got enough hormones running through me to give a sensitive opinion on the subject of boys."
She giggled at that. "You almost sounded like my cousin Denise. She is really smart and really not interested in boys."
That reminded me. "Guess what? I am going into sixth grade next year!"
Her mouth dropped open in shock. "But I thought you were a year behind me. What happened?"
I spent the rest of the walk to the school playground telling her about the meeting between my dad and the principal and my teacher. She couldn't believe it.
"Smart and strong. That is just not fair!"
We spent the day lounging around the playground and talking. When the sun started towards the horizon, I headed back to my grandparents' house, knowing dinner would be on the table soon. I had forgotten to eat lunch and I was starving. Daddy's rental car was parked on the street when I got there so it was later than I thought. He was watching for me from the door; when I got into sight he came out with a smile on his face.
"How was your day, pumpkin?" he asked hugging me to his side and turning to walk into the house.
"Cool. Mickey and I just hung around talking. I missed her," I told him with a smile as we entered the house to the smell of baked ham, sweet potato pie, and fresh tomatoes. God I love fresh tomatoes, straight from the garden! Grandpa was a big gardener. Half the backyard was taken up with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce, cabbage, herbs, and watermelons. I rushed into the kitchen to find Anika and Aunt Sabrine cutting things up and putting them into a huge salad bowl. She laughed and tapped my hand when I darted in to steal a slice of tomato.
"Dinner is almost ready. I think you can wait."
I think the cooking is what I enjoy the most when I visit my relatives. Daddy is an okay cook but his repertoire is limited and he is just beginning to teach me to cook. Grandma and grandpa and Aunt Sabrine are all excellent cooks. In fact, grandma worked in a fancy restaurant in New York when she was younger, before she got married to grandpa.
After dinner I got washed up for bed and went into the room I was sharing with Anika. She was already dressed in her nightgown and she sat on her bed brushing her hair with a dreamy look on her face. Her eyes became troubled when I came into the room, however. It hurt to see the look in her eyes directed at me. I almost felt like I was disappointing her somehow.
"You will always be my favorite cousin, you know," she said softly, her love for me chasing the look away as she laid down the brush on her night stand. "I can't think of anything you could do that would disappoint me."
I blushed, looking at the floor as I walked over to my bed. I thought my face was better at hiding what I thought than that. "How-"
"Because I know you. I know you better than anyone else in this entire world does, Alexa. I know what your hopes and dreams are. I know what stalks your nights and makes you cry out in terror. I know your every like and love, dislike and hatred. And I know how much I mean to you, because you mean as much to me."
I looked up to see her eyes filled with unshed tears and I walked slowly over to her bed. I reached out and touched her cheek and smiled sadly at her, wiping the tears away as they fell from her lashes onto her pale face. She held out her arms to me and I collapsed into her arms, sighing into her breasts. It was only then that I realized she was quite busty, although how she hid it was beyond me. Her clothes yesterday and today were not exactly enshrouding.
"I can't pretend to understand you and what you like, Anika," I told her softly, still clinging to her, "but it would hurt something in me to think something I did hurt you or made you uncomfortable with me."
She lifted me away from her and smiled her wonderful smile, lighting up my soul. "Just because you are good at the one thing I don't understand about you doesn't mean I can't be proud of how good you are at it. I will never understand why a girl wants to fight, but that you can be good at it I can understand. Besides, I think Jacob is right, you probably could give Gregory a fight and he is almost twice as old as you are."
I think my eyes went cold at that because she flinched away from me, almost scared. "Is he hurting you?" I demanded fiercely, my hands curling into fists without asking me.
Anika shuddered. "No, but I don't think we will be going out for much longer. I don't like who he has become," she told me meekly, her eyes on her hands. A worried look came over her face and she looked into my eyes. "And he has been asking a few too many questions about you. He moved into town a year ago and he started asking about you right away. He knew about the trial of the boys who tried to kill you. Thought it was cool that I was related to you."
I would almost call it my spider-sense, but the feeling of danger that I usually get is more often than not a long way out from the danger it warns me of. For some reason the mention of her boyfriend asking about me perked all of my fighting instincts, tensing me for a fight well out from it. Somewhat annoying, to be truthful about it.
We talked for a few more minutes and then I climbed into bed and we both went to sleep.
A couple of days later I got to spend the entire day with Anika. We didn't do anything overly special but she told me that she had a date with Gregory as we started back to our grandparents' house.
"He called last night when you were in the shower. He wants to take me to the movies and then talk afterwards," she told me, an uneasiness creeping into her voice. "I don't know what to do about him. He is beginning to make me very uncomfortable. I think I am going to break up with him tonight."
I tried to keep my face as blank as possible as I asked, "Before or after the movies?"
A slight smile broke through her anxiety. "I think I am going to ask him to just take me somewhere so we can talk. Besides, there aren't any movies out that I want to see right now." She went straight to her room to get ready for her date and I went into the kitchen to see what was for dinner.
I didn't get to meet Gregory because as soon as Anika heard the growl of a car engine coming down the street she ran down the stairs and outside. I looked out the door and saw a black and gold Trans-Am sitting in the driveway. Anika hopped in the passenger side and the car growled off down the street. My spider-sense started going off again but it was dinner time.
It was almost nine when the phone rang and Aunt Sabrine called my name. "It's for you, Alexa!"
Frowning, I walked into the kitchen and took the phone from my aunt, who had a knowing smile on her face. "Hello?"
"Ah, Alexandra. I had hoped to meet you earlier in the evening, but your cousin is very fond of you and a little bit on the protective side. I think I must have pushed a little too hard in seeking to know you," a deep male voice said.
I looked up at the smile on Aunt Sabrine's face and walked as far away from her as the cord would allow, causing her smile to widen. "Who is this?"
"My name is Gregory and if you want to see you cousin again in one piece you will come down to the high school and see me," he said with an evil chuckle. "Oh, and bring your little knives. I hear you think you have some skill. I would like to see for myself."
The phone clicked dead and my frown deepened. I told nobody but Aunt Sabrine and Eoin about my knives, so how did Gregory know? I spent the next five minutes yawning a lot and pretending I was tired until daddy finally suggested that I go to bed. I nodded and slowly went upstairs. As soon as the door to my room was closed, I grabbed my bag off the floor and dug into it until my hand felt wood. I pulled the wooden box out of the bag and opened it. I took every knife I have, including the longest one. Since daddy gave them to me he had found harnesses for all of them and I grabbed them from the bag as well. I slipped into the harnesses and the carefully stepped across to the window and opened it.
Lucky for me and Anika, the window looked out over the flat roof of the garage. Grandpa has to shovel it in the winter to keep it from collapsing under the weight of the snow, but tonight it was going to help me get out of the house. I slipped down onto the garage and then made my way over to the far edge. Just below the edge was a thick tree branch of an oak that was growing in the next-door neighbor's yard. I grabbed the branch and swung myself down to the ground.