She called her mother first thing the next morning. Kuni picked up on the third ring. "Juneau? It's a beautiful morning! I hope you've had a big breakfast!" She was always a ray of sunshine by dawn.
"Cut it out, mom," Juneau said cuttingly. "You know why I'm calling."
"I do?" Her mother sounded pained. "I'm on the highway so you'd better make this quick."
"Don't be coy, mom. And you know you shouldn't use your phone when you're driving. It's against the law."
"You called me on the phone while I'm driving to lecture me about using the phone while driving?" Kuni giggled mirthlessly. "Junebug, you really should pick your battles..."
"That's not why I called. I know you sent Chase the flowers I made." Juneau was annoyed that after all this time--two years!--her mother still couldn't get over the fact that Chase was gay and would never, ever father Juneau's babies. In this respect, Juneau recognized how different she was from her mother and her ancient ways. They shared the same long, silky black hair and the same almond eyes. But they were cut from a different cloth. Kuni was a silk kimono: soft and elegant, and reminiscent of greater eras long gone. Juneau was a pair of denim jeans: rugged, utile and all-American.
"I saw the flowers you made at home, June," Kuni was saying. "They were lovely. You really do have a gift. You should think about cultivating your talents, doing something with it."
Juneau had to pause. It wasn't like her mother to play along like this. Kuni Sakamoto had a horrible time of keeping secrets, and playing pranks on people went counter to her delicate sensibilities. "You mean you don't know who sent Chase my ikebana?"
"Well, why would I send Chase your ikebana?" she asked. "Has he decided to become a family man after all?"
"He's a 'family' man all right," Juneau said with a smile her mother would never see or comprehend.
It was only then that Juneau noticed the morning light falling in soft cascades through the living room window and the glorious day outside. Evergreen firs lined the streets, retaining their color in spite of the heat and dryness. It changed the way she felt for some reason, looking at the vibrant life outside. She lost the thread of her agitation and decided not to go looking for it again. For the first time in a long time, Juneau felt rested, for the red wine had wrestled her down for a good long sleep. Not even the strangeness of the late-night delivery could keep her eyes open.
Yawning, she changed the subject. She couldn't go on believing that her mother had been behind Chase's gift. So someone had taken the liberty of gifting her best friend one of her favorite arrangements. So what?
When she hung up, Juneau felt little more informed. Her mother could have written the inscription, and sent the gift, but she said she hadn't. But if not her, then who? She had to find out. Juneau didn't want to put a damper on Chase's enthusiasm, so she slipped out the door silently. She would do some snooping from her office, she decided.
The apartment was walking distance from the university campus. On the way there, she stopped for a latté, then joined the other early birds milling about for the proverbial worm. She was not expecting Matthew to be waiting for her at her office.
"What are you doing here?" she asked him as she unlocked the door. The deadbolt slid from the lock and rammed into place with a loud report. It was the sound of her heart falling into the empty drum of her stomach, a hollow thunk.
"I couldn't sleep," he said, and it showed. His face was haggard and stubbly, bags under his red-rimmed eyes.
Juneau pretended not to notice. "You too?" she said without warmth. "What a coincidence!"
Matthew huffed in after her. "Can we cut the crap, Juneau? What the hell is going on here? Why don't you answer my calls, and why don't you ever want to hang out with me?"
Juneau sighed. "Sorry, Matt." She quickly added, "And don't tell me to call you 'Matthew'; I started dating a 'Matt' and I'm breaking up with a 'Matt'."
"So you are breaking up with me?" Matthew asked dumbfounded. He looked truly surprised, which made Juneau think she should have done this long ago.
"I thought that was obvious." For what seemed like the first time in a while, she looked up at him. She looked into his eyes. She didn't think she liked the person she saw before her.
"You could've told me to my face, Juneau."
"All right!" she cried. "I'm breaking up with you, Matthew! This is the end of the line--get off! Happy? God, pull yourself together!"
They stared each other down for a spell. Juneau expected him to break, to turn into the boy he had been when they'd first met, the one that had had a certain lost charm about him. A boy named Matt. She didn't want to be reminded of that eighteen-year-old kid who didn't really want to be a doctor or psychologist, but whose parents wouldn't let him think of being anything else. The boy who asked about homework answers and test scores--that was the boy that Juneau had fallen for. She didn't see him anywhere anymore. At least, that's what she told herself.
Finally, she said, "I got a lot to do, if you don't mind."
"I don't know what went wrong," he said steadily. "I thought we had a good thing going. I don't know why you want to throw all that away." Then, as an afterthought almost, he added, "You know there's nothing wrong with being normal."
He left her office then, but not without slapping something down on her desk, pinning it under his open hand. The hand looked for an instant like a great and furless spider, post-mortem pale. "Somebody left this for you. Have a good life!" He stomped off, the limp spider-hand crumpled and stashed in his jeans pocket.
Juneau didn't let herself watch him go. She wanted to. Some sadistic part of her wanted to witness the harm she'd done. She pulled the chopsticks out of her hair and shook her tresses loose. It was going to be a long day.
The envelope he'd left was burgundy with gold trim. When she opened it, she found stationery in honey, black ink bleeding through the page in places. She unfolded it, and something slipped out. She let it fall, for a bouquet of wild roses and the undeniable smell of green awoke her senses. She instantly recognized the Japanese characters in old grass-script on the page without knowing why. It read, in wide strokes like miniature paved roads: Ieyasu Junō. She ran her fingers over the script, which was written from top to bottom, right to left: the traditional Japanese way.
As a student of linguistics, she felt ashamed for never delving into her own mother tongue. The language precepts were there: the fundamentals of its syntax and grammar, basic vocabulary. But she had never learned to speak or read any of it, not even her name. Yet, here she was, reading the characters without a problem.
She put the sheet down and picked up what had fallen on the floor. It was a photograph, face down. When she turned it over, she felt the wind knocked out of her, and she dropped it again. This time, it fell face up. The photograph was unmistakably her: on her phone on the 71 and, by the look of it, it was taken yesterday. She tried not to freak out, but this was so out-of-the-blue, that she couldn't not freak out. Someone had taken a picture of her--and then gone out of their way to deliver it to her! Someone was watching her!
Matthew would know! She had to call him, even if it would be icky and awkward so soon after they'd broken it off. She was pulling her cell from her pocket to give him a call, when it rang.
It was her mother again. "Junebug, how ever did you get this ikebana here so quickly?"
Juneau wasn't paying attention. She was looking at the photograph, but also looking at the foreign script on the honey-colored paper. How was it she could read the script? And why had she bothered to answer the phone? Annoyed, she groused, "Sorry, mom, I'm kinda busy."
"Well, you certainly have been busy, running around with all these deliveries! Your Auntie Kanako wanted to thank you, too."
Now she was confused. "Auntie Kanako? What are you talking about, mom?"
Kuni Sakamoto sighed loudly into the phone. "That's what I'm trying to tell you, June. Auntie Kanako wanted to thank you for your ikebana--and me, too! It was waiting for us this morning, on our desks when we opened up the shop. There wasn't a name or card on it, but I recognized them from your studio. Thank you, my darling girl!"
Juneau was flustered. First an ikebana of hers showed up at Chase's house, and now this? Who was making these deliveries on her behalf? And why? She slipped the letter and the photo back in the envelope. "Mom, I gotta go." Mystified, she hung up only to call Chase. She could ask Matthew about her stalker a little later. Right now, she needed to find out more about why her ikebana were showing up everywhere unbeknownst to her.
Chase didn't answer the first time she called, or the second, or ten minutes later when she tried again. To be sure she wasn't having trouble with her phone, Juneau called Matthew and hung up as soon as he picked up. She would just have to find Chase in person.
Ten seconds later, she received a text that made her regret calling Matthew. Worse, it further muddied the already murky waters. It read:
I don't know how to read you! One minute you're breaking up with me, the next minute you're sending me flowers. Thanks, I guess? Btw, nice to know you remembered orange is my fav color! Love, your "normal" Matthew