Kuni Sakamoto had had the gumption and know-how to open a flower shop and turn her love into money. She now owned a small gift shop downtown near Pike Place Market. Juneau didn't have much of an opinion about her mother's work, but she really hated the name: Gifts & More. Leave it to a Japanese woman, Juneau had thought many a time, to choose the most generic, uninspired name on earth. She had asked her mother on any number of occasions to change it, with no luck.
"I like the name," Kuni would say.
"Of course you do," Juneau would counter. "You named it!"
The worst thing about it was that Gifts & More was surrounded by other shops with names just as inane. Often the names of neighboring shops were simply an ad for what was sold and by whom: So-and-so's Roasted Peanuts, Such-and-such's Flowers, Someone Else's Smoked Salmon. Furthermore, the noisy fish sellers and their heave-ho's robbed the jewel of more of its shine. Juneau was personally glad the shop was too far from them to smell the fresh fish.
She stepped into the shop and heard the bell jingle, echoing the jangling of her nerves. Steaming, she walked past the Seattle-themed figurines, snow globes, and postcards that bombarded her from all sides, as well as the Mariners and Seahawks paraphernalia, the boxes of smoked wild salmon and gourmet chocolate truffles. Flowers were everywhere else. Bouquets, individual stems, funeral offerings, leis, and supplies for making any and all of the preceding.
Even among the tumult of green, Juneau recognized her ikebana instantly, sitting behind the register. It only riled her more. She would never have given this particular piece to her mother. It was too busy. The accents were in two different colors and varieties: a red dahlia and a handful or green chrysanthemums. The lines were hala leaves, imported from Hawaii, which would have irked Kuni. ("Use materials from your own environment," Kuni would have said. "Don't go stealing them from someone else's yard.") Furthermore, there was baby's breath through out. Kuni hated baby's breath. ("Baby's breath does not smell like a baby's breath. It smells like moldy bread and lawnmower grass. I bet a man gave it the name. A man who never spent a second of his life around a baby.")
But Juneau had made the piece as a kind of celebration of color and style. She'd wanted to make something with a little more pizzazz and little less restraint. Ikebana seemed the epitome of restraint at times.
A couple of customers looked over at Juneau and smiled. She tried not to feel so guilty. No one here knew that the flower arrangement she had made--and delivered, if pervy Kato was right--had somehow landed her best friend in the hospital. Nobody suspected her. She was innocent. Beyond innocent, she wasn't to be implicated because there was no crime. Chase wasn't poisoned.
She sincerely hoped Kato was telling the truth, even though it meant her life was about to get very complicated...
"Juneau?" Kuni came out from a small walk-in refrigerator where the flowers were stored. Kuni's black hair was little more than a bun on her head held in place by chopsticks, her face a bit on the pale side. Onlookers gazed from one to the other and instantly recognized the likeness. On the outside, Juneau was her mother's double--a carbon copy from their skin tone to their sweet teeth. "What's the matter, honey?"
"Mom, we have to talk," she said, then shoved the letter and photo into her mother's hands.
Kuni looked at the picture and smiled (it was a decent photo), but when she read the characters on the page accompanying it, her eyes grew wide with knowing. " 'Ieyasu Junō'," she read aloud.
"Who is Ieyasu Junō?"
A tear came to Kuni's eye as she took in a deep breath. Without prevarication, she said, "You are. You were born Ieyasu Junō in Tokyo, December 12, 1991. You are Ieyasu Hideyoshi's youngest daughter."
The bell over the door tinkled, and mother and daughter turned to look. Juneau had originally felt a mounting sense of dread, knowing that Kato was following her here. Much later, she would learn that the person who appeared in the doorway was so much more dreadful a person than humble Kato.
At the moment, however, neither Juneau nor Kuni recognized the beauty in the vermilion kimono. About her waist, she wore two obi: a wide navy blue one overlaid with a thinner one in pink. A phoenix was embroidered across her breast. Though she was young, no more than seventeen by Juneau's estimation, her eyes were dressed in peacock-blue colors, which made her look older. Her hair was held up by chopsticks with baubles dangling on the end of them. She was flanked on either side by girls roughly her own size and age, dressed in different colored kimonos (tea-brown, and blue tones) of similar design. Neither of them sported the phoenix, but they were no less lovely.
"Wow," Kuni breathed, forgetting her moment of sorrow. "The Japanese cruise ship must have docked early." Then she turned back to her daughter.
But before she could say anything, Juneau blurted out, "What do you mean, 'I'm Ieyasu Junō'?"
They heard the bells chime again, and Juneau saw Kato come in. "Oh, great!"
"Juneau!" he called over to her.
"Get out of here, Kato!"
"Kato?" Kuni looked up and saw the young man dressed all in black. "So it is time..."
"It is, Kuni," he said, bowing his head slightly.
Juneau tried not to lose her cool. She felt her face get hot as she cried, "Time for what?" Turning to her mom, she asked, "So you know this guy? Why doesn't anyone fill me in on this stuff?"
"Allow me." The voice came from behind them. Before Juneau could turn around, she knew that the beauty like an orange dream had spoken. Her voice matched the silk of her kimono: smooth and alluring, soft and strong all at once. The girl and her followers (Juneau now saw how very alike they all looked; they might as well have been triplets) stepped forward, but Kato intercepted them.
"Stay away from her!" he shouted.
"You stay away from me!" Juneau cried in turn. She pushed Kato out of the way and glared at the girl in the vermilion kimono. "Who are you?"
"My name is Rikka. Hajimemashite."
Unconsciously, Juneau said, "Hajimemashite," too--as if she had been meeting and greeting people in Japanese forever. She was so flabbergasted that she forgot what she wanted to know so badly. For the first time, she noticed that all eyes were on them; the customers had stopped milling about and were watching them with growing curiosity.
Kato alone seemed upset. "Juneau, get away from her! She is evil!"
"Will you shut up?!" she snapped.
Rikka glanced at him, and Juneau saw a spark, the slightest of ripples, pass between them. Kato fell silent. Juneau wished she could silence a man with one stifling gaze. But Rikka had taken her by the arm and was leading her away, out of the store. Kuni followed, herself rendered strangely mute.
"You mustn't believe everything you hear these days," the vermilion beauty said, sounding less and less like a seventeen year old. "Don't you find that to be so?"
"Tell me, Juneau: what do you know about your past?"
Juneau scowled and tried to slip out of Rikka's grasp, but the girl's was an iron grip. She was beginning to think she should have listened to Kato. "I don't know what you mean."
"Come now, my darling. Everyone has a past. A mother... A father...?"
Now, Juneau definitely felt uncomfortable, though she couldn't fathom why. What about this girl was so sinister, for that was what she was. "My father's away on business," she lied. Rikka sneered, but for a second, before it was gone. But Juneau had seen enough to suspect foul play. "What do you want?" she asked.
"Ah, but it is for me to grant wishes!" Rikka announced. "Don't I look like a genie in this kimono?"
"A genie from Japan, maybe."
"That's the spirit!" Rikka laughed. "Now, what do you want?"
"Right now? I want you to let me go."
"Granted!" the girl squealed, and released Juneau's elbow. "You see? Whatever you ask, I'll give it."
"I am kinda hungry," Juneau said. No sooner was it said than Rikka produced a steaming humbow out of thin air. "Hey, I recognize this! It's from the Chinese place right around the corner. Thanks!" Without thinking twice, she gobbled down the bun.
"Have you noticed how you're always hungry, always thirsty... always tired?..."
Juneau stopped in the middle of a bite, wondering what to say and deciding to follow through with the bite after all. So what if she was always hungry and thirsty and tired?
Rikka continued, "Power takes energy..."
" 'Power'?" Juneau asked around a mouthful.
"Yes, Juneau. Power." Rikka smiled down at her--which was quite difficult considering that she was shorter than Juneau. But Juneau certainly felt that she was being outclassed.
With the humbow gone, Juneau realized how quiet Kato was. "Wow," she said, glancing at him. "You really shut him up."
"Because you asked me to."
"I didn't ask you to."
"I suppose not," Rikka corrected. "But you did ask for it. So I answered."
Juneau didn't like this at all. She was already beginning to regret eating the humbow, though her hunger had been curtailed. "Why are you doing this?"
"Because, my child Juneau, you are a very special girl."
"So I've been told," she said wryly, remembering Kato's words. "But why?"
Rikka shrugged, her lower lip jutting out prettily. "I only see in you what you haven't yet seen in yourself: possibility. Power... immense power... And it has everything to do with... your past."