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France

Lyon, France

 

The house was a disappointment.

She’d been expecting a castle, like the one in the book Grandma had given her when she turned three. In the book, the castle was white and had a blue roof and there were doorways all over it, even on the roof. It also had a drawbridge with a big wooden gate. She couldn’t remember if it had a moat, but she thought it had.

But this house wasn’t like the castle. It was tall and square and painted an ugly brown. It had no gate or moat, just a long fence that ran down one side. There were some pink roses that grew next to the gate, but other than that…

She clutched her doll tighter.

She looked at Dad to see if he was as disappointed as she was, but he was smiling at Mr. Saito, peering up at the house through the car window. Like he liked it.

Mr. Saito was smiling, too. He pulled through the gates and parked in the shade of a tall tree and said, “Well?”

Dad nodded. “Classic. It looks like they’ve done a good job on the restoration.”

Mr. Saito nodded. “After two years, they should have. But still, they could use your advice on the retaining wall. If you don’t mind working, of course.”

“That’s not working,” Dad said, still looking up. “That’s fun.”

Mr. Saito smiled. “If you get the children, I will find Kimi.” He got out of the car.

Dad undid his seat belt. “Tell her I’m sorry we’re late.”

“She won’t mind. I told you that.”

“Hmm,” was all her dad said, like he didn’t believe Mr. Saito. He watched Mr. Saito go, then twisted around to look at Phillipa. He was still wearing his sunglasses and she could see two of her. “Are you okay, sweetheart?”

She nodded.

He got out of the SUV then came around to her side and opened her door. “If you’re still feeling sick, you can rest in here for a while.”

“No. I’m okay.” It had been embarrassing, throwing up at the gas station. Her dad had blamed himself for ‘pushing them so hard.’ Mr. Saito had gone into the station and got a wet washcloth and brought it back to Dad. He’d placed it on her forehead and that had felt good.

James, of course, had asked why she’d gotten sick, like it was something she’d meant to do. She’d stuck her tongue out at him, but it hadn’t made her feel any better like it usually did. It just made her feel weird. Especially since he’d fallen asleep almost the minute Dad started driving again. She’d been too mad at herself to close her eyes even though she was a little tired.

“Are you sure?” Dad touched her cheek with the back of his fingers. She wasn’t sure what that was supposed to do, but he always did it when she wasn’t feeling good.

“I’m fine,” she insisted. She wasn’t a baby. She knew when she was sick and when she wasn’t.

“Okay. It’s too hot in here anyway.” He went around to the other side of the car and unfastened James’ car seat. He picked him and whispered, “Get your backpack and your brother’s.”

Without letting go of her doll, she got the backpacks and swung them over her shoulder, then jumped out of the SUV. The ground sent up little puffs of brown dirt when she landed and she frowned. Her new sandals were pink with orange flowers and she didn’t want to get them dirty. She looked around. The front yard was mostly dirt with a little grass here and there—she’d have to go barefoot if she wanted to keep her shoes clean. Of course, she could wear her sneakers but they were getting small and pinched her toes.

“C’mon, honey,” Dad called out. He was waiting on the front steps of the house, looking back at her. “Let’s get out of the heat.”

She nodded and walked slowly up the dirt driveway.

Stepping into the house was like stepping into a cave—dark and cold and she pressed close to Dad, but not too close. She didn’t want him to think she was scared.

“Saito?” Dad called out.

“In here.”

Dad went right and then turned another corner. Mr. Saito was standing in the middle of a big, white room. He was holding a little girl about James’ age. At his side was a lady and a man. The lady was Japanese and was wearing a white shirt and jeans, the kind Mom used to wear when she worked in the garden. The man looked like Uncle Arthur and he was dressed the same as the lady. Phillipa wondered if they’d meant to do that. She had a vague memory of Mom teasing Dad about that, about, ‘you know what they say about couples who dress too much alike, don’t you?’

She couldn’t remember what Dad had said, but the memory made her stomach hurt and without meaning to, she pressed close to Dad’s legs. She wished she were home.

The lady smiled and said something to Mr. Saito she thought was Japanese, then he said something back. Whatever he said made the lady smile. She stepped forward and said, “Welcome to our home. My name is Kimiko and this is my husband, Christian.”

The man smiled as well. “Chris, please. And this little lady,” he held up the little girl who stared at Phillipa with big eyes. “Is Aiko Elise.” She didn’t smile when Phillipa smiled at her.

“Chris.” Dad leaned over and shook the man’s hand. “Nice to meet you. These are my children, Phillipa and James.” He smiled down at James who was still asleep and they all laughed like he’d said something funny. Even Mr. Saito who hardly ever laughed at all.

“Phillipa,” Dad said. “Can you shake their hands?”

It was hard, but she let go of his pants and stepped forward. The lady shook her hand first, bending down gravely. Then the man did it. She wasn’t sure if she was supposed to say something, so she just said, “Hi,” to each of them, then backed up until she was at Dad’s side again. He stroked her hair, like he did when he was proud of her.

“That is a lovely doll, Phillipa,” the lady said.

Phillipa didn’t say anything. The lady’s voice was like Mom’s and Grandma’s but sort of harder to understand.

“What is her name?”

Phillipa shook her head. She hadn’t named the doll yet.

The lady smiled and straightened up. “Are you tired after your long drive?”

Phillipa wasn’t sure if they were talking to her, but she shook her head again.

But the lady smiled again like she’d said yes and she waved. “Come. I’ll show you to your rooms.”

“I’ll wait down here,” the man said. “Aiko and I will get dinner started.”

Phillipa wanted to ask how a kid could start dinner because she probably wasn’t tall enough to see over a table, but lady was walking out the door.

They all followed. First the lady, then Mr. Saito, then Dad, then her. Back out the way they’d come and up the stairs.

‘Rooms,’ 
the lady had said.

‘Rooms’ didn’t sound so good all of the sudden. Back home, she’d told all her friends, making sure that Kenneth Thompson had heard, that when she got to France, she’d have her own room. But now…

“Daddy?” she whispered.

“Yes, honey,” he answered without looking down.

But she couldn’t say it, not when the lady was waiting for them at the top of the stairs. “Never mind,” she muttered.

“I think you should lay down.”

She shook her head. “I’m not tired.”

Mr. Saito looked back at them, first at Dad, then down at her but he didn’t say anything.

“Is everything all right?” the lady asked. There was a little window in the wall behind her and the sunlight made her glow like the statue in the church where Mom was buried.

Dad said, “She’s just a little overheated from the car ride.”

He didn’t say anything about throwing up, but maybe all grown ups knew that kids got sick in cars because the lady nodded and said, “Ah. When I was young, I would get car sick.” She held out her hand and before she knew it, Phillipa had taken it. The lady’s hand was cool and firm and she tugged gently. They started walking down the hall.

“Don’t be embarrassed, Phillipa,” the lady whispered. “It happens to everyone. Even,” she said louder and looked back over her shoulder, “to my little brother, though he might not remember it.”

She wasn’t sure who the little brother was until Dad looked at Mr. Saito  and Mr. Saito laughed. “It’s true,” he said.

Phillipa was confused—wasn’t Mr. Saito too old to be a little brother?

“When I was a boy,” Mr. Saito said, “I got sick on every car ride we took. I eventually grew out of it but…” He shrugged and smiled at Dad.

Dad just grinned and said, “I wonder what other secrets you’re hiding from me?”

They all laughed again and the lady squeezed Phillipa’s hand.

“You see, Phillipa? It is nothing to worry about. How would it be if I bring you a glass of water with a little lemon in it. That always makes me feel better.”

She nodded. The water sounded fine even if she wasn’t sure about the lemon.

The lady stopped at a room at the end of the hallway. When she opened it, Phillipa couldn’t help her smile. This house might not be a castle, but the room was big and sunny and warm. The walls were painted white and the doors were painted blue. There was a pretty white dresser with flowers painted on the front drawers and there were two beds at the end of the room, next to a big window. It wasn’t until she stepped inside the room that she realized the window was actually a door. She looked up. “Dad? Is that a balcony?”

Dad laid James down on one of the beds and said, “It is, honey, but let me go out first.”

“It’s completely safe,” the lady said. “We have it tested every year, just to be sure.”

“It’s not that,” Dad said. “It’s just—” He shrugged like he didn’t know what else to say and the lady nodded.

“I understand,” she said. “You are a parent.”

Dad smiled and held his hand out for Phillipa. She let go of the lady’s hand and went to him. He picked her up and sat her on the bed, then he sat on James’ bed and began to take off her shoes. “I know you don’t think you’re tired, but I want you to try to take a nap, sweetheart. Just a short one.”

Like Dad’s words were magic, she was suddenly very tired and could barely keep her eyes open. She’d been too excited to sleep on the plane, even though she’d pretended to, just to make Dad happy.

She sat the doll on the little table between the beds.

He looked over his shoulder at the lady and Mr. Saito and said, “I’ll be down in a minute.”

“Do you need anything?” Mr. Saito asked. He walked closer to the bed.

“No,” Dad said, “we’re fine.”

“I’ll get the suitcases.”

Dad turned to look up at him. “I can do it.”

“No,” Mr. Saito touched Dad’s shoulder. “I’ll get them. Take your time.”

He turned and he and the lady left. She was smiling, saying something about, “…And now getting luggage, just like a regular person,” as they walked out the door.

“What was she talking about,” Phillipa asked, watching them over Dad’s shoulder.

Dad shook his head and smiled. “I’ll tell you later. C’mon.”

He helped her under the covers. The sheets smelled like flowers and they were cool and soft. Dad sat on the bed and took out her barrettes, the ones Lu-Lu had given her for Christmas. Then he stroked her hair and his face got serious, like when he talked about Mom or work or school.

“Did you have fun at your grandparent’s, honey?”

She shrugged. “It was okay.”

“Because it seemed like you didn’t enjoy yourself.”

She picked up his hand and laced their fingers together. “Why is Grandma mad at you?” She had overheard them on the last day in the garden, shouting in French. She’d tried not to listen even though she didn’t really understand French.

“She’s not mad at me.”

“Is she still sad about Mom?”

He nodded. “She is and she’s going to be sad for a long time. And you don’t need to worry about that, right? That she’s still sad? It’s just going to take her some time because she misses Mommy so much.”

“Do you miss her too?”

He smiled, sort of, and nodded. “All the time, sweetheart, you know that.”

She held her palm to his palm. His hand was so much bigger than hers. “Daddy?”

“Yes?”

“Why couldn’t Mr. Saito go to Paris with us?” She’d wanted to ask for weeks, but somehow couldn’t.

He didn’t answer for a second and he stopped smiling. “He was busy, honey.”

“With his new company?”

“Hm, mm.”

“Why doesn’t Grandma like him?” Because she’d overheard that, too. Grandma shouting at Dad in English about, ‘That man…’ and then something about ‘…buying everything he wants including you!’ She hadn’t understood then and she didn’t understand now.

Dad squeezed her hand, then let go and pulled the covers up. “What makes you think that?”

“Because I asked if he could come with us the next time and she said he’d be too busy ruling the world.”

He looked up at her, frowning like he was angry. “She said that?”

She nodded. “What did she mean? Is Mr. Saito a king.”

Dad laughed but it still looked like he was angry. “No, sweetheart, he’s not a king. He’s just very rich.”

“And that makes Grandma mad?”

He looked down and didn’t speak for a moment. Then he said, “Honey? Remember how I told you that there are some things you won’t understand until you’re a bit older?”

“Like why the moon gets smaller and then bigger?”

He smiled. “Exactly. And this is one of those things. I promise, when you get older, I’ll explain, but right now…” He shook his head.

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

She nodded and he brushed her hair off her forehead again.

“Okay,” he said. “And maybe the next time we visit Grandma and Grandpa, he won’t be too busy.”

She nodded. She was really sleepy now. “Because he likes Paris. He told me so.”

Dad smiled. “He loves Paris. He went to school there.”

“He did?”

“Hm, mm. Maybe he can show you where he went to school sometime.”

She nodded, thinking about it. Mr. Saito was mysterious and not just because it was sometimes hard to understand what he was saying. “That would be fun.”

Dad was watching her with a small smile. “You know what else he likes?”

She shook her head.

He touched the end of her nose. “You. He likes you.”

She smiled. “He does?”

He nodded, his smile growing like he was really happy. “He does. He’s crazy about you.”

She smiled. Just wait until she got home. Lu-lu had said her dad had said that Mr. Saito didn’t like kids. Just wait until she told her what Dad said.

“Now, I want you to take a nap.”

“Just a short one?”

He nodded. “Just a short one.”

He stood up and she grabbed his hand. “Will you come check on me?”

He bent low and kissed her forehead. “I’m going to be downstairs, but I’ll be back in a few minutes, okay?”

“Okay.”

He took off James’ shoes, then pulled a blanket over him. And then he tiptoed out the room and smiled at her as he shut the door.

She touched the white wall—it was cool and kind of rough. Which was odd—walls were supposed to be smooth, weren’t they? But not castle walls—those should be rough, so maybe this house was kind of like a castle, after all?

She turned on her side and tucked her hand under her cheek. She wasn’t tired again and she was going to have to get up and find Dad and tell him that, but before she could, she fell asleep.

***

When she woke up, she looked around in confusion. The room was dark and so was outside. She looked over at the other bed. James was gone.

She sat up quickly, shoving off the covers and got her shoes on. When she stood up, she stumbled—her feet were prickly and didn’t feel right.

Somehow that made it worse, that the room was dark and James was gone and her feet hurt. She ran to the door and yanked it open, then hurled through the doorway and crashed into someone.

“Are you all right?”

She looked up. Mr. Saito was standing in the doorway, one hand stretched out. He’d changed and was wearing a t-shirt and tan pants, the kind Dad had. She didn’t know he had any other clothes than suits, but that was silly. People wore other things besides suits, even rich, important people.

“Where’s my dad?”

“He’s downstairs with James. I wanted to make sure you were okay. Do you want me to show you where they are?”

She swallowed. Whatever she’d been afraid of was gone and she felt stupid. After a moment, she nodded.

“Did you sleep well?” he asked when they were almost to the stairs.

“I had a dream.” She’d only just remembered it and it came back, the sound of Mom’s voice, the way she’d smiled when Phillipa had said something that she now couldn’t remember.

“What about?”

“My mom. We were at the zoo and she was taking me to see the penguins.”

“Did you get to see them? In your dream?”

She shook her head. “I can’t remember. I don’t think so.” The dream made her sad which was just silly—dreams were just dreams and they couldn’t hurt you; Dad said so all the time.

Mr. Saito stopped walking. “I’m sorry.”

She looked up. He was watching her with a strange look in his eyes. “Why?”

“Because you loved your mother and you miss her.”

“Oh.”

“Phillipa.” He crouched in front of her. “Did your father ever tell you my mother died when I was about the same age as you?”

She shook her head.

He nodded. “She got sick and she died.”

“Were you sad?”

“Yes, for a very long time. But luckily, I had my sister, Kimi. She helped me when I was really sad and angry.”

She frowned. “Why were you angry?”

“I think because I felt like my mother left me. And I was angry at her.”

She thought about it. It didn’t make much sense, but… “Is that why my Grandma is mad? Because she’s angry at Mom?” The thought made her stomach hurt and her throat close up, like it sometimes did when she was going to cry.

Mr. Saito shook his head and took her hand, gently drawing her close. He smelled good, like he’d used the stuff that Dad used after he shaved.

“No, Phillipa, she’s not angry at your mother at all. She’s just very sad and that makes her…”

He stopped, like he couldn’t think of the word, so she helped him out. “Crabby?”

He smiled and tipped his head to the side. “Crabby?”

“That’s the word Daddy says when he says someone is ir-” She couldn’t remember how to say it, so she tried again. “Irtable?”

“Irritable? When someone is angry all the time?”

She nodded. “That means crabby, too.”

“Then, yes, crabby. But don’t tell your grandmother that I agreed with your father, okay?”

He smiled and she smiled back.

“Now, your father is probably wondering where we are and dinner is almost ready.” He stood up and they walked down the stairs.

“I’m hungry.”

“I’m sure you are.”

He led her across the dark living room to two doors that were really called French doors. At least, that’s what Dad had called them when they were at Grandma’s and—

Oh.

“Oh,” she said, looking around.

The French doors led to the backyard and it wasn’t a backyard, really. It was a big patio and on either side was the house, but in front…

It was like a fairyland, this backyard. There were little lights all over the place, even in the trees that were all around and there was music playing. It was so pretty.

“It’s so pretty,” she whispered, looking up at the little lights.

“It is, isn’t it?”

“It’s like a fairyland.”

“Come. You’re father is over there.” He pointed and she saw Dad and James and the lady and the man and the little girl. They were sitting under a tree in chairs, the kind Grandma called lounge chairs.

Dad looked up when she and Mr. Saito got nearer and he smiled. He held his hand out. She tugged and Mr. Saito let go. She ran to Dad and when she got closer, she saw that James was still asleep. Dad held James up and Mr. Saito took him. She stood there a moment, then decided that even though she was a big girl she was a little cold. She climbed on Dad’s lap.

He wrapped her up, warm, like a sweater, and kissed the top of her head. “Did you sleep well?”

She nodded.

“Did you dream?”

He always asked her that and if she said she hadn’t, he’d frown and say, ‘Maybe you will tomorrow night.’ “No,” she said, quickly looking at Mr. Saito. He didn’t say anything. He just glanced at Dad and then back at her.

“Maybe you will tomorrow night,” Dad said and she nodded, resting her cheek against his chest.

The little girl was watching her and she smiled. But as soon as she did that, the little girl climbed into the man’s lap and hid her face.

“Honey? Mr. Saito found a stable nearby,” Dad said. “Would you like to go riding with him?”

She sat up. She didn’t do anything like shout or run around—she was too grown up for that. But she must have looked really happy because Dad grinned and squeezed her tight.

“There’s your answer, Hiro.”

Mr. Saito nodded. “We can go over in the morning, if you like, Phillipa. But maybe just you and I? I am not sure if James will want to ride horses.” He looked down at James then up at her. Like it mattered what she thought.

So she pretended to think about it, because Grandpa had told her before that it was important to think of other people’s feelings only he’d called it ‘consideration,’ and then she nodded. “His legs are too short and he might fall off.”

Both Dad and Mr. Saito nodded seriously at the same time the lady said, “Dominic, your children are charming.”

***

They ate dinner on the patio. The food was good, just soup and bread and a salad but by the time it was over, she was falling asleep again.

The lady said something about bedtime. Dad picked up James and Mr. Saito picked up Phillipa and they went upstairs. The floor creaked as they walked and she wondered if she were scared to go back to the room and then decided not.

Dad didn’t make her get her pajamas on or brush her teeth. He said she was too tired for that. He got James in bed first and then helped her under the covers.

“Daddy?” she said because even though she really wasn’t scared, maybe she was?

“I’ll stay here until you fall asleep, honey. And then I’ll be in the next room. See that little door?” He pointed to a door tucked in the corner of the room. She’d thought it was a closet. “I’ll check on you tonight, but if you get scared or need something, just call out and I’ll hear you, okay?”

She nodded.

Dad kissed her on the forehead then got up. Mr. Saito was standing in the middle of the room watching. When Dad went to him, they walked out to the balcony together.

She couldn’t hear what they were saying but it must have been funny because Mr. Saito leaned close to Dad and said something and Dad turned to him and smiled.

She rolled to her side to face James and closed her eyes.

***

The rest of the vacation was over before she knew it.

She got to go horseback riding with Mr. Saito the next day and swimming the day after that.

Then, on Saturday, Kimi took her and Aiko Elise to a farm nearby and they learned how to feed chickens. An old lady with blue hair showed Phillipa how to take a handful of corn and toss it to the chickens. When she did it, the chickens rushed towards her. They tried to peck her shoes and she jumped back, but Kimi was there; she waved her hand and said something in Japanese. The chickens scurried away and Phillipa let go of Kimi’s dress. After that it was okay; she and Kimi fed the chickens, trying to decide which was the prettiest.

That night, she got to help Kimi and Chris make dinner in the kitchen that was tiny but full of interesting things. They had some bowls and dishes that had been Kimi’s mother, but they also had a tea set that was from Chris’s grandmother. ‘Grand-mere,’ was what he called her and he lifted the teapot down from the high shelf to show Phillipa. It was silver with a little lid that flipped up. He pointed out the little rooster on the bottom of the pot and said it was made by somebody named Charles. She couldn’t quite understand the rest, but he let her hold it. It was really heavy.

They left on the fifth day.

As they were packing, Kimi came up and gave her a knitted hat that had a big pink flower on the front. She gave James a picture book that was filled with paper models that he could tear out and build. He whooped when he saw it and tried to open it up, but Dad took it away and told him he’d have to wait until they were on the plane.

Kimi and Chris and Aiko walked them to the car. When they got in, Kimi looked like she wanted to cry but she didn’t. She hugged Mr. Saito, then kissed Dad goodbye, the two-sided kiss like Grandma sometimes did to her friends. She kissed James and when she got to Phillipa, Phillipa was ready.

She clutched her doll and said, “Sayonara,” and since she didn’t mess up because she’d been practicing with Mr. Saito, she added, “And, au revoir.”

They beamed as if she’d given them presents and Kimi drew her close and hugged her. She smelled like lemon and pine. “Promise you will come for another visit, Phillipa. The chickens will miss you, as will I.”

“I promise.”

Kimi let her go and they all got in the car.

When they were driving away, she twisted around her seat and waved, watching Kimi and Chris and Aiko get smaller and smaller.

“Did you have fun?” Mr. Saito asked. Dad was driving and Mr. Saito was being the navigator, whatever that was.

She turned back around and smiled. “It was so much fun. Daddy? Can we get some chickens.”

Dad shook his head. “No pets, remember? Not until James’ asthma is better.”

She nodded. She hadn’t really expected him to say yes, but maybe he would next year when James got better. Chickens wouldn’t bother anyone, not even Mr. Kingston who lived down the block and was always telling Dad that she and James were too noisy.

She smiled and looked out the window, not really watching the trees and the fields as she planned where the chickens would live and what she’d name them.

 

***

The plane that had flown them to Lyon was waiting for them at the small airport. Dad and Mr. Saito had to show their passports to a man with a clipboard and then he let them get into the plane.

She liked it. It wasn’t as big as some of the planes she’d been on, but those were always crowded. This one had a kitchen and a place to lay down and a TV and bunch of games in a box under one of the seats.

She ran for the seat that she thought of as hers, the one at the back that faced backwards. She threw her backpack under the seat and then sat down and fastened her seat belt while Dad helped James up at the front.

She twisted and looked behind. Mr. Saito was talking to the pilot, writing something on a pad of paper. “Dad?” She called out.

“I’ll be there in a second,” he said without looking up. “There,” he said to James. “Is that too tight?”

She couldn’t hear what James said because the plane’s engines were too noisy, but in a moment, Dad came back and checked her buckle.

She watched him, then said, “Dad?”

“Hm, mm?”

“Why does Mr. Saito live in a hotel?”

He didn’t look up. “Because he doesn’t have a home here in California. Is that too tight?”

It was, but she said, “No. Why doesn’t he buy a house?”

“I think he’s not sure how long he’s going to stay, honey.” Dad did something to the seat belt and it was better. “His home is in Japan.”

That wasn’t the answer she was expecting. “He could live with us. Then his home could be here.”

Dad looked up. He didn’t say anything for the longest time and she wondered if she’d made him mad. Finally he said, “You want him to live with us?”

She nodded.

“I don’t know, honey. He might need to go back to Japan for a while.”

“But then he could come back and live here.”

He sat on the seat next to her and cupped her cheek. “What’s going on, honey? Why is this so important?”

“I don’t know.” She had to stop talking. Her chest and throat ached, like it had that week last year when Dad had gone to New York.

“Is everything okay?”

They both looked up. Mr. Saito was there, frowning.

“Yes,” Dad said. “I’ll tell you later.”

Mr. Saito nodded, then said, “We will be taking off in ten minutes.”

“Okay,” Dad said as he gently pushed her away and leaned back so he could see her. “Are you okay?”

She nodded.

“I’m going up with James. Are you sure you’re okay by yourself back here?”

“I’m okay, Dad.” The sick feeling was still there and all she wanted was to be home.

“I can stay with her, if you’d like,” Mr. Saito said.

Dad smiled up at him then looked back at her. “Phillipa?”

She hesitated because she did like it back here, but now that the engines were getting louder, her bravery was starting to fade. She nodded.

Dad got up and Mr. Saito sat down and fasted his seat belt.

Dad bent over the seat. “I’ll be up front if you need anything, sweetheart.”

She nodded again. She twisted around and watched him go sit by James then turned back around.

“Do you want something to read?” Mr. Saito asked.

She shook her head. Mr. Saito was still holding the pen and he was twisting it back and forth. It was silver like Chris’s tea set. He saw her watching and he held it out.

“Would you like to hold it?”

She took it. It was warm and really heavy and the outside was carved with thin straight lines. “Is it old?”

“Yes. It was my grandfather’s and then my father’s.”

She looked up. “It was?”

He nodded. “I keep it in memory of them, like a charm.”

Charm. 
“Like the top my dad used to keep in his pocket? The one that belonged to Mom?”

He nodded.

“He doesn’t carry it anymore.”

“I know.”

“Why doesn’t he carry it anymore?”

Mr. Saito hesitated, then said, “I think it is because he doesn’t need it anymore.”

His voice was kind of sad and Phillipa gave him the pen back, sad also.

“Phillipa?” Mr. Saito asked.

“Yeah?”

“Do you want it, this pen?”

She stared up at him.

“A thing like this, a memento, is only meant to be handed down from one generation to another. Since I don’t have any children of my own, I’d like you to have it.”

Grandma had once told her that it was important to be nice when accepting gifts, to be gracious. So she nodded gravely and Mr. Saito gave her the pen.

“And when you have children of your own,” he said, folding her fingers over the pen, “you can pass it on to them.”

She held it close and peered at it again. There was a little band around the cap with the words Montblanc. “I’ll keep it in the back of my drawer where James can’t get at it.”

Mr. Saito smiled. “I’ve got the case in Japan. When I go back on Monday, I’ll send it to you.”

She looked up quickly. “You’re going home on Monday? I thought—” Dad had said Mr. Saito wasn’t going to stay but she thought that meant weeks from now, not tomorrow. She swallowed and looked down at the pen.

Mr. Saito didn’t say anything for the longest time. Finally, he asked quietly, “Do you want me to say?”

She nodded without looking up.

“Why?”

And this she could answer, she could say this thing she’d been choking back for months now because she couldn’t tell Dad and she couldn’t tell Grandpa and Grandma. “Because you brought Dad back. Because he’s safe with you.”

Mr. Saito’s eyes narrowed, like when someone was really angry. “All right,” he said after a moment. “I’ll stay.”

She looked up. “Do you promise?” The words were familiar, like she’d said them before, but now she couldn’t remember.

He nodded again and this time he smiled. “I promise.”

She wanted to say more but the plane started moving and the engine got really loud. So she bent over the pen and traced the tiny lines with her thumb, suddenly very tired.

***

She fell asleep as soon as they got in the air. She woke up, leaning against Mr. Saito’s arm, when they landed to get more gas, but then she fell back asleep even though Dad wanted her to eat dinner.

She woke for the second time when the plane landed California. She tried to open her eyes and they closed again, all by themselves.

“Jetlag,” someone said softly above her as they picked her up.

When she woke for the third time, she was in a bed and that bed was her own.

“Are we home?”

“Yes,” Dad said.

“I’m not wearing my pajamas.”

“That’s okay, honey. It’s really late. You need to sleep.”

“Where’s my pen?” Because her hand was empty and so were her pockets.

Dad frowned and started to answer but Mr. Saito leaned in the door. “Dom?”

Dad looked over his shoulder.

“James is awake and asking for you.”

Dad sighed and got up. “Go to sleep, honey. I’ll find a pen for you tomorrow.” He left the room, brushing by Mr. Saito.

That wasn’t what she meant and she started to get up, but Mr. Saito came in. He reached in his pocket and pulled out the pen. “Here it is. I didn’t want you to hurt yourself if you slept on it.” He sat the pen on her nightstand, just under the lamp. “Do you want the lamp on?”

She nodded and reached out to touch the pen, making sure it wouldn’t roll off table.

Mr. Saito reached for the doorknob. “Goodnight, Phillipa. I’ll see you in the morning.”

She smiled up at him. ‘Morning.’ That meant he was keeping his promise. “”Night.”

He left and she didn’t even have to ask him to leave the door open a crack.

She could hear Dad say something and then Mr. Saito’s response. She couldn’t quite understand what they were saying but that was okay. She was home, in her house in her own bed, with Dad and James and Mr. Saito.

She reached out and touched the pen again, then fell asleep, listening to their voices.

 

 

fin.