by Moon Momma

Chapter 1

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Molly strode along a busy street near Juuban University, angrily retracing the threads of the argument she had had with her dissertation supervisor. If she had known how exasperating Dr. Natsuki could be she would have saved herself the trouble of coming all the way to Tokyo to study with him. Okay, so studying with him wasn't the only reason she had returned to Tokyo, but still...

So engrossed was Molly in silently cursing her advisor that she didn't notice the man walking straight towards her until she ran right into him. She bounced backwards slightly, looked up, and caught her breath, stunned. At least a foot taller than her, glorious mane of auburn hair, intense blue eyes, perfect body, clothes right out of the latest issue of GQ--

That strange sense of deja vu that so often haunted her suddenly made the world twist around her. Flashes of memory--night, blood, terror--made her feel even more confused. "I..." she started to say, then the world went dark.

* * * * * * * *

Sanjouin Masato stared down at the girl who had bumped into him and then fainted at his feet. "Hello? Hello?" came a voice from the cell phone he held, forgotten, in his hand.

"Gotta go. Call you back," he said into the phone, not even remembering who he had been talking to. He knelt beside the girl. Her pulse and breathing seemed normal, and she didn't appear to have hurt herself when she hit the ground, but it was still better to not take any chances. He phoned for an ambulance.

While he waited for the ambulance, he studied the girl. Young woman, actually. Her petite size had fooled him into thinking she was a young teenager; now that he got a closer look at her face, he could see that she was in her early- to mid-twenties. She had thick, wavy red hair cut in a short style, the front slightly longer than the back. Before she fainted, when she had stared at him briefly with that deer-in-the-headlights look, he had seen her enormous blue-green eyes. Overall, she was cute. Very cute. She wore a dark green sweatshirt with the seal of Juuban University printed on it, jeans, and sandals. She wore a gold hoop, a silver hoop, and a tiny diamond stud in each ear, and a small silver ring high on the rim of her left ear. A tote bag full of books and notebooks had spilled next to her. Masato gathered up the books and papers and put them back in the bag, noting the dry titles of the books, which were mainly about economics.

The ambulance arrived, and Masato explained what had happened to the paramedics. The medics loaded the still-unconscious woman into the back of the ambulance. "Wait," Masato said. "Where are you taking her?"

"University Hospital," one of them answered. It wasn't far, so Masato decided to walk over rather than go back for his car.

* * * * * * * *

Molly woke up in a hospital bed. It took her a few minutes to realize where she was and to remember what had happened. Then she saw the man she had bumped into sitting in a chair in the corner of the room. How embarrassing. "Hi," she said tentatively.

He looked up from the magazine he was reading and smiled at her. "Hi."

"You didn't have to--I mean, you don't..." She laughed a little, nervously. "I'm sorry I ran into you. I wasn't watching where I was going."

"It's all right. Neither was I." His voice was deep and slightly gravelly. "I'm one of those evil people who'd rather talk on their cell phone than watch where they're going. Anyway, I wanted to see if you're okay."

"I think so. I just had this really weird deja vu that made me get all dizzy. Happens a lot, it seems like." And why should he care? He must think I'm crazy. "Anyway, thanks for asking. It was nice of you to come check up on me."

"It's okay. This is actually a new experience for me. I know I'm considered one of Tokyo's more eligible bachelors, but I've never had a woman actually faint at my feet before."

He winked and Molly laughed. Then she realized just who was in the room with her, seeing her in a stupid hospital gown. "You're Sanjouin Masato." She would have to have been completely ignoring all the newspapers and business magazines the last five or six years to not know who he was.

"I'm afraid so." He smiled, but Molly got the feeling that he didn't like people making a big deal over who he was. "So, do you have a name?"

"Molly Baker."

"Molly," he said, as though testing it. "Pretty. Rather unusual."

"Thank you. I have no idea why my parents named me that, but it is nice, I think."

A doctor came in, and Sanjouin Masato unfolded his six-feet-some-odd-inches from the chair. "I'll go now, but first, is there anyone I can call for you, let them know what happened? Parents, roommates... boyfriend?"

"I haven't got any of those. But if you could, would you call Dr. Natsuki, in the Economics Department at the University? He's my dissertation supervisor." Maybe he would think he had driven her to a fainting spell and would feel guilty. Hah. Molly recited the phone number, which Sanjouin entered into a little handheld electronic planner.

"No problem, Molly. I'll call him right away. You take care, okay?"

"Okay. Thank you, Mr. Sanjouin."

He smiled at her over his shoulder as he turned to leave. "'Masato' works fine for me."

Molly watched him go, and sighed. He was perfect. Absolutely perfect. And she would probably never see him again.

The doctor, a woman, was also watching. "Aren't you lucky," she said to Molly. "Not every girl gets a hospital visit from the hunk of the century."

"I know. And here I am in this lovely hospital gown," Molly said.

"Well, hopefully you won't have to wear it for too long. We're going to keep you overnight for observation, and run a CT scan and one or two other tests. Just to make sure there's nothing going on that we need to know about. I don't think you've got anything to worry about, though."

* * * * * * * *

Sanjouin Masato nearly danced down the hallway of the hospital. She didn't have a boyfriend! His stride slowed a little. Maybe she had a girlfriend. No, she would have said something. She was cute, smart, and shy, the exact opposite of the leggy, sultry types he usually found himself dragging around to social events where he was supposed to bring a date. He didn't date, didn't have the time for it, saw no reason for it, and usually relied on friends or hosts to set him up. It was rather appalling, what they thought his taste in women was or ought to be. But Molly Baker was different. Molly Baker was special. And he was going to make damn sure he saw her again.

* * * * * * * *

Molly's tests all came back negative, and she was released from the hospital late the next morning. The doctors warned to her be careful about eating properly, getting enough rest, and avoiding stress. Yeah, right, she thought. Don't they remember their own grad-school days?

As she walked into the lobby a tall, auburn-haired man approached her. Sanjouin Masato. She stopped and stared at him. Surely he couldn't be here for her. He must be coming to visit some other dumb girl who had fainted in front of him. "Hey, Molly," he said. He walked up to her and relieved her of her bookbag. "I called here this morning to see how you are, and they said they're letting you go. I thought I'd offer you a ride. Lunch, too, unless you've stuffed yourself on delicious hospital food."

Molly fought to get her speech-center neurons back in gear. He had come for her? No way. "That'd be great. Lunch, I mean. And a ride."

He smiled, and looked genuinely happy. "Great."

They walked to a cafe near the hospital and ate on the patio. "Okay, Molly," he said, "in exchange for lunch I want your life story. Talk to me."

"I guess you like being bored," she said, laughing. "Well, I was born here, and grew up in the Juuban district. My parents owned a jewelry store; it's gone now. My father was Japanese. He died when I was little. My mother was American, from New York City, but she stayed here even after my father died. The store was successful enough that she didn't want to just leave it. We lived here until I was fifteen, then she just suddenly sold everything and took me to the States. I think something must have happened, to force us to leave, but it's strange--I have absolutely no idea what it was. It's the weirdest thing. I can remember clearly back to a few months after we moved to America, but I'm totally missing about a year. Before that, before the part I'm missing, I have all facts, but it's like someone told me the story of my life without me actually experiencing it."

Masato was giving her a very serious, intense look. "Is something wrong?" she asked.

"No, no. I just thought of something. It isn't important, though. Go on. This is very interesting."

"Oh." She ate another bite of her chicken salad, chased it with a swallow of white wine. "Anyway, and this is part of what I don't remember, it's what my mother told me, at first we tried to go back to her family, but they'd never forgiven her for marrying a 'foreigner.' Baker was my mother's maiden name, by the way. My real last name must be something Japanese, but I haven't been able to find out what it is. My mother legally changed our names to Baker in hopes of getting her family to accept us. Didn't work. So, after a few months in New York, my mother got a job with a prestigious jeweler in San Antonio, Texas, and we moved there. This is where my memory starts to come back. I finished high school in San Antonio and went to college not far from there. My mother died of cancer right after I finished my Master's degree, and that was when I decided to come back here. I wanted to try to find some pieces to the puzzle, you know, remember my childhood and figure out what happened to make us leave."

"You sound a little like Texas."

"Yeah, I know." She let her Texas twang intensify. "It rubs off on you really fast, there. I can also do Brooklyn, and standard Japanese." As she spoke she slid smoothly in and out of the different accents. "Which one do you like best?"

"Texas. Brooklyn's cute, too."

"Brooklyn seems to come most naturally, but I try to not use it. People make fun of it."

Masato touched her hand lightly. "I won't, I promise."

"It's funny," Molly went on. "'Molly' isn't at all a Japanese name. I have the feeling my name used to be something else, and for some reason my mother dubbed me 'Molly' after we moved to America." Molly laughed a little. "You probably think I'm nuts, all these holes in my memory. I've had my share of therapy, and it hasn't done me any good at all."

"Actually," Masato said, "I don't think you're crazy. I sort of have the same problem. I'm sure you know the story--I was missing for three years, then I turned up at a hospital in Germany. They found me unconscious and stark naked outside the doors of the emergency room, as though someone had just dumped me there. I remember absolutely nothing about those three years, and though my life up until then is well-documented, none of the facts mean anything to me. In fact, sometimes I get the feeling that my real life has nothing to do with the so-called facts."

"Weird," Molly said. "And I always thought I was the only one." Numbers clicked together in her head. "Wait. It was nine years ago that you disappeared, and nine years ago when my memory loss occurred. Maybe the whole city of Tokyo was subjected to some sort of memory-destroying epidemic." She laughed at herself. "Yeah, right. Aliens with their amnesia rays."

Masato laughed too, and waved down the waiter to order dessert. He requested chocolate-hazelnut torte. "Want to try it?"

"No, thanks. I don't like chocolate." Molly paused, feeling confused. "Now that was weird. That's the sort of thing that happens to me. I don't like chocolate, as far as I know I've never liked it, but it was like something deep inside was telling me that isn't true, I actually love chocolate. Maybe I do need more therapy. Um," she said to the patiently-waiting waiter, "I'll have the orange-almond sorbet."

"How can life be worth living if you don't like chocolate?" Masato asked.

"It's a meaningless, miserable existence."

They laughed a little, then Masato said, "So now you're at Juuban University. What are you studying there?"

"I'm working on a Ph.D. in economics. I'll be doing my dissertation on gemstones in the world market. I've barely started my research, and I'm already seriously considering strangling my advisor. He's totally demented."

Masato gave her a challenging smile. "It's all voodoo, anyway. Formal economics, I mean."

Molly leaned forward to whisper to him. "You know that, and I know that, but if the universities of the world ever figure it out, a lot of people who can't cope with real life will be out of jobs. And I'll lose my grant."

He laughed. "In my opinion, the only things it's important to know about money are how to make as much of it as possible, and how to make sure other people steal as little as possible."

"I think you would have some very interesting conversations with some of my friends from school."

"Does that mean I'll get to meet them?"

Molly suddenly felt shy and embarrassed. Here she was, talking like they were actually going to have a relationship. "If you're lucky."

They smiled, looking into each other's eyes, not noticing the desserts the waiter brought. Then Molly glanced at her watch. "Oh, wow, I've got a class this afternoon I really can't miss, and I need to go home first." She dug into her sorbet while Masato nibbled at a bite of torte.

"How about dinner one evening soon?" he asked.

"I'd love to!" She couldn't believe it--gorgeous Sanjouin Masato was actually asking her out on a date. "Let's see." She took her planner out of her bookbag, and leafed through the entries for the next week. "No. Oh, rats, no, how about--Rats."

"Here. Let me see." Masato reached across the table and took the planner from her. He glanced over the pages, then took the pencil out of its little loop, crossed something out, and wrote something. He handed the planner back to her and she looked at the next evening's entry. He had crossed out 7:00 Liberal Arts Curriculum Student Advisory Committee Meeting and written in 7:30 Dinner with Masato.

"Hey, that's a really important meeting I have to go to!"

"More important than dinner with me?"

Actually... Those meetings were so boring and pointless, Molly had forgotten why she had even volunteered for that committee in the first place. She smiled. "You're kind of arrogant, aren't you?"

He smiled back. "It's one of my best qualities."

Molly laughed, and they finished their desserts. Masato put a quantity of cash down on the table without even waiting for the check, and led Molly down the street to where he had parked his car. "Oh, wow, a Testarossa," she exclaimed before she could stop herself. "A few of my mom's jewelry clients in San Antonio had these, but I never thought I'd ever actually ride in one myself."

"It's fun," Masato said as he held the passenger door open for her. "Just hold on and try not to yell." He got in the other side.

"Isn't this kind of conspicuous consumption?"

He started the powerful engine. "I work hard. I figure I've earned the right to do some conspicuous consuming." He pulled out into traffic. Molly had to shut her eyes and clench her fists to keep from yelling. His goal when driving seemed to be to do seventy miles an hour in city traffic without stopping or slowing down. "You've got to watch where we're going," he said to Molly, "so you can tell me where your apartment is."

She shouted the address through clenched teeth. It wasn't too far; a few minutes later the Ferrari screeched to a stop in front of her building. Molly opened her eyes and pried her fingers loose from the seat. "You must have a revolving account at the traffic fines department."

Masato grinned. "They never catch me. And what's the point of having a fast car if you don't drive fast?"

He saw her upstairs to the door of her apartment. "Tomorrow evening, then? 7:30?"

"That'll be fine," Molly said. She turned to unlock the door, but he set a hand on her shoulder, bent down, and lightly kissed her cheek. "I'll pick you up then. Take care, Molly."

Molly sagged against the door, watching him get back on the elevator. She touched her cheek where he had kissed it. This was too incredible. It couldn't be real. She must have hallucinated the last twenty-four hours. She took out her planner again and looked at the next night's schedule. There it was, in his spiky, elegant handwriting, 7:30 Dinner with Masato. "Oh, wow!" she said, hugging the calendar to her chest. She thought she would burst with excitement.

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return to Index / go to Chapter 2

The Nephrite and Naru Treasury