by Moon Momma

Chapter 3

* * * * * * * *

For the next few weeks, Masato and Molly saw each other nearly every day, usually getting together for lunch or dinner. On the days when they didn't see each other, if Masato had to spend extra time at his office or Molly had a deadline for an assignment, they spent much of the evening on the phone. Molly was having to put in a lot of late nights to keep up with her schoolwork, and her distraction was obvious to everyone she knew at school. Keiko, in particular, teased her about it. "Honestly, Molly, what is it with you lately? You were never such an airhead before."

They were eating lunch in the small office shared by half a dozen teaching assistants. "I'm in love," Molly said dreamily, staring over her box lunch. "Have you ever been in love, Keiko? It's wonderful."

"In love, huh? Who with, that 'gorgeous millionaire'?"

"Yeah. And he's in love with me." She rested her chin on her hands and stared into space, seeing Masato's face in front of her.

Keiko put her sandwich down. "Face facts, Molly. There is no gorgeous millionaire. If you really do have a boyfriend, he's probably old, fat, and married. You're living in fantasy land."

Molly came back to Earth. "Hey, it isn't my fault if you don't believe me." She pulled out a stack of essays from the first-year class she was assisting with, and began marking them. Keiko snorted, and went back to her sandwich.

* * * * * * * *

Wednesday, three weeks and one day after they met (Molly counted each day like a coin added to a treasure chest), Masato called and said, "Some old friends of mine who live in the U.S. are in town and I want you to meet them. Is tomorrow evening ok?"

"Sure." Molly had stopped scheduling things in the evenings, so she could be free for dates or long phone calls.

"Good. I've told them about you, and they're anxious to meet you. I think you'll like them. They're interesting guys."

"Just tell me they don't also have memory lapses," Molly said, laughing.

"Actually, they do."

"You're kidding. What is it with you, Masato? You seem to attract people with amnesia."

"I'm just talented that way, I guess. Anyway, Mallory and Zeb--short for Zebedee, if you can believe that--were just living on the streets in Chicago for who knows how long when one day it was like they woke up and said, 'Wait a minute, what the hell are we doing here?' They saw my picture in a magazine and recognized me, I mean they knew they had known me before, and looked me up. I knew that I had known them, before my disappearance, so I gave them some help getting on their feet. That was about five years ago."

"Wow. You have a very weird life, Masato."

"At least it isn't boring, Molly-chan."

Molly stretched out on her futon. She liked hearing Masato's deep voice on the phone and pretending that he was actually with her. "So tell me more."

"Well, Mallory owns a tour business. He organizes and leads adventure tours, wilderness excursions, that kind of thing. He's a very talented pilot; he can land a bush plane in places where sane people wouldn't think of trying it. I loaned him the money to start the business and take flying lessons."

"That was nice of you."

"Well." Molly could hear the verbal shrug. "Five percent interest, to be repaid over ten years, I suppose it was nice. Anyway, he's become very successful. His latest thing is taking people to Antarctica."

"Oh, wow, I'd love to go there and see the penguins. Have you ever gone on one of his trips?"

Masato laughed. "Are you kidding? As far as I'm concerned, the only way to fly is first class with lots of Valium. Or champagne."

Molly laughed too. "And what about the other guy. Zeb?"

"Zeb. He's an artist. Very... innovative, I guess is one way to put it. I give him some support, fund his exhibitions. Also, he goes along on a lot of Mallory's tours, leads the clients in what he calls 'wilderness art encounters.' As I understand it, these sessions usually end up with more paint on naked bodies than on paper."

"They do sound... interesting. It'll be fun to meet them."

"One thing, though. They're a couple, and they see no reason to hide it. They look like normal guys, or as close to normal as they can get, but they are not at all shy about public displays of affection. I thought I'd better warn you, in case this makes you uncomfortable."

"I think I can handle it."

"If it does start to bother you, just tell them to stop it. I have to do that sometimes. They don't mind--I think they're just trying to find out how much they can get away with in public. Anyway, here's the plan. I'll pick you up a little after six, and we'll all get together at my place so you can meet Zeb and Mallory without having to shout at them over a bunch of noise. I've made dinner reservations for seven-thirty, then maybe we'll do some club-hopping, then back to my place for dessert. Sound okay?"

"Sounds fine." Masato liked to be the one in charge of making plans, and Molly was content to let him.

"Oh, and wear that great black dress."

"Of course."

* * * * * * * *

The next evening, when Molly walked into Masato's apartment, she first noticed a tall, well-built man with a long platinum ponytail and pale blue eyes. He wore black pants and black turtleneck, with a beaded suede vest. Then Molly looked at his companion, a shorter, slender man with a thick, reddish-blond ponytail and green eyes. The world spun; memories of terror, evil, darkness washed over her. She cried out, then everything went dark.

When she started to come around again, Masato was kneeling by her side. Zeb hovered nearby, looking concerned. "You and I seem to have the most remarkable effect on women, Zeb," Masato said

Molly sat up, rubbing her forehead. Masato held her for a moment, then helped her stand up. "You okay?"

"Just fatally embarrassed, that's all."

"Don't worry about it. I already warned them about you."

Molly laughed a little, but still had to bury her face against his shirt for a moment before she felt ready to face his friends. Finally she turned around to look at them. "Sorry. Really, I don't do that every time I meet someone. I'm Molly Baker."

"I'm Mallory Clair, and this is Zeb Mackenzie." The taller man spoke for both of them.

Molly shook their hands. "It's nice to meet you. Masato has told me a lot about you."

"He's told us a lot about you," Zeb said. He was actually dressed more conventionally than his partner, in a dark suit, pastel shirt, and necktie, but he had an extremely feminine beauty that didn't go with the masculine clothing or the light tenor voice. "Like the fact that you tend to faint away at the sight of a devastatingly handsome man."

He said it so kindly that Molly couldn't feel too embarrassed. "Actually, and I'm sure he's told you this, I'm another member of the memory-loss club. I get these flashes of deja vu a lot, and sometimes they make me get dizzy or faint."

"And that's what happened when you saw me? That's very strange. According to Masato, your memory loss has to do with something that happened here nine years ago, and as far as I can remember I've never lived here. Of course, that isn't saying much. I don't remember much of anything before I woke up one day and realized that I was living in a homeless shelter in Chicago."

They chatted a little more over drinks, then went out to dinner in Mallory and Zeb's rental car. "Masato won't fly in a plane piloted by me, and I won't ride in a car driven by Masato," Mallory explained. After dinner they went to a nightclub where two men dancing together wouldn't raise eyebrows.

Molly danced with Masato, Zeb with Mallory, then they sat down at a table. Zeb and Masato resumed what sounded like an old, ongoing argument. "So, Masato," Zeb said, "When are you going to change your mind about funding my tour?"

"Forget it, Zeb."

"You're trying to censor me."

"I'm not trying to censor you. It's fine with me if you want to start doing performance art. On someone else's money."

"Thank you, Masato," Mallory said. "Zeb, aren't your 'wilderness art encounters' performance enough?"

"But I want to take the wilderness to the cities. All that wonderful, uninhibited exploration of nature and the human body--"

"You'll end up getting arrested, Zeb," Masato said.

"But that's the risk a truly brave artist has to take."

"Not on my money he doesn't."

Mallory looked at Molly. "Would you care to dance? This could go on for hours."

"Sure." Molly smiled. They went out to the dance floor. Mallory hadn't said much all evening, but he was a good dancer.

At the table, Zeb forgot his argument and looked at his partner and Molly dancing. "Oh, and I like this song." He looked at Masato, pleading.

"In your dreams, Zeb," Masato said. He sat back in his chair and paid attention to his drink.

A few minutes later, Mallory and Molly returned to the table. "My turn," Zeb said. "May I have this dance, Molly?"

"I'd love to." She followed him back out to the floor.

"You'll have to lead, Molly," Masato called after her.

"I know how to lead," Zeb replied to Masato. He sounded slightly offended.

He was also a good dancer, though, and talked a lot more than Mallory had. "Mallory and I feel like we already know you. For the last three weeks, whenever we've talked to Masato on the phone it's been 'Molly this, Molly that.' You are the sun, the moon, and the stars to that man."

Molly blushed a little. "We just clicked, I guess. Love at first sight."

"We're so glad Masato has finally found someone special. He deserves it. He's the greatest. Did he tell you how he helped Mallory and me get off the streets?"

"He said he loaned Mallory the money for his business."

"Seventy thousand dollars. And it was a gift. We tried to repay him, a year ago. We had enough to pay back about half of it, with interest, but he wouldn't take it. Finally Mallory insisted, and Masato turned right around and gave the money to a bunch of homeless shelters and soup kitchens. He won't talk about it, but with all the money he spends on himself, with that car, the nice clothes, and so on, he gives away even more. All sorts of humanitarian and arts causes. He's a major contributor to some of these banks that make micro-loans, I'm sure you've heard of them. They make small loans to people in under-developed countries, mainly women, to start their own businesses so they can support their families and improve their villages. The loans are repayable with interest, at a low rate, but Masato doesn't make a penny off of them. He donates the funds."

"He's never said anything about any of that to me."

"And he won't, believe me. He's the best, Molly, and he deserves a really terrific girl in his life. I'm glad he's finally found her."

The song ended and they went back to the table, where Mallory and Masato were deep in a discussion about Mallory's tour business. Molly looked at this intelligent, beautiful, generous man she was in love with, and thought her heart would burst. Before sitting down, she hugged him from behind around his broad shoulders, kissed his cheek, and whispered, "I love you so much." He looked at her, smiled, and pulled her chair closer to his. She sat down and he put his arm around her shoulders. "Having fun?"

"Oh, yes, especially with three gorgeous guys to dance with." She smiled at all three of them, then back up at Masato. "It's funny," she said, "I'm the only girl here, and I'm the one with short hair." It occurred to her that Masato always wore gold studs in both his earlobes, Mallory wore a small silver hoop in each ear, and Zeb had a silver hoop in one ear and a diamond stud in the other. "At least I'm wearing more earrings than all three of you put together." She fingered the silver ring high on her left ear, that gave her the edge in the earring count.

Mallory laughed a little. "I never thought of that before. All three of us have long hair, and all three of us wear earrings in both ears."

"A hell of a coincidence," Masato said.

"Maybe we all used to belong to some weird cult where long hair and earrings were required, and we just kept on that way after being rescued and un-brainwashed," Zeb said. The others all laughed, while Zeb protested, "But I mean it! I think there must be more to this than fashion choices."

Masato looked at Molly and said, "Remember those aliens with their amnesia rays?"

Molly laughed harder while Mallory said, "What aliens?" and the conversation went downhill from there. Soon, Masato looked at his watch and suggested they go on back to his place for dessert.

He had bought a selection of pastries at a bakery, including some non-chocolate items for Molly. While they ate pastries and drank coffee, Molly noticed Mallory and Zeb scooting closer to each other, then giving each other soulful looks. "We'd better call it a night," Mallory finally said. They hugged Masato and Molly, kissed Molly on her cheek, and left, hand in hand.

"I can't believe it," Masato said when they were out the door. "I've never seen them behave so well."

Molly smiled as she gathered up plates, forks, cups and saucers. "I feel honored."

"Hey, you don't have to do that." Masato picked up the things Molly hadn't been able to get and followed her into the kitchen.

"I don't mind. You went to all the trouble to arrange such a fun evening, I want to help a little." They put everything in the dishwasher, then Masato took Molly's hand and led her back out to the living room. They both sat down on the big, overstuffed, leather-upholstered sofa.

"Zeb told me all about how you helped them," Molly said. "That was incredibly generous of you."

"I just like to make sure the people I care about are taken care of, that's all."

She settled back against him and he wrapped his arms around her. "I'd like it if every evening could be like this," he said. "Not with Mal and Zeb tagging along, but you and me doing whatever we're doing, working or relaxing or whatever, together."

"I'd like that too," Molly said.

He was silent for a moment. "I know we haven't known each other very long, and it's probably too soon for this, but... Will you marry me?"

Molly caught her breath. For some reason she suddenly felt like she was going to start crying. "It's not too soon."

"So, will you marry me?"

She turned in his arms to face him. "Yes, I'll marry you." She leaned forward, pressing him down against the sofa cushions, and kissed him deeply.

After a long time he sat up and gently shifted her aside. "I'd better take you home now."

"Hmm?" She had almost expected him to ask her to stay.

"When you spend the night with me, I want it to be for good. The first night of every night for the rest of our life."

It never would have occurred to Molly that a man wanting to wait to go to bed with her would make her feel even more loved, but somehow it did. "That's what I want, too," she said, surprised.

He smiled at her. "It won't be too long, we'll get married as soon as we can plan the wedding of your dreams."

Molly thought for a moment. "Outdoors. In a garden or park." Park... She shuddered slightly, as she thought of the park that they wouldn't go in.

He seemed to read her thoughts. "Not a park. I'll find a garden somewhere." He paused. "At night, under the stars."

"With lots of little white lights in the trees."

"And a jazz quartet, and dancing."

"And a nice buffet, of course. With a chocolate cake for you."

"We won't invite everyone we know, just the people we want to celebrate with."

"I'm afraid that won't be very many, in my case." She kissed him. "Masato? I don't want you to pay for all of this. My mother left me some money, and I want to pay half."

He smiled and caressed her face. "We'll work it out later, okay?"

"I just don't want to feel like I'm burdening you."

"It's no burden, love. I'll do things however you want, and don't you worry about it. Just one thing, though. I will not wear a tux."

"You can wear whatever you want. It doesn't matter to me, as long as we're married."

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return to Index / go to Chapter 4

The Nephrite and Naru Treasury