Ruthanna went back down to the living room, where most of the action was. Mr. Bailey and his friend, a big man with a childlike face, were maneuvering the brown secretary desk.
“Now, Brother Switzer, you lift on that side and back it into the living room,” said Mr. Bailey.
“Hang on a second. All right, I’ve got it,” Mr. Switzer replied.
Mrs. Taylor flew out of the kitchen and exclaimed, “Be careful with that desk, please! It was my great-grandmother’s desk!”
“Was it really?” said Mr. Switzer. “Just point where you want it, and Sam and I will scoot it over real carefully.”
“Yes. Um, Ruthanna, where would be a good place for the secretary desk?”
“I don’t know. How about that corner?” Ruthanna suggested. She pointed to the right of the fireplace.
“Yeah, that’s probably the best place for it,” said Mrs. Taylor. “Put it over in that corner, please.”
“All right, ma’am. Ready? Lift!” The two men quickly moved the desk into the corner and set it down gently.
“Thank you so much.” Mrs. Taylor was grateful that her great-grandma’s desk had been moved without a scratch.
“I bet that desk never dreamed that it would come to Japan one day,” Ruthanna said.
“Do desks have dreams?” Nicole teased. She, too, had come into the living room to watch the moving. “You talk like Grace does when she plays with her plastic dogs.”
“Who’s Grace?” Ruthanna wanted to know.
“My little sister. Now do you want to go to my house and meet her?”
“OK, I guess so,” Ruthanna said, without enthusiasm.
“But can we get out with the truck still in the road?” Mrs. Taylor wondered.
“Yeah, I saw some steps over by the wood shed that go down from the wall,” said Nicole.
The ladies shrugged into their coats, got their boots on in the genkan, and walked along the wall and carefully down the steps to the road.
“Where are you going?” Mr. Taylor called, when he saw his wife and daughter about to slide down the icy road.
“To the Baileys’ house in Cabin Quarters. Nicole’s showing us the way,” Mrs. Taylor shouted.
“OK. Just come back before lunchtime. The men have a little Japanese joint in mind for us to eat at.”
“See you later, Papa!” Ruthanna called.
Ruthanna found it hard to keep from slipping on the ice, but Nicole jumped from one snow-covered spot to the next, and Ruthanna and her mother tried to follow.
“How in the world will the men get the truck down this mountain if they can’t turn it around?” Mrs. Taylor worried.
“Maybe they’ll have to back it down,” Nicole said.
“I certainly hope not! But you know those men. They never think things out ahead of time. They’re sure they can handle whatever comes up.”
“I wonder what they will do,” said Ruthanna. “There sure wasn’t space to turn around—whoops!” She slipped and fell on her fanny. “Ouch!”
Mrs. Taylor tried to help Ruthanna up, but when she tugged at Ruthanna’s mitten, it jerked off her hand, and Mrs. Taylor also fell sprawling in the snow.
“Oh dear! You two need your ice legs!” Nicole cried. She eventually succeeded in pulling them up. “We’re almost to the bottom of the hill. It’s not far from there.”
“I hope not! I’m cold,” Ruthanna said emphatically.
The threesome walked and slipped the rest of the way, from the Taylors’ mountain and through Cabin Quarters.
“There’s our house,” said Nicole. She waved her glove at a cabin a short way off the path. From the door appeared a lanky teenaged boy followed by the “little girl” Mr. Bailey had mentioned.
How do they all fit into this tiny cabin? Ruthanna puzzled, as she sized up the Baileys’ home. They should’ve rented our new house. Then they would have had plenty of room. It doesn’t seem fair.
“Come on inside,” Nicole urged the new neighbors. Her brother said “Howdy,” and shook hands with Mrs. Taylor, but their younger sister remained silent. The young Baileys, Ruthanna, and Mrs. Taylor stepped through the door into the minuscule genkan. They yanked off their boots and entered the Baileys’ living room in their stocking feet.
Inside, though it was crowded, the house had an air of coziness, with mauve and blue decor and vanilla-scented candles. The only thing that looked like it needed to be bigger was the refrigerator. On the front, missionary pictures from every corner of the earth vied for space, and friendly-faced chickens adorned the side.
Nicole introduced her family. “This is my mom,” she said. “Mom, this is Mrs. Taylor and Ruthanna.”
“Pleased to meet you. My name is Phyllis,” said Mrs. Bailey.
“This is Levi. He’s thirteen,” Nicole continued. “And my little sister is Grace.”
Grace and Ruthanna regarded one another for a moment. Grace realized that Ruthanna Taylor, age 10, was not the way she had pictured her. Ruthanna had long brown hair and wore a red fuzzy sweater and a dark blue skirt.
Ruthanna saw a girl shorter than herself wearing gray slacks and a sweatshirt with a German shepherd on it. I wonder how Grace’s mom fixed that braid in her hair, thought Ruthanna. It looks different. It seems to have more than three strands, and they’re woven in and out.
“Come on into my bedroom and Nicole’s,” said Grace to her new acquaintance.
Ruthanna stepped into the room and said, “Oh, you have bunk beds!”
“Yeah. We couldn’t fit in here if we didn’t.”
“I see what you mean,” said Ruthanna. The tight little room was stuffed with a bunk bed, two dressers, a bookshelf, and a fish tank. Various posters were stuck on the walls, and funny koala bears looked down from the curtains.
Grace decided it was time to ask Ruthanna what she really wanted to know. “Do you like animals?”
“Not particularly,” answered Ruthanna, always truthful. Then she asked Grace a question. “Do you like books?”
“No. I have a lot of books that I read for school, but I only like books about animals. . . . We can look at this book with hidden pictures, anyway, if you want,”
“OK.” Ruthanna smiled, but inside she was disappointed.
Grace pulled a large, colorful book from her shelf. “We’re supposed to look for a kitten in every picture,” she said, as she opened it.
“I see the kitten already,” cried Ruthanna, and she pointed to a fuzzy gray kitten under a bush.
“Wow, you’re quick. You must be smart.”
“Yeah, I guess so. I’m a grade ahead in school, but that’s because I started kindergarten when I was four.”
“Really? I’m ahead too, but not because I started early. Mom switched us to a different curriculum a few years ago, and I got into the next grade then. I’ve been homeschooled since second grade. What grade are you in, anyway?”
“Sixth grade,” said Ruthanna. “What about you?”
“I’m in fifth grade. I thought we would be in the same grade. You’re ten, and my tenth birthday is next week.”
“Yeah, that’s what your sister said. My birthday was in August.”
“So you are a little older.”
“Mm-hmm. There’s a calico kitten. Are you going to have a birthday party?”
“I don’t know. There aren’t any gaijin kids my age to invite—except you, I mean. Gaijin means foreigner in Japanese—only I always say, ‘I’m not a guy-jin, I’m a girl-jin!’ ”
“That’s hilarious!” said Ruthanna, laughing. “But I already knew the word gaijin. I lived in Japan before, when I was little, and people pointed me out as a gaijin all the time”
“You did? Did you go to Japanese school?”
“No, Mama taught me at home. I learned the Japanese alphabet the same time I learned the English alphabet.”
“I came to Japan a year ago,” said Grace, “but I barely know any Japanese. Don’t you think it would be fun to attend school with the Japanese kids?”
Ruthanna looked up at Grace, surprised. She frowned and said, “Sometimes it would be, I guess, but I would be so nervous not knowing what was going on half the time.”
Ruthanna turned a page in the picture book, and began to daydream about Grace and the fun they might have together. It’ll be great having a friend this close to my house, she thought. We can walk over and play games any day. I hope Grace likes to play make believe. She already said she doesn’t like to read, but I love to read! How can I have a friend who doesn’t like books?
Meanwhile, Grace was having strong doubts about Ruthanna. Since finding out that Ruthanna was not interested in animals, Grace was not at all sure that she even liked Ruthanna. She seemed a little stuck-up. Grace wished that this new girl were more enthusiastic about the idea of going to Japanese school, because the Douglas girls used to tell her such funny stories about school. Since Eileen and Rebekah had left Karuizawa a few months ago, Grace had been wishing and praying so hard for a new friend. Now that Ruthanna had come, Grace was worried that she would still feel lonely and—and different from the people around her.
Each girl secretly felt that her preconceived image was fading away, to be replaced by a living person. Grace and Ruthanna were unsure whether their acquaintance would become anything more personal. However, as they continued their life in Japan together, each would discover the other to be a true friend—loving, sympathetic, and loyal.