Los Angeles, 1941. Violinist Maddie Kern’s life seemed destined to unfold with the predictable elegance of a Bach concerto. Then she fell in love with Lane Moritomo. Her brother’s best friend, Lane is the handsome, ambitious son of Japanese immigrants. Maddie was prepared for disapproval from their families, but when Pearl Harbor is bombed the day after she and Lane elope, the full force of their decision becomes apparent. In the eyes of a fearful nation, Lane is no longer just an outsider, but an enemy.
When her husband is interned at a war relocation camp, Maddie follows, sacrificing her Juilliard ambitions. Behind barbed wire, tension simmers and the line between patriot and traitor blurs. As Maddie strives for the hard-won acceptance of her new family, Lane risks everything to prove his allegiance to America, at tremendous cost.
Skillfully capturing one of the most controversial episodes in recent American history, Kristina McMorris draws readers into a novel filled with triumphs and heartbreaking loss—an authentic, moving testament to love, forgiveness, and the enduring music of the human spirit.
“Readers of World War II fiction will devour Kristina McMorris's Bridge of Scarlet Leaves, a poignant, authentic story of Japanese and American lovers crossed not only by the stars but by the vagaries of war and their own country's prejudices.”
—Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us
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November 1941 Los Angeles, California
At the sound of her brother's voice, flutters of joy turned to panic in Maddie Kern. "Cripes," she whispered, perched on her vanity seat. "What's he doing home?"
Jo Allister, her closest girlfriend and trusted lookout, cracked open the bedroom door. She peeked into the hall as TJ hollered again from downstairs.
"Maddie! You here?"
It was six o'clock on a Friday. He should have been at his campus job all night. If he knew who was about to pick her up for a date ...
She didn't want to imagine what he would do.
Maddie scanned the room, seeking a solution amidst her tidy collection of belongings — framed family photos on the bureau, her posters of the New York Symphony, of Verdi's Aida at the Philharmonic. But even her violin case, which she'd defended from years of dings and scratches, seemed to shake its head from the corner and say, Six months of sneaking around and you're surprised this would happen?
Jo closed the door without a click and pressed her back against the knob. "Want me to keep him out?" Her pale lips angled with mischief. Despite the full look of her figure, thanks to her baggy hardware store uniform, she was no match for TJ's strength. Only his stubbornness.
"My brother seeing me isn't the problem," Maddie reminded her. She glanced at the clock on her nightstand, and found cause for remaining calm. "Lane shouldn't be here for another twelve minutes. If I can just —"
The faint sound of an engine drove through the thought and parked on her words. Had he shown up early? She raced to the window, where she swatted away her childhood drapes. She threw the pane upward and craned her neck. Around the abandoned remains of her father's Ford, she made out a wedge of the street. No sign of Lane's car. She still had time.
"Hey, Rapunzel," Jo said. "You haven't turned batty enough to scale walls for a fella, have you?"
Maddie shushed her, interrupted by creaks of footfalls on the staircase. "You have to do it," she decided.
Warn Lane, Maddie was about to say, but realized she needed to talk to him herself, in order to set plans to meet later that night. Come tomorrow, he'd be on a train back to Stanford.
She amended her reply. "You've got to distract TJ for me."
Jo let out a sharp laugh. Pushing out her chest, she tossed back stragglers from her ash-brown ponytail. "What, with all my stylish locks and hefty bosom?" Then she muttered, "Although, based on his past girlfriends, I suppose that's all it would take."
"No, I mean — you both love baseball. Chat about that."
Jo raised a brow at her.
"Please," Maddie begged. "You came by to help me get ready, didn't you? So, help me."
"Why not just tell him and get it over with?"
"Because you know how he feels about my dating." A distraction from her future, he called it. The same theory he applied to his own career.
"Maddie. This isn't just about any guy."
"I know, I know, and I'll come clean. But not yet."
A knuckle-rap sounded on her door. "You in there?"
She sang out, "Hold on a minute," and met Jo's eyes. "Please."
Jo hesitated before releasing a sigh that said Maddie would owe her one. A big one.
"I'll come right back," Maddie promised, "once I head Lane off down the block."
After a grumble, Jo pasted on a smile, wide enough for a dentist's exam, and flung open the door. "TJ," she exclaimed, "how 'bout that streak of DiMaggio's, huh?"
Behind his umber bangs, his forehead creased in puzzlement. "Uh, yeah. That was ... somethin'." His hand hung from a loop of his cuffed jeans. Nearly four years of wash and wear had frayed the patch on his USC Baseball sweatshirt. Its vibrancy had long ago faded, just like TJ's.
Diverting from Jo's unsubtle approach, Maddie asked him, "Didn't you have to work tonight?"
"I was supposed to, but Jimmy needed to switch shifts this weekend." His cobalt gaze suddenly narrowed and gripped hers. "You going somewhere special?"
"What?" She softly cleared her throat before thinking to glance down at her flared navy dress, her matching strappy heels. She recalled the pin curls in her auburn, shoulder-length do. The ensemble didn't spell out a casual trip to a picture show.
Jo swiftly interjected, "There's a new hot jazz band playing at the Dunbar. They say Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday might even be there. I'm dragging Maddie along. A keen study in music. You know, for her big audition."
"I thought you were practicing tonight," he said to Maddie.
"I am — I will. After we get back."
"You two going alone?"
"We'll be fine." As everything would be, if he'd let up long enough.
"All right," he said, rubbing the back of his neck. "I'll just grab a bite in the kitchen then come along."
Maddie stifled a gasp. "No, really. You don't have to."
"At the Dunbar? Oh yeah I do."
Criminy. Was he going to hold her hand as they crossed the street to reach the bus stop too?
"TJ, this is ridiculous. I'm nineteen years old. Dad used to let us go out all the —"
He lashed back with a fistful of words. "Well, Dad's gone, and I'm not him. You don't like the deal, you can stay home."
Stunned, Maddie stared at him. He'd spoken the word gone as though their father had died along with their mother.
Jo waved her hands, shooing away the tension. "So it's settled. We'll all go together." Maddie widened her eyes as Jo continued, "And hey, while he's eating, you'll have time to drop off your neighbor's letter. The one the postman delivered by accident."
The letter ...?
Confusion quickly gave way to disappointment. Maddie now had an excuse to sneak out, but only to cancel rather than delay her date with Lane. She hated the prospect of missing one of his rare visits from school.
On the upside, in two weeks he would be back for winter break, offering more opportunities for quality time together.
"Fine, then," she snipped at her brother. "Come if you want."
What other choice did she have?
While Jo bombarded TJ with questions about the World Series, Maddie strode down the hall. Her urge to sprint mounted as she recalled the time. She made it as far as the bottom step when the doorbell rang.
"I'll get it!" She rushed to the entry. Hoping to prevent the disaster from worsening, she opened the door only halfway. Yet at the greeting of Lane's perfect white smile, all her worries evaporated like mist. The warm glow of the portico light caressed his short black hair and olive skin. Shadows swooped softly from his high cheekbones. His almond-shaped eyes, inherited from his Japanese ancestors, shone with the same deep brown that had reached out and captured her heart the first time he'd held her last spring, an innocent embrace that had spiraled into more.
"Hi, Maddie," he said, and handed her a bouquet of lavender lilies. Their aroma was divine, nearly hypnotic, just like his voice.
But then footsteps on the stairs behind her sobered her senses.
"You have to go," was all she got out before TJ called to him.
"Tomo!" It was the nickname he'd given Lane Moritomo when they were kids. "You didn't tell me you were coming home."
The startle in Lane's eyes deftly vanished as his best friend approached.
Maddie edged herself aside. Her heart thudded in the drum of her chest as she watched Lane greet him with a swift hug. A genuine grin lit TJ's face, a rare glimpse of the brother she missed.
"I'm only in till tomorrow," Lane told him. "Then it's straight back for classes." Though several inches shorter than TJ, he emitted a power in his presence, highlighted by his tailored black suit.
"Term's almost over," TJ remarked. "What brought you back?"
"There was a funeral this afternoon. Had to go with my family."
Surprisingly, TJ's expression didn't tense at the grim topic. Then again, Lane always did have the ability — even after the accident — to settle him when no one else could. "Anyone I know?"
"No, no. Just the old geezer who ran the bank before my dad. Came away with some nice flowers at least." Lane gestured to the lilies Maddie had forgotten were in her grip. "Priest said they didn't have space for them all."
TJ brushed over the gift with a mere glance. "I was gonna take the girls to some jazz joint. Any chance you wanna come?"
"Sure. I'd love to," he said, not catching the objection in Maddie's face.
Her gaze darted to the top of the staircase, seeking help. There, she found Jo leaning against the rail with a look that said, Ah, well, things could be worse.
And she was right. Before the night was over, things could get much, much worse.CHAPTER 2
Cigarette smoke at the Dunbar swirled, adding to the fog of Lane's thoughts. Since arriving, he had been struggling to keep his focus on the Negroes playing riffs onstage. Now, with TJ off fetching drinks, he could finally allow his eyes to settle on the profile of Maddie, seated across from him. Her jasmine perfume, while subtle, somehow transcended the wafts of beer and sweat in the teeming club.
From above the bar, blue lights danced over the crowd united in music and laughter — racially integrated, as the entire world would be when Lane was done with it — and rippled shadows across Maddie's face. The narrow slope of her nose led to full lips, moist with a red sheen. Her hazel eyes studied the musicians with such intensity that he chose to merely watch her.
Amazing that he'd known her for more than half his life, yet only months ago had he truly begun to see her. The ache to touch her swelled, along with a desire to make up for lost time. He reached over and brushed the back of her creamy hand resting on their cocktail table.
She jolted, her trance broken. "Sorry," she said, and returned his smile.
"Pretty good, isn't he?" Lane indicated the saxophonist. The long, haunting notes of "Summertime" made the guy's talent obvious even to Lane.
"Yeah, I suppose."
"You don't think so?"
"No, I do. It's just — the structure's so loose, with all those slurs, and the downbeat going in and out. Plus, the key changes are too quick to feel grounded. And during the chorus, his timing keeps —" She broke off, her nose crinkling in embarrassment. "Gosh, listen to me. I sound like a royal snob, don't I?"
"Not at all."
She exaggerated a squint. "Liar."
They both laughed. In truth, he could listen to her talk forever. "God, I've missed you," he said to her.
"I've missed you too." The sincerity in her voice was so deep, he could lose himself in that sound for days. But a moment later, she glanced around as if abruptly aware of the surrounding spectators, and her glimmering eyes dulled, turned solid as her defenses. She slid her hand away, sending a pang down his side.
He told himself not to read into it, that her aversion to a public show of affection wasn't a matter of race. She was simply fearful of jeopardizing her relationship with her brother. Understandable, after all she had been through.
"So," she said. "Where did Jo go?"
"To the ladies' room."
Awkwardness stretched between them as the song came to a close. They joined in with a round of applause. When the next ballad began, it occurred to him that a slow dance would be their only chance for a private, uninterrupted talk. His only chance to hold her tonight. He gestured to the dance floor. "Shall we?"
"I ... don't think we should."
"Maddie, your brother won't get any ideas just because —" A booming voice cut him off. "Evenin', sweet cakes." The guy sidled up to the table near Maddie, a familiar look to him. Beer sloshed in his mug, only two fingers gripping the handle. He had the sway of someone who'd already downed a few. "Fancy seeing you here."
Maddie shifted in her seat, her look of unease growing. "Hi, Paul."
Now Lane remembered him. Paul Lamont. The guy was a baseball teammate of TJ's, ever since their high school years, subjecting Lane to occasional encounters as a result. Even back then, the towhead had carried a torch for Maddie subtle as a raging bonfire.
"What do you say?" Paul licked his bottom lip and leaned on the table toward her. "Wanna cut a rug?"
"C'mon, doll. You don't wanna hurt my feelings, do ya?"
Lane couldn't hold back. "I think the lady's answered."
Paul snapped his gaze toward the challenge. He started to reply when recognition caught. "Well, lookee here. Lane Moratoro." Beer dove from his mug, splashed on Lane's dress shoes.
"It's Moritomo." Lane strove to be civil, despite being certain the error was purposeful.
"Oh, that's right. Mo-ree-to-mo." Then Paul yelled, "Hey, McGhee!"
A guy standing nearby twisted around. His fitted orange shirt and broad nose enhanced his lumberjack's build. "Yeah, what?"
"Got another rich Oriental here who wants to rule our country. Thinks he's gonna be the first Jap governor of — no, wait." Paul turned to Lane. "It's a senator, right?"
Lane clenched his hands under the table. "Something like that." Out of the corner of his eye, he glimpsed Maddie shaking her head in a stiff, just-ignore-him motion.
Paul's lips curled into a wry grin. "Well, in that case, maybe you can help a local citizen out." He put an unwelcome hand on Lane's shoulder. "See, my pop's been truck farming for twenty-some years, working his fingers to the bone. But wouldn't you know it? Jap farmers round here just keep undercutting his damn prices. So I was thinkin', when you're elected senator you could do something about that." His mouth went taut. "Or would your real loyalty be with those dirty slant eyes?"
Lane shot to his feet, tipping his chair onto the floor. He took a step forward, but a grasp pulled at his forearm.
"Lane." It was Maddie at his side. "Let it go." The lumberjack squared his shoulders as she implored, "Honey, forget him. He's not worth it."
At that, Paul's glance ricocheted between her and Lane. He scoffed in disbelief. "Don't tell me you two are ..."
Lane knew he should deny it for Maddie's sake, yet the words failed to form. Again, her touch slipped away, leaving the skin under his sleeve vacantly cold.
Paul snorted a laugh, thick with disgust. "Well, Christ Almighty. Who'd a thought."
Lane's nails bit into his palms. He felt his upper back muscles gather, cinching toward the cords of his neck.
"We got a problem here?" TJ arrived at the scene and put down their drinks.
"Everything's great," Maddie announced. "Isn't it, fellas."
Jitterbug notes failed to cushion their silence.
"Paul?" TJ said.
Paul nodded tightly and replied, "Just fine, Kern. I'm surprised, is all. Figured you'd be more selective about who made moves on your little sister."
TJ's face turned to stone. "What are you sayin'?"
Once more, a denial refused to budge from Lane's throat.
"What, you didn't know either?" Paul said, but TJ didn't respond. With a glint of amusement, Paul shook his head, right as Jo returned to their table. "Goes to prove my point," he went on. "Every one of them filthy yellow Japs is a double-crosser, no matter how well you think you —"
His conclusion never reached the air. A blow from TJ's fist stuffed it back into the bastard's mouth. Paul's beer mug dropped to the floor, arcing a spray across strangers' legs. Shrieks outpoured in layers.
A wall of orange moved closer; McGhee the lumberjack wanted in on the action. Lane lurched forward to intervene. Diplomacy deferred, he shoved the guy with an adrenaline charge that should have at least rocked the guy backward, but McGhee was a mountain. Solid, unmovable. A mountain with a punch like Joe Louis. His hit launched a searing explosion into Lane's eye socket.
The room spun, a carousel ride at double speed. Through his good eye, Lane spied the ground. He was hunched over but still standing. He raised his head an inch and glimpsed TJ taking an uppercut to the jaw. TJ came right back with a series of pummels to Paul's gut.
Lane strained to function in the dizzy haze, to slow the ride. He noted McGhee's legs planted beside him. The thug motioned for Lane to rise for a second round. Before going back in, though, Lane was bringing support. His fingers closed on the legs of a wooden chair. He swung upward, knocking McGhee over a table and into a stocky colored man, who then grabbed him by the orange collar.
"Cops!" someone hollered.
And the music stopped.
"Let's scram, Tomo!" In an instant, TJ was towing him by the elbow. They threaded through the chaos with Maddie and Jo on their heels. They didn't stop until reaching an empty alley several blocks away.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Bridge of Scarlet Leaves"
Copyright © 2012 Kristina McMorris.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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