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The Festival of Dolls

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"Oh, Suzuki – it looks so unstable," Kate shot another worried glance at the sort-of staircase covered with a red carpet. 

"Nonsense," the maid shook her head. "If it was stable in my mistress's home, it will be stable here."

"I'm still not sure she would have wanted me to have it."

"Her family cut ties with her anyway," Suzuki sighed. "If she allowed you to care for Sorrow, she surely wouldn't have begrudged you the dolls."

"Well... er... could you help me put them up?"

The porcelain dolls looked so dainty and fragile that Kate was afraid of touching them. Suzuki told her that they had been passed from mother to daughter in Butterfly's family for several generations, and since Kate was now the adoptive mother of Butterfly's son, it was only fair that her daughter would get the dolls.

"Of course. Here, look – these are the Emperor and Empress..."

Suzuki had hated Kate in the beginning, and Kate understood it only too well. But the Japanese maid dearly loved her late mistress's son Sorrow – now christened Nicholas – and came to visit him as often as she could, so she couldn't help but form a kind of friendship with the woman who took care of him. Kate's deep remorse for unwittingly causing Cio-Cio-san's death, as well as her respect for the Japanese and her eagerness to learn the language, endeared her to Suzuki too. When little Laura was born, Suzuki began to dote on her almost like she did on Sorrow, nicknaming the girl Ai and (Kate feared) spoiling her rotten whenever her mother's back was turned.

Now Laura was three, and it dawned on Suzuki that she should have Cio-Cio-san's doll set for Hinamatsuri, Doll's Day.

Kate was ashamed by how Suzuki fussed over her family. Her nightmares were still haunted by the pale desperate face and broken look of Cio-Cio-san, little more than a child, clinging to her maid for support. 

It would have been easier, she admitted, if Suzuki had continued to hate her. In that case, she would have avoided her house, and Kate wouldn't have been reminded daily of the tragedy she herself had caused.

The dolls were all in their places.

"You see, it's beautiful!"

"Yes, Suzuki, thank you," Kate smiled. "Laura will love it, I know. And... There are some traveling American families with daughters her age or a bit older, and I invited them to a party on the third of March."

"Oh, madam, it's so thoughtful of you! Could you also invite some of our little girls?"

"I would be only too glad, but they don't speak English, it would be strained..."

"Don't worry! I will take care of them! Oh, you will win everyone's hearts by celebrating Hinamatsuri! Will you let me help you with the dinner?"

"I was just going to ask you about that. You know that I'm not really familiar with rice. I haven't eaten it very often before settling here... Now, shall we call Laura?"

"Just a moment..." Suzuki critically eyed the dolls, then nodded.

"Laura! Nick!"

It didn't take too long before the kids burst into the room. Blond, curly-haired, blue-eyed, they would have looked like full-blood siblings, if it hadn't been for the distinctly Asian features of Nick's face. Nick was four years older, but the two of them were almost inseparable. He seemed to have inherited his mother's tender heart: not only had he accepted Kate as family, but he adored his little sister and didn't care in the slightest if some utterly tactless visitor teased him about his origins.

"Mom, what is it... oh!" Laura squealed with delight as she saw the dolls. "Oh, Aunt Suzuki, did you bring them?" she easily switched to Japanese. "They're so pretty! Thank you, thank you, thank you! Can I look closer?"

"Yes, Ai, dear," Suzuki beamed. "I brought them, but they aren't actually mine. They are your mother's, Sorrow."

"Really?" Nick whispered, growing serious at once. He, too, came closer and touched the paper lantern at the Emperor's side with one finger.

Kate was "Mama" when he addressed her, but she herself was determined not to let him forget about Cio-Cio-san. When he said "Mother", he only meant the latter.

"They belonged to her mother before her, and her grandmother..." Suzuki began to explain. She grew more and more enthusiastic, telling the kids about the customs connected with Hinamatsuri, and the holiday's history, and each of the dolls. Kate blushed with embarrassment, straining her hearing: she still had troubles understanding Japanese when it was spoken so fast. Nick and Laura had no such problems: their eyes shining with interest, they peppered Suzuki with questions.

"Kate, darling, where are you?" her husband's voice came from the front door.

"We're here!" she called back as she hurried downstairs to meet him with Nick and Laura in tow.

"Dad, you're home! Dad, you just look at the dolls Suzuki gave us!" the children cried.

The early months of Kate's relationship with her husband were anything but sunny. She had been struggling with shock and guilt over Cio-Cio-san's death and her own part in causing it, and if it hadn't been for Nick and the need to support him, she would have really preferred remaining alone for a very good while. However, over time, she had felt at peace again – and had her faith in men's good qualities restored.

She kissed her husband on the cheeks as Nick and Laura jumped around them, pouring out Suzuki's stories about Hinamatsuri and peach blossoms and did Dad know how very old these dolls were?

"Please, you little parrots, let your father have some rest," Kate laughed. "He's had a long day as it is."

"Don't worry, they don't bother me," he said as he scooped both into his arms. Nick and Laura giggled happily. "It seems that we're now celebrating Doll's Day, too? A wonderful idea – who came up with it?"

"Suzuki told me of the dolls, and I figured we might just as well host a party. Besides, it will be such fun for Nick and Laura."

"The news has already spread like lightning. Oh, and the Leverlys arrived on the Josephine yesterday, they're asking if their little Nelly can come too."

"Tilda Leverly? I haven't seen her for... oh, eight years! I'll write the invitation right after dinner!"

She didn't even wait that long. As her husband, the children and Suzuki sat down to eat, Kate sat at her desk and quickly wrote the invitation card. Matilda Leverly, née Morrison, had been one of her best friends at school, but after school, as it often happens, they didn't stay in close contact, meeting only occasionally at parties and other gatherings. That's why, after writing the formal lines, Kate added a bit of her own:

So much has happened since we last saw each other in Boston! I have such a lot to tell you, and I would love you to meet my family. I'm sure Nelly and Laura will be friends. Looking forward to seeing you again,

Kate Sharpless.

(Don't be scandalized, Tilda; yes, I divorced Pinkerton and married the consul, but the story is too complicated to explain in an invitation card. I'll tell you the details when you come here)