Chapter Thirteen: A Beautiful Day
Haru slowly moved her head, and recognized the feel of her couch against her cheek. She cracked one eye open with effort to see her living room. Sunlight poured in from her window, declaring that it was late in the morning, possibly noon.
Oh, come on! No way was all that a dream! She sat up slowly, the blanket that had been wrapped around her falling into her lap. Blanket? She looked at what had been covering her, which definitely wasn't a blanket. It was a white jacket. The suit kind. Just then Haru noticed a heavenly smell coming from her kitchen. Is that tea? Haru could see a white top hat on her kitchen table, and a cane that was hanging from the back of one of the two chairs surrounding it. Her heart stopped beating, and then sped up to a pace that she had previously thought to be impossible.
Someone had been moving around in her kitchen until she had straightened up on the couch, making the hidden spring squeak slightly. After a few seconds, she heard the scrape of china on the counter, and steps heading toward the living room. And a very handsome young man stepped around the corner, holding two cups of tea. He smiled warmly at her.
"Good morning, Haru. Or afternoon, whichever you prefer." There was no mistaking that accent. She laughed slightly as she took in his new appearance. No wonder Fredrick had stared when he first saw her painting. He did look a lot as he did as a cat, with the same color of hair that his fur had once been, and his eyes were the same green that she loved, though more rounded than she was used to. She grinned back at him.
"Morning, Baron." He gave her one of the teacups and sat down beside her as she inhaled the fumes. This wasn't from one of my teabags.
"It's my personal blend. A bit different every time, so no guarantees about the flavor," he informed Haru, reading her mind. He uttered a silent prayer as the young lady next to him took a sip. She instantly brightened further.
"Wow! This is the best I've ever tasted!" He grinned, relieved.
"Then you're lucky. It was always bitter for Louise."
Louise. Toto! Muta!
"Baron! What happened after…?" Baron took a sip before answering her.
She's right, this is a good batch!
"We, that is to say, Muta, Toto, you and I, were changed into humans as we were transported to your apartment. The sun was rising, and you were the only one that was asleep."
"How's Toto's arm?"
"In perfect condition. He'll be fine. And Muta is back in his old shape." Haru raised an eyebrow.
"Yes. I'm certain you've noticed his weight as a cat?" She nodded.
"Well, that was due to Louise. Muta's very weight conscious, so she asked the old cat King to make him fat and unable to get it off. So eating all the fish the Cat Kingdom isn't to blame, although I'm sure he enjoyed splurging this once." Haru was a bit stunned, but started giggling.
"I guess that explains why he was able to take out so many of the guards. He wouldn't have been able to do that if he were really a fatso. Speaking of which, where is he and Toto?"
"They wanted to start another fight, so I sent them on an errand so that you could sleep." Haru gazed warmly at him.
"I hope you don't mind," he looked down, fearing that she would, "but I gave them the emergency fifty that you like to keep underneath the front rug."
"Not at all, that's what it's there for. What did you ask them to do?"
"Muta makes a mean angel food cake, and I felt it was time for a celebration."
"Did you warn them about what they might encounter on the streets?"
"To an extent, but I wouldn't worry unless we get a call from the police asking you to bail them out." Haru had to laugh at that.
"Oh, come on! Those two aren't that bad!"
"You'd be surprised." Baron put down his cup and took her by the hand. "To be truthful, there's another reason I was hoping to get them out of the apartment." She blushed, but put down her cup so that he could hold both of her hands.
"Yes?" Baron took a deep breath.
"You have probably noticed, but it's a little hard not to get attached to someone after spending weeks constantly in that person's presence." She nodded. "I had a bit of difficulty defining how fond of you I really was. That is, until you saved Prince Lune." Haru grinned.
"I think I can still hear your protests echoing in my mind."
"But now you understand why I was so panicked?" Haru was about to answer when he raised one hand to gently hold her face and brush a few hairs back. Her breath caught in her throat, disabling any words that may have issued from her. "When I tried to rescue Louise, I did it out of a sense of duty, not because I had any real feelings for her. She was supposed to be my wife one day, like our parents had agreed when we were small." Haru had known that arranged marriages were common back then, but kept her mouth shut, hoping that she knew where this was leading.
"But when I saw you deliberately place yourself in a very dangerous situation to save a life, even though it was a cat's, I nearly lost control. And then when the Cat King came for you, I did lose control. I was scared, Haru."
"I already promised not to jump in front of cars anymore."
"And if you see a child on the street this evening? Do you think you could keep that promise?" She grinned guiltily.
"Probably not. And I doubt that you could either." Baron's smile warmed Haru almost as much as his embrace did.
"That's one of the reasons I love you so much, Haru." A giddy feeling of ecstasy began to coarse through her veins as she looked again into his wonderful eyes. So this is why Hiromi wanted her to have a boyfriend so much. She felt like she could spend the rest of eternity in Baron's arms and be perfectly content.
"Purr," she said half-jokingly. He chuckled and held her closer. After a minute, Haru gave a jolt. "Oh my gosh! I promised to call Fredrick if I remembered anything else about you!" Baron laughed. After he calmed down a bit, he asked her,
"Do you have any idea how funny it is, to hear you call my little brother Fredrick?"
"Well, I don't exactly know him well enough to know if he's more of a Freddy."
"That could change. I have a feeling that a lot is going to change."
"You mean besides the fact that I'm going to have to kick you out of the apartment?" She had a sense of propriety just as much as he did.
"Well, there's that, too. I was thinking of the sixty years worth of knowledge that Muta, Toto and I have to catch up on in order to survive in today's world." She pulled a face on his behalf.
"Ooh, that is not going to be fun."
"I have a bit of a head start on the project. I regret to inform you that your internet bill is going to be a bit higher than usual."
"How? You can't use the computer."
"Are you sure?" He grinned at her again, unable to keep his face straight for long in Haru's presence.
"Well, how did you learn?"
"I watched what you did. Plus I read the manual." Her jaw dropped in astonishment.
"You…read…the manual?!" He cocked his head at her, amused at her reaction.
"Is that a problem?"
"No, but… no one ever actually reads the manual! It's merely there for decorational purposes!" After a moment, she giggled and wrapped her arms around Baron's neck again. "This also means that you probably know how to use it better than I do. How did you manage to hit all of the keys at your old height?" He laughed as he wrapped his arms around her again.
"You'd be surprised just how many uses a cane can have." She had closed her eyes in contentment, but cracked one open to look at him suspiciously.
"Have you been reading my files?" He grinned guiltily.
"Yes. I must say, I'm rather eager to have a word with this Machida."
"What are you going to do, challenge him to a duel? I got over him years ago."
"I have a problem with anyone that would make you feel half of what I saw in your frog's eyes."
Then he gently tilted her head back with one hand and leaned forward. Haru closed her eyes…
And her front door burst open. Looking over, they could see that it was human versions of Toto and Muta, along with a shamefaced Fredrick. All of them had collapsed on the floor, indicating that they had been listening at the door for some time, the scattered groceries decorating the front entryway. Baron and Haru still had their arms wrapped around each other, and the two steadily turned red.
The two groups stared at each other for a few minutes before the silence was broken.
"I take it back. He's definitely a Freddy."
"Um, hi Baron! Look who we found in the dairy aisle!" Toto's voice was a bit weak. He had the same obsidian eyes and hair to match. As a human, Haru could see the resemblance between Muta and Baron, although his bulky cousin had a slightly different shade of hair.
"Okay, you're right Bird-brain. This definitely explains why Baron was so eager to save Haru."
"I'm surprised that you couldn't see it from the beginning!"
"I'm surprised that he was successfully wooing her with boiled grass!"
"Your refined tastes are showing again!" Baron reluctantly detangled himself from Haru and walked over his feuding friends to his little brother.
"It's surprising that you haven't gotten over your habit of eavesdropping over the past sixty years." Freddy got to his feet, a sheepish grin on his face.
"And turn my back on our family's favorite pastime? Don't be absurd." And the two brothers embraced each other hard.
"I wouldn't have believed half of what those two have told me if I didn't hear them arguing over whether or not to grab mulberries before they saw me." Baron laughed again.
"Those two fighting can provide better identification than a DNA test."
"Speaking of which, that's just what we're going to have to do, if we want the officials to believe that you three are at least descendants of the three that disappeared sixty years ago." Baron nodded solemnly.
"Ah, yes. That will prove to be a bit tricky." Haru had started to help gather groceries when her phone rang.
"Could you guys keep it down while I answer this?" They quieted down as she reached for the phone.
"Haru, where have you been?! I've been trying to reach you since last night!" Hiromi's voice was loud enough for everyone in the room to hear.
"Does that girl ever speak at a normal volume?" Freddy inquired.
"I found another guy, and you're going to have to deal with him since I don't have the time to-" Baron had heard enough and crossed the room to gently take the phone from Haru's grasp.
"I've been longing to tell your friend a few things. Hiromi."
"I'm Haru's boyfriend, and I would greatly appreciate it if you would stop trying to fashion her love life to suit your needs."
"Baron!" Haru couldn't believe that he was telling off her friend, but secretly glad that someone was. Hiromi had turned into a bride-zilla over the past few weeks.
"You can also cancel the date you have arranged, since I will be taking the privilege of escorting her to your wedding tomorrow." Haru then noticed that her wastebasket was stuffed with the baskets and petals that had littered her floor the night before, and she smiled warmly at Baron again.
"I would also appreciate it if you would consider the possibility that Haru has enough problems without you giving her a hard time. I am well aware that you two have been friends for most of your lives, but that is no excuse to accuse her of sniffing paint fumes every time she says something that you don't agree with." He handed the phone back to Haru. "Okay. I'm done." Haru was unable to keep a grin from her face as she raised the receiver to her ear.
"I may have to warn Mom not to call."
"Haru, what was that all about?"
"Baron has a good point, Hiromi. I love you to pieces, but I would appreciate it if you knocked off the paint-fume comments. They got old two minutes after you started them."
"I…I didn't realize that you felt that way. Think you can forgive me?"
"Sure. I know you thought you were being funny or trying to help."
"Thanks. How long have you known that Baron guy?
"I met him the same day as the date with Taro, but he didn't approach me until last night. I've been hanging out with him and his friends, which is why you couldn't reach me."
"What does she mean? I'm the only one that actually did any hanging," Muta muttered.
"Who was that?"
"One of the friends I just mentioned. They stopped by this morning for some cake."
"You can't bake."
"That's why they're here."
"Oh, that makes sense. I'm glad that you found a guy that you're interested in." Haru turned to grin at Baron.
"So am I."
"Well, that's good. Tell his friends that they can come to the wedding if they want."
"I will." Haru watched Muta start mixing the dry ingredients together while Toto beat the eggs.
"See ya tomorrow."
"See ya." Haru hung up the phone and rolled up her sleeves.
"Anything you need me to do, Muta?"