Chapter Two: A Friend's Disbelief

Haru had managed to crawl out of her bed somewhere around ten and had immediately launched another assault on Baron's portrait. She was just putting the finishing touches on the sketch that she would use as a blue-print when her doorbell rang.

"Just a sec," She called out, gently laying the sketchpad to one side. "It's probably Hiromi," she whispered to Baron as she unlocked the door and peeked through.

"How'd it go?" A cheeky girl with sandy blonde hair was grinning at the brunette, who quickly opened the door wider to allow entry as her eye slightly glazed over.

"How'd what go?" She asked, genuinely confused. Hiromi couldn't resist the urge to roll her eyes.

"The date, Haru. With Taro." The painter closed the door, her eyes now longer glazed.

"He's not going to make the cut." Hiromi's shoulders slumped.

"Ah, come on, Haru. Couldn't you at least of given the guy a chance?"

"Maybe I could have, if he didn't demonstrate his ability to talk about napkin folding for almost half an hour!"

Hiromi's eyes widened in shock. "You're kidding." Her voice went low in disbelief.

"Nope. Good news is that the storm came up before the half hour could turn into a full one. At least I met the key to cracking my artist's block!"

"That's great Haru, but-"

"Do you want to see him?"

Hiromi's face brightened. "Him? Absolutely!"

Haru walked over to the couch that she had placed Baron, and presented him with a flourish.

"Isn't he cool?"

Hiromi could only stare at the figurine. "Uh, Haru, I thought you were talking about a real guy, not a doll. Aren't you a bit old for them anyway?"

Haru's bright face faded a bit. "Didn't you notice his eyes?" She turned him so that Hiromi could look the doll straight in the face. "Don't you see anything strange about them?"

Hiromi was still for a moment, and then tilted a bit so that she could face Haru, an uncertain smile creeping across her face.

"Green eyes aren't that unusual, Haru. Have you been getting high off of the paint fumes again?"

"I have told you a thousand times Hiromi; I do NOT get high off of paint fumes. I haven't even touched my paints in almost four months." Haru turned Baron to face her again. "Are you certain you didn't see anything special?"

"Of course I'm certain. Haru, I will object if you bring that doll as your date." Hiromi giggled a bit at the thought. "Even if he won't ever step on your feet."

"That was not where I was going with this, Hiromi." She gently placed Baron on the table and turned to her best friend. "Although now that you mention it, I do seem to get along with him better than most guys I know."

"But what about my wedding? I refuse to have my maid of honor be there without a real man at her side." Haru had gained more skill than Hiromi at resisting eye-rolling impulses.

"Enough so that you start telling guys that I'm desperate when I'm not? Hiromi, people are going to your wedding to look at you and Tsuge. No one pays attention to any of the maids, except at the actual ceremony when you can't tell who has a date or not."

"But what about the reception? It is a tradition in my family to have one dance for the bride and groom, and then one for the maids and their dates. And people will notice if my maid of honor has an invisible partner."

"Hiromi, do you even remember what happened the last time I set foot on a dance floor? The guy ended up in the emergency room! And the only reason the couple next to us didn't press charges was because I was so quick getting them ice packs."

Hiromi giggled at the memory, and then brightened. "Hey, I bet that if I could get a signed contract from you to stay at least five feet from the dance floor at all times-"

"It would defeat your purpose of getting me a date to dance with anyway. Just let it go, Hiromi. I'll even change clothes at the reception so that no one will notice that I'm missing from the dancing."

"Except for the people that know you're my maid of honor."

"If having a maid of honor with a date means this much to you, I don't mind you giving the honor to someone else-"

"No way on earth, Haru. Don't even go there. We've been best friends our whole lives! There is no one, and I mean no one that I would rather have as my maid of honor than you, date or no date." Hiromi looked pretty angry over what her friend had suggested.

"Then you'll stop trying to hook me up with guys?"

"No, I'll just have to look harder for a guy you'd actually look twice at." A beeping noise came from Hiromi's pocket. She extracted her cell phone and checked the caller ID.

"Oh, good. Looks like Tsuge managed to beat some sense into the caterers. Got to run!" Hiromi rushed out the door as she gave a cheeky wave goodbye.

"Don't worry, Haru! I'll find you a date no matter what!"

"Great." Her tone lacked enthusiasm, as did her face. She closed the swinging door and turned to Baron.

"If I didn't know for a fact that she's doing this for the wedding and my own good, I would have put my foot down long ago." She made herself a light salad for lunch, and ate while studying Baron some more.

"At least I know it wasn't just the shopkeeper now. Hiromi didn't notice you as special either, and she's usually good with that kind of thing. Except why me? Why am I the only one that thinks you're worth more than a measly dollar?" Salad half-eaten, Haru put her fork down and gazed into Baron's eyes again, a habit that had become second-nature to her.

"For that matter, why do I talk to you like this? Like you can understand a word I'm saying, even though you're a doll. A wooden one, if I'm not mistaken." She thought about how she had found him, lost under a thick shroud of dust, forgotten and alone. After a moment, Haru smiled again at him.

"It must be because you looked as lonely as I feel. Even if you are a doll, I feel like you do hear and understand what I'm trying to say. That's more than Hiromi and my mother are willing to do anymore. All they want to hear from me is that I met an amazing guy, and every time I try to talk to one of them…well, I think you can connect the dots."

Feeling full, Haru covered her salad and placed it back in her fridge. "I think that's enough of a break, Baron. I have a decent blue-print now, so we can move our operations to the studio. Beware," she added, a wicked smile crossing her face as she gathered Baron and her sketch pad before heading toward the door.

"Last time a soul besides mine tried to enter it, they left with a broken arm."