I had been kidnapped by Haru Yamamoto and Cathy McIntyre.
Well, kidnapped was a… strong term. They both approached me one night after classes as I was still struggling to get things working for my new crop of students. This year had started off so awkwardly, with my personal life threatening to completely destroy my professional one, that I felt like I had been on auto-pilot for nearly a month now. Still, as I looked down at the assignments I was getting back, the scores were pretty good… for early in the year work, I suppose…
I was tapping my marking pen absent-mindedly on one of the worksheets when I suddenly felt a very warm presence behind me. It was the kind of warm that really radiated off a person, a kind of warmth you might only get from burning specific chemicals. I guess it just so happened to be a good thing that those chemicals are all found in sugar, because I turned around to see Haru enjoying one of the few times she was taller than me.
“Hey, Pipsqueak!” she tried to put on a tough voice, “Gimme your lunch money!”
“You sound like a fifth grade boy,” I shot back, turning my chair back around to my grading.
The near hypersonic quality of her whining was legendary.
“Gah, my ears…”
“I’m borrrrrred, Kennnyyyyy…”
“Go be bored somewhere else and let me tend to my bleeding eardrums.”
“I wanna go flower gaziiiiing…”
“Oh, that’s right,” I looked up, chewing on the end of my pen, “I heard that on the news this morning.”
“You watch the news?!” she replied almost as if the word was a dead frog.
“There’s perfectly good cartoons on, y’know!” I could feel Haru beaming behind me. She then decided to pass some of that energy onto me by prodding me repeatedly between the shoulderblades.
“Hanami, Hanami,” She made up a song on the spot, “Ikimashou Hanami.”
She kept time by poking me in the back. I knew that when the music took her, Haru often didn’t realize what she was doing. She once played Mei’s, um, backside like a pair of bongo drums when Mei bent over to pick up a pen. That didn’t end well. So, I tried to relax and let her finish her little song about Hanami, the little unofficial Japanese holiday of flower gazing. Sometime between March and May, all the cherry blossoms come into bloom, and it is a custom to go hang out, party, and enjoy the beauty of the cherry blossoms. It doesn’t last long, so it’s treated as a very special occasion, one that celebrates the fleeting nature of beauty… and probably also the fleeting nature of sobriety, if I was being completely honest. I’d been to a couple yozakura, or night cherry blossom parties, in college, but it was usually loud with a lot of drinking and, well… if you know me, you know that’s not really my thing. I’d rather have cheap noodles and a good book as opposed to fancy sake or bento boxes. And don’t even get me started on the dango.
“Dango, dango, dango, dango, dango daikazoku.”
Oh great, I thought as the finger poking took on a different rhythm, she’s switched to a different song.
“Kenny, Kenny, Kenny, Kenny…” she sang in reply, not even missing a beat from the dango song.
“Can you leave me alone, please?”
“Kesshite, kesshite, kesshite, kesshite.”
“Never, huh? You’re never going to leave me alone?”
“Kesshiiiiiiteeeeeee…” she held out a long note gracefully in her small but glorious voice.
“And why are you never going to leave me alone, Haru?”
“Daisuki, daisuki, daisuki, daisuki…” She sang, now completely lost in melody. It was times like this that, even with all of her, um, weirdness, it was really admirable, and actually quite fun to see Haru in her element of music… if she’d just STOP POKING A RAW HOLE IN THE MIDDLE OF MY BACK!
“Haru!!” I shouted, gripping my pen so hard it almost burst.
The song ended abruptly as Haru skittered backwards on her uwabaki. She looked a little scared, but I couldn’t tell if it was part of a joke or not.
“Kenny, you can be super scary sometimes when you yell!”
“Pfft,” I exhaled, standing up from my desk. Looks like I wasn’t going to get any work done, anyway. I turned around and held out my hand as a peace offering. Haru decided to take full advantage of this and leapt at me, wrapping her arms around my neck and her little legs as far around my waist as she could, scaring the hell out of me and causing me to stagger backwards until I fell back onto my desk… yes, with Haru on top of me.
“KENNNNYYYYYY! Let’s go flower gazing!”
“Why does something feel wet?” I groaned, “What did I land on?”
This was a different “Kenny.” This wasn’t a Haru “Kenny.” This Kenny sounded like it should be served with, um, grits or something. I looked up from my, um, predicament to see an upside down Cathy McIntyre standing over the both of us. Haru, apparently quite happy I wanted to apologize and help her, was now humming gently to herself and trying her level best to bury her head in my chest. Cathy looked down at us and a brilliant smile erupted out of her tanned face.
“Whatchew tew up ta?”
“It’s not what it looks like!” I sputtered, trying not to think of how lame of a statement that was.
“Awwww, darn,” she replied, leaning back with her hands on her hips, “Heere Ah was hopin yew’d gawn fer it with wun of ’em. Wouldna ‘spected Hawru, though…”
“Would you stop speculating on my romantic prospects and get this humming barnacle off me?”
“Ah dunno…” Cathy leaned forward to inspect the situation, “she’s in theyre purdy taht.”
Cathy probably didn’t know it, but her leaning forward had made certain, um, gaps appear in the buttoned up shirt she was wearing. From my, er, position on the desk, it was a little to easy to see a little too much.
“Um, Cathy…?” I stammered, my mouth going dry.
“Hold yer howrses,” she replied, working Haru’s pigtails like antennae as if that might fix the problem. She tried prodding Haru herself, but to not avail.
“Kennyyyyyy….” Haru almost purred, as if she was in a dream. I… I don’t want to think about what she might have been thinking about when Cathy poked her.
“Y’know whut started it actin’ lahk this?” Cathy asked like a mechanic looking at one of Dad’s tractors.
“I raised my voice at her, and she was a little scared, so I offered to help her back up…”
“Whah’d she be scayred of yew?”
“I told her I didn’t want to go flower gazing with her tonight.”
By her tone, I got the feeling I had just stepped deeper into it.
“Aw, thayt’d be AWSUM! Ah’ve awlways wawnted ta go flawer gayzin in Japayn! Ah went ta wun in Maycun bayk home, but Ah herd it ain’t th’ same! It’s a reel Jaypunese thang ta do, but Ah kin neyver go… Awmi’s awlways busy. She sez it’sa wayst-a tahme n munny…”
Dammit. She wants to go, too.
“Kenny, Kenny, hanami…” Haru began singing again, her voice vibrating deep into my chest, “Kenny, Kenny, daisuki…”
“Well, theyrs yer prawblum,” Cathy said finally, strongly, “Looks lahk we’ve awl gawta go owt fer sum flawer gayzin, thayt awta cleen yer prawblum raht up.”
I looked up (but not too far up, because, um, you know) and down and realized I was trapped. It was almost like I was being forced to do this against my will, like I was being kidnapped or something.
“If I do this, will you two leave me alone?”
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
And all it took was that “yes,” and a little pulling on Cathy’s part and the three of us were on our way for a Hanami party. We stopped at a local store to get the cheapest sake I could find: I was buying, and I was sure if it wasn’t hot pink and covered in sugar Haru probably wouldn’t drink it. As expected, the two of them pretty much bought the store out for candy and treats, and when we finally found a dark little spot at the far end of a park away from most of the trees, they unloaded their purchases onto a bright green blanket. Here I was, chubby, starting to go gray, and in a wrinkled suit sitting on a blanket in a park with a tanned gaijin and a young woman who looks like she’s about fifteen. To everyone else, I must look like a complete monster.
“Lookit awl th’ peeple!” Cathy gasped as she opened some candy, “Ah mean, Ah know it’s Japayn ‘n’ peeple’re ever’where, but… waow, theyre’s a lawt heere tonaht!”
“It’s a big deal, Cathy,” I answered, sipping some of the cheap sake that wasn’t all that bad, “Although I never really got the point.”
“Weyl, let’s think abowt it, then,” Cathy took the cup out of my hand and emptied it, grinning all the while, “Y’wanna hang owt with yer freynds atta playce thayt looks nahce an where a lawta peeple are havin’ a good tahme. It’s fun ta be part of-a great big craowd sumtahms.”
“Not for me,” I replied, grabbing another of the paper cups to fill with sake, “Big crowds usually mean someone doesn’t like me.”
“Weyl, thayt’s lahf,” Cathy shrugged, “Nawt everwun’s gawna luv ya.”
“I love you, Kenny-kenny!”
“Yeah, Haru, I know,” I waved her off, rolling my eyes. To my surprise, the little music teacher got to her feet on the blanket and stamped her little feet angrily. I didn’t think she’d been drinking, but she was acting rather, um, spirited.
“I mean it, Kenny! I said daisuki before and I meant it! You mean a lot to me, and I like you a lot! Don’t go thinking you I can’t be serious. I’m not a little kid, you know, I can be just as serious as… as… as Ami. Watch!”
She ruffled up her hair a little in the front to mimic Ami’s bangs, and crossed her arms in front of her, glaring down at me with what she tried to make look like disdain.
“Idiot,” she cursed at me in her fifth grader voice again, “Jackass!”
Cathy and I both sat there a moment, shocked, but then the sake got the best of us and we fell over, laughing like crazy.
“Hey, you guys!” Haru threw a very childlike pout on her face, “I was being serious!”
“We know!” I said between laughs, “but you’re just so cute when you do it!”
“Aw, mayn!” Cathy hollered, standing up and still chuckling, “Naow Ah gawta fand a wawter clawset.”
“A what?” Haru asked, confused. Cathy leaned down and whispered in her ear, causing her eyes to go wide.
Haru directed Cathy to the nearest bathroom, and then it was just the two of us. I decided to lay off the sake for a bit and decided to try to enjoy the blossoms while I could. Maybe I could find out what Cathy was talking about with all of this. I mean, they are pretty…
Suddenly, I felt warm again. Haru Yamamoto had shifted over until she was leaning on me; both of us sitting, looking up at the trees.
“I was serious, Kenny…”
“I know, Haru.”
I looked down to see her big eyes looking way too close to tears.
“Do you?” she repeated, “I know I look like a little kid, but I am and adult, and I have a lot of adult feelings for you. I even… I even have adult underwear…”
Oh, shit… where did the sake bottle go? Usually Haru held her liquor really well, and she didn’t seem to smell like the stuff… what was going on?
“You always treated me like I was the same, Kenny,” she said softly, burrowing into my arm, “that’s why I liked you.”
“But you’re not the same, Haru,” I replied, my mind still a little fuzzy from the sake, “And I didn’t treat you the same way I treated Ami or Mei or Tomo. I treated you like you… but I also expected a lot from you. I treated you like an adult.”
“So that’s what I liked…”
“But you can still be funny. And watch cartoons. And eat a metric ton of candy a day because, well… that’s you, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
I could tell her voice was getting softer, and she was starting to trail off. Pretty soon, she’d be snoring.
“You remember our fake wedding?”
Oh, yeah. We DID have one of those, didn’t we?
“I remember it, Haru.”
“I’d like to have one of those someday. A real one. With a cake. And a dress.”
“A big pink one, right?”
“Noooo….” she pouted sleepily, “A white one. Like a real lady.”
“Haru, you are a lady.”
“Really?!’ she looked up at me, half open eyes shining in the moon and streetlight.
“Really,” I replied, standing up and bringing her with me.
“I can’t just let you fall asleep, there,” I tried to prop her up as best I could, “c’mon, the crowds have gone down, let’s go get closer to the trees.”
“No?” I asked, surprised, “But you wanted to go flower gazing so bad.”
“I like it better here,” she replied, stretching one of her arms across the park as we saw it, “When you’re this far away, everything looks… small.”
And as we stood there watching the trees and the lights that were far away and small, I heard her start to hum again, this time a slow song, almost like a lullaby. It got me thinking: all the humming, the music, the getting lost in a song and wandering the halls like a confused robot vacuum cleaner… were those just ways she kept herself far away? Were those ways she made sure everyone was small?
I had been kidnapped by Haru Yamamoto and Cathy McIntyre.