The phone rang early that Sunday, and Mrs. Yoshioka, typing on her laptop in her room, was quick to descend the stairs and answer it.
"Mom . . . hi."
"Haru?" Her voice rose. "Where are you?"
"I'm . . . well, I'm sort of . . . oh, Mom! I'm coming home, but could you wait? It's going to take me a while to get from where I am to there."
"I'm in Kochi City, on Shikoku."
"What? How'd you get there? I thought Kei was with you."
"He and I had a disagreement, and we went our separate ways."
"You..." Mrs. Yoshioka heaved a sigh. "You're very late for school, you know."
"I know." There was a long pause. "I'm sorry I made you worry. I'm not trying to talk my way out . . . out of this, you know. You've been so patient with me always, mom, and I'm really, really sorry for all I've caused--"
Mrs. Yoshioka's grip on the phone tightened. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine. I'll . . . I'll be there as soon as I can."
"I understand. Haru?"
"Love you too, dear. Hurry home."
"Mom . . . if you see Kei please tell him I want to talk to him. And there's someone here who wants to talk to you. I'll turn you over to him now."
There was a rustling sound, and a new voice came over the line. "Hello? This is Taku Morisaki. You don't know me, but Haru's staying at my house for now. I'll accompany her to Tokyo in a day or two, have no fear."
"You will? Oh, thank you, Morisaki-san. Could I have your number, just in case? The caller ID's not working."
They spoke for a few minutes. Haru listened, then piped up when Morisaki put the phone down.
"Really? You'd do that for me? I thought you weren't going to leave until next week. You don't have to change your schedule on my account."
"Oh, what does a few days matter, Haru-san?" The man with the affable, slightly rounded face and short black hair smiled at her. "I guess Rikako can stand the shock of seeing me a bit early."
Haru bowed. "I'm so sorry for imposing on you. I promise I'll pay you back. Thank you very much for taking care of me."
"It's no big deal. Don't rush to pay me back, okay? I know what it's like to be a working student."
Prompted by Taku, Haru sat down on the overstuffed blue couch in his living room. "Morisaki-san, I don't mean to sound ungrateful or anything, but why are you being so helpful to me?"
"Oh, I don't know. I guess your being in trouble reminds me of her." After all these years I can still remember when she asked me to lend her some money. What a Hawaiian Suspense that was.
"Yeah." His lips curled in a small smile. "Besides, it'd be rude not to help a nice young lady such as yourself." He held up the engraved silver invitation that had been given to him long before. "You're lucky you weren't hurt by your fall."
Haru smiled sheepishly at him, conscious of her aching behind. She had fallen from the sky and landed in Morisaki-san's front yard some hours earlier, where he had found her sprawled on her backside. It was a good thing she was in jeans again, thanks to Moon and Luna's forethought in bringing her bag along (which they had appropriated from her room—Haru's mother and Machida had thought she had surreptitiously come back for it when it was actually the two cats who did the deed one night, branding themselves 'successful cat burglars' after the event). Not knowing how much he knew about the Baron and everyone else, she had opted to keep as quiet about them as she could, but seemed to detect a certain mirthful knowing in the words Morisaki-san spoke and the little glances he gave her. She strongly felt he already knew. Everything.
When I get my hands on you, Cameron, she thought as the older man continued to converse with her, I'm going to strangle you. If Zeniiba and Howl's magics were interfering with your own, you should've just moved me away from the room before opening that stupid portal. Oh, why do these things keep happening to me? I wonder if Nausicaä and her friends are in Tokyo right now. If they ended up somewhere other than Harajuku, like I suggested...
"I thought you said the air was poisonous to us," Kushana reminded Nausicaä as they made their way through the teeming street crowds near Yoyogi Park on that sunny weekend day.
"It won't affect us if we keep our stay very, very short," the other explained. Shaking off the momentary gloom her friend's statement brought, she giggled.
"What's so funny?"
"Nothing, nothing. I never thought I'd see you in a dress like that. You're quite beautiful in it, you know."
"Really?" Kushana looked down at the full-skirted, high-necked and long-sleeved dress Queen Yuki's seamstresses had provided for her. In addition to it she had a flower-bedecked ladies' hat on her head, white gloves, and brown boots with heels. She couldn't see what Nausicaä was talking about; they had formalwear like this, nothing extraordinary about it, only they wore them on rare occasions. "Thank you."
"Uh, Nausicaä?" It was Selm, who had managed to remain serious all the way from their world, to the Cat Kingdom, to this one. Instead of his characteristic Forest People garb, or the usual exposure suit one saw him in, he was dressed in a pale cream-yellow trouser suit and derby, one that Nausicaä and Kushana secretly agreed made him look very handsome. "Do you have any idea at all where we are now?"
She lifted the street map they had obtained from a nearby place called a 'tourist information office.' "We're . . . here, I think," she said, jabbing at it with her index finger.
"What's that tall tower over there?" Selm asked.
"I think they call it Tokyo Tower."
"Excellency, is something wrong?" Kushana addressed the boy walking beside her.
Chikuku's face was pale. "So many strange people . . . so many strange thoughts . . . ."
Charuka, who was walking beside him, immediately asked, "Would you like us to leave?" The Council of Priests had put Chikuku under his charge; he was very important to them, and Charuka had vowed when they left that no harm would come to the one who would eventually become Emperor. Especially not on what was supposed to be a straightforward jaunt to the place where the Blue-Clad One had claimed–
"Chikuku is fine . . . he doesn't want to spoil Nausicaä's outing." He looked up from under his cap and smiled brightly at Charuka, who regarded him with his usual mixture of respect and skepticism.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. There's only one thing."
"Why are all the people around us looking at us in so strange a way?"
"We must be doing something wrong," said Selm, tugging at the sleeves of his coat.
"I can't understand it," Nausicaä said, puzzlement in her voice. "The people in this time are so free and diverse in their clothing, I can't see what we could be doing that would attract their attention." She self-consciously adjusted the wide-brimmed summer hat on her head.
Old Charuka—who himself was wearing a boater to cover his bald head, a very uncomfortable pinstriped gray suit with string tie, light-gray trousers, patent-leather shoes, and toted a cane because his joints were acting up again—had been looking hard for the last half-hour at the getups the people around them (mostly young women) were wearing, and comparing them to what he had seen in the library in the Cat King's Castle. He chuckled.
"Nausicaä, I don't think that Howl and Sophie were the right people to ask for 'period clothing' . . . ."
THE CAT REQUESTS A FAVOUR.
SHIZUKU AND HARU'S EVENTUAL FATES
ARE TOLD IN ANOTHER STORY.
Author's Postscript: It's over, for now. I started in July, and it's now November—I'm glad I didn't join National Novel Writing Month.
Taku Morisaki is, of course, from Umi ga Kikoeru. I based his portrayal entirely from the Ghibli film and haven't read any of the novels, either Umi or its sequel Ai ga Arukara, so—instant need for revising in the future as well! Why do I keep doing this to myself?
To those who persevered and read this from start to finish, or even just dropped in and browsed, I hope you enjoyed it. Comments on grammar, plot, characterization, etc., are especially welcome, considering that one of the main reasons I write this malarky is to try and improve.