So we set off the next day at about 10 in the morning – there was no point, Haru had said, in leaving before then, no one would be awake. Haru took me to a place called the Crossroads, and found the fat cat from yesterday.
"So he isn't yours?" I asked.
"He's his own, but we're friends," she answered, turning to give the cat a poke. "Muta, Aunt Loey and I need to talk to the Baron, will you take us, please?"
"Meoaor," the cat said. I'd swear it was looking at me sceptically, but it hopped down from the chair and headed off.
"Why are we following a cat?" I asked when we had been trailing for a block.
"I can never remember how to get where we're going, and Muta more or less lives there," Haru said, swapping her bag from one hand to the other. The cat doll I had given her was in the bag.
After following the cat for five minutes, I could understand why Haru might have that problem. I had carefully developed the skill of knowing exactly where I was in relation to where I had begun my day – a very useful trick for someone who travelled as much as I had. When we started running over rooftops and climbing bits of forgotten awnings, however, even I got turned about. I would be able to find my way back home just fine, but getting back to where we were going, that would be a real feat.
"Thanks Muta," Haru said to the cat when we reached an archway.
I had to bend just a little to get underneath it – just a little, mind; my head would have brushed the masonry otherwise. I looked around. It was like the perfect neighbourhood, only all the houses were maybe a third the size of the real thing.
"You remember the guy I told you about?" Haru asked me quietly as she took the cat doll out of her bag. I nodded, wondering where she could be going with this. "It's really, really complicated. He lives in that house there," she said, pointing to a lovely yellow house with green trim. It was just as small as the rest.
"Shall I knock?" I asked, looking at her. She closed her eyes, like she was bracing herself to go bungie jumping, and nodded. I tapped a knuckle on the door and stepped back.
I sat down when Haru did, while the whole place flooded with light.
"I'll never get sick of him doing that," she whispered to me, though she was staring at the wooden doll that stood in the hollow of her crossed legs. We waited for a bit, just enjoying the splendour, till at last Haru called to the shut door "Baron, it's me."
The lights intensified slightly before dimming down and the double door gently swung open. I was shocked to see an orange cat wearing a pale suit step out of the house and bow to us.
"Baron, this is my mother's cousin, she wanted to meet you," Haru said, hiding the doll in her lap by gesturing to me.
"A pleasure to meet you, I am Baron Humbert von Gikkingken," he said. I personally thought that he seemed less than pleased to have visitors, though his manner was very fine and his accent was wonderful.
"Well, that's interesting," I said, his name hitting me like a hammer. "Because my name is von Gikkingken too." Haru stared a little more obviously – I was just Aunt Loey to her, and that only since yesterday. "My mother married a German Baron, but he stayed in Japan with her until he inherited the family home, so your mum and I got to play together, more like sisters than cousins. In Japan, I was called Haru, in Germany, I had to be called Louise."
"Baroness Louise von Gikkingken," the cat gentleman almost chocked the words out, his bright green eyes wide in shock.
Haru pulled a face. "That's kind of why we're here," she said, taking the white cat doll out of her lap. "Aunt Loey gave her to me when I got home yesterday," Haru added, setting my gift on the ground before the Baron.
"It's her," the Baron said, moving closer to the doll, examining her face. "But I don't understand…" he said, his hands were on the doll's shoulders, and he was staring intently at the amazing blue eyes, a puzzled expression on his furry face. At least, I think it was a puzzled expression – the fur made it hard to tell.
"What's the matter?" Haru asked.
"She's gone, she should be alive, but she isn't, she's just a doll…" Now I was confused. I had no idea what this fellow was talking about, at all.
I nudged Haru and silently asked her what was going on. She cupped a hand over my ear and whispered the details to me. "Oh," was all I could say, and I said it softly, because the Baron seemed to still be rather distressed at the complete lack of life in the girl cat.
"Well, at least I kept my promise to the shopkeeper, I found the partner," I thought to myself.
I felt Haru snuggle into me as I watched the Baron give what was obviously a goodbye kiss to the wooden girl to whom he was promised. Lights started flashing around us again, getting brighter and brighter until I had to bring my hand up to shield my eyes against the glare. Then something changed, and the light was everywhere any more – it was concentrated on one spot, where Baron and the doll had stood.
The light coated the figures, then blended together, and changed shape. When at last the light faded, there was a young man kneeling before us with his face in his hands. His hair was the same colour as the fur had been of the Baron. This turn of events I was able to digest with greater speed than the other two.
"A young man needs a family, now that he is a young man, and the von Gikkingken house is rather empty…" I said gently, pretending that I was just thinking to myself. I watched as both Haru and Baron became aware of the change, and what it meant.
"Your husband would not object to you bringing home a stray?" the young man asked, his still bright green eyes looking up at me with hope.
"Don't have one, and my parents would just like there to be some young people in the house again," I said simply. He was handsome, this boy, and Haru was obviously very devoted to him… and since my first present seemed to have disappeared when the Baron went from cat to man, I thought I'd better set this up without too much fuss.
"Naoko will be happy to hear about this," I said, surprising Haru. The question "why" was practically written on her forehead. "When we were kids, we imagined our children getting married, but when I never found a husband, we both despaired of such a thing ever happening. Now though, I don't see why I can't buy the engagement rings… that is, if you two are inclined."
I had stood up while I was talking, and was brushing imaginary dust off my trousers. Baron and Haru had stood up with me, and I knew they were staring from me to each other and back again while I did. I looked back at them when I suggested that they didn't have to get married, just because their parents liked the idea.
Haru jumped the Baron, flinging her arms around his shoulders, a massive smile plastered on her face. The boy's arms found her waist automatically, and he was swinging her around before I think he even realised what he was doing.
"Just, one thing," I said, stopping their joyous moment of realisation. "I'm not calling you Humbert. When we do the adoption papers, we're giving you a normal, sensible name like Andrew or Simon."
He just smiled as largely as Haru. I think that perhaps he wasn't as pleased with Humbert as he pretended to be when he gave the name.
A/N: and they all lived happily ever after? Yeah, I think so. How's that one? Told from the point of view of a completely invented visiting relation, not bad… for a first try at this writing style.