Anywhere in This World (the highly experimental initial arc)
By Seijio Arakawa
being a record of the initial meeting between Haruhi Suzumiya and one Mikuru Asahina, and an overview of their subsequent mutual history, Mikuru's disillusionment in Haruhi as a reliable existence, and their eventual reconciliation
Disclaimer: this is an unauthorized fanfiction based on the Suzumiya Haruhi light novel series by Nagaru Tanigawa. The Haruhi universe (and the other fandom referenced here, namely Doctor Who) isn't my creation, I'm just plotting to turn the waff in it up to 11 ;-)
Special thanks go out to Muphrid, sarsparilla, and Brian - for quality criticism, support, and general tolerance of my tedious behaviour, not to mention all having written stories which inspired the basic setup for this one.
Additional Note: after long and dutiful reflection on the matter, I can only describe some of the divergences from canon on the Haruhi side of things as 'blatant'. See how quickly you can spot some of them...
1 - Haruhi, Age-8 Mikuru, and Buttered Watermelon (early 2080s)
When I was eight years old I had an imaginary friend. I was really excited about meeting her because my parents kept telling me I was too precocious. Well, they never actually said I was too precocious, they just kept reminding me of it, and if you keep telling your child to their face at least once a day how "precocious" they are, they're going to start wondering what exactly it is they've been doing wrong.
I mean, having an imaginary friend counts as childish behaviour, right? So I figured always reminding my parents I had an imaginary friend would be a good way to stop them from calling me "precocious" so often.
And thinking that I needed to be less precocious never stopped them from leaving me home alone as they drove my older brother to cram school, then drove around I don't know where else, almost every weekday evening.
Which was just how I ended up meeting my friend. When I was home alone one particularly boring Tuesday, and it was just occurring to me that I could try making an imaginary friend, she went and crash-landed spectacularly in the bushes behind my house, without even asking my permission first.
No, really, I swear! One minute everything was quiet. I was sitting in the house, watching the sun about to disappear behind some rooftops. Then, just as I was thinking I might need to get out into the backyard and chase the neigbours' vicious stripey cat away from our bird feeder, there was this bright flash like you get with a camera. The next thing I saw was that someone's mostly bare legs were sticking out of the juniper bush. Which was now on fire.
Luckily I remembered how to use the fire extinguisher we had in the house and I managed to put out the fire. There was a surprised shout at this coming from the vicinity of the legs as the bush got doused with foam, and a panicky moment for me when the bush was no longer on fire but the extinguisher still kept throwing suds at it! It seemed impolite to keep pointing it at the strange person then, but I didn't know how to turn it off and I didn't know where else to point it.
Finally I realized that I could point the fire extinguisher at the neighbours' cat who dawdled about watching this surreal scene, and thus solve two problems with the same fire extinguisher.
"And stay away from our birds!"
Yay! I guess if my parents were here, they'd take this opportunity to call me precocious, right?
The bush containing the legs twitched a little, and then all was silent for a while.
"Um, are you okay?" I plucked up the courage to ask the occupant, "Should I call 911?"
The remains of the bush sort of giggled. A bit of steam seemed to still be coming from it, um... was it supposed to be doing that?
"Man, not one of my dignified landings," an older girl's voice noted in English, "but still, that was awesome! I actually got lit on fire!"
At least I think that's what she said. She was sort of muffled and my English comprehension at the time wasn't 100%.
"Do you need help getting out?"
"No, I'm fine," the legs waved in response, switching to the French language I'd been addressing her in, "just need to get oriented... uups-a-daisy... there, I can get out now."
I stared at the figure which emerged, which I guess wasn't very polite of me. I couldn't see her face clearly because she was all covered in... stuff... either dirt or soot, it was actually kind of hard to tell. She seemed to be wearing the remains of a Japanese girl's school uniform. And stockings; she'd evidently lost her shoes at some point. She staggered as though she was finding it difficult to maintain her balance. A frightening suspicion occurred to me at that point.
"Are you... a drunk driver?"
The weird girl laughed at this and staggered to lean against our patio table, shaking her head repeatedly as though she wanted to clear some water out of her ears.
"Don't talk to me right now! I'm trying to make more sense."
A far more frightening realization occured to me. Wasn't this exactly what my parents warned me not to allow? A stranger coming over like this? Maybe I should give someone a phone call. My parents, or, actually, she might be a home invader. In that case I should call the police.
But first of all, I grabbed a shovel and tried to position myself between the house and this weird girl, just in case I needed to prevent her from running in and smashing up the furniture or something. You never know what a drunk home invader might start doing.
Like, for instance, they might stumble back out onto your parents' lawn, fall down on their knees, and start sniffing the grass. Which is what the girl was doing. It was such an odd thing to do that I actually forgot all about needing to phone the police.
"Ugh," the girl declared finally, "and I was just getting used to always ending up in South America for whatever reason. Got to get rid of this explosive concussion first, it's making me woozy."
Also, her accent was weird. It wasn't just that she sounded drunk. Many years later when I tried to do an imitation of it for someone, I figured out that she was actually speaking joual, except her rendition of it was so exaggerated that no one in Montréal would for a minute have taken it seriously.
How do I know? Um... I guess I forgot to tell you my family lives in Châteauguay, just across the river from Montréal Island.
The girl lay down flat on her stomach for a scant ten seconds and then suddenly leapt up like she hadn't just crash-landed drunkenly into a juniper bush. From then on everything she did had this weird energy to it, like she was a toddler hopped up on candy. It made me feel sort of very mature, like some grown-up who's being bossed around helplessly by their five year old niece, and definitely not like an eight-year-old girl.
My home invader stood poised on the tips of her toes with perfect balance, and started to scan her surroundings avidly.
She saw the setting sun and her mouth cracked open into a jubilant, alarmingly wide grin.
Her eyes fell on me, and suddenly the grin got even wider.
"Mikuru-chan! Haven't seen you in a while!"
She made a partially successful attempt to wipe the soot and grime off her face with the back of her hand. This gave me a good look at her. Judging by the face plus her uniform, she must have been Japanese and judging just by the proportions of her face, she must have been around fifteen years old. But though her face looked fifteen, it didn't act like any fifteen-year-old's face I had ever seen, those faces looked... completely wooden by comparison with hers.
She no longer sounded drunk, by the way.
Wait... who's Mikuru-chan here, exactly? Was she referring to me?
"Oh right, you're not supposed to know who I am on this time plane," her grin faded for a very brief moment, apparently considering something, but then reappeared with fresh intensity, "Screw that! I'm Haruhi Suzumiya. But you can just call me Haruhi. Or Haruhi-chan, if you did that it would be really cute!"
Rather than hitting her with the shovel, I took her proferred hand warily. I think I'm judging the situation right, and she just wants to shake hands and make friends American fashion, not abduct me or anything.
"Nice to meet you..."
Here I needed a bit of a pause to realize that wasn't exactly true, and to decide what to call her.
"... Haruhi. I'm Michaela."
"Aw man, you do that face scrunching thing little girls do! It's hilarious, why did you ever stop? Never mind, don't answer that question. It's nice to meet you too," she suppressed a rude giggle, "... Michaela. Your hair's all short! Reminds me of Sasaki-chan. Haven't seen her in a while either... she stayed home with the ordinary and familiar and I went exploring into the great unknown... we should meet and compare notes someday. I wonder if she's still around."
She got a weird, misty look in her eyes for a moment, but her mouth ran onwards heedless of it.
"But really Mikuru-chan, I had a different picture of you, like you'd be some fragile fairy tale princess hidden in a futuristic castle or something. Your clothing style sort of fits the idea, but I didn't expect to find you standing out in front of a perfectly ordinary suburban home all prepared to whack me with a shovel."
Oh, so she was a poorly prepared home invader, then. Actually, wait... why was she talking like she'd been expecting to find me here, then?
"Anyhow, once again, nice to meet you. Now get me some food!" she snapped in a sudden bossy and commanding tone of voice that somehow made me yelp in fright, drop the shovel and dash ahead to the kitchen double quick to see if we actually had anything she might like to eat.
Haruhi snapped her fingers at this as though she'd finally remembered something important.
"That's more like the Mikuru I remember!"
By the way, when I shook her hand, I was also kinda hoping Haruhi wasn't planning to make me into her personal slave for the evening.
"Why won't you open the freezer?"
"You won't say the magic word!"
"Why won't you let me open the freezer?"
"It's my freezer and you're not saying the magic word! I keep important ice cream in it!"
Even a small girl like me had to draw the line somewhere when it came to home invasion.
But Haruhi just shoved me aside and opened the freezer anyways. Hey!
The really cool thing about Haruhi - I guess what tipped me off that she was something unusual and worth paying attention to, as opposed to some random supernatural freeloader that I should've just called 911 on - was how well-coordinated she seemed compared to normal people. You can get the idea by watching how your hands move. You don't ever think of each of the fingers moving separately, even if you're doing some completely new gesture. You just move your hand and each finger is where it needs to be. But when your whole body needs to do something involved, you sometimes have to plan ahead and coordinate the different parts with your conscious mind, right? That's the whole reason why some sports, like gymnastics, are considered to be so difficult.
Well, Haruhi almost never needed to coordinate herself consciously. Her whole body was like one huge hand, and she didn't even need to do anything particularly showy like somersaulting backwards from cross-legged position or whatever - she preferred to get up and walk like any normal person. But no normal person could put all of themselves into each motion like Haruhi did. When she looked around for something, the motion would more often than not transfer all the way to her feet, which would lift her up on the tips of her toes. Even when she was looking down at someone, actually.
If you ever meet Haruhi Suzumiya, you're fairly likely to meet a version of her who does that kind of thing. That's a handy tip for picking her out in any random crowd, actually - don't tell anyone I told you, or it might get back to Haruhi and she might adjust her behaviour to stop standing out so much to people in the know!
Sorry, I'm gushing a little here. Hey, the Haruhi I found in my backyard was awesome, even with all her glaring faults as a human being. It was, all things considered, the good balanced with the bad impartially, the single best decision of my life to appoint her as my new imaginary best friend right after the incident I'm describing. The point of this story is to explain to you why I think that, and so, considering some of my crushing disappointments meeting her at other times later on - which I'll eventually have to tell you about, so you understand that my life wasn't exactly all roses - I'd like to take the time to properly dwell on my early memories of Haruhi first.
So, returning to our story, when she shoved me aside to open the freezer, she didn't exactly shove. No, she just poked me in the side somewhere that caused me to fall over backwards, experiencing an intense and very distracting sensation like ten older brothers were tickling me as hard as they could. Naturally, I was very incapacitated by that and unable to prevent her from tucking her legs under and pulling the bottom drawer of our freezer open to end up cross-legged on the floor in front of it. Again, both things done in one smooth motion which made me question why people didn't open freezers like that all the time.
"Saying the magic word is for chumps and for people who weren't on fire fifteen minutes ago." she explained as my intense and unwanted giggling fit was settling down. She used that time to dig through my precious ice cream with her dirty hands.
She took boxes and tubs of ice cream out, dipping her hands into the freezer (actually, sitting cross-legged in front of it was kind of stupid since she had to keep reaching over the front edge of the drawer), snatching each one out with quick, precise motions like a bear fishing, and lifting it with both hands to within an inch or two of her eyes to peer at the label intently before putting it back in. If she'd bothered to actually wash her hands before doing this grumble grumble I'd be tempted to compare her with some kind of surgeon, actually.
At the pace she was setting, it took about fifteen seconds for her to get to the small packet of Freezies in the far corner.
"Hey, those are cough syrup Freezies! You're not allowed to have those unless you get sick!"
This only prompted Haruhi to start examining the ingredients list with renewed excitement.
"But I am sick!" she countered as she finished reading the English version and turned the box around to read the French version for an encore.
"I mean like with a cold! Not like when you've been on fire recently!"
She jumped up so she could tower over me, slamming the freezer closed with her foot. Again, at the risk of repeating myself, both things were done as part of one motion. I think I can stop hammering it in now, right?
"Fire, fever, same difference... hey, this has grape cough syrup in it!"
What? Hadn't I just told her that?
"It means there's active pharmaceuticomedicinal stuff! Which means with my extremely customized biology, it'll probably cause some horrible, potentially lethal chain reaction that ends up dissolving my intestines or something!"
"Then we'd have to rush to a hospital and turn everything upside down in search of some antidote which may or may not work! Annoy lots and lots of really boring people! Sounds like a fun evening!"
Dissenting opinion: that sounded like a really bad idea. Especially since I'd just been using up the contents of our fire extinguisher on her. Oops... now that I thought of it, we were only supposed to be using that for big emergencies, and there was actually a hose just lying there in the garden that I could have used.
I was going to get in trouble for this, wasn't I?
Meanwhile Haruhi got a Freezie open (a tricky thing to do with bare hands, even for her, since it's just a sealed plastic tube with ice in it), bit off a huge chunk, and crunched it in her mouth consideringly.
And then rushed over impossibly fast to the kitchen sink to spit it out. I want to emphasize that I'd never seen anyone move like that before that evening. It was like suddenly finding yourself next to a speeding truck.
I should add that this motion had none of her usual coordination, she just stomp-stomped over there as fast as she could, stopped for a quarter second to make sure she was aiming properly at the sink, and then spit the ice out. So she must've been seriously afraid of ending up in the hospital if she swallowed that stuff. Interesting. I resolved never to have cough syrup Freezies ever again, even if I did have a cold.
So there are actually two circumstances in which Haruhi stops being mesmerizingly well-coordinated:
(a) She's suddenly afraid of something.
(b) She starts ordering someone around.
When Haruhi tries to boss someone around, she generally makes a face like she's a completely different person. Or rather, like she's threatening to become a completely different person, someone much less fun to be around, unless you do what she tells you to do. Can't tell you any more about what kind of person she threatens to become, because it was some sort of person who gave me the creeps, and not at all in a good way. So every time she ordered me about, I tried to do whatever she wanted as fast as possible so I wouldn't have to meet that other Haruhi.
I guess that was the main flaw about her, that she seemed to have this other nasty side that she tried to always hide inside a huge, hyperactive toddler. Until she wanted something from someone and the nasty side threatened to come out in full force - I actually don't think she was doing it deliberately.
And once that initial shock frightened me into doing what she wanted, it was actually too easy to play along with what Haruhi was doing, and actually too fun, so it ended up being almost impossible to stop her from doing things that she shouldn't be doing. Haruhi likes turning the situation around her into a game, and she likes to have other people - and things - join in.
When Haruhi walked into the house, all of the objects in it started to sort of creak from the strain of always needing to be ready to participate in some game. That's the thing, Haruhi gets bored easily, and she might decide to play a new and different game on a moment's notice.
Right now, of course, we seemed to be in the midst of the 'Haruhi is a Fussy Eater' game. I mean, I was a fussy eater at eight years old, but Haruhi made me look like that comic book hero, All Things Devours.
(For any past-humans based out of the 20th century in the audience, All Things Devours was a comic book published partway through the 21st. I think you can all understand the gist of my reference, though.)
The reason we even had so much ice cream in my freezer was because it was being used by my parents to bribe me to eat other, less yummmy things. I was an obedient girl, so I never stole any on my own - which is why I was so worried about Haruhi eating it and getting me into trouble - but that never stopped me from gaming the system. I know if I didn't eat enough not-yummy things I wouldn't get any ice cream. But if I ate too much not-yummy food my parents would assume my picky-eating problems were going away, and I wouldn't get any ice cream either.
So the trick was to figure out the exact amount of not-yummy food I had to eat at any given meal to maximize the amount of ice cream I could receive afterwards. The maximum amount I was able to extract from the freezer fair and square turned out to be surprisingly large.
Having to babysit Haruhi was making me reconsider how much grief I must have been giving my parents with my food preferences.
The kitchen had responded to our game appropriately by turning itself into an awful mess-place. I swear that the mess actually multiplied itself when I had my back turned, like there'd been ten different Haruhis in the kitchen who'd all wanted different things. At what point exactly did we need chopped zucchini, for instance? Yet there it was, cluttering up the corner of a chopping board. I nearly knocked the knife off the edge of that inexplicable chopped-zucchini board and right into my foot at one point, but Haruhi reacted in time and...
I actually think she must have grabbed it out of midair using telekinesis or something. I mean, her hand darted out towards it, but she was standing a bit too far away for the knife to have actually been within her reach. Another thing I spent a lot of time puzzling over afterwards.
Here is a detailed list of the things we'd already considered feeding her up to that point, and the end result:
(1) A share of the leftover casserole I'd been instructed to reheat in the microwave and have for dinner that night. Haruhi swirled it around with a fork experimentally and rejected it - "eew, that's not happening."
(2) Pickled red peppers on garlic toast (i.e. some stale bread Haruhi had painstakingly rubbed some garlic on). Declared promising, but ultimately rejected.
(3) Haruhi grabbed the first thing she could reach this time, which turned out to be an onion. She peeled half of it, took a bite, and tossed it away.
(4) Bread and butter, sprinkled with instant dandelion coffee mix. Where does Haruhi get these ideas?
(5) Raw tomatoes, without any particular preparation or even washing. Rejected.
(6) Crab cakes wrapped directly in nori seaweed, without the benefit of sushi rice or anything. Rejected immediately.
(7) I suggested boiling some instant oatmeal. "What? Mikuru! My taste buds just arrived from the other end of the universe without a warranty. Oatmeal? I'm going to end up starving unless we do some creative thinking here!"
(8) Some of the most expensive unpasteurized cheese in our refrigerator, dipped in soy sauce. Politely rejected after she complained it was too salty. I think she chose that just to wind me up, actually.
(9) Haruhi then assumed a pompous air of finality and demanded fish fingers & custard and/or actual fish custard, if we had any available. We had no fish fingers, no custard, and I had no clue what fish custard was supposed to be anyways.
(10) Grape cough syrup Freezie. (Found during a timeout that she used to loot my ice cream stash while she thought of something better to try.) As explained above, it seems she ended up classifying it as a lethal poison given her 'customized biology', or whatever she actually said was the reason.
Sorry, I seem to be indulging in my weakness for making lists, aren't I? It must be a side effect of having worked a desk job for so long at my age. I think I'd have given a fortune to have my job switched back to field work at one point! Things are less boring for me now, though. Anywhoo, back when I was young and eight years old, where we left our narrative flow, Haruhi had finished thoroughly washing the inside of her mouth and proceeded to deliver a verdict.
"Eugh, that actually tasted lethal! And I even promised myself I wouldn't spit out any of your food no matter how lethal it tasted. Mikuru-chan, sorry, my latest set of taste buds is sort of a work in progress at the moment."
Does... that mean you've given up now? Can you stop demolishing my kitchen? Pretty please with a cherry on top?
"Mikuru-chan, where are we going to end up if you insist on quitting like that? You should do more things because they're ridiculous! The universe has been around for billions of years and all of the things that you could accomplish by being ordinary have already been accomplished several times already. We live in an age of creative thinking, it's time for you to get used to that if you're going to stay on top of things!"
Over the weeks that followed, I ended up analyzing and re-analyzing every single word this strange girl had said to me that evening. I'm fairly sure that's why I remember her lecture properly. And I'm fairly sure that's why I ended up being so confident in my understanding of who she was as a person. Actually I ended up misjudging her, though, and that ended up hurting me a lot eventually.
So what she was saying sounded great, but we were talking about making a mess out of my kitchen here, weren't we? Not inventing the telephone, not flying to the moon, and not even cleaning up after ourselves.
"Mikuru-chan, that's the thing! The same attitude applies in all of those cases! If you can't understand what it's like to do something when it's ridiculously impossible or you don't want to do it, when things are supposed to be easy and you want to go for it you'll underestimate the situation and slack off and you won't get anything done! ..."
All in all, it was extremely weird to be hearing something like that. She was taking the tone my mother usually takes when scolding me, except that half of what she was saying I couldn't understand just then, and the other half I was oddly tempted to agree with.
Haruhi had paused and invested time into looking slightly pained at herself. The things in the house that had seemed to be paying attention to her every motion seemed to fall silent, as though afraid to disturb her. Then Haruhi and everything else in the house stirred to life again.
"Okay, Mikuru-chan, I'm going to stop ranting at you like a tape recorder now, and you can stop complaining about me being in your kitchen. Is that a deal?"
That... sounded like a deal. Wow, I wish it this easy to get my mom to stop ranting at me like a tape recorder.
But why do you keep calling me Mikuru-chan? My name's Michaela!
"Weird. That doesn't sound like a French name. We're in Québec, aren't we?"
"That's because I'm not French," I told her in my perfect French, "my full name's Michaela Jennings."
Haruhi sort of stared off into space. Or actually, she was staring at the evidently Japanese-style furniture in the next room over.
"Michaela Jennings, not French, in Québec, Japanese furniture..." Haruhi suddenly looked like she was about to get a headache. The ongoing flurry of background activity she generated sort of stopped again as she went into deep consideration of what was going on with my house.
I guess I never thought about it before, but it is very odd. Whenever I was playing at a friends' house we kept our shoes on and sat in chairs at high tables, but when I was at my house my parents were really strict about taking our shoes off before we entered and I got to sit on the floor. That was weird since we don't actually speak Japanese, we aren't Japanese, don't have Japanese relatives, and we don't have Japanese friends. There were plenty of Japanese people in Montréal in those days, but whenever my parents had occasion to invite them over they always got really weirded out by our house for some reason and spent most of their visit looking around warily as though expecting someone to jump out at them and start re-enacting the tea ceremony scene from 'K-On!'; afterwards, they all made excuses not to come over again.
(Again, a note to those who have no access to media from the year 2037: the 'K-On!' I am referring to is not the animated series filmed near the start of the 21st century by Kyoto Animation, but rather the remake filmed in the year 2037 by the... actually, I just give up. It's honestly too complicated to explain. Volumes could be - and have been - written on exactly why 'K-On!' got remade, and how the remake improved on the original, and what that says about the broader state of society, and I don't really want to put together a condensed treatise on 21st century popular culture, and you probably didn't come here to read anything like that. But the tea ceremony scene in the remake is absolutely unforgettable, trust me.)
I should add that Japanese furniture doesn't even make sense in Québec, since with the way most houses are built the floors are generally cold in winter. I guess if you pile several blankets on top of one another to cover the floor and then put a kotatsu on top it is kind of nice, but otherwise it's just kind of inconvenient.
"History..." Haruhi finally decided, and then trailed off just as abruptly.
"... is really confusing. I mean, when you're actually in it. Now, let's work on me getting something to eat. How about trying a different approach?"
She leapt over to the fridge, using the door to stop her momentum, then hung from it with all her weight and swung it open. Then she hopped off and looked inside.
"Let's see, eggs, oeufs, tamago... there they are! Whatever happened to keeping them on the top shelf?"
(When I tried to duplicate Haruhi's fridge-door-opening feat later, I nearly pulled the door right off its hinges with my weight. After eliminating the impossible, I concluded the improbable, that Haruhi was not lighter than me, but had the ability to arbitrarily alter her weight and momentum to make it seem like she was. Made it that much stranger to have her as an imaginary friend, I can tell you.)
"We're going to do something advanced and high-stakes! Do you know how to fry eggs?"
I shook my head in fright.
"C'mon, it's easy. Here, fetch me that butter from the fridge. First you make sure to get the pan nice and hot, don't hesitate to use lots of butter, it'll just get soaked up, you could dice some bread in it but we're not going to do that. Because I'm Haruhi Suzumiya and I'm very hungry right now, the pan is going to heat up quickly today, but when you do it on your own sometime it's going to happen more slowly. Break the eggs into it - you do all that, my hands are still dirty right now - put some salt on, and then when they start frying push the gummy stuff on the bottom aside like this with a spatula so the gooey stuff on top can trickle down and has a chance to get fried properly. Pardon my French. Don't overuse the spatula, we're not making scrambled eggs, just mixing them around a little to make it easier and faster. That's the basics. Anyone can cook eggs like this. Ready to start holding the spatula?"
While she gave her instructions a mile a minute, she was watching to make sure I broke the eggs properly, and briefly demonstrated how to use the spatula. I was left in front of the pan and with a newfound sense of responsibility.
The pan made a scary hissing noise and I hurriedly scraped the stuff sticking to the bottom away with the spatula, and watched the still-liquid part of the eggs trickle down underneath it. I turned to look at Haruhi and her grin turned out to be infectious this time.
"There, now you're making progress! By the way, do you have a shower?"
Of course we do! What year do you think we live in?
"That's actually a surprisingly valid question. Okay, don't answer that. Just drop that spatula and find me a shower, now!"
She snapped her fingers at me and made her very impatient face which probably meant that she would start doing even more home-invader type things if I didn't comply.
So I showed her to the shower and then she told me to sprint right back to check on the eggs and, oh, by the way, she wanted me to try frying some bacon. It took me a while to dig the bacon out of the fridge, and I've never cooked bacon, and I didn't have any instructions, so I ended up burning it a little...
"Due to lack of confidence in yourself! Honestly, any bipedal sentient humanoid being can fry bacon. You have that power within yourself, but you've locked it away just by thinking that you can't have it. It always amazes me how good humans are at not believing in themselves. Then again, I'm not exactly a saint in that regard either..."
Haruhi hadn't taken very long to shower.
"Hey, I was actually cooking some of that for myself!" I protested as she seized the spatula and frying pan and proceeded to turn the eggs and bacon into a passable imitation of dinner, then dumped the whole lot onto her plate, swept it away to the kitchen table, pulled up a chair, sat down, and took a bit of fried egg onto her fork. This took maybe three or four separate motions for her.
Haruhi turned out to be strangely coordinated in time as well as in space. Being a very distracting person, she went away to take a shower just when it so happened I'd need to focus on frying eggs and not on her. It's not like she was planning her time with me, though, it just somehow happened that way. During her very brief journey upstairs she'd not only managed to shower properly, but also somehow got her uniform pristinely clean (but not fixed the burn holes), and made a detour to pilfer one of our bedsheets and wear it over top of her dilapidated clothes like a toga.
She looked sort of funny wearing it, actually. So after my protest at her behaviour, I failed to suppress a rude giggle of my own.
Haruhi ignored both things in favour of further mulling over the thought she'd walked into the room with: "I had some very nasty experiences actually, regarding what I thought I could and couldn't do..."
"You couldn't fry bacon?" I asked in confusion.
Now that she'd scoured the remaining grime off her face I could see she was kind of pretty. But there was also something dangerous-looking about her. If I'd just met her wandering about on the street, and I needed to ask her for directions, I'd probably look for someone else to ask.
Haruhi put the piece of egg in her mouth and chewed thoughtfully, making the sort of complicated face people make when they clearly hate some food but want to pretend they like it.
"Much worse than not being able to fry bacon... although come to think of it, I've been eating takeout and instant food for the past, what, ..."
She tried to count something on her fingers with one hand while trying to slice her bacon with the fork in her other hand.
"Oh man, it's got to be decades now," she finally gives up, "and I used to be good at cooking. Ever since I was little. Did all kinds of competitions and stuff actually, at one point when I could think of nothing else to do. Probably really rusty now."
She looked kind of depressed by this. Or maybe it's because she'd just put some burnt bacon in her mouth.
"Man, this bacon really brings back unpleasant memories of years past for some reason. That's a lost cause, the eggs though, they're supposed to be nice..."
Haruhi's words about being in cooking competitions and then eating takeout food for so long that she got rusty raised an interesting question.
"Exactly how old are you anyways?"
Haruhi raised one finger to her lips and gave me a strange look. It was playful, but not in a Haruhi-like way. I couldn't help but think she was doing an imitation of someone she knew.
"That," she said impressively, winking at me, "is classified information at this juncture in time!"
What does that mean?
Haruhi's expression reverted to a mildly annoyed look.
"Trust me, you're going to be sick and tired of hearing that phrase one day. Wait, you said your name was Michaela Jennings?"
Yes, it was. Did that mean she finally remembered what she was supposed to call me?
"Mikuru-chan, you have an awesome full name! Sounds really modern, like someone from the future should sound. Hehe, but if you ever actually go back in time you'd have to change it to something less obvious."
Like what? Actually when I thought about it, I thought my name sounded kind of stuffy and dated. It had a kind of twenty-forties vibe to it. (A turbulent decade where everything seemed possible, nothing seemed easy, and everyone suddenly started to believe the opposite of what they'd believed just ten years ago.) But it was my name, and having a name of any sort was infinitely better than being just called whatever by strange girls showing up in my backyard.
So what did Haruhi think I was going to have to change my name to?
"Something like Mikuru-chan!"
How is that inconspicuous. I guess she just wanted to give me that nickname and wouldn't take no for an answer. Why was she talking about time travel, anyways?
"Trust me, you'd make a great time traveler. No one would ever suspect you were a time agent from the future unless you told them."
She remembered that her plate still had eggs on it and put some in her mouth. This caused the grin to disappear from her face almost immediately.
"I don't understand what the problem is..." she said slowly, "I taught you how to do it just fine and you seem to have followed the instructions like a champ. Logically it's impossible that these eggs are anything other than delicious. My mouth says otherwise. I think it's a problem with my mouth."
She kept putting more and more egg in her mouth, and her face kept getting angrier and angrier as she did so.
I finally took pity on her.
"Look, if you don't like it you don't have to eat it! You didn't eat all the other stuff I gave you just fine!"
"No, I think I'm going to finish all of these eggs. It would be impolite of me not to eat when you worked so hard on this stuff."
I knew she was going for the 'weirdly touching' vibe there, but it just wasn't working. Especially since our kitchen was still full of Haruhi-induced clutter. If she wanted to show her appreciation, she could have cleaned it up. I kept that thought to myself since I'd just promised Haruhi I wouldn't complain about her sudden invasion of my kitchen.
But still, I told you already I was actually going to leave some of that for myself, and now you declare you want to scarf it all down? Jeez..
"Hey, I'm a growing girl..."
No, I'm a growing girl. You're just a great lunk of a teenager who's in my kitchen scarfing down my eggs that I cooked!
I found myself drumming my fists against her back in a futile attempt to beat some sense into her. Usually I did this to my brother and it annoyed him to no end.
Haruhi seemed unperturbed by it.
"That's right, I'm a teenager these days! Thanks, I like getting compliments about my age!"
It wasn't a compliment!
Really, it wasn't. My default, instinctive reaction at that age was to vehemently hate people in their teens.
In my time, the teenagers were usually far too serious, comically marriage-obsessed - especially considering how few of them managed to actually get married before adulthood - and workaholic to the point of complete humourlessness. Just how does an eight-year-old get along with such people? They actually weren't considered adults until they learned to loosen up, take a joke properly, and get used to the idea that, at least in Montréal, sometimes what you really needed to do was just go to a nice party, listen to some nice music, and get quite extremely drunk.
If you read eyewitness accounts of my brother's trip to the past, by the way, please take this into consideration. He's not a bad person, just very much a product of his own time. On top of that, he was also stressed, impatient and somewhat desperate at the time, so there wasn't much opportunity then for him to show some of his more redeeming qualities. If you somehow end up in Montréal one day and his thirty-or-so-year-old self is around, I recommend him to you as a very fun guy to have a beer or two with, if you enjoy having beers with random people. He's settled down nicely, is what I'm saying.
Of course, when I called Haruhi a teenager, she probably incorrectly assumed I was referring not just to her age, but to the fact that she seemed a little like the late-twentieth-century notion of a teenager, i.e. an adolescent: petulant, immature and selfish. (For some strange reason, she clearly seemed to think of that idea as something to be proud of.) Digression over. I think you understand now what sort of cultural gaps one can run into between the past and future.
"Okay, you know what, I've changed my mind, I'm not going to finish these eggs. It would be impolite to your hard work to eat them when my taste buds aren't properly configured to appreciate them."
By that time she'd already mussed them all up with a fork that had already been in her mouth, so I wasn't going to be getting any. Gee, thanks.
"Let's try an experiment."
Haruhi's eyes fell on the first edible thing she saw, which was a watermelon this time. We were kind of saving that thing, actually. Tomorrow dad was going to take a day off so we could go hiking, and we'd come back home and eat the watermelon once we were finished.
"That..." Haruhi declared, permanently dashing our family's hopes for a perfect outing culminating in fresh watermelon.
Her eyes next fell on the pat of butter we'd been using to cook the eggs with, which was nice and soft by now from being left out in the open.
"... and that! Buttered watermelon! You slice it up and spread butter on it! That should be a good idea, right?"
She's just picked the first two random things she laid eyes on!
Anyhow, Haruhi discovered that she loved buttered watermelon. She got through nearly a quarter of it before she managed to take any further interest in her surroundings. Her face reminded me of our neighbours' cat, back when we used to give him a saucer of cream whenever he came over.
(Then we got a bird feeder and suddenly the cat became our mortal enemy. Oh well.)
"By the way, Mikuru-chan, do you know how to make tea?"
As a matter of fact I do. Everyone in the family took turns making tea, and my dad got very angry if I didn't brew it fresh and I didn't brew it properly. If I didn't use fresh leaves he'd sip it, make a face, ask whether I was taking the third or fourth derivative by now, and empty the kettle into the sink, telling me to do it properly next time.
"Oh, that's how you learned it! I really," she stuffed more watermelon into her mouth, "'spect your family for it. What I don't understand is who decided to plant common juniper in suburban Montréal. Didn't they read basically any botany reference that says 'reduced lifespan in the St. Lawrence ecosystem'?"
"I think we got it when we bought the house last year."
"Well, it could be a really old bush then. If I hadn't landed in it, the thing would have withered within the next year. No big loss." she says dismissively.
She ignores my grumbling about the ruined backyard to next start poking herself, in the collarbone, then somewhere near the top of her chest, all the while taking bites of watermelon.
"How am I coming along? I need to get my circulatory system working properly. Let's see, pulse, body temperature, number of hearts, um... how about I try this.."
A vein in her throat started pulsing suddenly, like it was a small and barely-noticeable tic.
"Miniature third heart!" she pointed it out to me proudly, "Keeps the brain oxygenated and at optimal function... at least that's the idea. How do I look?"
I looked carefully and tried to give my honest opinion.
"Your throat is sort of twitching a little. I guess you could cover it with a scarf if you want."
"I meant, is it really hideous?"
"Umm..." I hesitated, not quite sure what to say.
"Great! I can live with that."
Out of interest I tried some of Haruhi's watermelon. It... wasn't as bad as you might expect. I'd prefer it if my butter stayed on bread, though.
"Ah man, this is great," Haruhi moaned, "I got food, I got tea, my anatomy no longer has to violate any laws of physics or biology to continue existing, I'm with Mikuru-chan again..."
It turned out Haruhi was much nicer and more coherent after you let her take a shower and got her something tasty to eat, and left her to settle down for a while. (Actually finding something that she would agree to eat was like the trials of Hercules, though - what? I'd already read a children's abridged collection of Greek myths by that point! It's a perfectly valid comparison! Don't you dare start calling me precocious as well!)
"So, can you guess what kind of person I really am?" she asked, sipping her tea and looking at me with renewed interest.
I thought back to the discussion about her miniature third heart.
"Are you an alien?"
"Ye... not primarily. That's kind of a side hobby."
"Um... are you a time traveler?" I took a wild guess.
"Yes, but that's not quite the answer I'm looking for..."
I settled for the obvious.
"Are you a magical girl?"
"What?" Haruhi looked affronted. "Man, that is such a vaguely defined term these days, I'm not even going to dignify that with an answer."
I'm just going to assume she's also a magical girl.
"Okay, can you just tell me what you are?" I asked her out loud.
"I'm an intergalactic tour guide."
A what? She seemed sure enough of herself that I was almost ready to start believing her right then and there.
"Yeah, I sort of ended up drifting into the business. Actually, I'll let you in on a secret. Just now I had a really bad year, but that's over and done with and I've decided to make sure that this year I don't make any of the same mistakes. I decided to start by getting a bunch of really awesome clients together and taking them on a bit of a tour. They're all people I used to know in high school, actually."
Then again, I could tell just by looking at her that Haruhi was probably something much more complicated than some two-bit tour guide. So this must have been just another one of her games.
"If you help me do it then I'll take you along. What do you say, an awesome intergalactic tour in exchange for this food you gave me and a very small bit of extra help? Does that sound like a good trade?"
"Can my family come along?"
Haruhi looked a little too taken aback by my perfectly natural question.
"You sure like to drive a hard bargain. I'd say, uh..." Haruhi chooses her words carefully, "um, there's actually still going to be plenty of time to decide that. Let's gather just the clients first. Then we'll have a big party. I'm really looking forward to that part. Then we can decide on the itinerary, and then if you still insist on bringing your parents and brother along I guess we can make some extra room for them aboard the spaceship."
That sounded like a fun plan. For a moment I forgot about the mess in my kitchen and felt excited about telling my parents about an intergalactic vacation that we'd all be going on.
"Look, don't get your hopes up. Whether I do this tour or not depends on whether we can get my very special set of clients together. I'd say if you actually want your family along, tell them once we actually have everything ready. I'm really not sure about it, though. Also, it's not a vacation. It's a tour. There's a very important difference."
Wait, how did she know I have exactly two parents and a brother?
"So... I'm actually going to get back to you later when I need your help. I might not remember having met you - remember, I do some time travel once in a while myself - but do you agree to help me anyways?"
What do you say when you're eight years old and an awesome (if extremely rude) time-traveling alien magical girl crashes in your yard with an offer to take you on an intergalactic tour?
I nodded as excitedly as I could.
"Okay, so I guess right now I can kill some time and just give you a preview of what we're going to do. See, long ago there was this fellow named John Smith and when I was almost as young as you are he showed up out of nowhere and..."
She pauses mid-sentence and tilts her head as though listening.
"Is that your parents in the laneway?"
I can hear the garage door opening now. Yeah, that's them. How could she even tell that the car driving down the lane would be them?
"Um, if they walked in and found I was in here they'd have to tell on us to, what did you call her again..."
She screwed up her face in intense concentration as though trying to remember something from very long ago.
"... the Hag in the Other Room. I think that's her name. Yeah, I'll just warn you to be careful of her. Mikuru-chan, don't tell anyone... actually, never mind, do tell your parents I was here. That way they're guaranteed to not believe you!"
Finishing the sentence and finishing the last of her tea in a huge, hungry gulp, she put the cup down and:
"Wait, are they guaranteed to not believe you? Guess I'll have to do something about that."
With these words she began to giggle uncontrollably and snapped her fingers at me for the third time that evening.
Except this time she vanished, mid-giggle, in another bright camera flash.
I was left standing in the midst of the ungodly mess in our kitchen like an eight-year old who'd been cheated out of something. Which is pretty much what had just happened.
"Aww... I wish I could snap my fingers."
No, seriously, I can't. Somehow my fingers just don't work that way. My older brother used to keep teasing me about it.
Needless to say, after my family found the incinerated juniper bush in the backyard, half-eaten eggs and bacon in the kitchen, a watermelon that was barbarically split open, the open package of cough syrup Freezies, a bedsheet that was missing, I don't even remember what else, you get the idea: there was a very awkward conversation that night. They even stopped insisting I was precocious for an entire week.
For some reason my parents got particularly angry when I demonstrated to them that I could now actually cook eggs, and - I finally got to try my own cooking - they turned out pretty delicious.
Somehow they didn't end up believing my story about a drunken, burning magical girl who fell out of the sky and then proceeded to quickly get better and raid the contents of our refrigerator in search of buttered watermelon, and then offered to compensate us for the mess with an intergalactic tour package.