Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas." ~ Calvin Coolidge
Monday 3nd December 2012: A State of Mind
Over the course of the next day, Haru got the distinct impression Shizuku didn't believe her. Luckily, Shizuku's attention span wasn't that attentive, so the matter was left by lunchtime, if not forgotten. And, by the evening, when Haru was afraid Shizuku might pick up the matter again, there was a surprise on the front porch that drove the issue right out of everyone's mind.
The Baron returned.
Shizuku found him, standing erect on her front porch. Her yell brought the other two to the door; Haru had initially worried that something terrible had happened – like the cats had come back and were stealing her away – but she found Shizuku grinning like an idiot, wooden figurine clutched in her fingers and a rapid torrent of words flooding from her mouth.
"Was there a note?" Seiji asked. He peered round his wife, onto the empty porch, where no letter resided.
"None. None at all!"
"I wonder who returned him then..."
"Who cares? He's back!"
Haru caught a glance of the precious doll, seeing the figurine for the first time. As far as she could remember, the Baron had been missing. Disappeared before she had even been born. As of such, she had only seen drawings of him, courtesy of Shizuku, and had never quite believed she'd ever get to see the real thing. Shizuku had believed differently, never quite giving up that he would return.
In hindsight, Shizuku's phrasing had been... weird, Haru noted as they talked over cups of tea. Baron stood proudly in the middle of the kitchen table, top hat still balanced on his head and wooden cane still in hand. Shizuku had used terms like 'returned' or 'back' as if the Baron had merely walked away and got lost. For twenty years. As if he had returned of his own accord, rather than due to some do-gooder leaving him on the porch. But she kept quiet and let Shizuku happily express her glee.
"Of course, I never believed that he was lost to us forever," Shizuku insisted animatedly, "but still, to come back after twenty years..."
"It sounds like something out of one of your books," Seiji noted.
"Oh, if my books had any impact, he'd have turned up at least fifteen years earlier." Shizuku's fingers curled possessively round the figurine in such a way that Haru doubted the woman was even aware of it. "I wonder why he chose to return now though..."
"A fan of yours probably stumbled upon him," her husband rationalised. "Probably found him and decided that you'd like to have him. Strange that there was no note," he added. "Would have thought a fan would leave a note..."
"Does it matter? Anyway, why do you have to take all the wonder out of things?"
Seiji only rolled his eyes. His fingers gestured to the figurine again. "There's been a few changes since we last saw him. His eyes were more yellow back then and his suit has changed a little. And I'm sure his fur was more orange than it is now..."
"He has been gone twenty years."
"Alright. Point made." Seiji only rolled his eyes again at Shizuku's tone and turned to Haru. "So how was the rehearsal today? You sounded pretty bushed when you came back."
Haru only laughed. "Exactly how I expected it. Busy. Disorganised. Not too dissimilar to herding cats. Sorry, Baron," she added to the feline figurine. "But, really, someone's already managed to break a prop and there's a young stagehand that's left all the younger dancers in a ditz. They spent more time fluttering eyes at the man than they did dancing."
"And what do you think of the stagehand?" Shizuku asked slyly. "Is he nice?"
"I haven't a clue. We've barely spoken and... Shizuku! Stop trying to pair me up!"
The woman giggled. "Sorry. So, now we're on the subject, is there a guy we should be aware of?"
Haru snorted and sipped her tea. "No. And don't try to change that, Shizuku. I just don't feel ready for a relationship yet."
"She is only twenty," Seiji patiently reminded his wife. "Not everyone meets the love of their life at the tender age we did." He looked back to Haru. "I congratulate you on your confidence, although don't block people off because of it."
"I don't block people off," Haru insisted. "I can still make friends; I'm just not desperate to be in a relationship right now. Anyway," she added quietly, "from what I've seen of love, it makes fools of even the most rational."
A strange, bittersweet smile slipped over Shizuku's face, completely at odds with her usual buoyant mood. "How is your mother, Haru? Still in love?"
"Still besotted, if that's what you mean."
"You should be happy for her. She's had a second chance at love – something not many of us get. And fewer of us take opportunity of."
Haru grumbled into her mug, watching the dredges of her tea settle at the bottom. In her drink she could see the shadow of herself reflected in its liquid depths, the downward turn of her mouth just visible. "Like it's that simple," she muttered. The mug was abruptly returned to the table; she rose to her feet and was out of the kitchen before Shizuku could react.
The older woman didn't move; there was a twitch as she fought the instinctive reaction to also get to her feet, but she stayed where she sat. Her husband gave her a curious look, as if questioning her inaction. Shizuku only shook her head. "She doesn't need a lesson right now, Seiji. When she's ready to listen, she'll come. Until then, we give her space."
Haru slammed onto her bed, sinking her face into her duvet in one undignified move. A groan escaped her lips and a little of the stress ebbed from her limbs. She pushed herself over and stared up instead at that same ceiling. Her eyes fluttered closed and she was just beginning to sink into early slumber when her mobile rang.
Too tired to consider doing anything other than answer it, she scooped the buzzing phone and clicked the answer button. The tension returned instantly to her when she heard the voice.
"Haru, thank goodness. I haven't heard from you in days! How's did the rehearsal go? How are Shizuku and Seiji – still as mad as ever? Haru?"
"Haru, why haven't you been answering your phone? You're not still...? Are you still angry with me?" Her mother's voice hitched, and just for a moment Haru felt tears prick her own eyes. She hated being angry with her mother, but she wouldn't back down from this. She couldn't. It was a matter of principle.
"What do you think, Mum?"
"Haru, I... I don't know what to say."
"Yes you do."
"Haru... Sweetie... Phillip and I are in love... I had hoped you'd understand that..."
"Really?" Haru felt her voice tighten, her resolve shake then re-establish itself with greater determination. "Really? Dad's been dead for less than a year and already you've found someone new and you expect me to be fine with that? To actually understand it?" Her voice was shaking, but she was past caring.
"We've all got to move on at some point–"
"You seem to be doing so very fast."
"I loved your father," her mother promised. "I loved him very much, Haru. But he wouldn't want me to spend the rest of my life in mourning for him; he knew that eventually we have to let go of the past and look to the future. And that's what I'm doing."
"You could have waited," Haru growled. "You could have at least waited before getting into a new relationship. That would have been the decent thing to do." She was pushing all her mother's buttons and now the older woman was beginning to rise to the bait.
"Haru, the decent thing to do would be to be happy for me," her mother retorted. "Don't tell me what I should do; I spent the last year trying to be okay, trying to deal with what had happened, and I spent too many days feeling like the world was falling apart because Daichi wasn't there."
"You had me." The words were nearly whispered down the line. "You always had me, Mum."
"I know." Naoko's voice was tired. Tired and suddenly old. "But I couldn't place all my problems on you. You have your own life now; you shouldn't be tied to me, not when you're out in the world, living and working and dreaming of your future. And I know you would try if I asked you, but you can't always stay here to help me with my grief."
"But Phillip can?"
"It's different. You know that, Haru."
"Phillip fills a different role to you. Not more important, not more valuable, just different. We need a variety of people in our lives to fill different roles and Phillip is just a part of that. But, like you, he's important."
"But why so soon?" Haru whispered. "It's only been a year."
"You think it feels too soon?" Naoko murmured. "Before Phillip came into my life, the days felt like eternities. It felt as if I'd spent lifetimes without Daichi. It was hard for both of us, Haru."
"But it still felt too quick..."
"Love is like that, Haru. When you find someone, you'll know what I mean."
"So you're saying that I can't understand because I haven't fallen for someone?" Haru demanded. Her previously vulnerability fell away, replaced with a stony facade.
"It's something you have to feel for yourself."
"Forget that. I'm happy the way I am. I don't need someone else for me to think my life's complete," Haru snapped. "Unlike you, I'm confident enough by myself."
"So don't go lecturing me on love because I won't listen. I don't need it and I don't want it and I don't need or want you to tell me otherwise!" She slammed the phone to the side, ending the call.
"Haru?" Seiji was standing at the doorway of the guest room, eyes expressing the pity that Haru didn't want to see at that point. "Is everything okay?"
"No, and you know it. But I don't want to talk about it."
"Your mother loves you. And she loves your father."
Haru scoffed, but didn't meet the worried gaze of the man. "Loved," she icily corrected. She loved my father."
"She still does."
"But she's with Phillip."
"Because she loves him. Life can sometimes grant us a second chance at love and those who are smart listen to their hearts." When Haru didn't reply, Seiji only shook his head. "Shizuku said I shouldn't come to give you a lesson, but don't mistake advice for a lecture. Anyway, I only came up to tell you that we've been invited for a dinner out with friends tomorrow night and you're welcome to come."
"I suspected you might say that," he sighed. "We'll probably be back around midnight like last night, so don't stay up for us tomorrow." Haru heard him start to retreat back to the landing, but he paused. She waited for him to speak or leave, but he lingered for half a minute before speaking. She could almost hear the indecision whirring round in his head. Then.
"I wasn't Shizuku's first love. Think about that."