1. I don't own the Haruhi Suzumiya series and I am not trying to make money.
2. Some of this is based on the Haruhi fanfic "Uniforms" by BeatleBomb, published 5 years ago. Please read it.
"I had learned in social studies that the Japanese population was a hundred million and some. Divide fifty thousand into that and you only get one two-thousandth. I was stunned again. Not only was I just one little person in that sea of people in that stadium, but that sea of people was merely a drop in the ocean. I had thought myself to be a special person up until that point. ...if there were so many people in the world, there had to be someone living an interesting life that wasn't ordinary. I was sure of it. Why wasn't that person me?"
-excerpt from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya by Nagaru Tanigawa, available in English from Little, Brown Books.
I think there comes a point in every person's life where something makes you look back on everything you've done so far and ask yourself: Did I do it right? If I changed this or that, who would I be right now? Do I rock? Or do I suck? Well, perhaps it's just me that silently asks those particular questions. I really don't know why I bother, since I rarely like the answers I come up with, if I come up with any at all. But you'd have to be totally clueless or lack any sense of self to never look back and think 'what if,' right? Every day you're faced with myriad possibilities, any one of which could change your life forever. Make one choice and you could get into a serious accident and end up maimed. Make another choice and you could meet the person of your dreams. You might end up getting a job that requires travel, or work from home all day and never meet anybody.
Once upon a time, an annoying guy with an annoying smile hypothesized to me that every choice a person makes gives birth to an alternate universe, a universe in which another 'you' made a different choice and thereafter lived a different life. And all these branching universes continue to give birth to an infinite number of universes based on the infinite number of choices that everyone who has ever lived ever made. It's a useless hypothesis, and if you think too hard about it you'll end up laying in bed all day. But you come away wondering: what kind of life would another me be living? Do I WANT to change anything about my life as it is?
If you're the sort of person who doesn't like thinking about these kinds of things, let me give you just one piece of advice: Don't have kids.
"Daddy, when did you know you were in love with Mom?"
The question came completely out of nowhere. I was taken aback, but hid my initial reaction simply out of force of habit.
"Nice segue," I responded as casually as I could before chomping down on another piece of tender goat meat. My wife shot me a look, her short ponytail jostling from the sudden movement. She doesn't like it when I'm sarcastic with the kids, because-
"Yeah, Sayomi, nice segue. Where did that question come from anyways?" My son liked to imitate my sarcasm. He had much to learn from The Master.
"Eiji!" I said, withering under the intense glare coming from the woman sitting to my right. "Don't be sarcastic to your sister."
"Don't argue with your father," my wife came to my defense. Eiji, my son, our older child, sitting across from me, huffed and went back to eating. To my left, my daughter Sayomi gave him a smug look.
"Thanks, Haru," I said.
"I wonder where he learns it from," she responded. Et tu, Haruhi? Now both the females were looking self-satisfied. This was the irritating norm. I tried to mentally transmit an apology to Eiji through my eyes. He just rolled his. Curses. I'll let him beat me at video games tonight so he forgets about this.
It was dinnertime, and our humble family of four was at the table enjoying a Caribbean meal whipped up by Haruhi, whose talent for cuisine had only grown in the last 20 years. She'd even gone as far as including some tasty goat meat, although Haruhi prefers to call it 'chevon.' We were in the small but tidy dining room of our new home, seated at a high, Western-style table in very high set chairs. If we got out of the chairs and stood up the table would still be at a comfortable height to eat at. At least for the adults in the room. It was an unorthodox design that took some getting used to, but you could say the same about our family in general.
Haruhi cleared her throat.
"Well what?" I asked. Haruhi used her eyes to gesture across the table at our daughter. Her eyebrows were angled inward sharply in her usual annoyed look. I turned my head towards Sayomi. She had stopped eating and was leveling a look of similar intensity at me, although instead of insubordinate annoyance, her gaze was full of earnestness and patience. She was a good girl, despite almost always getting her way. Fiery and energetic, like her mother, but much more level-headed and filled with a boundless empathy that neither Haruhi nor I could guess the source of. She didn't get it from either of us. Her medium-length hair, which was identical in color to mine, was also in a ponytail, but a much lower, more modest version than the one her mother had before she chopped it all off on our memorable move-in day. Actually, Sayomi was far more modest in every possible way than her mother, which was a great boon to me as a father. Especially since she was just getting to the age where it was clear she was going to be a pretty girl as she grew up.
"Daddy?" She looked at me questioningly, wondering why I hadn't spoken yet. I can only imagine the kind of senile old man I am going to be someday.
"Sorry, what did you want again?"
"I wanted to know when you knew you were in love with Mom." Eiji made obnoxious gagging noises. Despite being older, he was far less mature than his sister.
"Who says we're in love?" I dodged the question again. Sorry! I can't help it! I still have problems giving direct answers to even simple personal questions.
"I knew you were going to say that!" Haruhi chimed in. "Keep it up and we won't be!"
I tried to give her my best "hurt puppy" expression, but couldn't keep a straight face and slowly burst into stifled laughter. Haruhi did the same, exhibiting genuine joy at the fun we were having at our family dinner. 15 years of marriage and the laughter comes easily to both of us now. Eiji chuckled along with us as Sayomi gave a gentle facepalm, a more tender replication of a pose I have struck many, many times. I forced myself to adopt a demeanor more befitting a 36 year old father of two.
"I'm sorry, Sayo-chan, I hear you. The answer is..." I hesitated again, but then had a thought. "It's really kind of an impossible question to answer. I don't know if there was one sudden moment where I realized it. Although... there was that time..."
Haruhi knew what I was thinking. Her eyes glittered.
"Our first date," she said, her million-watt smile creeping slowly onto her face, accompanied by a barely perceptible blush. Sayomi gasped at her mother's statement and matched her grin. She looked at me expectantly.
"You want to hear the story of our first date?" I asked. Sayomi was already overwhelmed by the cheesy romantic idea of such a thing.
"Yes, of course!"
"No..." Eiji insisted on remaining obnoxious. He was the worst possible mix of his parents: stubborn, selfish, and loud. And yet he idolized me and Haruhi both. He always had, and it helped keep him balanced as he was growing up. He naturally understood the value of learning from the wisdom of his elders. In this instance, his petulant objection went ignored.
"Okay, but you have to answer me a question first," I responded. "Why exactly are you asking about all this stuff? What brought this question on?"
This time it was Sayomi's turn to dodge the question. She even blushed a little and broke eye contact.
"W-well, I'm 13 soon. Mom says boys are going to start asking me out."
"Oh, PLEASE!" Haruhi grunted in her usual insensitive manner. "What she means, Kyon, is that she has a boy she likes right NOW."
My intestines imploded. No, my precious daughter...! Images of various weaponry flashed quickly through my mind. The look on my face must not have been as calm and collected as I was trying to make it appear.
"Dad, it's not like that!"
"Oh, calm down, did you think she was just never going to have a boyfriend, ever?"
"Yes," I responded as calmly as I could, trying to subdue my paternal anxiety. I felt my eye twitching.
"Dad, please...!" Sayomi was getting flustered and upset. I grabbed her hand, which had been resting on the table next to her chopsticks.
"It's ok, just give me a second..." I took a breath. You trust your daughter, Kyon. Crap, I refer to myself by that nickname, now! Stay focused. "So... you want to know what love is like?"
Sayomi blushed. After a beat, she nodded, Nagato-style.
"I'm not much of a storyteller, but if it will help you sort through your own emotions, I'll do what I can." I'm full of confidence.
"So... our first date..."
Our first date. I'll never forget it. I had asked Haruhi to meet me in our usual spot, then I took her to the forest park with the large outdoor stage where we had filmed our terrible movie a couple years prior. I had prepared a picnic for-
"Wait a second," interrupted Sayomi. "If you guys are going on a date, that must mean that you already liked each other, right? I want to know what made you ask her out in the first place."
What's with this girl? Am I on trial? I had no idea what to say to her. We've told her plenty of stories about our SOS Brigade exploits, but we never really bothered to include much about our feelings. Now that I think about it, maybe those kinds of details would make the stories better...
"Well, um..." Where to begin? I looked at Haruhi for salvation.
"Don't look at me like that, Kyon. I knew I was in love with you for a while before you figured yourself out," was her helpful response.
"Yeah, but you were too stubborn to make the first move! Would have been so much easier on me..."
"Awww..." Sayomi giggled.
"Your father doesn't know how to tell this part of the story without admitting that he was an idiot as a teenager."
"Hey..." I said, feigning hurt feelings again. She was right, though. Surprisingly, Eiji piped up.
"You're not an idiot now, though," he said. "Tell us the story so we'll know not to be like you when we get to high school." Haruhi gave one quick, loud "ha!" and ruffled his hair, much to his chagrin. He was at that age where he didn't like being touched and scowled at his mother's rough expressions of affection.
"Well, now that we have established that I was an idiot and had mental problems back in high school, I guess I can just skip right to the part about me going to therapy regularly." The kids' smiles disappeared. They were old enough to consider any kind of 'therapy' a serious matter.
"It's not that serious," I assured them. "Actually, the whole thing was your Uncle Itsuki's idea."
"Oji-chan!" they both cried in unison. That perked them right up.
"Remember the story of how I spent 3 days in the hospital in a coma?" The children nodded solemnly. "The company that Itsuki's, um, parents were affiliated with set me up to see a traumatologist after that incident, worried that I would need help coping mentally with my experience. Of course, I completely refused to do anything of the sort, but your uncle went behind my back to Haruhi about it. She... persuaded me to avail myself of the opportunity."
Haruhi had a serious look on her face as I told our kids about this. To this day, anytime my hospital stay is mentioned Haruhi's mood noticeably drops. She has told me that those three days are among the worst of her life.
"So that means she made you do it," said Sayomi, with no hint of irony.
"Right," I nodded. "I met with the traumatologist twice a month, but he didn't spend a whole lot of time talking to me about my accident. He kept asking me about my 'feelings' and what sort of 'friends' I had and how I 'felt' about them. It was horrible. I had always hated talking about my feelings and I preferred to pretend like I didn't have any. But I realized that a lot of the circumstances surrounding my accident had made me rethink my priorities and reevaluate what, and who, was most important to me. It's hard for me to say this out loud to you two, but your father was a pretty shallow guy back then. I was in a situation where I regularly spent almost every day with three beautiful girls and I was in no hurry to do anything that would change that." Eiji snickered at this.
"Yuki-obachan and Asahina-obasan," he said meaningfully.
"Yuki-obachan is still so pretty," said Sayomi, clasping her hands together and sweetly smiling. "I barely remember Asahina-obasan, but I've seen pictures."
"I don't like this part of the story," said Haruhi, grumpily.
"You're hot too, mom!" Eiji quickly interjected.
"Don't be crass," Haruhi responded, looking away. But I got to see a genuine smile pass over her features. Good boy, Eiji. Saved me the trouble. Perhaps I should hurry the story past this bit.
"The therapist accused me of- er, diagnosed me as having... what did he call it? 'Meta-something-o-phobia,' which I guess is fear of change. He also hinted that I had a deep-seated fear of dependence and betrayal. Something to do with my cousin, I think. At that age, the last thing I wanted to hear was that I was still some scared little kid, so I didn't take it seriously. But still, it stayed with me, and I found it harder and harder to ignore my nagging insecurities. And then, your Oji-chan had a conversation with me that I will never forget..."
"So has your therapy been helpful?"
Koizumi's smiling face was as innocent as ever. We were on the roof of the Old Building, above the clubhouse. This was where Koizumi preferred to discuss things that he did not wish others to hear.
"Cut to the chase," I said, immediately engaging my default Irritation Mode I reserved especially for my chats with Mr. Smiles. "You didn't really drag me up here to talk about that, did you?"
"On the contrary," he said. "I'm very serious. I'd like to know if you have learned anything during this time."
"If you're expecting some sort of 'journey of self-discovery' monologue from me, you can forget it. Veto."
The handsome young man chuckled.
"You see right through me as usual. I was hoping that maybe you had figured yourself out a bit over the last year."
"There's nothing to figure out. I'm just me." I didn't know what to say and he was clearly trying to make me think. Why? Shouldn't he know by now that I resist doing things I'm not good at? 'Thinking' is on that list.
'Doing' is on it as well, incidentally.
"Don't be so modest," he responded.
I stayed silent, looking out over the courtyard. Our last year of high school had just begun. I hadn't had time to get used to Asahina not being around, especially since the Brigade spent most of our winter together, as usual. I knew that Asahina's life and future were... complicated and undetermined at the moment. I had no idea how long she would still be around, but for the time being it seemed she would still be available to spend time with the Brigade, even if she wouldn't be present in the clubroom often, if at all. Great. Here I am wondering about her future while totally ignoring my own. This time next year, where will I be? College? A job? I was already getting annoyed thinking about it. Whatever. I'm sure there's a way to figure out the answers to those questions with minimal effort...
"Do you ever think about your future?" said the boy beside me. Perhaps he was a mind reader as well as a... anyways, he was making me uncomfortable.
"I don't know," I said, pathetically, after a short silence. The late-afternoon breeze blew a little too coldly. My uniform blazer did little to keep out the early April chill.
"Would you consider me to be a friend of yours?" he asked me, unexpectedly. It didn't sound rhetorical, and he didn't start talking again. He seemed to want a real answer. Again, my indecisiveness forced me into silence. If anyone else had asked me if Koizumi was my friend, I would have responded in the affirmative without thinking. But I had the feeling that this was a leading question, and I never liked going where Koizumi led. Not only that, but I knew he wanted a 'yes' and I was always loath to give this guy what he wanted. My tortured silence went on too long, it would seem.
"I see..." he looked genuinely sad and walked over to the railing to lean on it. Dang it dang it dang it dang it!
"Of course we're friends," I said. That was impossibly difficult. I felt the need to move things along as quickly as possible. "What do you want from me? What is this about?"
"When you care about somebody, you worry about their future, their happiness. As I do you. This is why I am asking you if you learned anything about yourself."
His vagueness, possibly the thing I hated about him the most, was really starting to tick me off.
"I'm sorry you feel that way," he said. His smile was gone. I felt afraid, for some reason. "I have always avoided being too direct with you, as I didn't want to undermine your decision-making. In general, I trust that when the time for action comes, you will make the best decision. And you've never disappointed. But now... you're on the cusp of making a mistake that can never be undone. A mistake that, I assure you, you will regret."
Was that a warning? Or some sort of threat? I can never tell with this guy. I still don't know what you're talking about, Koizumi!
"Then let me just come right out and ask. A question I never really believed I would have to ask you out loud," Koizumi said. He took a deep breath, turned to me, and pointed meaningfully right at my chest. My heartbeat quickened. What was he going to say? And yet, a part of me already knew...
"Are you, or are you not, in love with Miss Suzumiya?"
My knees almost buckled and I felt my palms start to get sweaty, despite the slight chill in the air. I nervously flexed my fingers, trying to calm myself down. What the heck had gotten into him to ask me a question like that!? This isn't something that you just come right out and ask somebody directly.
"Don't be ridiculous!" I said.
"Oh? That wasn't a 'no,'" he said, his smug smile having now returned from its too-short hiatus.
"Haruhi and I are friends, and that's it," I said, a little too loudly.
"Like you and I are friends?"
I felt really uncomfortable with that thought for some reason. I hesitated for just a second, but forced myself to respond.
"Sure. And Nagato and Asahina and everyone else." Koizumi would not be sated and continued the impertinent line of questioning like a madman.
"So are you in love with somebody else? Anyone?"
"No, I'm not in love anyone else." Leave me alone!
"I see. So... are you in love with Ms. Asahina then?"
I almost laughed out loud: a chance to think about Mikuru. Sweet, uncomplicated Mikuru. I was in love with looking at her. Did that count? Even I wasn't that shallow.
"No," I said. I wouldn't even know what to do with her. "Didn't I just say I wasn't in love with anyone else?"
"Are you in love with Nagato?"
"No," I said again.
"Are you in love with Tsuruya?"
"Are you in love with Haruhi?"
The denial choked and died in my throat. I grimaced, desperately trying to push the 'no' I needed to give him past my lips. It never came. My pulse was racing now. What's wrong with me? Why can't I answer? This doesn't mean anything! This doesn't mean anything! He tricked me by using her given name! Another second ticked by. Koizumi's grin grew a little more.
"Yes or no?" he said. He sounded like he had just beaten me at Othello. I wanted to punch him so badly. Was I under some sort of mind control? Did an alien put a stop to my motor functions? I've been in some hairy situations, so I knew real fear. It felt a lot like this. I took a breath to calm myself.
"Listen, Koizumi. There's no way... I mean, I'm not..." That tightness in my chest again. Why can't I breathe? I gripped the railing for support and turned my whole body away from my traitorous friend. "Get away from me, Koizumi."
"What do you believe will happen if you continue to keep everything the same between the two of you?" he asked, ignoring my clear demand. I did not want to hear anything he was about say. "Do you imagine that the status quo means security? You seem to be under the delusion that the relationship you two enjoy can simply stay exactly as it is indefinitely. I assure you that that is impossible. At most you have just one more year. Only one, before everything changes."
"What will you do when you graduate? What will Miss Suzumiya do? Will you two go to the same college? Suzumiya is more than capable of making that happen, but what reason have you given her for wanting it to happen in the first place? Of course, this is all assuming you even have a year to continue to enjoy your privileged position in her company. Have you considered the possibility that her parents might move away? Or maybe it will be your parents. What will you do then? Do you think her parents will conveniently let you move in with her so you can stay in North High? This isn't a teenage romantic comedy. Real life doesn't work that way, I'm afraid, and the current status quo only guarantees us inevitable goodbyes."
I said shut up.
"However, I regret to say that that is only a portion of true reality you find yourself in. The height of your self-delusion is your assumption that no one or nothing will ever mean more to Miss Suzumiya than her friendships in the Brigade. You're naive. It's very possible that she could become close to someone else just as easily as she became close to you. And, eventually, closer. If you truly believe that Miss Suzumiya will spend the rest of her life as a spinster and behaving like a romantically-dead high school student, then you may just be the most pitiable fool I have ever-"
"Shut your face!" I can't think of the last time I screamed that loud. If anyone was in the club room below us, they surely heard that part. Koizumi explained to me later that I had actually tried to hit him. I don't remember details from that moment. I only remember that one second I had a death grip on the wall railing and the next I was collapsed against Koizumi's chest with my right arm being held up by the wrist and my left supporting myself by holding onto his jacket. I vaguely felt him rubbing my shoulder with his free arm.
"I'm sorry, Kyon, my friend," he kept saying. "I really am."
I was staring down at his shoes. That was when I noticed my vision was still a little blurry. What happened? Did he use some secret blinding technique on me? I let go of his jacket and reached up to rub my eyes. My hand came away wet. I stared at it. This was all way too hard to understand.
"Kyon, please forgive me," he was still saying. He must really be sincere to keep using my nickname like that.
"I wanted to illicit an emotional reaction from you, but I didn't mean for it to go like this."
Meddling, stupid, smug, arrogant...
"Itsuki..." I said, still overwhelmed.
"...what should I do?" I was beyond pretense. I needed answers. The annoyingly composed boy smiled again.
"Place your bet," was his response. "Risk your current happiness for a shot at a greater future. Or gamble that future away in order to keep everything the way it is for as long as you can."
"Gambling is for idiots with too much money," I said without feeling, as I continued to try and gather my wits. Koizumi just chuckled and struck his trademark 'shrug' pose. Everything that had just taken place here was starting to sink in.
"Explain to me how this isn't a lose-lose situation," I said, finally. I was genuinely afraid. He turned toward the door to the stairwell.
"In a situation where everything you have is riding on one bet?" He opened the door with his back to me. "I'd make sure that that one bet was on Haruhi Suzumiya."
I stayed on the roof alone until nearly sunset.
"Dad, I can't believe you tried to punch Itsuki Oji-chan!" Sayomi was scolding me for something I didn't even remember actually doing from 20 years ago.
"I can't believe you missed him!" Eiji never has anything worthwhile to contribute.
"Is that really all you guys have to say about the story so far?!" I cry, pounding my fist on the table in mock exasperation.
"Kids, you'll understand someday, probably," said Haruhi, flexing her rarely used sensitivity. "One of my favorite things about your father is the way he always keeps a cool head in extreme situations. But when he does lose it, he's totally useless!"
"You were doing so well there for a second," I tried to put as much disappointment into my voice as I could. Haruhi grinned at me and rested her head on her hand.
"I'll make it up to you with some dessert," she said. I raised an eyebrow at her.
"That sounds amazing, but don't give away our code words in front of the kids." There was an explosion of groaning and yelling and barfing noises from my family.
"Never mind, I'll throw out the tiramisu, you ruined it," said Haruhi, getting up from the table.
"I'm just kidding, kidding!" she was laughing. "Kids, have your dad keep telling you the story while I go get the dessert from the kitchen."
"Yeah, yeah!" said an excited Sayomi, bouncing in her seat. She was all for the idea, and even Eiji was looking at me expectantly. Something about the scene in front of me filled me with emotion and I could feel myself smiling maybe a little too broadly. Haruhi was a better mother than anyone in the world would have imagined back then.
"Shall I continue then?" I asked.
I had been fooling myself. Of course I knew that things would change, that we would graduate and our paths would no longer conveniently intersect. We could, painfully and tragically, drift apart. But I never allowed myself to consider it, because I knew that if I did then I would have to take action to prevent us from drifting apart. Not only did that sound like a lot of trouble, but I had no way of knowing how Haruhi would react to any such actions. Pushing our relationship into places she didn't want it to go could ruin everything. So I was up against it, my ultimate double threat: having to take action and not knowing the potential outcome. My first plan, once I fully realized the truth of my position, was to simply jump off the roof and die. It was brilliant. Simple, straightforward, and it solved all of my problems. So why was I back in class, with the object of all my suffering occupying her usual spot at the desk behind me? Haruhi, if you can manage to get the two of us in the same class all three years and sit at the desk behind me every year as well, why can't you make this whole situation easier on me? If you'd just tell me you liked me or something...
"What? Do I have something stuck in my teeth?" Haruhi said, abruptly. Had I been staring at her? Homeroom hadn't begun yet and students were milling about as usual. "Hey, what were you doing yesterday, anyways? You never showed up to the club room!"
"Uh, nothing," I said, looking away.
"Every time people say that, it's not nothing," she responded, annoyingly. "It just means you don't want to say what you were just thinking."
Like you're not guilty of the same thing.
"As your Brigade Chief, shall I order you to tell me?" she had a mischievous look on her face. I glared back at her. I always enjoyed her energy, but I was in no mood to play along at the moment.
"Fine," she said casually, turning her face back toward the window. "If it's really important, tell me later, ok?"
Hey, that was sort of cute... Dang it, Koizumi! Putting ideas into my head. But still, she really had leveled out over the years. However, she still refused to pry and never pressed anybody about their personal matters. And I was just as likely to volunteer information as I was to grow a third eye in the center of my forehead. What the heck kind of couple would the two of us make, really? Crap! Who cares? Koizumi really messed up my head yesterday. There's no need to rush anything...
Before that last thought could even finish forming, a boy I had never seen before came into the classroom. His uniform insignia was that of a first-year student. What was he doing on the third-year's floor? And why is he walking this way? I watched in horror as he strode right up to Haruhi's desk without a hint of nervousness. If she noticed him, she made no sign.
"Miss Suzumiya!" he said emphatically. She still didn't look at him, but continued to gaze out the window.
"Yeah? What do you need?" she said, with the same level of interest a dog might have in a piece of gum on a sidewalk.
"You don't know me," he continued. "But I noticed you the very first day I came here."
He bowed, a perfect 90-degree angle. She still didn't flinch.
"You are the most beautiful and interesting person I have ever seen! Please allow me to take you out this weekend!"
Have you ever wondered what it feels like to be a mosquito right at the exact moment it gets crushed? Now I know. There's really no way to describe, physiologically, what I was feeling. Jealousy, maybe? Definitely some kind of strange version of fear was mixed in. I really couldn't say, but I can tell you that, the times in my life where I have had brushes with death were nothing compared to this. I still don't know how I managed to avoid falling into another coma. I was staring at the kid, agape. I managed to move my eyes to Haruhi. She wasn't staring out the window. She was staring at me. She looked... I don't know. Her eyes were wide, her mouth slightly open. Don't look at me like that, Haruhi. She looked away shortly after I made eye contact, but then immediately looked back at me. Then away. Then back again. She was completely caught off-guard. Was she expecting me to do something? What? What do you want me to do? Finally she looked at the presumptuous delinquent who had dared ask her out without so much as a proper introduction. He was maintaining his ridiculous bow. Haruhi seemed to be steeling herself for some kind of response. I had the sense that everybody in the classroom was looking this way. I glanced quickly to my left to take in the room and I happened to notice Taniguchi of all people staring me down. He gestured at me, as if to say "Well?"
That was when it hit me: Haruhi never turned a guy down when he stepped up to ask her out. All through high school, the SOS Brigade's bizarre antics kept guys away from Haruhi. If anyone had asked her out in that time, I certainly didn't know about it. But this was a first-year. He had no idea of her reputation. And he had done everything right up to this point; he asked her out with boldness, and in person, without a hint of shame or shyness. Exactly the kind of attitude Haruhi herself might have. He spoke clearly and was clean and good-looking. The conclusion was obvious:
She was going to say 'yes.'
"Well, you-" she never had a chance to finish that sentence.
My body moved on its own. In one quick motion I stood up, grabbed him by his collar and pulled him to a standing position. Actually, he was almost comically short. Barely taller than Nagato. But I didn't notice that right then as I glared fiercely into his face.
"Leave now," I said. The kid's eyes were wide with surprise. He glanced at Haruhi, then back at me. Then he swallowed.
"I'm sorry, I didn't..." he began, his voice barely above a whisper. He swallowed again and spoke louder. "I didn't know she had a boyfriend."
"Well now you know."
I said it as coldly as I could. I shoved him away and he backed into an empty desk. The clatter it made as it scraped lightly on the floor was the only sound in the room. He brushed off his jacket and then looked around the room at all the eyes staring at him. If he wasn't embarrassed before, he was now. He backed away, then looked at Haruhi and I one last time.
"Please," he said, giving us each a quick bow. Then he left in a hurry. I stood and watched for a few more seconds. Silence continued to hang in the air. The other students didn't seem to know what exactly had just happened. I looked down at Haruhi, who was looking up at me with an expression I had literally never seen on her face before: utter shock. Looking back, I know that I should have pulled out my phone and taken a picture. But my current state of mind didn't allow me to appreciate the sight properly. In the few moments that we had locked eyes all I could think about was this: I will never ever meet another Haruhi Suzumiya for as long as I live. What the heck had I been thinking all this time? Here I had a chance to have something special with the most precious, interesting, fun, and unique person I will ever know, and-
"I like this part of the story," said Haruhi, interrupting me. She had a cute blush on her face.
"No distractions!" I barked, suppressing the strong urge to kiss her. A blush on Haruhi's face was still on the same level of rarity as yeti sightings. And they absolutely drove me crazy. It was hard enough trying to tell the story with this incredible dessert in front of me.
"Dang it. Where was I? Oh yeah..."
So I had a chance to have something special with, er, this strange girl, and this whole time I had been treating it as if I would have thousands of such opportunities. I suddenly had a sense that the sheer tonnage of my accumulated stupidity could keep a passenger jet grounded. A warning: never trust me with your last will and testament. I'll probably run it through the wash in my pants pocket.
But I knew now, in this moment as I gazed into Haruhi's surprised face, what I needed to do. The status could no longer be quo. Or something. It was time for me to place my bet. If anyone was going to go on a date with Haruhi, it was going to be me. Someone once told me that they believed it was better to regret something you did do, rather than something you didn't. That person was a murderous sociopath, but the principle is still valid. And if what I was planning on doing failed miserably and put distance between Haruhi and I, then so be it. At least I could say that I went down swinging.
Finally the heavy silence was broken.
"Holy CRAP!" That was Taniguchi. It had really only been a few seconds since the offensive kid had left. Our homeroom teacher then burst through the door and class began. Haruhi jumped a bit, but seemed to recover her senses. I hesitantly sat down and turned to face the front of the classroom. My hands were shaking a bit.
"What is wrong with you?!" Haruhi whispered intensely from behind me. I barely heard her. I tried to concentrate on my breathing.
"You and I are going to have a talk in the Brigade room on lunch," Haruhi said. "Eat quickly."
Like I was going to be able to eat.
"That's epic," Eiji whispered. I guess even he has a romantic side. Or maybe he just likes the idea of his dad shoving some punk around.
"Come on come on come on!" Sayomi was still bouncing around in her chair. The sugar rush from the tiramisu had combined with her girlish euphoria from my story in a deadly way. "Did you ask her out after that?"
"I was getting to that," I said.
I had gotten to the clubroom first, since I hadn't eaten. Nagato was nowhere to be found. She seemed to instinctively know when to make herself scarce. I just paced back and forth rehearsing in my head over and over what I was going to say to Haruhi when she showed up. Nothing seemed to sound right. What was I going to say? I thought I would have at least 10 minutes, but it hadn't even been 5 before the door was kicked open. I almost screamed. Maybe it's not too late to jump off the roof...
Haruhi marched into the room without even looking at me, her very best angry face on full display. She went straight to her desk and sat in the chair, swinging her legs up onto the desk. She was trying to look casual, but the tension was palpable. You could palp it.
"Kyon, I'm not an unreasonable person," she began. Lies. "But you are going to have to be incredibly creative to come up with an explanation for your behavior this morning that will-"
"Haruhi, I think you and I should go on a date this weekend." The chair she was in almost fell backwards and she stood up in a hurry. Hey, that was easy. I guess after years of overuse, the filter between my brain and mouth was now completely broken.
"What?" said Haruhi, but it came out in a barely audible whisper. I've never seen her so flustered and surprised so often in one day. Just that alone would make all this worthwhile. "I mean, what?!"
She was doing everything she could to regain control of the situation. But I wasn't about to let my brain-mouth filter slide back into place. I let momentum carry me forward before I could talk myself into shutting up.
"Do you have a best friend, Haruhi?" I asked, adapting a line from Koizumi. I owe him one for this. For everything. She continued to gape at me. "Because you are my best friend."
Her eyes shimmered and she finally looked away, biting her lower lip.
"All of my favorite memories from high school involve you. I have more fun when you and I are doing something together. Talking to you is the most natural thing I do on any given day. When I wake up in the mornings, I think about what you might have planned or what the next adventure with you will be like. This is your Brigade, but we built it together, and it means everything to me. I don't know if I will ever belong to anything this special again. But without you it would be just another club. I won't pretend like I'm not scared of changing everything between us. I'm terrified. I've been happy the way things have been. But whether we like it or not, we can't stay like this forever. And..." I finally hesitated. She looked back at me with an expression of vulnerability I didn't think she was capable of. I really liked it.
"The chance to be with you is worth the risk," I finally finished what I had to say. Haruhi still seemed unable to say anything. She stared straight ahead, seemingly at my necktie. What's going through your mind, Haruhi? I felt like she was panicking and if I didn't find some way to calm her down then this would all be for nothing. I held up my index finger. She looked at it.
"One date. That's all. It will be entirely up to you if we have a second one."
She looked from my finger to my eyes. I refused to look away.
"Meet me at the usual spot? 9 am. I'll treat you to breakfast."
Her eyebrows angled inward slightly.
"A breakfast date?" she said, skeptically. Although she was still surprisingly subdued, she managed to make her response just as rude as I would expect! I liked that, too.
"That way if it's horrible and you decide you hate me you have the whole rest of the day to do whatever you want and forget about it!" I tried giving her a playful smile as I said this. I needed to ease her tension. It's just a date, right? No big deal. People do this kind of thing all the time. Haruhi visibly relaxed at the sight of my smile.
"Hm," she grunted, a fraction of a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. Her eyebrows were now fully angled into their usual position. "I don't need to go on a date with you to figure out if I hate you or not."
And with that she brushed past me and made her way to the door. My blood felt like it had suddenly become chunky and slowed in my veins. What did that mean? Was this... a rejection? I couldn't help but turn to look at her. She was waiting on the other side of the door, holding it open. Her eyes had regained their resolve as they pierced into mine.
"9 am, Kitaguchi station," she said. "Tardiness means penalties!"
And with that she slammed the door.
I have no idea what my face must have looked like. But it felt hot. I had that strange sense of lightness as well, the kind you get when you finally take off a heavy backpack you've been carrying for a long time. It made me want to laugh. I have no idea why, but it did. Perhaps I had finally cracked. But I laughed out loud anyways, all alone in that clubroom.
She had said 'yes.'
I ditched class for the rest of the day. I had a date to plan.
By this point Sayomi was wide-eyed, completely invested in the story. Even Eiji was grinning.
"So..." breathed Sayomi. "So tell us what happened on the date! How did it go?"
"Oh, it was terrible!" I said. "Painfully awkward. An absolute disaster." Eiji found this hilarious.
"Don't listen to him, kids!" huffed my wife. "I'm too old now to pretend like I didn't already like him long before he asked me out, but it was on that first date that he really won me over."
"Oh is that so?" I said.
"Silly Kyon! Don't act like you didn't know that!"
"Yeah, but I never get tired of hearing it," we smiled at each other.
"Oh, come on, no lovey-dovey looks, you guys are so gross!"
"Don't be so immature, ant-face!" Sayomi was so sweet to everyone, but was like a different person when talking to her older brother.
"Look who's talking, barfaroni!"
"That's enough of that," I said. They scowled at each other then looked back at me.
"Faster next time, Kyon," said Haruhi. "You let them get all the way to D."
I like quiet evenings and this was starting to get out of hand. Why did I have kids again?
"Do you guys want to hear about our date or what?" I asked, trying to get the evening back under my control.
"Yes, please, daddy," said Sayomi. So cute. Even Eiji was conspicuously silent.
"Well then," I said. "Let's clean up dinner and I'll tell you all about it."
As my family energetically left the table and piled into the kitchen, I couldn't help but feel sentimental. All this waxing nostalgic about high school... it felt like it had all just happened. Yet, I had lived a lifetime since then. Back then, if another time-traveler had appeared and told me that this was the life that I would be living two decades in the future, I probably would have had them arrested. But, as we all know...
...I was an idiot back then.
I finally stood up from the table as well. I couldn't wait to spend the rest of the evening with my wife, telling our children this story.
This is my first attempt at fanfiction. I am very grateful that you took the time to read it and I hope it was worthwhile for you. I plan to continue this story if there is any kind of demand for it. Please follow and leave reviews and I will try to be responsive. Constructive criticism is most welcome.
- Arvis Jaggamar