Subaru quietly walked along the multicolored tile flooring of the large LA mall his white feline companion had convinced him to come to. He walked with an air of confidence, even though he could tell that the hundreds of occupants that populated the mall were staring at him with avid curiosity.
“Check out the guy in the dress,” a girl with short blonde hair whispered to her brunette associate. They themselves were wearing outfits not fit for prostitutes.
The white cat that accompanied Subaru turned and glared at the whorish blonde. It hopped from its happy resting place in his arms and dashed over to the young girl. It swiped her left ankle, drawing a small trickle of dark red blood. The blonde let out a high pitch scream, jumping up into the arms of her friend.
Noticing the cat’s sudden absence, Subaru turned in the direction of the scream. Seeing the feline sitting proudly before the shocked girl, he sighed and ran over to where it and the girls stood. He quickly scooped the cat up, an embarrassed look plastered across his face.
“I am very sorry!” he said to the girls through his thick Japanese accent. “Please excuse me.” He gave them a fazed smile, then quickened his pace in the opposite direction.
“Was that really necessary?” he asked the cat in Japanese. It nodded, smirking.
The two of them finally came upon a large department store; black, faceless mannequins displayed diverse styles of clothing in the store’s enormous windows. Subaru glanced down at the cat, which nodded in approval.
Subaru stepped into the differently decorated department store. Almost immediately, his nostrils were overcome by the sensation of overpowering perfumes. Subaru wondered if every shop owner in LA made sure customers couldn’t breathe the minute they stepped through the door. Light, happy Muzak flowed in the background, annoying the hell out of Subaru. The white cat covered its ears with its small white paws, wearing a noticeably irritated expression.
“May I help you, sir?”
Subaru turned in the direction of a high pitched feminine voice, and noticed a brunette woman wearing a bright pink dress suit coming toward him. Her face was plastered with odd, intrusive make up— horrendous, dark purple lipstick drenched full, pouty lips; rose tinted eyelids poorly accented almond shaped, honey colored eyes; magenta mascara finished off the clown appearance, along with the aide of too much hot pink blush.
The white cat in Subaru’s arms let out a stuttering meow, which sounded much like laughter. Subaru merely gazed at the woman, trying to be polite.
“Is there something I can do for you?” the woman asked with an near-sincere smile, her tone too chipper to belong to any human. Subaru winced. So there WAS someone more cheerful than Sorata. . .
“Eigo wo hanashimasen,” he replied regretfully. The saleswoman looked at him for a moment, before smiling again.
“That’s okay,” she replied in surprisingly comprehendible Japanese. “Now, are you looking for something in particular?”
“Yes,” he answered, relieved he had run into another person with whom he could speak. “I need some new outfits.”
‘Thank God,’ she thought. “Right this way.”
Subaru followed the ill-dressed woman deeper into the store, eventually ending up in the men’s department. What sounded like rock music rang throughout the not so hidden speakers that decorated the large area that surrounded him.
The woman in pink turned to Subaru, the same feigned smile upon her clownish face. She held up a pair of dark blue jean shorts, along with a white T-shirt and orange plaid, short sleeve button down shirt. “This style is very popular with boys your age,” she chimed.
Subaru looked down at the cat, who had a frown of disapproval on its face. It shook its head, then leapt from his arms. He moved to chase after it, but decided it was intelligent enough to fend for itself. The woman appeared not to care about the loose animal in the store, which was fine with him.
“No, thank you,” he replied. “It seems my companion wants me to wear something else.” The woman shrugged, heading off further into the forest of racks and clothing in search of a better outfit.
Just as quickly as it had left, the cat returned. It snagged the edge of Subaru’s, or rather the Count’s, cheongsam, pulling him toward the back of the men’s section. He shrugged, allowing the cat to take him where it desired.
Subaru stood before several racks of different color dress jackets and pants. The cat smiled at him, only to run off again. Subaru stepped forward to examine the various jackets.
The cat returned once again, dragging with it a grey dress shirt. Subaru picked the article up and looked at it. Grey was not the most interesting of colors, but it was a suitable color for him. The cat then grabbed from the rack of jackets a black, three button jacket with equally black buttons. Next, it pulled down a pair of black dress pants.
Subaru took a look at the small ensemble, nodding his head. “Nice choice,” he commented to the cat in Japanese. It him flashed an ‘of course! You expected otherwise?’ smirk, to which Subaru could not help but chuckle. The cat dashed off again, reappearing with a flat black hat that maintained a white hatband.
Subaru stared, but decided it was worth a shot. It was similar to what his sister used to make him wear. What was the harm?
* * *
Subaru stared at himself in the dressing room mirror. He wore a black tank top with raised neck beneath an open, marshmallow white four button jacket. Marshmallow white Dockers were held up by thin black belt. Atop his head rested a flat black hat, hugged by a white hatband with a red stripe in the middle.
He could not help noticing that, even though he was nine years older, he looked exactly like his past self.
It saddened him and freaked him out at the same time.
“You look very nice, sir,” the woman in the pink suit, who Subaru noted was named ‘Shirley,’ said. She brushed invisible dust from his right shoulder, straightening the jacket for some reason Subaru could not figure out.
“You like this, don’t you?” he asked the cat, who nodded vigorously. Subaru sighed and turned to the saleswoman.
“Thank you,” he said with bow of the head. “I think I’ll try on the next one.”
He stepped back into the enclosed wooden dressing cubicle. He came out a few minutes later, sporting the same black tank top he had worn with the previous outfit, along with moderately tight by design black pants. His red jacket flaunted two golden buttons opposite a pair of small golden strips at the bottom of the jacket, and came down to about his upper waist. On his head was yet another black hat, but with a red hatband this time.
The next outfit was a lavender dress shirt underneath a dark purple, four button jacket that kept a small breast pocket on the left side of his chest; this was all elegantly accented by the equally purple neck tie that was fixed around his neck. Dark purple cotton dress pants, topped off by a dark purple hat with a lavender hat band.
Outfit number five, by Subaru’s count, was the least involved of all. It was simply a white dress shirt with collar and dark red pants, followed up by a dark red tie and visor. The white seemed to like this outfit the least, but still showed an interest in Subaru’s wearing it.
Coming out of the dressing cubicle for a sixth run, Subaru wore a handsome, plain blue suit with black lapels above a black, sleeveless turtleneck. The white cat had insisted that he wear a blue cape of the same blue, and was very irritated by the fact that he had refused.
“I think the suit itself is fine,” he said to the cat. “I don’t see the need in paying the extra for something that’s just going to get in the way of my work anyway.”
The cat sighed in defeat, which was strange for a cat, and allowed Subaru to display the rest of his, or rather it’s, chosen outfits.
The next outfit consisted of a very choice, plain grey tunic that had a thin, white band bordering the high collar as well as the zipper seam, which cut off at the end of the upper thigh length tunic. This was added to by grey cotton dress pants and a grey, wide brimmed bowler-style hat with a black hatband.
After that, Subaru paraded the same raised neck black tank top he had sported in three outfits already, along with snug, black pants. He wore a fine blue dress coat, a blue hat and black hatband accentuating it. The last outfit he tried on was similar, only replacing the blue jacket with a reddish-purple one, and trading the blue hat for one of the same color as his new jacket.
Subaru sighed with near relief as he moved back into his ‘borrowed’ cheongsam. Three hours of choosing clothing, then having to parade them around for the little white cat and the overly chipper Shirley. All he wanted to do now was pay for the clothing and go back to the petshop for a much needed break.
“Thank you very much,” he bowed. “I think I’m ready to pay for all this now. . .”
Suddenly it hit him— he would have to use money that was in the name of ‘Sumeragi’ to pay for his new clothing. The though made him ache. All that effort for nothing.
Apparently the cat had picked up on his sense of worry. It began to rub its head against his ankle, purring, then looked up at him with its shining emerald eyes. Subaru frowned, bending down to pet his feline associate.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t want use my family’s money to pay for this,” he spoke softly to it. The cat looked at him for a moment, before giving him a reassuring grin. It tapped the small slit in the fabric of his pants.
Subaru raised his brow in question. He reached into the slit, discovering it to be a pocket. . . with a credit card laying neatly inside.
“Does D know you stole this as well?” he asked, noticing Count D’s name on the small piece of plastic. The cat flashed him an innocent smile. “I’ll just make up for it.”
“Where do I go to pay for all this?” he asked Shirley.
“If you’ll follow me. . .”
* * *
Stepping out through the wide entrance of the department store, Subaru swiftly made his way to a nearby bench to sit down. The white cat followed, falling into his lap for a rest. Immediately, his hand went to pet the animal, listening to the happy purring resonating in its throat.
“Happy now?” he asked. The cat nodded. “Well, we’d better get back. D’s probably waiting up for us.”
The cat paused. It lifted its head and began sniffing the air. A bright gleam entered its eyes, and it turned its head to meet Subaru’s, flashing him an excited smile.
“What is it now?” The cat hopped from his lap onto the multicolored, tiled flooring. It tugged at his cheongsam with its teeth, pulling Subaru to his feet. “Okay, okay. . . I’m up.”
The little white feline persisted in trying to drag Subaru in the direction it wanted to go. Subaru sighed. He picked up the pair of heavy shopping bags, once again allowing the cat to drag him off somewhere.
It eventually pulled him to a large, overcrowded food court. The smell of Chinese food, Mexican food, pizza, pasta, burgers, and french fries mingled together in a tantalizing, yet nauseating, aroma.
“You’re hungry?” he asked it. It nodded vigorously, continuing to pull him along. It lead him to a short line belonging to the Chinese food stand. He sighed, picking the cat up and resting it on his free arm.
“It might be hard for you to order,” he commented. The cat shook its head, then pointed at him with its paw. “I don’t know what you want,” he said bluntly. “I suppose you want me to just pick something for you?”
“Very well. . .” he sighed. “But I don’t speak English, remember? How am I going to order?”
It gave him a ‘think of a way’ look. Subaru shook his head. This cat was too demanding.
The cat dove into one of the shopping bags. Subaru picked up a tray resting at the side of the food stand.
“What would you like?” an older Asian man asked with a sincere smile. Subaru assumed the man was asking for his order and pointed at the heap of sweet and sour chicken, then to the pile of white rice. “To drink?”
Subaru gazed at the man blankly. Having no idea what had been said, he shook his head. He did not want to buy something he did not need merely because he could not speak English.
Carrying his tray over to the cash register, he thanked the gods he at least knew how to read numbers. He quickly paid for his meal, then rushed away from the food stand.
Finding an empty seat away from the middle of the court, on the outer edges near the mall’s main body, he sighed and set down the bags, which were supported by only one of his arms. The small white cat hopped out from the bag and onto the table. It stared lovingly at the food for a moment, before noticing the absence of forks or chopsticks.
The cat swatted Subaru’s head, almost as if it was smacking him in the head. Subaru stared questioningly at it. “What? You don’t like sweet and sour chicken?”
It shook its head and began making motions that there was need for an eating utensil. “You don’t need a fork,” he stated. The cat continued in making signals.
Subaru gave up. This was a debate too small to fight against. He got up and retrieved the cat its desired fork, setting the utensil before it. “Happy?”
Now the cat began to motion for Subaru to eat. He shook his head. “I’m not hungry.” The cat growled, glaring at him in annoyance. The action surprised him, but he again decided he should not bicker with the animal over such a stupid subject such as eating.
He picked up the white plastic fork and began to consume the fairly large meal. Actually, it came as a relief to him. He had trouble remembering the last time he had eaten a substantial meal. The Count’s cookies were good, but they didn’t provide the sustenance his sister had scolded him to attain.
The cat smiled as it watched Subaru munch down the platter of food. Every so often it would steal a small piece of the delicious sauced chicken.
Looking up for a second, the cat noticed a man walking towards it and Subaru. It stood up, staring in the man’s direction as he approached the two of them.
“Nice outfit,” the man said wryly. “I know a guy who wears something exactly like that.”
Subaru glanced up, curious as to why he had not detected the man’s approach. The man was wearing a blue LAPD jacket, a white T-shirt, and fading blue jeans. Part of his hair was tied back into a small ponytail, and his expression was nothing short of suspicion. “You wouldn’t happen to know a guy named Count D, would you?” the man asked.
Hearing the Count’s name, Subaru turned to fully face the man. “Gomen?”
“Huh?” The man stepped back in surprise. “What’d you say?”
“Eh?” Subaru asked in confusion.
The man looked at him assessingly. “Do you speak English?” he asked, putting into practice the theory that anybody can understand what you say, as long as you say it slowly and loudly.
“Gomen. . . eigo wo hanashimasen,” Subaru said. He had a feeling the man would not be like the Shirley the saleswoman and speak to him in Japanese.
“Huh?!” The man stared at Subaru with confusion. Finally, he decided it wasn’t worth the effort of conversing with this strange fellow who *obviously* spoke no English. “Whatever. . .” He walked away from Subaru, shaking his head.
Subaru turned to face the cat. “Who was that?” he asked it. The cat shrugged.
* * *
Subaru opened the brightly lacquered doors that allowed entrance into D’s pet shop. He stepped into the thickly scented, dimly lit hall, setting his shopping bags down without a sound. His feline companion zoomed past his ankles in a white flash of pure energy.
“Someone’s glad to be home,” he said, grinning. He stepped further into the lushly decorated entrance hall. After spending almost four hours inside the mall, where his sense of smell was exploited and maltreated by the various smells of noxious perfumes and heavy food, he no longer took notice of the scent of incense that plagued D’s shop.
Subaru had noticed a black sedan parked outside the front of the petshop, and assumed D was meeting with some clientele. Not wanting to interrupt him, Subaru decided it better to go back to his room and rest.
He lifted his bags from the ground and headed into the back rooms of the shop. Stepping inside his own room, he laid the bags upon his bed and began hanging them up. Why he was doing it, he did not know; he simply felt like he had to.
Once he was done with that chore, he threw the empty bags into the closet and slid its door shut. He swept his short bangs back from his forehead, sighing. He had gotten plenty of sleep earlier, more than he could remember receiving in fact. Yet his expression was fatigued, and he felt strangely worn out.
Without second thought, he fell onto his bed with a thump. His head lethargically lolled off to the side.
Noticing the small, black television that sat silently within his room, Subaru felt around for the remote. Finally spotting it on the dresser, Subaru sighed and lifted himself in the direction of the large, oak dresser.
Without further hesitation, he hit the ‘power’ button. The television screen flashed on. Subaru ignored the Chinese soap opera that was on the current station and immediately turned to a local news channel.
Lucky for him, the Count had been kind enough to set up closed-caption to display Japanese. Subaru fell back onto the bed, barely lifting his head enough to see the screen.
“. . . Queen Elizabeth had no further comments about the IRA attack in Belfast.”
“Thank you, Tom. Earlier this morning, Tokyo was hit by yet another massive earthquake, destroying most of the Toshima district. . .”
Subaru quickly lifted his head. He stared at the television with increasing interest, grabbing the remote control and increasing the volume. A task which did not matter, however, for Subaru did not know enough English to understand what the news anchor was saying.
“. . . The Japanese government has withheld any comments about the earthquakes. So far, over one hundred people have been killed as a result of the quakes. Still, no plausible scientific explanation can justify thes—”
The white cat suddenly shut off the television, hoping up to hit the power button with the blunt of its head. It turned its tiny head and glared at Subaru. He merely stared back.
“Am I not allowed to watch the news either?” he asked it. It meekly shook its head. “Then what am I allowed to watch?”
The cat smirked and snatched the remote from Subaru. It tapped the power button with its paw and began to flip through the channels. It finally settled upon a loud, intrusive talk show. The large audience continued to yell, “Jerry! Jerry!”
“And what is this?” Subaru asked.
The cat simply flashed him a ‘just-watch-and-see’ grin. Subaru shrugged, deciding the show was worth a try; he was certainly trying new things lately.
He watched with peculiar interest as a short, thin, pasty young man persisted to beat the life out of an older, larger, slightly darker man, using a metal folding chair he had apparently stolen from the audience. Two large, burly men in tight black shirts endeavored to tear the two quarreling men apart from each other. To the side, a young woman who appeared to be in her teens was screaming at the two men; however, most of her dialogue had been bleeped out for some reason or another.
Just as Subaru began to find interest in the show, the Count’s shrill cry of joy rang in his ears, followed by, “Oh, thank you, Detective!”
Subaru glanced over at his white, feline companion. “What do you think has made the Count so cheerful?” he asked. The cat gave him an all-knowing smile and sprang from the bed, hurdling through the doorway. Subaru shrugged and immediately followed.