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This ninth volume of the Haruhi Suzumiya series is the first to use two alternate stories for the same plot with different endings. The story continues in the next novel, The Surprise of Haruhi Suzumiya.
The next day was Friday.
Ever since she was a freshman, Haruhi's habit was to leave the classroom during breaks, and despite the new school year, this did not change—so when fourth period ended, our fearless brigade chief bolted out of the room, and I was left to eat lunch with the usual combination of Taniguchi and Kunikida.
Never mind Taniguchi—when I saw Kunikida's guileless face, it reminded me of Sasaki, who I'd seen a few days earlier. Despite my efforts to the contrary, he noticed me looking.
"What's up? Do you care that much about eel omelets?" asked Kunikida easily, just as Sasaki would've done.
"No, it's nothing," I hastily replied. "I was just thinking I'm surprised we all wound up in the same class."
"Yeah, really." Kunikida stopped pushing his condiments around and looked up.
"I'm really happy about it. When I first saw the class sheet, I could hardly believe it."
I'd naturally thought he'd wind up in the science track, I said.
"That was my plan. But I'm a little weak in the humanities, so I thought I'd emphasize that for a year. I'll hit the sciences my senior year. Plus, this year they're only vaguely separated. And there are more electives, so moving from class to class takes a lot of time and trouble. And it's even worse in the second semester."
As far as Taniguchi went ... eh, who cares?
"It's too damn cruel, Kyon, buddy!" came Taniguchi's objection. "I wanted to get into a class with prettier girls. I was aiming for class six, but ..." He casually glanced over the girls in the room. "I guess this isn't much change. Can't believe I wound up with you guys again."
He was just as vulgar as ever; there was something pure about that. Hell, why not? Just like last year, once midterm exams came, we could fly low, just above the red line, I told him.
"That's a promise. I ain't gonna let that scrap of paper change my life one bit. Count on it."
He thumped his chest and talked a good line, but I wondered if this was really okay. At the very least, Taniguchi's existence was not enough to dismiss my mom's complaints. If only he had some special talent for making the case that school grades were a trivial measure of worth.
"I still can't believe I'm in the same class as Suzumiya five years running. What rotten luck," said Taniguchi innocently. But—it did seem very strange. I knew all too well that too-perfect coincidences often had a reason behind them. Koizumi and I both cocked our heads, although for different reasons. Then, Kunikida spoke up.
"When you've got thirty people in a group, the odds are actually better than fifty-fifty that two of them will share a birthday. So maybe it's not actually that strange," he said.
I kind of understood and kind of didn't, I told him.
"Well, want to do the math?"
I didn't, not particularly. I got my fill of staring at figures and equations in math class. No, he didn't have to do it in his head either. I didn't want to compare brainpower. Taking on pointless challenges without any preparation was Haruhi's specialty, not mine. The only challenge I could participate in with any confidence would be predicting who's going to wind up sitting behind me when we change seats.
The seat behind me was currently empty, its occupant doing exactly what she did last year, which was to vacate it during lunch. I was sure she was peeping in on the new freshmen's classrooms. I wondered if anybody thought it was strange.
No doubt if there were even one person who sparked her interest a bit, she'd go charging right into their classroom. I offered silent prayers that any new student unlucky enough to be pounced upon by a bizarre upperclassman wouldn't head straight for the principal's office. Not knowing which god or Buddha was responsible for such things, I couldn't leave any offerings, but in any case, they seemed to have heard my prayers, because just as fifth period started, Haruhi returned, her eyes notably not sparkling.
"Catch anything?" I asked.
"Nothing." Her answering tone was not so much dejected as it was matter-of-fact. It was like she'd confirmed that the neighborhood pond did not contain any arowana.
After school, I headed for the clubroom with Haruhi, which came as naturally as breathing.
Having advanced a year, we were now in a different school building, and the clubroom was thus closer, although still not what I would call convenient.
"I think it's convenient," said Haruhi, swinging her school bag energetically. "The cafeteria and store are closer. Getting a seat in the cafeteria during lunch is pretty hard. I'm always wondering why they don't add more seats."
She should take stuff like that to the student council president. If she got some signatures together and brought them to him, the school might actually do something about it, I said.
"I don't want to owe that jerk a favor," Haruhi said, quickening her stride and looking away as though suddenly shy. "It's better not to get help from the forces of evil. I hate people who start taking advantage of you once you owe them. I'll do something about it on my own power."
If she started expanding the cafeteria without permission, it wouldn't go well. The literature club's budget wasn't going to cover construction costs.
"If I were going to do it, I wouldn't ask. Everybody would be happy."
Maybe, but I hoped she'd give it a miss. Worst case, we'd make the papers. The next time I saw Tsuruya, I'd have to warn her ahead of time, so that Haruhi couldn't go to her for sponsorship. Of course, a levelheaded person of Tsuruya's weighty qualifications probably wouldn't take Haruhi's proposals at face value, but just in case.
"So, Haruhi, spot any promising new students?" I said, trying to get her attention away from structural changes to the cafeteria.
"Huh?" She went right for the subject change, but still pierced me with a sharp gaze. "I didn't think you cared. Surprise, surprise. I figured you'd complain about any additions, but I guess even you want an underclassman."
I did not. Of course, it would be nice if there were a member I outranked, since then I could just pass along all the menial jobs Haruhi assigned to me. With Koizumi as lieutenant brigade chief, Asahina as mascot/secretary/assistant chief, and Nagato, somehow, as literature club president, I was the only member of the brigade without an official role, I said.
"What, you want a title that badly? Fine, I'll think of one. But you're gonna have to take a qualification exam. Five written and two practical."
Forget about it, then. All I wanted was a motor vehicle license.
"There's a difference between positivity and just giving up. If you stuck to it a little I might give you something."
If it were something like an armband that said BRIGADE MEMBER #1 on it, I'd pass. That was pretty much the same as FIRST UNDERLING, I said.
"Heh, you noticed?" As Haruhi smiled at me mischievously, we arrived at the door to the clubroom.
It was Haruhi's habit to open the door without bothering to knock and walk right in like it was her own room, but in case Asahina happened to be in the middle of changing clothes, I immediately turned around, then made sure it was safe to enter by checking through the door's gap, so nobody could criticize me.
Nagato was the only one there.
She sat at the corner of the table in her beloved folding chair, quietly reading the memoir of a mathematician. No matter how quickly we came, she always seemed to be here first. Did she never draw cleaning duty? It was possible.
Haruhi tossed her bag onto the table, then sat down at the brigade chief's desk and pushed the power button on the computer. I left my bag next to Haruhi's and parked my butt in the seat that had somehow become my usual one.
As I listened to the computer's hard drive crunch away, I stared at the beat-up go board we'd left on the table yesterday. It was an unfinished game. The mosaic of black and white pieces was on the verge of completion. If played through, black was going to win by three and a half pieces. Even I could tell that, so it had to be a pretty amateur-level go problem.
Just wait until Asahina came, I said. It wasn't an overstatement to say that her skill with tea was on par with that of legendary tea master Oribe Furuta, if he got reincarnated somehow.
"No, that is an overstatement. What're you thinking—this isn't tea ceremony. Although I guess she'd be certifiable as the founder of the Asahina School of Tea. Sounds like a cult."
Haruhi's eyes scanned the screen. She pulled the keyboard toward her and started typing something. I wondered what she was composing.
"Come to think of it, you were doing that yesterday too. What're you typing? An updated journal page for the site?" I asked.
"It's a secret. A classified composition. If it leaked out of the brigade, there'd be big trouble. And if it gets out, I'm blaming you." She grinned and continued her skillful typing. She was pretty good at it.
I shrugged, then wandered over to the refrigerator and got a bottle of oolong tea out. I poured some into my own cup, then gave some to Nagato and Haruhi.
Nagato didn't look at the cup I put in front of her, while Haruhi snatched hers out of my hand and drained it in one go. I stole a glance at the computer. It looked like there was a new word processing document open on the screen.
"Wrong," said Haruhi, thrusting her empty teacup at me. "This is in case something goes wrong. It's like a pop quiz. Don't give me that look. I'm not gonna make you take it."
So whom was it a test for? I asked.
"Does it matter? Don't look. It makes it harder to write." Haruhi covered the screen, so I retreated to my seat.
I nursed my cold oolong tea, and with nothing better to do, played pieces on the go board, and shortly Koizumi arrived. When I saw his face it made me feel a little better—though it pains me to admit it, it's what I felt. I'd been starting to wonder if he was going to use his "job" as an excuse to miss the club entirely. Plus, playing games by myself was boring.
"Homeroom ran long," he explained needlessly, closing the door behind him. He looked down at the board, faintly pleased. "I don't see any plays left. I resign."
His standard smile. It might have been forced, since Haruhi was there, but it looked normal to me. Koizumi sat across from me, taking the pieces off of the go board and placing them back in their container. "How about a match?"
Sure, why not. But it better be a handicap match. It wasn't much fun beating the same person over and over again. Unlike Haruhi, I cared about the contents of the game more than winning or losing, I said.
"That's a relief." Koizumi chose black and put four handicap pieces on the board.
Koizumi and I silently played through the opening. Nagato was absorbed in her reading. The only sounds in the room were the clacking of the keyboard on which Haruhi typed and the shouts of the sports clubs that leaked in through the window.
It was a quiet early spring day. Nice, peaceful, and nothing was changing. About five minutes passed that way, but eventually there was a hesitant knock on the door.
"I'm sorry I'm late." Asahina entered with her ever-pleasant demeanor. Next to her—
"Yahoo!" Tsuruya waved her hand energetically, shining her full-face smile into the room. "Greetings, my friends! I have once again brought tidings of an invitation! Ha ha ha, 'tis the second annual flower-viewing party!"
It was, she informed us, to be held during our upcoming break in the spring, the next Golden Week.
The invitations that Tsuruya passed out were on high-quality rice paper, and it was like they were handwritten by Yan Zhenqing himself, where the only thing I could read was the date. If Haruhi hadn't read them aloud, I would've had to look up an art expert at a museum somewhere in the phone book.
Once Asahina finished changing into her maid outfit—Koizumi and I removed ourselves from the room during this—she served tea, which the SOS Brigade's occasional guest drank from with an "Aah," then spoke.
"Last time we went to see the Yoshino blossoms. This time we're having a Yaezakura viewing party! 'Cause I mean, back in ancient times, that's what they were talking about when they said 'cherry blossom'! They get a lot of caterpillars on 'em this time of year, but they're still so elegant." Tsuruya gulped down the rest of her tea, closed her eyes, and began:
"Yaezakura blossoms, that at Nara, ancient seat of our state, have bloomed—"
Haruhi picked up the second part of the poem:
"—In our nine-fold palace court, shed their sweet perfume today," she recited from the Hyakunin Isshu poetry collection with a firm nod. "It's true, it's worth criticizing the modern tendency to praise new varieties of gardening. While they're blooming, the poor little yae trees are still working hard—we should definitely try to find a spot to see them. Good job, Tsuruya."
I doubted there was anyone who deserved the phrase "good job" as much as Tsuruya did. I asked if the Tsuruya clan happened to be a noble family that could be traced all the way back to the Asuka period.
"That's ancient history, so heck if I know! If you want to find out, you can have a look at our genealogy, but it'll be a pain!" she rattled off, sounding rather knowledgeable. I hoped she stayed friends with Asahina. They were like a pair of queens—hearts and diamonds. So long as Tsuruya was with her, no miscreant would ever dare make a pass at Asahina. Haruhi? Oh, yeah—she was the joker. The kind you need for five-card stud.
As I gazed happily at Asahina in her maid outfit, a sight I doubted I'd ever tire of, Tsuruya and Haruhi continued.
"In the peaceful light of the ever-shining sun in the days of spring—"
"—why do the cherry's new-blown blooms scatter like restless thoughts?"
"The depths of the hearts of humankind cannot be known, but in my birthplace—"
"—the plum blossoms smell the same as in the years gone by."
It seemed the two of them had started a Hyakunin Isshu recitation contest.
"On a mountain slope, solitary, uncompanioned, stands a cherry tree—"
"—except for you, lonely friend, to others I am unknown."
"If I lay my head upon his arm in the dark, of a short spring night—"
"—this innocent dream pillow will be the death of my good name."
"When I look up at the wide-stretched plain of heaven, is the moon the same—"
"—that rose on Mount Mikasa, in the land of Kasuga?"
"From Mount Yoshino blows a chill, autumnal wind. In the deepening night—"
"—the ancient village shivers: Sounds of beating cloth I hear."
By this point, the poems they were reciting didn't have anything to do with
spring blossoms. They'd gone right past summer on into fall.
"Hah! You're pretty good. How about this one?" said Tsuruya, amusement on her face. "The mountain blossoms have bloomed, and in the far-off clouds—"
"Huh?" Haruhi, despite completing every other poem, was stumped. "I don't remember that one. Whose is it?"
Someone unexpected answered Tsuruya's trick question. It was the first time that day I heard her flat voice: "—I see the white thread of a waterfall." Nagato turned the page of her book. "By Toshiyori Minamoto," she added.
"Wow, impressive. That's the omniscient sorceress Yuki for ya!" Tsuruya complimented Nagato with a cackle, but Nagato's eyes were unmoved. I wasn't sure what was supposed to be so funny. Maybe I'd ask later.
Tsuruya rattled off the openings of three more poems, all of which Nagato completed.
"Right!" said Tsuruya, satisfied. "Thanks, Mikuru—the tea was tasty! I'll be counting on you this year again!" she said with gusto, and left the room. She was like a speedy, small-scale typhoon. Just when you thought she'd arrived, she was already long gone.
You couldn't deny that Tsuruya was a genius at brightening a room. But something about her bothered me. I couldn't conceive of what her face would look like if she were crying. She's something else, that's for sure.
Haruhi continued slurping her tea. "Well, that's one more thing to do over Golden Week. Hmm, yeah, we should all compose short poems while looking at the blossoms. Ones good enough to put in a compilation and pass on through the ages."
Apparently bored with typing, Haruhi gazed at the invitation Tsuruya left behind as though it were some sort of historical artifact. Just when I was about to ask her to let us compose jokey haiku instead, she seemed to suddenly remember something.
Excerpted from The Dissociation of Haruhi Suzumiya by Nagaru Tanigawa. Copyright © 2013 Nagaru Tanigawa. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
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Posted March 9, 2014