Chapter 195: Tsuruga Fucking Ren

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Skip Beat, for if I did, Shotaroach would begin to secretly admire his nemesis.

"Save your tears for another day, ooh, girl (Ah), I said save your tears for another day (Ah), Save your tears for another day (Ah)..."

"That sounded good. Let's take it from the top once more," he announced into the microphone once the final lyric was sung and the accompanying music ended.

"You can't, Sho," his manager's stern voice boomed from the speakers mounted in the ceiling of the sound booth. "You can't miss this one."

Sho glared defiantly at Shoko through the acoustic window as she stood in the control room. Stopping now would set them back and lose the momentum he had going with the band, but Shoko was right. This appointment was something he couldn't pass on or reschedule. He had to show them he was serious about this job.

"Don't look at me like that," Shoko chided, refusing to be intimidated by him. "You have been pushing these guys non-stop for the last thirty-six hours with little rest and nothing but take-out in their bellies. They look ready to drop. You look ready to drop."

Sho scoffed and turned to glance at the guys that made up his band. Four pairs of exhausted eyes stared back at him unwilling to complain. They were talented but easily expendable. In this industry, there was always someone good enough ready to replace them. He had been running them ragged trying to nail down this new song and could now see it had taken its toll. Sho sighed and removed the headset from around his neck.

"When can we pick this back up, Shoko-san?"

He waited and watched as his manager tapped on the tablet in her hands.

"Tomorrow morning, at eight. The studio has a window open until lunch. I've had to reschedule a lot of your obligations Sho. You can't keep putting them off," She answered tersely.

"That's fine," he flashed her a panty-dropping grin and was pleased to see some of his manager's irritation dissipate. That was earlier than expected. He could work on it by himself later tonight and figure out what else it needed.

"Here is your suit," Shoko said, picking up a black garment bag from the couch as he exited the live room. "You have twenty minutes to clean up before we need to leave. I want to give us plenty of time to spare. It would look bad if you're late," Shoko warned.

"Thanks," he nodded and headed for the restroom. Attached to it was a dressing room that held a few lockers where he stashed the overnight bag Shoko had delivered the other day. Sho was too engrossed with work that he hadn't bothered with hygiene much. He at least made sure to brush his teeth. If not, his rank breath would have killed him in the isolation room.

Rummaging through the bag, he retrieved his toiletries and shaving kit. Undressing, he entered the room to take a shower. It was a typical low-budget washroom where the tiny shower, sink, and toilet were practically on top of each other. It was smaller than what he was used to, but Sho was grateful it had a shower at all. Most studios didn't provide such luxurious accommodations and without washing, he would be going to his next appointment smelling like stale cologne and body odor. A sponge bath could only get him so clean.

After a quick wash of his hair and body, Sho used the tiny mirror mounted to the shower wall to shave his face, an unnecessary gesture. It had been over two days since he last shaved, yet he barely had a five o'clock shadow to show for it. His lack of facial hair growth mildly annoyed him as he rinsed the residual shaving cream off his face and shut the water off.

The shower took him no more than five minutes. He could be dressed in three minutes. The rest of his prep time was dedicated to styling his hair. Shoko had even packed his travel hairdryer and products. He had to be on point when out in public, after all.

"Five minutes, Sho," Shoko called, knocking on the door.

"Yeah, almost done," he hollered as he made final adjustments to his front locks. Pleased by his appearance, he winked at his reflection in the mirror. Sho got dressed at lightning speed, donning a deep red dress shirt with a wool-silk suit in gray and Italian designer shoes that would have Kyoko shitting a brick if she knew how much they cost. Sho shook his head to dispel any thoughts of Ren Tsuruga owning more shoes of this caliber than him.

"I'm just getting started," he told himself confidently. He popped the collar of his shirt and left the top two buttons undone. After slipping on the chains around his neck and the rings on his fingers, Sho was ready to go.

He grabbed his bag and joined Shoko in the lounge bidding anyone remaining goodbye with a promise to see them in the morning.

"I have the flash drive of the latest recording and your phone," Shoko stated and handed them over.

"Thanks," he answered, taking his phone. As they walked, he held the power button and waited for it to boot up. It didn't; the screen remained black.

"Fuck," he cursed, following Shoko out of the studio. The phone was dead. It had not been charged since he arrived at the studio two days ago. He must have forgotten to turn it off when he threw it into the top drawer of the desk in the control room.

"Shoko, do you have an extra battery or a phone charger on you? My battery is dead."

"No, sorry," she answered quickly, heading for the vehicle. "It's probably for the best," she muttered.

He frowned but didn't say anything. Her response was odd. For as long as he could remember, Sho had never seen her leave home without a backup and a backup to her backup in case her phone died.

Sho undid the buttons of his suit jacket before getting into the car to sit more comfortably. The more polished and professional look was a tactic he adopted to signify the new chapter of his career. Hopefully, they would appreciate his effort.

The ride was long with Shoko yapping and complaining about the new schedule she had to painstakingly rearrange to accommodate his bout of inspiration. He couldn't control when the music muses decided to bless him and all he could do was embrace their gift.

Sho's fingers thrummed to the beat of the new song he was working on, tuning out his manager in the process. Somehow, he hummed and nodded at all the right times throughout Shoko's monologue, giving her the illusion that he was paying attention until she ran out of steam.

When it sounded like she was done ranting, Sho flashed her a charming smile. "Thank you, Shoko. I appreciate all you do for me," Sho winked, making his manager roll her eyes at him, but a hint of a smile curled on her lips.

It wasn't like Shoko to continue to talk his ear off and nag so much. He must have stressed her out pretty good by pulling that stunt on a Saturday, especially one packed with endorsement meetings, photoshoots, and interviews. Thankfully, none of them involved a performance otherwise, he wouldn't have been able to blow those off.

Sho did have to make it up to her. Maybe a spa day would do the trick. Those mask things she always puts on her face at night made him think she would enjoy a professional facial and a massage. He'd have to find out when her next free day was and book an appointment. It couldn't hurt if he made one for himself too.

As they pulled up to their destination, Sho noticed that the front entrance was crawling with reporters and fans. Had someone tipped them off that he would be here today? He had signed a non-disclosure agreement to keep his new gig under wraps until things were finalized, but it appeared word got out.

"Take us around to the side entrance. We have permi—. Sho!" Shoko yelled as he was already hopping out of the car. He buttoned up his jacket and smoothed out the wrinkles from sitting. A few strokes through his hair and he was ready to greet his adoring fans. It didn't take more than two steps before someone recognized him.

The excited peals from the crowd had him beaming. The attention never got old. He loved being at the center of it, even thrived on it. The residual fatigue that was lingering from his all-nighters dissipated as photographers and reporters all clambered to get a piece of him. Security from the building was quick to respond to his presence and aided him, keeping the frenzy at a respectable distance as he made his way to the entrance.

"Sho, wait!" He heard Shoko shout as she rushed to join him. She huffed and grumbled, "I swear you're a thorn in my side." He flashed her his million-dollar smile which was more to appease the crowd than her.

"Fuwa-san, what brings you to LME today?" A reporter shouted, putting the kibosh on the idea that they were there for him.

"Are you still good friends with Kyoko-san?" Another one yelled from behind him.

"Were you worried about her?" A female voice shouted above the others. "Care to make a statement about the accident?"

"What?" he gasped, turning around to locate the person that posed the question. Accident? What accident?

Before Sho could find the reporter, he was swept into the lobby by security with the doors firmly shut on the media.

"What was she talking about Shoko," Sho demanded, forcing himself not to stomp after his manager.

"I have no idea," she replied, brushing off the question. "Stay here and behave while I check-in." She pointed to the faux leather seats arranged in front of a large screen displaying some food commercial and headed for the front desk. Sho considered following her but spied the two men working the counter. He doubted he could glean any information out of them. If they were women, he would have had them wrapped around his finger in seconds.

Sho glanced around the lobby for any loitering female staff available. Everyone seemed to be on the go. Of course, they recognized him. Some even flashed him propositioning smiles, but none of them stopped to give him the time of day. Odd. Sho thought he looked pretty fucking irresistible in his suit. Women usually swarmed him by now without effort on his part. Sho weighed his options and considered approaching the giggling ladies glancing over their shoulders as they waited for the elevator to arrive. He could always go back outside and make a scene with the reporters to get some answers. Shoko would kill me!

He gave up for now and made a move toward the chairs when a cool-looking poster caught his attention. With his busy schedule, Sho wasn't up to date with the latest movies. He opted to watch variety shows and people making asses of themselves during his downtime instead. The image of a tatted-up samurai mafia man drew him closer wanting to know the name of the show. His lips curled in disgust as he got near enough to read the print. Fuck!

Twisting on his heel, he immediately abandoned his curiosity and plopped onto one of the chairs. He was pissed that his eyes kept betraying him and darting back to the picture. Sho stewed with contempt, refusing to admit how cool Tsuruga fucking Ren looked in not only a slick black suit but hakama pants. The image had to be photoshopped or he was on steroids. There was no way the guy could be that ripped. Sho glanced down at his body, lean and fit from being on the go and performing under hot lights. He was lucky that no matter what he ate or drank, it would burn off after a few hours on stage. For the first time in his life, Sho thought maybe it wouldn't kill him to pick up a weight.

"Everything okay, Sho?" Shoko asked as she took a seat next to him. He was going to dismiss her question with a shrug but thought better of it. It wouldn't hurt to get a woman's opinion and since she was his manager she should know best.

"Shoko, do you think I should start weight training?"

"What?" She laughed and sobered quickly when he glared at her. "Don't you run already?" Her eyes trailed over his body appreciatively. He did run. Not necessarily for exercise, but to clear his head when he was struggling for inspiration.

Sho kept his scowl in place even though it pleased him greatly to have his hot manager ogle him. Yeah, fuck it! I don't need it. He was content to believe that the poster was the work of some professional editing. It could be confirmed if he just watched one of the episodes. Being a guy, he'd be able to tell if the bastard's body was CG'd immediately.

"Shit!"

His cursing manager reclaimed his attention, tearing it away from the poster. Looking up, he followed Shoko's gaze trained on the screen. In front of his face was an image of his childhood friend looking very much older than her seventeen years, Tsuruga fucking Ren sporting a wedding ring, and holding a baby between them.

What the fuck?

Rather than freezing into his typical Nio statue mode, Sho jumped to his feet as the hostesses gushed over "their marriage and their baby." He was so shocked by the news that he didn't hear them explain that it was all fake and part of a job they took in America. All he saw was what an adorable and happy little family they were together.

Fuck!

He didn't hear the sniggering behind him until Shoko rested her hand on his shoulder and called his name. His eyes lingered on the screen for another moment before turning and coming face to face with two young women wearing identical outfits in a hideous bright pink color. He had seen Kyoko wearing something similar before and instantly recognized the tall girl with the long dark hair as the bitch that kneed him in the family jewels. She looked pissed again, making Sho squirm under her glare and wanting to instinctively protect his balls.

"Fuwa Sho?" The smaller girl questioned like she had no clue who the fuck he was and needed to confirm. It ticked him off. He was convinced that those bright uniforms were a warning to everyone that these women were bad news.

"Yes," Shoko answered. "We're here for the table reading."

"Yes, we were instructed to escort you to the meeting room," she bowed and the other girl followed. "I'm Amamiya Chiori and my colleague here is Kotonami Kanae. We are part of LME's LoveMe section," she smiled proudly.

Sho snickered. The name still sounded stupid to him. Shoko elbowed his ribs and gave him a chastising glare.

Chiori lost her smile. A shiver of fear ran down his spine as her cold calculating gaze settled on him, making him gulp. I'm fucked.

The sound of Kyoko's voice broke the tension and everyone including him turned to face the screen as the scene of Kyoko sitting at the front of the stage serenading Tsuruga fucking Ren filled it. Everyone in the lobby stopped what they were doing to watch one of their own perform. Sho groaned internally. How many fucking times were they going to play this video? The song was cheesy as fuck, but he had to admit it was catchy. The fact that she performed in a popular music bar in Hollywood grated on his nerves. It had always been his dream to become an international star, especially performing in America. He was sure she was gloating. Kyoko had done nothing but rub the success of her career and personal life in his face since they split.

Well, two can play that game, you damn succubus!

"So, Fuwa-san, what do you think about our girl's performance. She's quite impressive, isn't she?"

Chiori's tone was taunting, daring him to deny Kyoko's God-given talent right here. She was not his biggest fan. He needed to choose his response wisely. Sho was a natural charmer. It shouldn't have been that difficult to get this woman to warm up to him. All three women stared at him expectantly and this time his manager seemed to be on their side. He decided to go for broke and be honest. It was this song that kicked his ass in gear and landed it in the studio this past weekend. He wanted to get this new single out before Kyoko could record this song in an actual studio. Her song had the potential to blow everything currently dominating the Oricon charts and taking the top spot. Because it was only a home video someone posted on social media, it could not be considered to play on the radio. Sho wouldn't be surprised if record labels were already banging down her door to sign with them. Well, challenge accepted!

"Yeah, doesn't surprise me. She's always been pretty amazing at everything," he confessed and grinned as the women gaped at his unexpected answer. Now that he had them momentarily stunned, Sho played with the idea of asking them about her but thought better of it. He didn't want them reporting to her that he was some jealous lovesick fool that couldn't let go of the past. Yeah, he needed to keep his pride here.

"Shall we head to the meeting now? I don't want to be rude by being late," he offered, getting them back on track.

"Shit! Yeah, sorry, excuse my language," Chiori flushed cutely. Piece of cake. Sho smirked as he walked behind the pair of pink-clad women. Their outfits sucked though! He couldn't even make out the shape of their asses through those baggy pants.

To Sho's relief, they made it to the large conference room without a moment to spare. Director Seiji Shingai greeted them immediately upon arrival.

"Fuwa-kun, glad you could make it," Seiji offered his hand for a shake then greeted Shoko. "We're still waiting for our executive producer to arrive, but I will introduce you to everyone here."

Sho was surprised to see the LoveMe girls greet the others first then take seats at the table. Are they part of this too?

Seiji introduced him to the same casting director from the audition, Iwagami Oki, and the two other people in the room, an older man and a girl that appeared to be about twelve years old. The young girl went fangirl crazy over him which stroked his ego after the bruising it took from the bitter LoveMe duo. Although, he wasn't ready to write off Chiori yet. There's still hope for her, he thought, forgetting that she probably envisioned a dozen different ways to kill him earlier.

Sho gave the little girl some of his attention. After all, he was nothing without his fans, and listening to her gush about his songs helped to calm his nerves until she started raving about working with Kyoko.

"Wait, what about Kyoko?" He asked, struck by the change of topic.

"Yeah, I'm so excited to be working with her on this project. Aren't you?" She squealed, clapping her hands excitedly.

"Umm," Sho began unsure how to answer. He had no idea Kyoko would be in this film. Twisting in his chair, he shot daggers at his manager. Shoko smirked and shrugged her shoulders. The devil of a woman fucking knew and she couldn't have warned a guy.

"I'm sorry," Seiji added, inserting himself into the conversation. "I thought your manager might have told you. Kyoko-san is our female lead. I'm excited that I was chosen to direct her debut film. I fell in love with her tenacity and couldn't wait for the opportunity to get her in front of the camera."

"Oh," Sho squeaked, unable to articulate a more intelligent response. He wasn't expecting his first gig in the acting world to be this paramount. And yes, even he knew that anything regarding her right now was considered a big deal. He could barely leave home without seeing her face or hearing about her. She was everywhere right now, invading his every waking minute, challenging him that it would take so much more to beat her.

His eyes landed on the script, sitting on the table. He had studied it several times already. Thanks to his musical background he even memorized a few of his character's key scenes. Then it hit him. Her character had a major crush on his since they were kids. Sho was elated by that discovery. This was going to be easier than he thought. He had wondered how a newbie like him could land such a decent part in a film and now he knew why. It had to be because of their history.

He was feeling cocky again until a thought popped into his mind and sucker-punched him right in the gut. They wouldn't! Would they?

Without thinking, he blurted out his thoughts. "Please don't tell me Tsuruga fucking Ren is the male lead!" That would be entirely too much for him to handle on his first try. He didn't want to embarrass himself in front of the guy or his fans. Was this her ultimate revenge plan? To watch him fail.

Fuuuuuccckkkk!

"Sho!" Shoko hissed from the back, but before she could reprimand him for his crass language, rambunctious laughter coming from the door startled everyone.

A King complete with a long velvet cape upon his shoulders and large jewel-encrusted crown perched on his head stood at the door. Several men dressed in armor rushed into the room carrying a large wooden rectangle while another set of men followed closely carrying an ornately decorated chair. He had lived with Kyoko and her love for all things fairytale long enough to recognize a throne resting upon its dais once they set both pieces in place.

Sho glanced around the room, perplexed that nobody found the whole spectacle odd. A red carpet was rolled out from the door to the chair. Court musicians, jesters, and courtiers danced and mingled around the room until their King was comfortably seated. They disappeared out the door and closed it behind them.

"Your majesty," Seiji addressed him, playing along. "I'm so honored that you could finally grace us with your presence."

The King waved his jeweled fingers to dismiss the director's claims about his tardiness, making the room laugh. A King today, a devil yesterday. It didn't matter. The man was at the top of the food chain in this world. Sho glanced around nervously even under the table, looking for the anaconda, and saw the coast was clear. He was embarrassed by his previous reaction to the snake. Who could blame him? The thing was huge. It wouldn't have been the first time for him to be near a large exotic creature. In his field, he often worked with them; however, that snake had caught him completely off guard by being real. There wasn't a trainer in sight to save him either.

"Fuwa-kun, you remember Takarada Lory-san from the auditions? He is the president of LME and the executive producer for this project. His expertise is highly regarded in this field," Seiji announced.

Yes, Sho remembered and Seiji's reminder sounded more like a warning. In other words, Sho needed to impress this man with his skills or his acting career would be over before it began.

"Good evening, your majesty. Thank you for this unbelievable opportunity." Sho stood and bowed, ignoring the snickering from the LoveMe duo. Someone even went so far as covering the words kiss ass up with a fake cough. He had a feeling it was the smaller girl of the two, but the innocent expression on her face had him second-guessing what he heard.

"Good to see you again, Fuwa-kun. To answer your earlier question the male lead for this production has yet to be decided. We are waiting for Morimoto-kun to return from overseas before we begin those auditions," Lory explained.

"I see," Sho nodded. It took him a second to figure out that he was talking about Kyoko. He kept forgetting she changed her name, opting to use the one from the man that had abandoned her mother before she was born. Sho still didn't trust the man and wasn't surprised that Kyoko was easily duped into accepting him. As smart as she was, Kyoko could be so stupid sometimes. The reporter's question once again drifted into his mind.

"Do y— ?" Sho stopped himself from asking Kyoko's big boss about the "accident." This was not the time or the place to exchange gossip. No matter how much it bugged him to be left in the dark, he had to focus on the now.

Lory raised his brow curiously, but Sho only shook his head in apology. "If there are no further questions, shall we begin?" Lory nodded toward the director to take the lead.

"Right," Seiji began from his seat. "I'm not going to sugarcoat this for you, Fuwa-kun. You're currently our weak link."

Sho pursed his lips to keep from defending himself. Shoko's stare from behind could have burnt a hole through his head. He had to accept this kind of criticism if he wanted to be successful in this field.

"That's not necessarily a bad thing," Seiji went on. "We just don't know what you're cable of. We are using today's reading to gauge your talent. Iwo-kun wants to see how you interact with the other actors here so he could prepare a training regiment before we start filming. Who knows? Maybe you'll be a natural and won't need the extra lessons," Seiji commented, easing the tension out of Sho's rigid form. "Shall we begin? Act one, first dinner scene."

An hour later, the director called for a break. Sho had no idea what happened. One minute his character, Eito, was enjoying a nice heart-warming dinner with his girlfriend's family, and the next minute his heart was being ripped out of his chest. He was a sobbing mess as Shoko handed him a box full of tissues.

Sho clutched his chest trying to ease the pain that had taken root within his soul. How could he feel Eito's pain so strongly? He glanced up through blurry eyes at the smirking raven-haired woman sitting across from him. She was a cold-hearted monster! Did what Eito and Mao shared mean nothing to her? How could she throw away two years like it was nothing? And why the fuck can't I stop crying? Sho used the heel of his hands to stem the flow of his tears.

"Very good!" Lory enthusiastically clapped. "There's hope for you yet, Fuwa-kun. You've just fallen under Kotonami-kun's spell. With a little practice, you just might fall under Eito's spell without help next time."

Sho nodded in agreement, even though, he had no clue what hell the old geezer meant. He filed it away mentally in his ever-growing list of things he needed to know.

"I'm afraid I have another commitment and must go. Keep up the good work, everyone. I'm looking forward to the results." Lory barely finished speaking when his court returned to retrieve his props and escort him to his next destination.

"Does that happen often?" Sho asked after they left. The distraction allowed him to pull himself together.

"I'm afraid so. It's kind of his daily hobby," Seiji admitted. "It takes some adjusting, but you'll get used to it."

Sho wasn't sure about that, but he was already anticipating his next meeting with the eccentric president. What would he wear next?


AN: Forgive me for this delay! Life has been hectic these past couple of weeks, so I appreciate your patience. Hopefully, it slows down soon. I swear I have no idea how I found it in me to write a full chapter of Shotaroach so I hope you enjoyed it a little bit...XD. For some reason, I challenged myself to use the word "fuck" as much as I could here (LMFAO). I hope it wasn't too much.

Thank you for always reading and I appreciate all the reviews you guys left me. Happy Turkey day to anyone that celebrates!

The song at the beginning was "Save Your Tears," by the Weeknd.

Until next time, ja ne! ^_^