Hachiman and Yukino never met at high school. Instead, they meet in a London hotel in their twenties, for two jet-lagged nights where shortness of time may allow for honesty of feeling. (Rated M for explicit scenes)
This is 50 percent idea splurge and 50 percent writing exercise. I've been toying with a Lost in Translation inspired fic for awhile, and this gave me the perfect opportunity to try. Then, my plan for A Doll's Eyes includes several sex scenes, which I have no practice writing. Doing this meant I could practice in a way that didn't feel embarrassingly gratuitous.
Love At First Word
The man found the note in the hotel corridor.
It had been dropped there, right in the middle of the tasteless diamond-patterned carpet. The paper was crumpled having been handled poorly, and considering its abandonment couldn't have been too important a document. Still, it brought a sense of intrigue to a location pitifully lacking in it.
The hard, obnoxious lighting in the corridor made it hard to miss. It was bright enough to remind him of the heaviness under his eyelids. He was too tired to fall asleep, and he was a long way from home.
The man couldn't imagine there being a hotel in the whole world as stereotypical as this one. It was independent, as he preferred on his travels- in general, the independent ones had a bit more colour and flavour than the area's obligatory chain hotel. But the accommodation had been disappointing, rather like the trip itself.
What they need, amongst many other things, is a new decor; that had been his first thought when walking down the corridor for the first time, and he was no expert on the subject. The wallpaper was of the same tacky quality as the carpet.
That must have been why the piece of paper stood out so boldly; almost anything would have improved its surroundings. Then, there was his reluctance to return to his hotel room, knowing full well that despite it being 12:33 AM in London time, there he was no chance he'd be getting to sleep. Jet-lag was having its usual potent effect.
That, and he was bored.
The man bent down and picked it up, only to be confronted with more surprises that he'd anticipated.
First, it was not written in English, and thankfully so for his below average comprehension of it. Of all the languages in the world, it had been written in Japanese, the only language he could claim solid comprehension of.
He thought back to the day's struggle of trying to speak with Londoners. Traversing the city to get to the location of the novel convention, the reason for his visit, had been nightmarish. He worked as a journalist for a newspaper, specifically writing about literature and other media.
It was a job that he enjoyed, but not when it required him to travel to other countries, as he hated travelling. There was still no place in the world that he found more joy in than Chiba. Even now, as a single and moderately successful man in his twenties.
Well, Chiba had the unfair advantage of his sister's presence, so he supposed his dislike of seeing new things was inevitable. Or perhaps it was just a testament to his close-minded cynicism, of which he had no lack, having never grown out of it from his teenage years.
So for him, it was a joy to read a note written by someone who was not only Japanese, but apparently a like minded cynic. There was the additional entertainment factor of the person who wrote it clearly being drunk. The handwriting was scrawled, but from its half-baked formality he got the impression it would usually have been immaculate.
He started to read.
I am excessively, impossibly, unrelentingly bored.
That is far too many adverbs for a single sentence. I fear that I am too inebriated for said adverbs to be legible anyway. Not that anyone else will read what I'm writing, because it is written solely out of the boredom that I mentioned before, and therefore isn't not necessary.
I have just written a double negative. That is very silly of me. Was I not ranked highly in Japanese throughout my years at high school? The slipping of my high standards, even when in this intoxicated state, is not in keeping with my high standards.
I just wrote the same thing twice. This is most distressing.
It appears that alcohol is having just as alarming effect on my writing as everything else. I am very drunk. This is not normal. I am not normally in a state of drunkenness. This is not normal. I have again written the same thing multiple times, but I want to make this especially clear, despite the fact I also just established that no one else would be reading this.
The only reason I am drunk is because I had nothing else to do. These trips on behalf of my family's business are so tiresome. I despise them. It is at times like this when I question why I ever involved myself in my family's business after university.
Being younger than Nee-san, I didn't have to. But I did anyway. That was very foolish of me.
The man I had to meet today was twice my age and had an obnoxiously large mole on his face and an obnoxiously loud voice and he made obnoxious comments about my appearance. All in all, he was very obnoxious, like most of my family's business associates, but he was rich and involved with us so I suppose meeting him was important in some way.
I have just checked the clock on the wall. Why on earth did I decide I may as well try out an English style pub? I have no particular affection for drinking, pubs, or England for that matter. But now that I'm here I thought I should drink, which I did, which I now regret, because I have had to turn down several men's advances.
Thankfully the hotel is only a couple of streets away. I think. I will try and walk back soon. I do not like my hotel room, not even its number which is 29, which is now my least favourite number because it belongs to that room, which has appallingly tasteless wallpaper. I will probably not sleep because I am jet-lagged.
A man has just asked me what it's like in China. I replied that I am from Japan and he looked baffled.
I am now a very bored JAPANESE woman, and I am going to walk back because this is ridiculous.
I am going to stop writing now. Sayonara, no one
The man, who supposed his name was now 'no one', couldn't help but smirk. He found it hilarious, and thus re-read it twice while stood in the corridor.
Once again, it became clear that alcohol could make a mockery of anyone. The man fully believed the 'Bored Japanese Woman' when she said that she didn't drink often; seeing a rational person drunk was infinitely more funny than watching an irrational person be even more so.
He knew that feeling all too well. The man had never particularly enjoyed going over the limit- the world was indiscernible enough for him when sober. That, and the self-evident miracle of coincidence that he should have found the note struck him head on.
They were probably the only Japanese people in their hotel. The only familiar faces in a sea of strangers. They were both jet-lagged and tired and didn't much like the place they'd found themselves in. All that was obvious enough, in what couldn't have been more than 500 words.
It was a funny curiosity that he'd found in his hotel corridor. One of the few funny things about this day. The man smirked one more time, pocketed the note and walked over to his hotel door. Hope the drinks help you sleep, Bored Japanese Woman.
Its number was 26, which happened to be his age. He ignored the part of him that whispered how close room 29 was and walked inside.
Flicking on the lights revealed an intolerably clean environment. The staff must have been in when he was gone. The man only felt comfortable in a room once it mirrored the bomb site of his Chiba apartment, and set about throwing some of his clothes around to remedy things.
Once finished, he put the note on the bedside table and sat down on his bed, facing the window. He was reminded that the bed was too big for his taste, the mattress too hard. The unpleasant smell in the air that he couldn't quite identify returned in force.
His eyelids were so heavy, but he was awake. Far too awake. Turning off the light again so the room was submerged in darkness did nothing to help.
The view was probably the only good thing about the room. In the glass, the man could see half of London; it didn't stretch on forever, like the Tokyo metropolis, and that was more than a little refreshing. Lights from a thousand buildings flashed and flickered in the distance, but not too many. Cars roared, but not too loudly. Londoners may be intolerable, but at least their home looks good at night.
He stared at the cityscape for awhile, hoping it might have a soporific effect. It didn't. Giving up on the prospect of sleeping completely, he grunted and switched on the TV. It was 12:55 AM. Everything on was as crap as expected from terrestrial TV, but he watched some gory police drama for longer than it deserved.
Once they revealed the killer, which would surely have been a crushing reveal for someone who knew English, the man leant back on his bed. He stared at the ceiling and, in his boredom, tried not to think about the note.
He failed, and began to imagine what the 'Bored Japanese Woman' looked like.
This proved more intriguing than he'd first thought. He ended up dedicating the good part of half an hour to the task.
His mind poured through the writing in the note, and in the course of his musings a person began to take form. He gave her a hypothetical personality, a hypothetical appearance and a hypothetical life story, all gleaned from 500 words of her drunk penmanship. There was little else to do.
First was her personality. The rigidity of logic in her writing, no matter how distorted by alcohol, told him of a person who disliked feelings. They repressed them partly because of their considerable intellect and partly because they'd never learnt how to feel.
There were lots of people like that in the world. In that sense, 'Bored Japanese Woman' was dime a dozen, but he gave her too a Freudian reason for her rationale. She talked about a family business, of a sister that seemed like she might be interfering. Suddenly, the note-writer was from a rich family, with the weight of their expectation on her shoulders.
His psychoanalysis continued. He envisioned a person who'd been relentlessly teased at school, and just as relentlessly admired. She was strong and commanding, but scratch beneath the surface and a plethora of insecurities would tumble out. Against her will, of course. 'Bored Japanese Woman' was a logical person.
A logical person, and Japanese. And jet-lagged. And 3 doors away.
He shook his head, and tried to re-focus his attention on the ceiling. Unfortunately, it wasn't as appealing as his image of the note-writer. He saw her as attractive but not too attractive. She wore large-rimmed glasses and she had short hair. Short hair had never been his type.
He imagined her thus to discourage the temptation of putting her on a pedestal. He was awake and tired and, if he was honest with himself, not having sex in over a year would leave anyone having to keep their thoughts in check.
He'd already decided that she was intelligent, rich and strong-minded. For her to be beautiful as well would be unrealistic, and unfair to other women. They'd all pale in comparison to someone like that, and therefore, his hypothetical image of 'Bored Japanese Woman' had to be toned down.
This is ridiculous. She's probably not any of those things.
At 1:23 AM, the man sat up from the bed and re-read the note. The hypothetical image roared further into life, taking on a fullness, a depth of composition. From nowhere, 'Bored Japanese Woman' had lost friendships, and teenage angst, and a brief but passionate affair with a K-pop singer at university, and her family owned a car conglomerate.
Several of these things he added in knowing full-well how their absurdity. His hotel room was boring- the notion of a complex and not un-attractive woman three doors down from him was not. It was as simple and chemical as that.
Had it been any other night, the man probably wouldn't have ended up thinking about 'Bored Japanese Woman' at all. He might have walked past the note in the corridor without noticing. Fully aware of this, and not sure what to make it, he grabbed a pen.
After reading the note one more time, as if to meld her words onto his heart, the man started to write. He wrote a response of a similar length on the opposite side of the page. It was the first thing that came into his head- the first things he wanted to say to a hypothetical woman.
500 words. There were crossings out and misspellings; he was as tired as she was. It was objectively awful- he was a practised pen from his career as a journalist, and none of this crap would pass for a first draft under normal circumstances. But it was raw, and a part of him decided that said more.
He read his response with more than a little embarrassment:
Konbanwa, Bored Japanese Woman. Sorry to write back so soon after you said goodbye.
That sentence doesn't make any sense. It's pretty obvious you just dropped this note on the way back to your hotel room. You're probably not aware that you dropped it. Well, for the record, I'm the one who picked up. I read it and arbitrarily became the 'no one' you said goodbye to. Even though you were really just addressing yourself.
I'm not sure why I'm writing. For some reason I felt compelled not only to give this note back to you but to write a response. It's only necessary to respond to people when they're actually talking to you, and most of the time I don't even do that. I don't like people very much, Bored Japanese Woman.
But from what I've read, you don't seem all that bad. Your note was fun to read, and not just because you were drunk when you wrote it. It was pessimistic enough for me to decide you're not an idiot. I fully admit to being a judgemental person; my general policy is to assume that all people are idiots. So for you, that's kind of impressive. In a way.
I haven't said much so far, and since I'm not really in the habit of idle chit chat, let's get to the point. I suppose the main reason I'm writing is curiosity. At the risk of sounding creepy, you've become the most interesting thing that's happened to me today, and I haven't even really met you.
Admittedly, that's more so because there's fuck all else going on, but hey, there's that.
And I suppose if someone else was in this situation, they might say something about destiny. I don't like that word, by the way. I really don't. It's a load of old crap, in my opinion. But what are the chances? There's an image in my head dangerously close to the red string of fate.
I'm the one who happened to pick your note up. First of all, I'm Japanese, so I might be the only one in this hotel who it means something to. Second of all, I'm just as jet-lagged as you are, and I'm still awake. Well, assuming you are awake. Maybe you passed out from the drinks or something, I dunno. That would be ironic, me going through all this effort for someone whose not even conscious.
But yeah. I really don't believe in fate, but I'm curious and bored and not sleeping anytime soon. Take this response for what it is; a load of borderline incoherent nonsense.
You don't have to write something back. I mean that. But if you want, you can. Screw it, if you're Bored Japanese Woman, let's call me Tired Japanese Man. I'm too humiliated by this shoddy writing to ask for your name. That would be even more off-putting than everything else I've written.
P.S you're absolutely right about the wallpaper. It's some of the worst I've ever seen.
P.P.S I'm in Room 26.
The man wondered what was going through his head. She had been drunk and still managed something more articulate.
By all reasonable measures of quality, his response should have been torn up, disposed of and never seen again. It didn't deserve to be read, least of all by the person it was intended for. His hypothetical version of her disliked the unexplainable, and he couldn't explain half the things in the note himself.
The man stood up, paced a little and then crumpled the paper into a ball. He threw it in the bin and walked over to the window.
Admiring the view forced him to open the window, allowing tainted air to rush inside. It felt cool and impassive against his skin. He stared so aimlessly at the city lights that for a moment they half convinced him he could fall asleep.
At 1:40 AM the man left his room, having retrieved the note from the bin, and walked over to room number 29.
He told himself it was a bad idea, that he should turn back. But upon arriving outside, he stood absolutely still. It was the same door as his. Behind it would be a hotel-room the same as his. The only thing different about it was her.
The lights weren't on, but from within he heard the faintest sound of music, not loud enough to be disturbing but audible nonetheless. Some sort of jazz. Did that mean she was awake?
The music crept underneath the door and into his eardrums, hinting at a romanticised image of this hypothetical woman sat on her bed, staring at a glistening London, caught up in late night urban ennui. Like him.
Why he was already thinking about 'Bored Japanese Woman' in such elevated terms? That confusion turned to irritation- stop being pathetic- which spurred him to lean down and slip the note under her door. This isn't supposed to be serious.
That didn't stop him from turning tail and running back to his room like a rabbit from a blaze. He'd originally intended to wait outside until she answered the door (that is, if she hadn't passed out), but that had seemed… strangely impersonal.
The man closed his door and leant the back of his head up against it. Why it had seemed impersonal to see her face was unbeknownst to him. That, or it was easier to pretend as much. He might secretly have liked the idea that she would form a hypothetical image of him in return.
Why throw away a veil of secrecy when, in remaining beneath it, she might find him easier to like? There were a scarce few that thought him a palatable person anyway. His family, a couple of his mates from university and not many others. Who could blame them? He pushed away those who bothered to try.
Maybe a first impression in writing would prove stronger, more pure, than the alternative. He didn't put much stock in words, but knew well enough what it meant to be judged on appearances. The human eye was fickle, and tonight he found himself wanting to remove its folly from the equation.
The 'Tired Japanese Man' ran his fingers through his hair and lay face down on the duvet. Horns of a traffic jam blared outside like trumpets. Trumpets in a jazz song.
He pictured the woman inspecting the note, peering at his writing through her hypothetical wide-brimmed glasses. Her hypothetical short hair would be ruffled from sleeplessness. How would she react? Would it have the same effect? Would she fill in the blanks of his life, his personality, his history, as he'd felt compelled to do for her?
Twenty minutes later, at 2:03 AM, he got his answer.
The sound of footsteps out in the corridor made him sit up, faster than it should have done. The appearance of a shadow creeping under his door, which remained there for thirty seconds or so, left him breathless. It has to be her, he thought. I told her my door number. It has to be her.
After what felt like eons, the shadow knelt down and pushed a note underneath the door. The man's eyes widened. He waited for the shadow to fade back down the corridor before dashing over and picking up the note.
He read 'Bored Japanese Woman's' reply as if it were him who'd been drinking.
Dear Tired Japanese Man,
I must admit it was a considerable shock to see my note returned to me. I had forgotten of its existence. You're right in supposing that I dropped it without knowing- it must have fallen out of my pocket- and that I did not intend for anyone else to read it.
But it seems to have come into your hands. And for some reason, you also found it interesting. I don't really know how to feel about this. The effect of the alcohol has now worn off, but for how strange it was to see you slide that note under the door I almost convinced myself it hadn't.
My initial instinct was to throw away your note and forget about it. As you know, I've had a very long and corporate-related day (a phrase synonymous with 'dull'). The business exec in our meeting decided to try his luck with me, as did several others at the pub I visited, which you apparently already know. Their attentions were not warmly received.
I am certainly not in the mood for more unwanted advances of this kind. I never am. By responding, I am hoping that you will not be like those others, perhaps prematurely. There is no discernible evidence in the note to suggest you will be any different.
But just as you had no reason to find my drunk ramblings interesting, I had no reason to find your response to them evocative, which I did. I cannot deny that I found them evocative. Why this word 'evocative' immediately sprung to mind I cannot say.
Perhaps it was the way you idiotically brought up the red string of fate. I tend to begrudge others for expressing faith in such things, just as I would begrudge someone for believing the earth is flat. Yet in this regard, our skepticism seemed mutual. Verbatim, you wrote that it's 'a load of old crap'.
Maybe it's the idea that you wrote back to me in spite of your skepticism. There is something none too
There is something none too evocative about the idea that you're a rational person, like me, who in meeting someone just as rational was inspired to act against their nature. Is that awfully self-indulgent? To find it appealing that you have reached out to me, and that you can't explain why?
My writing is straying into territory which I don't feel particularly comfortable with. I'm half-tempted to cross out everything I just wrote, but I won't do that, because I have decided to meet you half way.
I will be irrational with you if you will be irrational with me.
I hope you agree this is the best way for us to conduct things.
I hope you continue to make my night in London, which would otherwise have been best left forgotten, more memorable. And perhaps a little more irrational.
Yours sincerely, Bored Japanese Woman
P.S the rooms in this hotel are atrocious, and not just because of the wallpaper. I confess that the only thing I like is the view.
P.P.S what are you doing in London, so far away from Japan?
As he read, the man felt something akin to the sensation of falling from a great height. His eyes darted from word to word, sentence to sentence, meaning to meaning, and in trying to make sense of it all became aware that he had moved over some precipice, into a chasm of feeling that he didn't understand.
He couldn't really tell what she was implying. He couldn't tell whether this was some contrived invitation or just a belated acknowledgement of his existence. In asking him a further question, indulging him, surely it meant that she expected a reply?
The man didn't know whether it was right that he reply. All he knew is that the urge to do so took hold of him like the scorch of a kiss.
So he took up another piece of paper, armed himself with his pen, and tried to capture what he was feeling in words.
They wrote to each other, back and forth and back and forth, for the rest of the night. And when the sun rose at around 6 AM, breaking into the view of London outside with a palette of oranges and yellows, they had forgotten they were tired, and part of what it meant to be themselves.
All throughout the following day, the man struggled to get the Bored Japanese Woman out of his head.
The literary convention on which he was reporting- several Japanese authors had been nominated for prizes- was to take place over two days. He was expected to be present on both. The previous day had been almost supernaturally boring, and the final one even more so thanks to his exposure to something very much the opposite.
On the underground train to the conference, his hand ached from their marathon-long exchange of notes. On the train back his mind raced through all the things they'd diverged, all the secrets they'd revealed having never done so before, and every tiny sentence inbetween.
All he could see, behind every nameless face he passed on the London streets, was her hypothetical. Everywhere he saw short brown curls, large rimmed glasses, pale green eyes; he still didn't dare imagine something more flattering.
And everywhere he heard the trumpet notes of the jazz song she'd been listening to. They reverberated in each minute sound of the city, from the whirring of the train to the chatter of the pedestrians, like a leitmotif in a film he'd been watching on repeat.
The night had passed by before they knew it. In the notes, they started off with the simple things; he told her that he was a journalist, that he wrote about literature, and in this itself prompted an hour long discussion of their favourite books.
In his adolescence, the only thing the man read had been light novels, and despite still enjoying them his taste had matured over time. She read obsessively, and their taste, like many things between them, had striking similarities. A discussion of the The Great Gatsby dissolved into the works of Kazuo Ishiguro, and then into that of Oe Kenzaburo.
Then came talk of her job, representing her family's business in legal matters. The man had found his psychoanalysis of her not too far removed from truth; the 'Nee-san' she mentioned was difficult, her Kaa-san difficult to please, her Oto-san absent and hard to engage with. She lived a good part of her life according to their wishes, and hated it.
He found it likely that her own presumptions of him, if she had them, were also proved right. No doubt she'd predicted that his parents, despite their affection for him, had been sooner found at work than at home. No doubt she saw that most of the familial warmth in his life was afforded by his sister.
In these topics and a hundred others, an incomplete and hypothetical image was filled in, piece by piece, until the person three doors down from him became as real and nuanced as any person should be. Whole and impossibly vivid, except for arguably the most important piece of all.
He still didn't know what she looked like.
On the train back from the convention, the man struggled to decide whether it mattered. On a blunt and superficial level, of course it did. How could it not? But on another, he felt as if whatever existed between him and the Bored Japanese Woman was as fragile as it was intangible.
He was frightened that seeing her, and her seeing him, would distort whatever indeterminate link had arisen between them. Though he knew that believing in some pretentious 'purity' of connection between them was also convenient.
It allowed him, in some sense, to carry on doing what he'd always done. It allowed him to hide. From himself, and from others.
For in learning so many beautiful secrets about this woman, he'd also learnt a hard and irrevocable truth. Tomorrow morning, she would be leaving.
Her business trip was, to all intents and purposes, over. This would be her last night in the hotel. Her plane back to Japan was at 10:30 AM London time. She'd mentioned that passingly in one of her notes, or perhaps it had been intentional. He was to leave the same day but later, at noon, from the same airport.
Either way, the man knew that soon the Bored Japanese Woman would be flying out of London, out of his life, just as quickly as she'd landed in it.
'I will be irrational with you if you will be irrational with me…'
When the man finally arrived back at the hotel, those words were still rattling through his brain. Irrational. He couldn't take that as permission. He was projecting. Fooling himself.
The notion of a plane disappearing into the horizon, leaving in its wake a regret that would linger for however long, was enough to tug at his resolve. The man couldn't tell if that tug was as strong as his fear. The fear of being seen, and sneered at, and told to leave with his overstated hopes in tatters.
That would be enough to close off his heart permanently.
The man whispered however many comforts to himself- 'this doesn't mean what you think it does, stop overthinking it…'- as he walked up the stairs to their floor. His feet felt heavy as he entered the corridor with the diamond patterned carpet. It was 7:45 PM; twilight in London.
He had now been awake for over twenty four hours. His entire world, the city and the hotel, were taking on the peculiar inconsistency of a dream.
So when he reached his hotel room, and glanced down the corridor to see the door of Room 29 swinging open, it seemed plausible that he might be imagining it.
But then, he saw a foot stepping out in a leather shoe, the beginning hint of a person, and every iota of sense in his body was strangled. He opened his hotel room door as quickly as possible and slammed it shut.
The man stood there, his fingers still grasped around the handle, as silence permeated the corridor outside. Then, he heard hesitant footsteps, the same kind he'd heard last night, when the Bored Japanese Woman had walked over to deliver her notes.
Her shadow appeared, and it was definitely hers, reaching under the door and pooling around his feet.
The man couldn't remove himself from where he stood. His heart beat loudly. She was no more than a metre away from him. The closest she'd ever been.
But then he heard a sigh, a feminine sigh, the first thing he'd heard of her voice. The sound was quiet and a little sad and a little disappointed.
Those emotions coming from the genuine article, not the Bored Japanese Woman of his imagination, made him want to fling open the door. To tell her it was his cowardice at fault. But in conceding to that inclination, he wasn't alone. Moments later her shadow was gone, and the footsteps faded out of earshot.
The man ran his fingers through his hair, cursing himself and their indecision.
In some ways, it seemed it to him that people could be too alike.
He wasted time in a maelstrom of beer and shit TV. Suddenly it was 11:37 PM, and four hours had passed without him and the Bored Japanese Woman writing to each other.
Throughout the day, the man had promised himself he wouldn't waste any time. That he'd make the most of her last night in London. The near-encounter when he got back had scrambled that promise, and the alcohol all the more.
It was an Irish brand he'd originally bought for the previous night. He'd never tried stout before and after two cans hadn't developed much fondness for it. He found beer outside of Japan too bitter, without any smoothness of taste. MAXX Coffee would have been a better choice, if they sold it here.
But then he wouldn't have the relief of a little drunkenness. The man didn't like going beyond the limit, but approaching it seemed a good compromise. There was a pleasant haziness to his vision that distracted him admirably from the matter at hand.
Still, he couldn't drown out the vague sound of trumpets in the background, nor the somehow haunting sight of a leather shoe emerging from Room 29. Nor her shadow underneath the door. Nor her short, loaded sigh.
The man turned his strained eyes out to London; to the view of the city which had become the primary spectator in his life. It hummed in the distance like an approaching swarm of locusts. The flaring colours of cars and streetlights were somehow brighter than yesterday, as if to underline a point.
In the absence of another, and of faith in himself, the man found himself addressing the city in his head. He asked it the question that pulsated through the cloud of beer in his system. What should I do?
As expected, the city didn't answer, and eventually he was forced to come up with one himself.
Setting his can of beer aside, he reached over and picked up the notepad. The pen soon found its way into his hand. He lowered it to the paper, hoping the right words would inscribe themselves upon it naturally, easily, as they had yesterday. No such luck.
The man resisted the urge to give up and kept his hand in place, hovering above the pad, until at last sentences began to form. Nothing substantial, nothing he wouldn't need to revise, but sentences.
She deserves them, he told himself, though he wasn't sure quite what it was that the Bored Japanese Woman deserved nor why he felt he owed her something at all.
His mind settled on one of the book they'd discussed- The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. That novel was about an old English butler who, against the backdrop of two world wars, never managed to confess his feelings for a housekeeper named Miss Kenton. She was the only woman he ever loved, and the only one he ever let go.
He didn't understand why, but the thought of such a character spurred him on.
When he was halfway through the note, the man heard the rustle of the carpet towards the door. He looked towards it and his pen froze.
A note had been left there. It seemed she'd been battling with the same reservations as him, only to overcome them a little faster.
He abandoned the paper which had so consumed his attention and, a little apprehensively, walked over to the Bored Japanese Woman's message. He stooped down and picked up the note. Soon her words were dancing like the sheen of city neon on the hotel room wallpaper.
Dear Tired Japanese Man,
I started writing this at 10:24. No doubt you will take heed of the fact that it is now 2 minutes to midnight and what this quite succinctly conveys.
Most of those hours I spent grappling with how to address the earlier incident- I hope you will know which incident I'm referring to without me having to spell it out. I am not so self-absorbed as to suggest the blame for what happened wasn't mutual. In an ideal world, both of us would have acted differently, and with more maturity.
Although I perfectly understand that last night we did no more than write to each other, for anything else seemed unnecessary, it was
It was quite disheartening to see you close the door on things, to put it literally, in the manner that you did. I had no idea that you would be in the corridor when I left my hotel room, but would it really have been so onerous to look each other in the eyes? I can't help but feel it would actually have been a relief.
So that is where you are to blame. I, in contrast, am guilty of not pushing things further. I should have knocked and insisted that we stop this nonsense hide-and-seek.
Personally, I am quite curious to see what you look like. Maybe a little worried that I have placed undue expectation on you, but still very curious. In the short time I have 'known' you, I feel there are many things about your character which I have unexpectedly come to like. The first time I replied to one of your notes, I was not expecting us to spend the night the way we did.
I was not expecting things to progress like that. I truly wasn't. In some ways it is rather alarming. The things I've come to think and feel about you as a person in such a short space of time, and in such a supposedly limited capacity as writing, are more than I thought possible.
I'd imagined us exchanging notes as something that would only occupy my time, rather than consume it completely.
You are all that I can think about.
This last sentence was not in the draft I wrote up. It is a new and impulsive addition that I really should cross out, Tired Japanese Man.
I don't think it's too much to ask that we spend tonight as we did the last.
Please grant me that request.
Yours sincerely, Bored Japanese Woman
As soon as he'd finished reading, the man dropped the note and started over on his own. Absorbing her own conflated emotions had the same effect as an epiphany to a novelist.
All he needed was the reassurance that he wasn't making her up, that the Bored Japanese Woman was flesh and blood, rather than a product of his sleep deprivation.
And what she'd said: it meant that she sensed it too. The glimpse of the incomprehensible in each other. That was more than enough.
His reply was finished in no time at all. He decided not to mention what had happened in the corridor; he was still embarrassed and desperately wanted things to be like they were last night.
London shone like a sea of coloured stars as he left to give her the note, and was still shining when he got back. Then came her reply, followed by his, followed by hers, ensuring the wish they both held would be granted.
Again, they confided in each other things new and old. They talked about what they believed in, what they didn't, how much they longed for home in Japan, and became more assured of their bizarre kinship which, given their tiredness, seemed more alive than they were.
Time began to dissipate and, with a glance at his watch, the man realised it was 2 AM. He shrugged, not caring, and returned to the Bored Japanese Woman's latest note. The topic had settled on something problematic for the both of them.
… you'll won't be surprised to hear I've had trouble opening up to others. Of course it won't surprise you. All I can say is that it's largely my own error. I am responsible for my distrust of them, regardless of how petty or superficial I tell myself they are. When it comes down to it, it's me who decided they weren't worth my time, and I'm too stubborn to change that opinion.
It wasn't the only section, nor the only paragraph of interest, but the man found himself latching onto it. He answered the other questions, the other topics, but it was this he wanted to respond to the most.
His pen now flew across the page, faster and faster. This was a topic that he thought of more than any other. He wanted to know if she did too. He wanted more.
Reading it back properly might have made him think twice, for it was a personal question thing he was revealing, the most personal yet. But the man was becoming aware of a snowballing momentum; that the two of them were barreling towards a glass ceiling they'd never reached before, and maybe with her, it was finally appropriate that the glass be broken.
So he pushed the note under her door, not letting himself rationalise. They had agreed to forget about all that for the time being, for each other. I will be irrational with you if you will be irrational with me.
… It doesn't surprise me, funnily enough. You've surprised me in quite a few ways, but not this. And I reckon I understand too, what you're saying. It's hard to start over once you've given up on other people. Old habits die hard, and all that.
But weirdly enough, I'm not sure I ever gave up completely. I might pretend that I have, and maybe a good portion of me did, but I guess it's human nature to cling onto things longer than they deserve. And this one thing (which I'm gonna tell you about in the hope you don't laugh at me), I've never given up on. Not once.
I don't really know how to describe it, other than a friendship. It wouldn't have to be romantic. It wouldn't have to be platonic either. Just something, with another person. The only essential would be that it was real. Actually real. No pretences, no conditions, none of that bullshit. Just real. Does that make sense?
The real thing. That's what I want. And however many times I give up on a particular aspect of that desire, it doesn't go away, because even something partly real would be enough. Just a shred of it. For that, I'd gladly do
I don't know what I'd do. A lot of things, probably. To have that, I mean.
And by the way, I wasn't drunk when I wrote that. Tired, sure, but not drunk.
When her response arrived, he didn't bother reading all of it, and skipped straight to the end. This was all he cared about. How she reacted to that one part alone.
… I didn't think you were drunk. Rather, while reading your mention of the 'real thing' I thought you'd never been more comprehensible.
I have a tendency to see the world as a muddled thing. Never lucid, and never simple. We've spoken at tedious length of how surreal London feels to us, how far away it is from what we know. But I, at least, am fooling no one. The world felt like this even without the jet-lag.
Perhaps the 'real thing', as you defined it, might just be the thing I need to clear my head. The concept is still new to me, but without a doubt, it sounds like a good thing. A desirable thing. I can hardly bring myself to be skeptical of it.
The man could have written a great many things back.
Her reaction provoked no lack of emotions inside. If anything it provoked them too much, for knots of bitterness and frustration he'd tied up long ago were coming loose all at once, and with such frightening speed his chest felt liable to burst.
Those emotions were enough to write about for the a lifetime. But the man had always felt, being a journalist, that the concise sentence was the most effective.
So all his thoughts about the Bored Japanese Woman converged into three lines. Three lines that, after writing them, made him choke.
Dear Bored Japanese Woman,
I have a distinct feeling I could fall in love with you.
Yours truly, Tired Japanese Man
He crossed it out and then re-wrote it three times. With each one, the effect of seeing those words sent palpitations ricocheting through his body.
The man felt inclined to give up. He couldn't leave that at her door. That would be unfair. The dimness of the room appeared to trap all the heat inside, leaving the temperature oppressive.
He removed himself from the paper and took a seat at the end of the bed. His head dropped into his hands. He retreated into himself. The note whispered to him from across the room.
Several images flickered through his brain. A person leaving a room. A plane taking flight. A jazz musician playing a trumpet solo alone.
Through all of these things, the hypothetical image of the Bored Japanese Woman asserted itself, and the man pondered the intricacies and failings of that image, the incompletion that made it so captivating.
The words he read in her notes merged with the visual, like two dancers finally stepping in time. He tried to imagine the voice that might say those words aloud. He drew from the only evidence, her sigh as she'd walked away from his door, and the voice became breathy and sensual.
Finally, the woman in his head, short brown hair, green eyes, large rimmed glasses, pretty but not implausibly so, began to speak. She said something important, and he thought something just as important:
The man leapt up and grabbed the note. He didn't read it again in case his determination cracked. It very nearly did, several times, as he stepped out into the corridor and approached Room 29.
There was no jazz song this time. He'd only heard it once. The corridor was silent- it was 2:30 AM- and now that he was stood outside, she could probably tell he was there. They'd grown accustomed to the telltale signs by now.
She's waiting for me, he thought, holding the piece of paper like a child holds their mother's hand.
At last, something within him gave way, and he let go. In one tense movement the three-line note was under the door, its message unable to be taken back. She would receive it, and he'd have to accept the consequences.
The man stayed rooted to the spot, breathing and breathing.
For five minutes, nothing happened. There was barely a sound. He counted each minute down to the second, and each second down to the millisecond, waiting for something to happen.
Did she fall aslee-
The man's breathing stilled.
"Are you… are you still outside?"
The voice was too quiet for him to draw an impression. But she was speaking. She was there.
"Yes," he rasped.
"… Did you mean that? What you wrote?"
"… I did."
She went silent, and he forced himself to say more.
"What about you?"
"Could you fall in love with me?"
"P- please answe-"
"I don't know yet. But I'd… I'd like to find out."
"I'm going to open the door," she said.
The door opened.
He looked at her, and she looked at him.
He saw waist-length black hair. He saw eyes the light blue colour of ice. He saw doll-like features and porcelain skin and rosy lips and how all the parts of her assembled themselves into a whole that could only be rationally described as 'beautiful'.
This was the Bored Japanese Woman. The person he'd met in writing and the person he saw now were one and the same. He swallowed, trying to suppress the realisation that, within two days, she had come to embody every shape and facet of his desires.
The woman was looking at him too, her eyes just as wide, her expression just as consumed with feeling.
He had always tried to live on his own terms, and no one else's. But in that moment, the man felt his own terms become utterly insignificant, for the insurmountable task of meeting her expectations in return suddenly occurred to him.
After all, she had surpassed everything he could reasonably have hoped for, whereas he, in looks and every other respect, was very ordinary. In seeing someone so perfect, he instinctively prepared himself for disappointment, for anything else would be presumptuous and arrogant.
Under the weight of all this, the man found himself unable to speak. He stared at the woman, open-mouthed and helpless, waiting for her to say something.
She hesitated. "… So… so this is what the Tired Japanese Man looks like."
He could hear her properly now, and her voice was as unbearably gorgeous as the rest of her. It left him weak at the knees. The instinctive masculinity in him noticed immediately. It noticed the curves, the way her jeans held her thighs, the white top that hinted at a modest but perfectly formed chest. Her neck. Her lips.
The man's hand trembled, and he looked away. There was nothing he wanted to do less than leer at her- that was precisely what she'd complained of in her first note.
Turning back, he realised the woman had dropped her head, the hair falling like black snow over her cheek.
"It's your turn to say something now. I'm frightened."
"Frightened of what?"
"That I'll… that I'll say something that will ruin it."
"Believe me," he said. "I'm the one who should be worried."
"What do you mean?"
"… Look at you."
Her blue eyes widened, leaving him no choice but to carry on.
"Just tell me to leave. It was a stupid thing for me to say. If I'd known this was who you were, I'd never have come."
He didn't dare look at her. Rotten eyes stayed fixed on the diamond pattered carpet.
"… You told me… you told me didn't care."
Her voice strengthened, but in its breathiness he sensed the desperation in equal measure. "You told me there was nothing more superficial than judging on appearances. Am I to take it you were lying?"
"… I wasn't lying."
"Then you must be a hypocrite. You're suggesting that… that because of what I look like, something has changed. That I am no longer the person you were writing to."
The woman took a deep breath and then stepped closer. "You… you are the Tired Japanese Man, aren't you? I still don't know your name, but I know that you love your sister, that Chiba is your hometown, that your favourite novel is A Personal Matter by Oe Kenzaburo and that… that I have more in common with you than anyone I've ever met."
"I'm sure you had irrational expectations of my appearance, just as I had irrational expectations of yours-"
"How did you imagine me?"
The woman fiddled with the bottom of her top, and said with a little bitterness, "You say first. You're the one who seems to care about such things."
"… I was… I was trying to be realistic. That was my intention. That was why I imagined you like I did. I thought to myself, 'it's impossible for someone to be everything you ever wanted', so I gave you short hair and ridiculous glasses and all these other things. It doesn't matter. Appearances don't matter. I wasn't lying about that. But… but you had to go and be more than I…"
His eyes flittered over her guiltily, noticing all the things he noticed the first time, the things that entranced and aroused him simultaneously.
She noticed the glint in his eyes. She realised that he didn't want to be like the others. The people who wanted her because of her black hair, her smooth skin, the crude possibilities and nothing else.
The woman exhaled heavily, and searched for the right words. "… I… I made the…"
"I- I made a similar error. I assumed that I'd be let down in some way, disappointed, because… because I did't know how I'd react if you conspired against me to be perfect."
He laughed raggedly. "Now it's you whose not telling the truth-"
"I am telling the truth. It's baffling to me, but for you I've managed that from the start. I… I assumed you couldn't be the person I needed, because no one has ever met that demand before, and why would that ever change? I thought you'd be too old, or too young, or only interested in me for… for that. Most of all, I thought you would just be a liar."
"But you're not, are you? Neither are you too young, or too old. You're…" Her words faltered, ice blue eyes darting from feature to feature. "… You're just you."
The man didn't know how to control what he was feeling, and settled for making light of things. "S- sorry I couldn't have been a supermodel. That would've made things a lot easier."
She half-laughed, a sound which made his nerves tingle. "That was a grievous oversight of you. I… On this front, I suppose I've also fallen short."
"Hardly. It wouldn't be surprising if you were."
She flushed red, and the heat seemed to spread through the corridor. That he could evoke anything in this woman, positive or negative, left him yearning for more. It was as if the beer from earlier had been forced its way back into his system, coursing through him like a wave.
"I hope you don't say such ridiculous things every time you meet a pretty girl," she murmured.
"You admit you're pretty, then."
"… It's… It's not like I have much choice. People wouldn't make such a fuss if I wasn't."
"You must be sick of it."
"I do. I…" She met his gaze, a little guiltily. "You must be sick of comments about your eyes, too."
"Uh huh. 'Perverted, like a dead fish'; I've heard them all. You'll struggle to come up with a new one."
"Don't make it a challenge. I can be quite creative with my insults." She hesitated. "… I'd rather say something flattering, but you'd just find it patronising-"
"Probably. You did notice them, after all. And everything else about me." He looked down at the clothes which, at a re-examination, looked shabby. The hair which needed cutting. "No one in their right mind would hope for this."
Silence, and then came a wry smile. "Well, lucky for you, I'm too tired to be in my right mind. Although… even if I was, it wouldn't have been a problem. I assure you."
He swallowed. "That's… If I deserved it, I'd say I was glad."
"On account of our notes, you do. You deserve it like few others."
His gaze fell on her figure again, turning into a voice that whispered, with frank honesty, how much he wanted her. He wanted her helplessly. The thought of her in his arms, her breath warming his skin, her hair spilling out loose and inflamed, was almost too much to bear.
"What are you thinking about?"
"You don't want to know."
"… You've no guarantee of that."
The woman didn't meet his eyes directly, only in stages, dashing from his shoulders, then to his eyes, then back to the wall.
It went silent, and the unspoken tension between them only heightened. There was an innuendo in the way her hotel room stood ajar, granting him a narrow view inside. There was an expectation in how they stood there, thinking about the possibilities, what others in their place might be thinking of.
Now that they'd seen each other, and crossed that divide… First, it was seeing that had been unnecessary, but something more intimate would surely be too far. Too far for one night. Too far for any night.
The man tried to think of what to say. He could see no avenue around it, no way of escaping the awkwardness or the sense of his own inadequacy.
It was her who broke the silence. Momentarily, she screwed her eyes shut, as if looking for some strength she'd locked away, and then reached out.
She took his hand.
The contact was light. A subtle touch of their palms and fingers, not gripping, just holding. Her hand was warm and small, much smaller than his. He exhaled.
"I might not have imagined you correctly, but in this respect, I was right," the woman said quietly.
"… In holding my hand?"
"Yes." She shuffled her feet. "I imagined it being nice. I… It's embarrassing to say, but I thought it would be nice to hold your hand, and here we are."
"… You can come in, if you'd like. And if it isn't too late, or… or objectionable in some way. You have my permission."
"Are you sure?"
"Not especially. But we did agree, didn't we? To be irrational with each other."
"That we did." He allowed himself to hold her hand a little tighter, and she didn't pull away. "Alright. I'll come in."
She nodded. Her lips were parted as she lead him into her room.
It wasn't identical to his, as he'd expected, and not for the obvious reasons. The bed was larger, as were the windows, and the en-suite bathroom had a bath as well as a shower. It didn't smell of beer or sweat. Instead, something aromatic graced the room, perfume perhaps, lavender or cherry blossom.
He could smell it from her long, glossy hair too, now that they were holding hands. Definitely cherry blossom, not lavender. A whiff of Japan in a London hotel.
The door clicked shut, and they were somehow more alone together than in the corridor. Their hands were still interlinked, the fingers crisscrossing. The main light was off, leaving the cityscape to provide most of the visibility.
From the street below, a car raced passed, and it stroked a paintbrush of red light across the wall that landed on the woman's face. She blinked, and bathed in the vivid scarlet she took on an irresistible femininity that tantalised his senses.
He let go of her hand, and immediately regretted it. An expression crossed her face that looked like disappointment.
"… Well, the wallpaper's still dreadful."
She laughed nervously "That it is."
"And the view's still beautiful."
Her jeans were well cut, framing her waist so that it was narrow and slim. Effort wasn't enough to hide his attentions. His hands were in his pockets, feigning nonchalance, but when his eyes lingered a moment too long on her figure she flicked a strand of her hair, embarrassed.
"Y- You have seen a woman before, I hope? It's a little unnerving…"
He bit his tongue. "Sorry. It's just… I haven't seen too many like you, is all."
She clutched her arms together. "What am I supposed to say to that?"
"Anything. Tell me when I'm crossing the line. I want you too."
"Just don't stare at me. Your eyes are rotten enough as it is."
"T- that was a jok-"
"No it wasn't. I'm glad it wasn't. I'd rather you said what you mean than the opposite. And…" He pushed his hands deeper into his pockets. "I really am sorry. If I make you uncomfortable again, just say."
"N- no, it was me being harsh. No change there. At the very least, the fact you're looking means…" She trailed off.
"What does it mean?"
"… Only that I don't…" Her breath voice wavered. "… I don't mind you looking like I usually would. If anything, it's…"
"Oh," was all he could say.
Even more embarrassed, the woman turned around and walked further into the room. "Y- you can sit down."
Before she sat down on the bed, facing the window, he made more of an effort to ignore the sway of her hips. He ignored the sight of a strewn blouse after sitting beside her, the crumpled sheets, the fact that this woman had slept exactly where they were.
The woman looked at him sideways. She pulled up her legs and wrapped her arms around them. The black hair traipsed around them like a veil. He tried to sit normally, but felt desperately out of place.
The quiet proved more merciful than awkward; they wound up staring at the view like an old married couple staring at a byobu screen. It was the same view from his own room, only however many yards to the left. He counted the cars parked outside, the skyscrapers in the distance. His eyes stung from the unflinching wall of neon.
"… I've spent so much time staring out this window. The first night especially," she said.
"Me too. Like I said, the view's the only thing I like about this hotel." He snorted. "And London in general. It's more convenient to watch something from afar."
"… Safer, for sure."
She didn't need to spell out the irony; he realised it the moment the words passed his lips.
"If I had a drink, I'd call a toast. 'Here's to looking out of windows', or something like that."
"It's not too late for a drink. I have some wine left over."
He offered her an earnest smile. "No thanks. I've already made enough of a fool of myself."
She smiled back. "Likewise."
"Fine. Two toasts. One for 'looking out of windows' and another for 'being fools'."
Her eyes dilated. "… That's… Your voice…"
"What about it?"
The woman turned shy. "… It's one thing hearing you now, but… but all your writing had a distinct voice, your voice, and just then, I… I just realised, truly, that they're both the same."
"You have a gorgeous voice," he blurted out, and then cursed himself.
The shyness only grew. "… That's… I've never known how to take compliments, but thank you."
"What's mine like? Not in writing. Just the sound itself."
"Quite deep. It took me by surprise at first. It's very… ah… the only word I can think of is masculine. Masculine, and a little rough. I almost took you for a smoker."
He shrugged. "I've been taken for weirder things."
"Well, being called a 'pervert' is a classic. And I've got used to hearing 'useless' and 'lazy'. Often from my sister."
She let out a sound that might have been a giggle. "You should have called yourself 'Perverted Japanese Man'. That would have really caught my attention."
"A bit of self-deprecation never hurts."
"… You must struggle to be self-deprecating, though. Not as much material to choose from."
"Thank you," she said again, awkwardly.
"You really don't know how to take a compliment."
"No… I'm probably just tired."
He nodded. "How long is it for you now? Since you last slept?"
"I'm losing track. Over a day, certainly… I dozed on the plane, but not enough."
"It's a rough flight. Twelve hours never seemed so long."
"… Since then, you've been the chief culprit."
"Of why I haven't slept."
His nerves tingled again, warm at the caress of her voice. "And you mine."
"Both of us are guilty as charged."
"Yeah. Guilty of the crime of distraction. The sentence is a shitty trip to London."
"Not your best joke, Perverted Japanese Man."
"Hey. They can't all be gold."
"On account of your efforts thus far, that phrase is doubly true."
He laughed out loud. She joined in, slowly at first, but then with a lack of restraint that took his breath away.
"What's that song you played?" He asked, surprising himself with the question's intensity.
Once the laughter faded, "The song? What do you mean?"
"The first time I came to your room, there was a song playing. Jazz, I think. It just popped into my head."
She shrugged. "I can't remember. It was just background music. I use playlists sometimes, if I can't get to sleep."
"Those trumpets… they were playing when I pushed the note under the door. I kept hearing them all of yesterday. On the train, on the way back to the hotel..."
The woman considered this for a moment, and then pulled out her phone. "The playlist might still be in my recommended… yes, here it is."
She pressed on the video and skipped through it until those recognisable notes started to play. They had shifted somewhat, their tone and pitch altered in his memory, but already the soft melody called to him with reassuring care.
The song stretched out across the room, and they listened to it without speaking. The woman remained with her arms wrapped around her legs- eventually, he lay backwards on the bed, eyes fixated on the sky. The view of London was so striking that previously he hadn't noticed the stars. Each one twinkled on, their light soft-edged and mellow.
"What are you looking at?"
"Just the sky," he replied. "You can't see the stars in Chiba. Too much light pollution. That's one of the few things London has going for it."
"… I've never paid much attention to them."
"Yes. For some reason, I never cared much for them."
He sat up and shrugged. "It's not too late to try."
"Try what? Star gazing? I have no intention of being an astronomer, Tired Japanese Man."
"Likewise. They're just nice to look at sometimes. Reminds you there are other things out there, I guess. Things just waiting to be noticed."
The trumpet in the song reached a crescendo, the high note commanding and gentle at the same time. He shifted his gaze to the woman; she was looking at the sky too, and the glow of the stars were reflected back in her blue irises. Her hair caught them too, in its elegant sheen.
The man tried to think of what she looked like. Something nice, for sure.
The woman didn't turn, but tapped her finger on the mattress. "You're… you're staring again."
"Are you going to stop?"
"Can I kiss you?"
"… Do you want to?"
"I wouldn't be asking if not."
She said nothing, and he took that as permission. He leaned in and brought their lips together.
It didn't last very long, but the woman's lips were warm enough to send a dazzling heat shuddering through him. They blinked, breathing in and out.
"You smell of beer."
"You smell of cherry blossom," he rasped. "Guess that sums up the difference between us."
Her lips curved into a smile; the motion reminded him what else they could be doing. He leaned in again, and it lasted a little longer. They broke apart, and it was her who initiated it for the third time.
"I forgot what kissing tasted like."
"So did I," she admitted.
"How long has it been for you?"
"… A couple of years."
"Yeah. Me too."
"Who was it-"
"I don't want to talk about that right now. I don't especially want to talk."
He took the hint and kissed her with everything he had.
Their eyes snapped shut and they fell into each other. His hand landed on her thigh, feeling its outline beneath her jeans, moving slowly over it with his fingers. She hesitated but seemed to like it, so he moved it higher and she liked it all the more.
She rested her arms over his shoulders, pulling him closer, and his kisses grew hungry. His hand moved higher again, and then lower. She mumbled something incoherent, which he didn't hear. Their tongues brushed through the kiss, touching each other's front teeth, and he felt arousal begin to tug in his fingertips.
They broke apart briefly, and their eyes met.
"… Is it too late to ask for your name?"
"Would there be much point?"
"True. A name's meaningless anyway."
She chuckled, but he cut the sound off with another kiss, and suddenly his other hand was on her hair, feeling its length and texture. She gasped for breath and it rushed over his face like an urgent prayer. His lips moved to her cheek, then to her ear, then to her neck, drawing noise after noise from her lungs.
The woman moved over and straddled him. His hands roamed from her hair down to the small of her back, and then settled on the curve of her backside, gripping at the denim without thinking twice. She flinched and he kissed her again, almost as an apology, but she shifted even closer to him, bringing her chest level with his eyes.
They stopped, her looking down at him, but not by much. He was nearly a head taller than her. Black hair cascaded over the two of them as if they were submerged in water. The cityscape glimmered behind, completely forgotten.
She was close to him. So close. The man swallowed, but his heart beat like a pounding drum, ignited like a match.
The pause lingered. Neither dared go further. Not yet. There was still a semblance of the rational within them that needed dismissing.
Her voice rose by his ear. "I don't…"
"… I don't want this to be over by tomorrow morning. If we go any further, I… You need to promise. Promise you're feeling the same things as me."
"I promise. That's the easiest promise I've ever made."
"B- but how do I know? How do I know you're the rea…"
She shrunk from his phrase. The phrase he'd used in the note.
"Ask me anything."
"Yeah. Any question you want. I'll answer it as honestly as I can. That's how we'll know."
He lips buried into her neck, just beneath the chin. "You start."
"… What's your… what's your earliest memory?"
"Playing tag with my sister in the living room. What's yours?"
"Holding my mother's hand. We were out. I don't remember where."
He traced butterfly kisses from her neck down to her white top, the fabric pushed out by her breasts. She shuddered with feeling, and he held her even tighter.
"Your turn. Your question."
"What's your type?"
"Ah… I'm not sure. I don't consider what they look like as important a-" She was cut off as his fingers touched her nipples. "… But… but tall, perhaps. With long brown hair, a- and… and striking eyes."
"Mine's black hair. Long black hair. And pale skin, with lips like roses."
"H- how convenient," she whispered.
His hands touched the rim of her top, revealing a hint of stomach. The sight produced a guttural sound from his throat. The woman waited a moment, and then gingerly reached down, lifting her shirt. The sound got louder as her bra came into view.
She dropped the shirt and gasped as his lips touched the space between her breasts. His tongue went further, and his fingers reached round to unclasp the strap. It was clumsy, but neither could boast much finesse.
"It's your turn again."
"… Have you ever been in love before?"
"I've had feelings for people before. Sometimes they had them for me, sometimes not. But it wasn't love."
"What's the difference?" she breathed.
Their clothes began to pile around them. The man's shirt followed hers. She had to move off his lap to take off her jeans. He felt himself harden all the more as her thighs, smooth and slender, were revealed in the dim light of the hotel room.
The woman stood before him, naked save for her underwear, and half of that was already missing. Her hair had lost none of its sheen, but its strands now took on the ruffled consistency he'd imagined in the corridor. Her skin seemed almost incandescent, with the London capital burning in her outline.
He drank in the sight of her, the Bored Japanese Woman. The nature of his stare, for all that they'd been doing, made her cover herself reflexively.
"You stand up too."
He did as she asked, undoing his belt in the process. After kicking his trousers away, they stood in front of each other, less than an inch away, their eyes scorching a crater into the other's skin.
"Your turn," he murmured, pulling her into his arms.
"… Have you… have you had sex before?"
"Yes. Have you?"
He looked down over her shoulder. "How many times?"
"… Only once."
"How is that possible?"
Her laugh had turned from embarrassed to giddy. "For all my talk of logic, I'm a romantic at heart. And the first time was enough to put me off for awhile. We were both drunk, at university, and he… he wasn't very gentle."
"I'll be whatever you need."
"That's reassuring." The embrace lingered. "What about you? How many times?"
"Three. Once when I was nineteen, with someone I met in a bar. The other two were with a girlfriend. We went out for three weeks, and she dumped me for not putting in the effort."
"Did you deserve it?"
"Undoubtedly." He clutched her as if she'd melt at his touch. "Like I said, I wasn't in love with her."
They sank inelegantly onto the floor of the hotel, sweat the strongest link of their bodies. The smell of cherry blossom perfume was overawed by the smell of arousal. He lay on top of her, feeling the weight of her curves beneath him, and her breathing turned frantic.
"O- one more question."
"… What's…" She struggled in vain for the words.
He pulled her underwear down to the level of knees, and then did the same. His erection throbbed. Her body screamed for his touch.
"What's your… what's your nam-"
She gasped loudly as he entered her.
The man fought the urge to let go immediately. She was so warm, so intimate, enveloping him and everything he knew. She gasped again, and he slowed, letting her get used to it, the feeling of him inside her.
He tried to ask her if she was alright, but the sentence died with his pleasure. Her fingernails dug into the crevices of his back, enough to sting.
"I- it's alright," she managed to say. "Y- you can go faster…"
He did. He lay one arm around her neck and began to move, the motion gradually increasing, the pure force of feeling rising by the second. She moved with him, her body ridding itself of tension as he reached deeper, unlocking her, leaving them both a mess of instinct on the carpet.
Their hearts beat together, their groans rose in volume in unison. Not knowing each other's name, they whispered words that meant nothing, sentences made senseless with ecstasy. They went deeper and deeper, louder and louder, until he lost control completely.
The man came all at once, and the release left his limbs in shaking, clamouring disarray. The movements slowed to a halt, and with his eyes scrunched closed he removed himself, still unbearably hot, and rested his head on the woman's chest.
They panted like dogs. It was the only sound. The constant buzz of London traffic was drowned out until they were only solid things in the world.
Finally, he raised his head, meeting her eyes. The stars were reflected back in their depths once more.
"Sorry. You didn't go."
"I would've done. I…" Her cheeks were already red, but she might have blushed in a different circumstance. "I nearly did. Not like my first time."
"Well, it's been awhile." He smiled, still dragging air back into his lungs. "We could try again, if you want."
"Just… just let me hold you for awhile. Maybe a little later. For the moment, I just want to hold you."
The man had no issue with that. She could hold him as long as she wanted, forever and always.
They stood up from the floor, laboured and tired, and collapsed onto the bedsheets. The room was too steamy, the heat all pervasive. The woman curled up beside him, nestling into the crook of his shoulder and stretching her leg over his stomach. He rested his arm on her thigh, enjoying its shape and smoothness.
He stole a glance at her bedside table. A digital clock stood there. 4 AM.
In the aftermath, his arousal was replaced by an inconceivable tenderness, the strength of which amazed him. The woman had taken his heart and in the space of two nights enmeshed it so perfectly with his own that separating them looked impossible. He shook his head as the irrational took hold.
"Y'know what's funny, Tired Japanese Man?" she muttered. "It finally feels like I could go to sleep."
"Sleep, huh? I forgot what that felt like."
The woman hummed. He leant down and rested his forehead against hers.
"I meant what I wrote, y'know."
"Those words… 'I have a distinct feeling I could fall in love with you'. They don't seem so embarrassing anymore."
"… Don't say something you don't mean-"
"I do mean it. This is the most rational I've ever been. I know what I'm feeling. I'm not ashamed of it. Not anymore."
They didn't say anything for a couple of minutes. Only when he heard a sniffle did he realise her eyes were watery.
"… Are you crying?"
"S- sorry," she said, but her voice wasn't sad. "It's just not how I expected my last night in London to go. I… This morning, I thought the world looked nothing like it should. Now, I… I can only say it looks wonderful."
"Wonderful… You may be right."
"Oh…" She choked, the tears flowing out. "Kiss me, whatever your name is."
He did so, long and indulgently.
In an hour, when the digital clock reached 5 AM, the pair's eyes were closing. Lost in each other, the echo of far off trumpets carried them to sleep.
They didn't dream, but not for want of trying.
In a way, Hikigaya Hachiman and Yukinoshita Yukino had been dreaming of each other their whole lives.