Sigh For Me
Disclaimer: I don't own Skip Beat! or the song "Hey Julie" by Fountains of Wayne.
A/N: Nameless reviewer broke my heart by pointing out that Viz depicts Bridge Rock as consisting of three best friends with the same last name instead of three brothers. I went back and found that yeah, on the page they're introduced an aside confirms that fact. I have no excuse. It was really shitty of me to forget that. Bear with my mistake through the rest of this story.
A uke is the stereotype of the submissive partner in a gay romance.
Also, enough people have asked me about the time I took to update this chapter that I feel bad about putting off writing it for so long. However, I can't regret choosing my education over writing this; I can only promise to try better for the final chapter.
Last but hardly least the rest of this story is dedicated to Choi Si Won, the Korean actor that plays Ren in the marvelously faithful Taiwanese Skip Beat! drama adaptation. His hotness and skill persuaded me to work on this every time I saw him on screen. I love you, I love you, I love you, man who will never read this admission of ardor.
Chapter Four: I'll Have My People Call Your People
Ren gripped Yukihito's hands tightly in his. "We haven't been apart since we met. What am I going to do without you, Yashiro-san?"
"What are you talking about? What about when I was sick? I'll be following you in a mere week. Let go of me, Ren, we're not married yet."
Everyone staring at the terminal begged to differ. Ren's big fat suitcases had been checked in and he had been about to get to the gate himself when he suddenly noticed how his fellow fliers were kissing loved ones good bye. All but him, who only had Yukihito to cling to.
"Aren't you going to miss me at all?" the brunet made eyes at the blond. Yukihito stared coldly back.
"I know what you're doing and I'm not amused. Don't make me deal with a scandal that says Tsuruga Ren is gay for his manager; LME has already had quite a week."
"You're right, this is immature of me." Ren relented. "I'm sorry."
"Hmm. Well, if it keeps the smile on your face: yes. I'll miss you."
The pole of a man shouldered his carry-on bag and shrugged. "Mogami won't, will she?"
"Ren…" Yukihito was helpless in the face of the mostly American guy's girl trouble. "You're going to Los Angeles to forget about her. There can't possibly be anything there that will remind you of her. Clear your head and get ready to work when the production unit hits."
"Yes sir. And I'm glad you'll miss me. Glad you're here to send me off." Ren smiled, and then frowned. "How on earth did you keep it from the President? That I'm leaving today."
"I thought you wouldn't appreciate the show he'd make of it, so I took advantage of him being distracted by Ishibashi. Maybe I should have let him know if you feel so sad to go without fanfare…"
"No, no," hastily Ren patted Yukihito's shoulder, "This is fine. Really. I'll see you in a week, then."
"Don't forget! Three meals a day! I'll know if you've skipped."
Ren nodded and watched him leave, and when he turned his back Yukihito pivoted for a last glimpse. The crowd couldn't swallow that impressive height, and he waited till his charge was out of sight before departing himself.
The tritely named Sakura Lounge fed Ren and housed him while he waited to board his flight. The placid brown and beige décor was familiar to him as most other parts of the airport were. Ren loved to fly. He loved the feel of being on a journey, and he loved most of all looking down on the clouds. He'd never known the exhaustion of laying over in a foreign airport for eighteen hours; he'd never known the leg-cramps of an economy seat. It was first class suites and premium memberships for him the whole way, and it was bloody fun.
So when he boarded the Boeing 777 and made his way to the first class cabin, the stewardess that accosted him with bad news was the first of her kind to do so.
"Tsuruga-sama, I'm afraid there's been some trouble. Your seat is currently unsuitable for usage—we have room for you in the business class. Of course this slight will be made up to you with a free flight next time. Is that all right?"
He squirmed at the thought of sitting next to a stranger on a laptop, planning a conference and also an affair with his secretary, but graciously assented. As she led him to his new seat, he asked.
"Why am I being downgraded, exactly?"
"The last passenger that sat there had a bout of air sickness, and we don't have time to replace the seat. The stains…"
"Ah, I see," Ren said politely, and she didn't give further details. After stowing his carry-on in the overhead compartment, she beamed and asked if he wanted a drink. Ren looked down at the man slouched and sleeping in the window seat and felt a bizarre compulsion to order all the alcohol on the plane.
"An orange juice, please," he said instead, and turned off his phone, and sat down next to Vie Ghoul's lead singer Reino.
"School!" Kyoko threw aside her comforter as she awoke.
"Phone!" she noticed as it began to ring.
"Hello!" she shouted without checking who it was from.
"Your mother is dying."
A terrible person inside her said, so what?
A terribly drunk Kuu in her ear hoarsely went on to moan, "She has but months left. Or is it weeks? …Days?"
An ocean away, Kyoko took a deep breath. Her birth mother may or may not deserve death; Kyoko may or may not be a despicable human being. Kuu, her daddy, Kuon's beloved papa, was drinking to drown the pain of his wife's demise. A shudder juddered through her. How wretched. She was never going to find a good mother after all. But wait! Julie was alive yet. Kuon, in Kyoko's body, could still see her in Los Angeles to pay his last respects. Was a month enough to feel a mother's love, and prepare for her death?
"It's some kind of cancer. Bone or blood or beer. Wait, Jake," Kuu put forth his doubt to someone else, "Is beer a type of cancer?"
"Kyoko! Oh God, Kyoko. Come home to us, baby. She just wants to see you before she dies. She needs you, honey. Mamma wants to kiss you before she goes."
Tears were unstoppable; they flowed from her eyes and crashed from her chin onto the demure swell of her breasts. Her night shirt went damp. The most beautiful waterfalls in the world and Niagara be damned; Victoria be damned.
"I'm coming, Dad. You tell her to hold on for me. And stop drinking. Please wait for me. I'm coming."
A minute later she was dialing Kanae's number. It was eight in the morning though, and while Kyoko was running late for the school she only rarely attended Kanae had punctually arrived on set to a shoot, and left her cell phone on silent in her coat. Kyoko tried a few more times but the brunette didn't answer. She next called Ren, but his phone was switched off. She had a memory of the words Los Angeles coming out of his mouth. A feeling of being lost on the ocean swept over her. There were only two people she could think of turning to for help and they were both beyond her reach.
After a moment of that, her phone buzzed with an incoming text. Hikaru wanted to wish her a good morning and make sure she knew what a nice time he had had last night. Also he was in possession of tickets for a new movie that was showing in the afternoon, if he wasn't being too presumptuous. If he was, it was cool: he'd just give them to his neighbors and wait for her to be available. It was a really good movie, people had told him, and he wanted to watch it with Kyoko.
Hands trembling a little, she rang her boyfriend.
Hikaru was in the eye of a storm of activity. Their manager had indeed arrived first thing in the morning and was shoving the three young men around, getting them to pack for the journey. Yuusei was arguing about how many suits he could possibly need for a two week trip and Shin'ichi was whining about having to take underwear. Hikaru was cleaning out the fridge by means of eating everything in it. No one could say he wasn't helping, mostly because everyone was busy paying attention to other details.
He was eating leftover pizza with leftover soymilk when his phone lit up with Kyoko's image. She was in her Bo costume, holding the head under her arm and a sloppy grin in her face. Her hair was sticking to her skull with sweat and she didn't look a prize at all. He had no inclination whatsoever to change it. Smiling, he picked up.
The smile sliding off his face caught Yuusei's attention. He raised an eyebrow. Hikaru waved him away and walked out the door to take the call, his manager's exasperated protests unheeded.
A span of time later during which two arguments were laid to rest (no less than four suits and Shin'ichi would buy boxers or briefs or boxer-briefs in L.A. as the need arose) Hikaru ran back in and snatched up his wallet. Scrounging around for car keys, he announced:
"I'm not coming with you guys."
Their manager felt the beginning of a pounding headache in the base of his skull.
Kyoko was in class, sitting as if she were a block of stone, when the intercom summoned her to the principal's office. She gathered her things and ran out in the middle of a trigonometry lesson. Hikaru was awaiting her in the receptionist's room, having spoken to the appropriate people about plucking her out early. In front of a handful of people he slid his arms around her waist and over her back, pulling her head to his shoulders and hugging her without a word.
It woke something up in her. She pushed away anxiety and tension and self-doubt and self-loathing to seize the day and act. He led the way to his car and she carried her own bag with her passport in it. In her childhood Shou's entire family had used to vacation in Korea and Malaysia during the slow season. Thinking Shou might at any time whisk her away for a shotgun wedding Kyoko had kept her passport valid even in Tokyo. Upon entering show business she was prepared for overseas shooting. After finding out about Kuu's wife she was ready to leave the country as soon as time permitted.
"As a member of LME you usually have a widely viable visa. Normally it takes a year for the company to register you but…well," Hikaru took a left, and then a right, "Love Me section. President's pet project. Apparently you and Kotonami-san already have visas for many locations and America is one of them."
Kyoko had been contemplating the funds required for the journey and momentarily was derailed by this revelation. "What about Amamiya-san?"
"Oh, not yet. Maybe the President's waiting on something from her, or maybe it's already in the works."
"How much would a ticket cost?"
"I booked two on the next flight out. It's this evening." He grinned, reluctantly. "Same time we might've gone to that movie."
Kyoko looked a little panicked. "You're coming with me? You paid for me?"
Keeping one hand on the steering, he covered her thin fingers with the other. "You can't go alone. How good is your English? How good is your American? And I'm heading there anyway. You can pay me back later. You can leave a message for Kotonami-san, and another for the President. They'll both be glad to know I'm by your side." He looked a little hurt. "And you might be glad too."
She slipped her fingers out from under his hand and touched his shoulder. He turned to wallow in her eyes for a second.
"I am," said Kyoko. "I am."
Handsome young men howled dramatically through his subconscious. His latent bisexuality took notice, and presently there was a freezing feeling in his nether regions that battled the heat of the moment. He blinked in dazed stupefaction and saw that someone had dumped ice cubes in his lap. The seat next to him was empty. Popping one cube into his mouth and shoveling the rest into the plastic cup rolling at his feet, he spared only a fleeting glance at the breath taking blue of the Pacific before shutting his eyes again.
Reino dreamed further, with greater lucidity. And this time, he knew whom he was dreaming of.
Further down the plane Ren stared at his reflection in the mirror. An hour into the flight Reino had got a hard-on and Ren reached the fifty feet of crap that lay under the rock bottom he'd previously assumed he'd hit. After enduring a few painful moments of affronted sensibility he'd requested the ice of a flight attendant. Carelessly tossing the lot at the offending area, he'd stalked away from his fellow traveler to stare longingly at the private little cabins in first class. Another attendant had thought to shoo him away before she recognized and welcomed him instead. Still—those long legs of his only needed so much stretching. Yet—he wasn't prepared to return to his seat. Hence—the sojourn in the cramped water closet.
A rap at the door bade him reluctantly open it. A fifteen year old kid waited with a tortured look on her face.
"I've been waiting fifteen minutes, man. Are you done?"
It was in English (the language of at least some of his forebears) that Ren graciously gave up his hiding place.
Reino woke up with a start and turned to his left.
Ren nodded dully at him.
"I dreamed about you, Kuon."
Ren goggled duly at him.
Reino stopped a passing steward to request a wet napkin. He received it, used it, and drank a glass of water. Then he turned to Ren and resumed scaring him.
"You just had to choose this seat? On this plane? Why are you going back to L.A., Kuon?"
The dark haired star hissed. "Those are my lines. Keep it down. Don't call me that. I don't know how you discovered my true name. Regardless, we are not on a first name basis."
"In America we would be. We're not strangers, you have to understand that. I saw it all. Your past." Reino stared eerily into the actor's eyes. "I was right; I didn't want to know."
"I want to change seats."
"No, hold on. Now that the thing I feared has already happened, there's no need to not do this." He reached into his carry-on bag; Ren flinched. Reino only brought out a book and a business card to give to Ren and left the horrific paraphernalia of his demonic rituals behind.
"My friend Nanba Miu is adapting that book into a movie—animation, not live action. She wants you to voice act in it and asked me to get your contact number if you're interested."
Ren stared at the book in his lap. "This is gay smut."
"Nanba Miu…yes, a director of anime. Why did she ask you?"
"I told her I knew you."
"You don't know me!"
"I do now."
Ren hesitated. "It's a good story." He coughed. "I only know because an ex-girlfriend used to…"
"Hey man, you don't have to hide anything from me," Reino said evenly. "If you like to read that kind of thing you can own up. No problem."
"I don't like to read it! An ex-girlfriend used to…"
"Are you interested in the job?"
"Why me? There are people who dedicate entire careers to this. Why not choose an actual voice-actor?"
Reino shrugged. "She likes you. She wants to test you—she heard you're doing that Blowjob character anonymously so she wants to know if you can voice-act without giving the impression of a superstar."
To say Ren was flabbergasted would be to speak the truth. "BJ. BJ, not Blowjob. And how does she even—"
"You make me sad, Kuon. Don't you even know who your director's wife is? Miu's husband is making your fancy foreign-collaboration movie. He told her."
"And she just decided to pass it on to you?" He was unimpressed with her irresponsibility. The entire crew was being kept in the dark about the actor's true identity; and here someone was merrily passing around secrets like candy on Halloween.
"Excuse me. I was there when he told her."
The actor passed a hand over his eyes. In less than three hours Reino had really, truly gotten to know him better than Yukihito or Lory or even Ren's own parents. This was a scary guy, with scary friends. "My head aches."
"You don't need to respond right away. Take your time. Miu thinks you'd make the perfect uke though—"
"What," Ren said sharply, "She's casting me as Usagi? Not Iba or Haruomi?"
"You know the names?"
"She's casting me as an uke?"
"Haha, you know the names. I'll tell her you've accepted."
"I have not accepted."
"Kuon…" Reino sounded amused and fond. Ren stared and felt a lump form in his throat. He swallowed, refusing to deal with the feelings that arose of being addressed by his birth name, his beautiful name. By no means was Reino his first choice to be called by that appellation after years of exile. He would much rather his father…or Yukihito—or, no, Mogami Kyoko…!
"Kuon," Reino repeated, "Can I give you some advice?"
"I'm not going to take the job."
"You will; that's not even what I want to talk about. It's about the man you murdered."
Ren lowered his eyes. This was the moment of truth. If even Reino was disgusted with his past, there was no need to doubt how badly Kyoko would take it. After all, this man was scum. The lowest of the low. Kyoko was an angel, a girl so pure even show business couldn't corrupt her. Even Ren could never touch her.
"I think Rick placed a curse on you."
Ren's head snapped up, he gawked at the straight-faced singer.
"You've never had lasting love since he died, right? Maybe you're cursed by the man from beyond the grave. Maybe that's why Akazukin will never accept you. That could be why you're so lonely at the top…"
Reino was a buffoon. A complete and total clown. A joker that scared only kids like Kyoko with his supernaturalism act and his uncanny eyes. Ren was an idiot for falling under his spell, for being impressed and intimidated by a stalker who got his kicks from being hated. He held up a hand to stop the visual kei weirdo in his tracks.
"Reino, can I give you some advice?"
"Stop harassing Mogami." Ren's voice was deadly deep; Ren's tone could make a brave man weep. "You know me, and you think that was the only thing you had to be scared of. But Reino, you only know my past. You don't know what I'm like now and you definitely can't see my future. If I hear you've discomforted her in any way I will personally ruin your career and the rest of your life to go with."
Reino raised an eyebrow. Ren leaned in close.
"You will die alone and penniless if you fuck with me."
After that, he really did switch seats. Politely asked an older woman if she would do him a favor; she was only too happy. Reino judged his fingernails and glanced often over at Ren—now sitting several rows ahead and two seats over. For a moment he'd thought they could be friends. For a moment he'd underestimated his own creepiness and Ren's unwillingness to let unnecessary people close to him. Reino wasn't a buffoon, or a clown or a joker. There was no curse on Ren. He had realized at the last moment that the advice he'd really wanted to give was the least comforting thing Ren would ever hear.
There was nothing after death. It was only life that mattered. Ren was alive—he had to live. Rick was dead—he was only a memory.
Hikaru didn't eat on aeroplanes much, so they made a meal at a restaurant on their way to the airport after packing up their collective, respective luggage and bidding adieu to the relevant people. Hikaru was largely indifferent to flying, so he let Kyoko have the porthole seat. Still, leaving Japan by air yielded ocean quickly, and few things matched the shine of sun on the Pacific in sheer scale of beauty. They both turned their faces to the blues outside to avoid facing the blues that clung to Kyoko's soul.
Hikaru didn't know what to say to someone that might lose a parent in the near future, so they stayed very quiet.
In fact, Hikaru didn't even know that Kyoko's parents were still together. He'd been fairly sure she'd been raised by the mother alone—he couldn't imagine how the girl's father had found her again. And in California, no less. He supposed there was a fascinating story behind it that he could hear later, when it wouldn't be insensitive to ask. He wondered if Kyoko's father was American and whether or not that would explain his daughter's amazing eyes. He tried to remember how to fill the immigration forms they'd asked to write out at the end of the flight. He balked at the thought that they might well be heading towards a funeral and failed to convince himself that he was reliable enough to help Kyoko through whatever emotional turmoil lay ahead.
He wished, as he did on occasion, that he wasn't such a nice guy. Their relationship was deepening quickly, and he worried that as contrived circumstances brought them abruptly together contrived circumstances would sap their feelings of freshness and vitality, leaving behind an even sadder Kyoko and a bitterer Hikaru. Both of them were depending on each other and required something of the romance itself. Kyoko had a hunger in her that she needed to sate and an anger he wanted to understand. Hikaru didn't want a fling. He wanted love, and was prepared to dig a well in his heart until he found it.
Takarada Maria was a princess in the making, a young lady of infinite refinement, and as such she attended a school so fancy they had tea breaks instead of recesses and the uniform was made of silk and satin. It had an extravagant French name and held plays and recitals regularly. Maria's elective was the piano. She played a leading role in most dramas. Takarada Lory, a doting and devoted grandfather, not only attended every performance in lieu of his son but also came to rehearsals should he have a scrap of spare time.
Maria's fingers flew along the keys, her accompaniment struck up their violins and things and a Rachmaninov concerto filled the still air of the auditorium. Lory, in the fifth row or so, crossed his arms and beamed with pride. Sebastian sidled up to him.
"News, sir. Ishibashi Hikaru-sama and Mogami Kyoko-sama are boarding a plane to take them out of the country at this moment."
"Eloping already? Ah well. 'To the virgins, make much of time.'"
"Actually sir, they're flying to Los Angeles to visit Mogami-sama's parents. Her mother has taken ill."
Lory looked to his aide, startled. "No joke? Mogami-kun is on terrible terms with her mother. Didn't we investigate a little?"
"And lost her trail in Okinawa, yes sir." Sebastian was not happy to recall one of those rare times when he failed to deliver as per his master's instructions. Professional pride niggled at him, yet he moved on. "Ishibashi-sama's manager relayed that Mogami-sama got to know via a call from her father. I took the liberty of picking up her incoming calls list—the phone is company-issue after all—and... Well, it appears the only call she received this morning was from overseas, sir. Hizuri Kuu-sama, actually."
Lory immediately lost interest, and turned his eyes back to his precocious, precious granddaughter. "Well, mystery solved. Looks like Mogami-kun was taken for a ride over Julie's dramatic claims of impending death. She'll be fine, if a little sore; young Hikaru has quite a head on his shoulders. A romantic getaway after all, isn't it?"
Sebastian said, "Earlier this morning Tsuruga-sama also flew to Los Angeles."
The boss's head swivelled round again. "Oho! Sneaking out from under the old man's nose. He'll get what's coming to him. Now I feel like jetting off to the Golden State as well, only…" he gestured to the stage. "My age and responsibilities hinder me."
"It's good to see you finally growing up, Takarada-sama," murmured Sebastian.
"Taking a sly shot at the boss, are you? Ah, go ahead. I'm too mature to let it bother me." Something else struck Lory. "Have you gotten those cheats I asked you for?"
His trusty sidekick nodded. "I texted you a link, sir."
The grandfather, the mature one, dug out his phone eagerly. "Finally. That stupid gal game thought it could outfox me? Even if it's set up so that it's impossible to get those two together, Seichi-kun will take responsibility for playing with a girl's feelings!"
Touchdown at midnight.
That's what the captain anticipated, anyway. Ren stared out of the porthole at the thick clouds just below the wing of the plane. They were orange and pink from the light pollution the powerful metropolis was pumping out, a sea of smoke over the city of stars. The plane descended sharply and Los Angeles reared its ugly, impressive face. Ren blinked at the brilliance of the lights. There was no one at his side to share his homecoming with and so it hardly felt like one. No sentiment sprung up in him; no vestige of vulnerability wormed through his heart. It was just another city and he had another job. He glanced over at Reino, who was dozing. He flipped through the book that had still been in his hands when he'd walked away from the menace, and found a business card with a number he could call if he was interested in the role offered to him.
He snorted and peeked out of the window again. The runway leaped to meet them and the pilot announced their arrival. They taxied and stopped and filed out of the plane, not yet breathing open American air. Still Ren thought he detected a hint in the atmosphere. In the chatter he was awash in, in the fashion the tired passengers dressed in. The actor himself was carefully attired, uncommonly good-looking (as was his norm) in black pants and a beautifully tailored white shirt. The looks he got were not uninterested.
Customs was a breeze; he was an American citizen coming home. The international arrivals terminal hadn't changed in all his years away. He pushed his cart of luggage up the incline to the receiving area and was accosted by the friends he'd asked to pick him up.
Cody and Cambria Hart were twins he'd attended school with. They hadn't changed in all his years away either. He hadn't kept in touch with them but for the occasional Facebook interaction. Yet here they were in the middle of the night, offering him a place in their lives and (more importantly) their home. Cambria was holding a bouquet of balloons and Cody a three-foot black teddy bear with a red bow tie. When Ren finished hugging him, he raised an eyebrow.
"It's not for you," the man assured him, "I bought it because I spilled coffee on it."
They were both just shy of six feet, the twins, and had the same soft brown hair and hazel eyes. Cambria's tresses were waist-length and plaited neatly, though, while Cody left his messy curls short and refused to befoul them with combs. They lived and worked separately in San Francisco but they were currently house-sitting for their parents in the shore town of Laguna Beach in Orange County. It was more than an hour's drive away and Ren had a friend or two from Japan that had settled closer to the airport here, but they lived with their other halves. Ren didn't look forward to being a third wheel, so he'd bothered the siblings for a place to stay.
Cambria took his cart in exchange for the balloons. "Come on, let's get out of here. Corn, did you have dinner? There are leftovers at home but we can pick up a little something on the way if you want."
Ren was about to say he wasn't hungry at all, but then he thought of Yukihito and smiled. "Leftovers are fine. Did you have to get the balloons?"
"Hey, blame the brother. Cody thought it would be rude to receive you empty-handed. I hope you stuck to the same sentiment and brought us gifts?"
"Is shaving cream a gift?"
The woman sighed. "I'll take what I can get."
During the drive, Cody drifted off and Cambria yawned. A radio station entertained them with fifteen minutes of banter and two minutes of song. The Jeep—a Cherokee that the twins' father had refused to let go of since nineteen ninety-nine—sped along the highway. Ren thought he saw the darkened spine of Disneyland's Swiss Matterhorn, but he also thought he saw a bald eagle sweep majestically by the window so there was a chance he'd fallen asleep at some point.
He did remember them exiting the highway and entering an endless road flanked by trees and low rolling hills, and then he could hear the surf pounding on a beach. Before he could crane his neck for a glimpse the other side of the ocean he'd crossed they took a turn and climbed onto another street. It ascended a hill—or a series of hills—and eventually Ren was in the Top of the World neighborhood. They drove till the entrance of the park that consisted of the rest of the hill range and trails for hikers to get bitten by rattlesnakes on. The entrance was a simple metal barrier denying cars, bound by a cul-de-sac. Across the Hart home was a more civilized park, the kind children played in. It was the Hart home that Ren was interested in.
It was a grey building whose top floor was at street level. The high hill dropped away under it to the valley below, and the house dropped with it for three levels of clever building, each level jutting out beyond the boundary of its predecessor. The Jeep ground to a stop with the satisfying crunch of wheel of grit and they piled out silently, each of them carrying a piece of luggage. Once inside, Cody insisted on playing the good host and dragged him to a seat by the seamless windows while he heated up some food for his guest. Cambria kept him company, and they got reacquainted. They looked out at the quiet valley, the slumbering town and the white surf breaking on the shore just beyond it. It was a beautiful home, even if it did have a cougar problem in the evenings. The trails attracted the beasts, and Cody attracted the beauties.
Ren ate. Ren was shown to his room. Ren stayed awake in the darkness, thinking of Kyoko and Reino and Yukihito and Rick.
"By the way," Hikaru asked, "Is your brother coming too?"
His thespian consort frowned and said, "Excuse me?"
When Hikaru and Kyoko emerged from the Los Angeles International Airport, no familiar faces stood to greet them. Instead Hikaru hailed a cab and gave the driver the address Kyoko relayed to him in Japanese. While conversation had avoided her family during the flight, the umber haired singer acknowledged that he could no longer edge around the issue that had brought them away from Japan. He frowned back at Kyoko's incomprehension and raised his hand to his ear in a pantomime of a phone call.
"Cain-nii, Cain-nii!" he hung up. "That brother."
Kyoko stared ingenuously for a moment more in total nescience before snapping her fingers and exclaiming, "What a misunderstanding! That wasn't my brother; that was a… a colleague. For an acting job."
Hikaru groaned and rubbed his eyes. "And you were calling him Cain-nii even off the set? You're a dedicated one."
"It's important to be able to slip into character at the slightest cue. What you were hearing was not the voice of Mogami Kyoko but Setsuka, Cain Heel's precious younger sister."
He blinked, Californian sunshine splaying across his face as they turned on to the highway. "Setsu...ka. Setsuka...Heel? Oh god. Oh my god, it was you at the carnival!"
She blushed, cab shadows skittering across her cheeks as they veered into the carpool lane. "You must have signed so many things for so many people. You actually remember Setsuka?"
"Of course." He passed a hand over his eyes in disbelief. "You were so weird. I was so drunk. I remember thinking you were so—uh...desirable." He blushed too. Setsuka Heel had been a smoking hot fantasy stepped straight out of a magazine. Hikaru recalled that white cuff he'd signed, and the bared midriff he'd ducked past to sign it, and those lovely legs below. The pang of base want of that moment had been momentous. Only the ten foot tall brick wall that was her brother had stopped him from making a pass at her. He controlled his gaze in the here and now and forced it to stay on Kyoko's face. "Then your brother back then was an actor? Haha, did I know him too?"
Kyoko went white.
Hikaru went slack-jawed. "Why—who—no—not. The height. But the face—oh, oh god. Magic? Make-up? Witchcraft. Kyoko, you're telling me—I mean not telling me—that I met Tsuruga Ren that night?"
She nodded. He whistled.
"When they called him 'a formidable actor' I had no idea. Or maybe it's the make-up artist whose skill I should be in awe of."
"Jelly-san is amazing," she agreed. "But you cannot tell anyone! It was a secret assignment and I already spoiled it by telling Yashiro-san."
Hikaru had no idea why Ren would be working on a project his own manager didn't know about. There was the possibility that it was something he'd signed up for without the man's consent or involvement but that generally only happened when stars were breaking up with their managers. For this particularly smash hit pair to fall apart would be...Hikaru struggled for a phrase that bore him relevance. It would be another controversy spawned by LME personnel. He sighed and wondered if he should buy the President some flowers.
He smiled. "I won't tell a soul."
Gratefully Kyoko nodded. "It means a lot to me that I can trust you, because sometimes it feels like I have so many secrets..."
Curiosity piqued, Hikaru leaned in. "Secrets?"
She nodded glumly. "Not mine; you know all of mine. But Tsuruga-san's, and Moko-san's, and Amamiya-san's. And," her eyes glinted with frost and hell's vengeance, "a few of Shou's. Just a few."
"Dump them all in me," he put his palm over his heart, scooting closer. "You can keep their secrets and I'll keep yours. Take your time and let me know. My little reservoir of trust."
She giggled. "What?"
He tried again. "My lake of reliability? My garbage ground of data?"
She giggled again, and he said more silly words. He put his head on her shoulder and took her hand, and they kept touching all the way to Bel-Air. They disembarked on a pleasant, private street called Linda Flora Drive that was studded with luxurious manses. An arcing steel gate barred the way into the abode of Kyoko's parents. The grounds were surrounded by a low field stone wall, but the cameras mounted at strategic points along it discouraged intruders. The section of wall just beside the gate had a louvered alcove in which an elderly watchman sat reading the paper. Hikaru paid the cab fare, hoisted his bag over his shoulder and approached him.
"Good morning," he called cheerfully, "Can you buzz the door open for us?"
The old man put the paper aside carefully, smoothing out wrinkles on its surface. The wrinkles on his face only grew more pronounced as he drank their appearance in.
"You and the lady? You expected?"
Hikaru looked to Kyoko, who nodded. The old man stood and rang the intercom.
"Agafea?" he asked into the panel, "Couple of kids want in. Yeah, hold on." He turned to them. "No one's expected today. It's that day of the month again."
"This is the daughter of the house," Hikaru protested, "Just ring them up in there, not...Agafea. We're here to see Mrs. Mogami. This is her daughter."
"No," Kyoko said, having heard 'Mogami' in all that English.
"No," the old man said, having heard enough. "You got the wrong place. The Mogamis don't live here, whoever they are. There is no daughter in this house."
Hikaru turned to Kyoko, who coughed.
"Ask for Hizuri Kuu," she suggested.
He opened his mouth, stared at her, and then shut it again. It was a waste of time; he had to say something to a statement like that. "Hizuri Kuu is your father?"
She seemed embarrassed, bless her. "In a way. I'll explain as soon as we see Mamma. Please, why won't he let us in?"
"He says the Mogamis don't live here. A moment." The singer switched back to English, a little dizzy from the linguistic challenge of it and maybe being told that a legendary actor was his supposedly amateur actress girlfriend's father (only in a way of course). "Can you just talk to the lady of the house or something? Tell them Mogami Kyoko is here."
"Agafea's the lady of the house as far as unexpected visitors are concerned," the man replied sternly, "Especially today."
"What is so special about today?" Hikaru was beginning to be a peeved.
"Wouldn't the girl know if she's their daughter?" the old man dismissed him with a wave of the hand. "Kid, come on. You're a fan, I get it. Probably from Japan? Yeah, it figures. We get guys like you a lot and on most days, I'll be honest, you'd have gotten an autograph or a picture or a tour of the grounds if Kuu was in. You got a pretty unique story, but it's full of holes. Go look at Hollywood; take your girlfriend to a beach. Come back tomorrow; he's usually at home and in a good mood the day after."
It had been a while since Hikaru had gone unrecognized by a plebeian, but the disconcerting experience here was being called a fan of someone else. He sighed and tried to explain to the guy who was only doing his duty.
"No, I get it. You get a lot of riff-raff if Hizuri Kuu is living here. But I promise you, if you turn us away today he won't be happy when he finds out about it tomorrow. We're here to see...Julie." Kyoko nodded to confirm the name. "She doesn't have much time left to reconnect with her daughter, and I don't think she'd want to lose a second, let alone a day. Call the house, say the name. To Agafea if you will. Maybe she'll recognize it; maybe she can find a moment to slip it to Kuu. What's the harm?"
The old man shook his head. "I told you. Not today..." but his palms were itchy. Hikaru took the hint. He grabbed the man's right hand.
"Alright, alright," the man groused, pocketing a currency note. "It couldn't hurt to try." He called Agafea again; he talked, listened and grinned. He beckoned to his guests. "She says she has heard the name recently and to let you in so she can take a look at you."
Hikaru relayed the message to Kyoko, who exhaled in relief. They stood clear of the gates that swung inwards when the watchman flipped a switch. He stepped out of his alcove and took out a remote from his pocket to point at his station. He clicked a button and a neat little shutter dragged down across the little corner.
"Come on in," he said, "There's a buggy around the back."
It was actually a golf cart, and he explained how long the front drive was and how stupid they were to have sent off the cab. Kyoko and Hikaru climbed in and set their bags on their laps. As the cart began to trundle up the bluestone drive, the driver cleared his throat and began to speak.
"On your left is the lesser lawn, extending up to the east wing of the house. On the right you can see the hedge line, made of tall honeysuckle in the back, kaleidoscope abelia in the front and dappled willow in the middle. The exterior designing was done by Mrs. Hizuri's dear friend Noriaki Ito, the famed landscaper. In the summer of nineteen eighty eight—"
"Excuse me," Hikaru interrupted in response to Kyoko's confused request for a translation, "What are you doing?"
The man looked fractious at having been asked. "It's part of the job description. First-time visitors get a tour of the house. Will you listen?"
"No," Hikaru decided, "We can just say we've heard if asked but really, there's no need."
So they approached the manor in silence. It was built, as befitting California, with timber but some clever architect had fashioned the outer walls to look like dark limestone. It matched the boundary wall perfectly in color if not character. The house was at two storeys high with large windows on each floor and a slender Russian homemaker waiting for them at the grand double doors.
"Hello," she said in an American accent, "My name is Agafea. The gentleman will of course need no help carrying his luggage in."
"No," Hikaru agreed, "He won't."
They didn't have a great deal of it anyway. Hikaru had trusted his bandmates to bring over his stuff, and had packed a change of clothes and a toothbrush into Kyoko's shoulder bag. Her larger bag he carried in exchange. Agafea ushered them into the parlor and bade them wait. Hikaru sank into a leather sofa warmed by the aureate sunshine streaming in through the windows. Kyoko hesitated, clearly fighting her urge to remove her shoes inside a house and put some slippers on. The floors were dark wood and no soft footwear was forthcoming from Agafea though, so she sat by Hikaru's side and made a funny face at the funny noise she heard.
"What is that music?" she asked. Her boyfriend cocked a careful ear to decipher the English lyrics.
Hey Julie, look what they're doin' to me
Tryin' to trip me up; tryin' to wear me down
Julie I swear it's so hard to bear it
And I'd never make it through
Without you around~
"Julie?" Kyoko perked up, recognizing the name when it was repeated. "Mamma?"
She leaped to her feet and rushed out the parlor doors. Hikaru sighed and followed. He ran into Agafea, who snapped at him for not better controlling his woman, and he lingered long enough to load disgust into a look and shoot it at her. Between the foyer and the back doors there was an indoor pool, and that explained the stone floor he had to navigate at some speed. He had time to ponder that there was a lot of stone in a house made for warm, loving parents when he remembered that Kyoko's mother was not a warm loving parent at all, and heaven only knew what kind of father Hizuri Kuu (his head was still spinning a little from the force of that name) was.
Hikaru hurried through the French doors that opened onto a wide, black granite balcony. Stairs to the sides led the way to a rose garden and also Kyoko, who was sprinting along the stepping stones towards...
It could only be described as madness.
No, Hikaru thought as he surveyed the scene more closely, this is Hizuri Kuu.
In a gazebo set in the middle of a pond, with a red brick walkway leading to it and fragrant rose surrounding the pond's shore, the yesteryear superstar was serenading a woman.
And what a woman. Hikaru walked with less haste towards them. Julie was red of hair and lissom of limb, dressed in a green-and-pink frock and straw sandals. Her smile put dimples in her plump cheeks. Her dark eyes—he could hardly detect the color of them just yet—glittered with tears of joy as Kyoko ran towards the gazebo. Kuu threw his mike on a divan; Julie's voice rang out after his.
Julie was a diva of extraordinary beauty and entrancing grace. Her curves were gentle and her gaze sweet. All the loveliness in the world had to pour forth from this source. All the loveliness of the world could be contained in this one woman. She was stunning, and Hikaru was stunned to see that she was not Kyoko's mother. There was no way. Not an iota of family resemblance struck him as Julie and her husband set about embracing their 'daughter'.
"Baby! What are you doing here?"
"Oh, daddy! I just had to come see. Is it okay? Am I interrupting?"
Julie threw her arms around Kyoko, who shuddered with anticipation fulfilled. This mother was warm and filial and right. "Sweetheart, don't be ridiculous. Of course you're interrupting. But it's only that this was the date we were married on, and your dad is being a romantic fool as usual. It's nowhere near as important as you."
Kyoko's eyes swam with tears."Oh, daddy! You're celebrating it today because you never might get another anniversary with her, isn't it?"
"Mamma's ill, isn't she. Oh, daddy. You guys must want to spend the remaining time with each other. Why did I come?"
Julie looked at Kuu, who shook his head sadly.
"Is that why you came? I am so, so sorry. You see Kyoko, your mother has a terrible affliction; it's true. It's called dramatization, though. Not cancer."
Tsuruga Ren was not a freeloader. Cody Hart was lazing around his home and Cambria was on her way to Catalina Island for the day in order to visit a friend, so Ren was running errands for his hosts. As Ren had no fondness of driving Jeeps, he'd rented a Lexus with his own money. Windows down and music on, he reviewed a list of jobs in his head and headed out.
And pulled over not a mile away from the house he'd left when his phone rang. Ren answered without even looking at the screen because he was so sure it was Yukihito.
"...Um, no. This is Kotonami Kanae."
"Kotonami-san?" Ren's blood heated up ever so slightly. To be honest, since Kyoko's birthday, he had come to understand that his most dangerous rival in love was not Fuwa Shou or Kijima Hidehito or even (though he hadn't thought of him as a competitor back then) Ishibashi Hikaru. It was Kanae, at whose voice Kyoko bloomed and blushed. "How did you get this number?" He was using an international SIM card, and the number wasn't the same as his Japanese one.
There was a pause. Ren pictured, with no small amount of satisfaction, Kanae gritting her teeth and preparing to tell him why she was dragged down to the level of investigating his number to call.
"That...girl...is an idiot. She's gone abroad with hardly a goodbye—I checked my voicemail and there it was, an excuse of the flimsiest kind—and I can hardly contact her as she hasn't got international coverage. I went to Sawara-san for help, hoping he had her contact information. The President caught me and insisted that I ask you for...for..."
"A favor?" ventured Ren, who really had no idea what Kyoko was doing out in the world. He wondered what could have summoned her away from her homeland, and got a crawling fearful feeling. If Takarada Lory had thought Ren could help, could Kyoko possibly be in...
"Assistance," Kanae spat, "She's in Los Angeles too. The President says...what?" It appeared someone had interrupted her on the other side of the call. "What? Then why have me call him! Sir, I really—alright. Coming. In a moment! Tsuruga-san," she said stiffly into his ear, "It appears the President has both Ishibashi-san's number and the address they're staying at. Sorry for disturbing you. Good luck with your work. Thank you for your time."
The brunette hung up, and the brunet slowly brought his cell phone away from his ear. The Lexus sat idling by the sidewalk, purring for his foot on her accelerator. Ren's heart was throbbing painfully. He had expected Lory would find out that he'd fled the country, but he hadn't anticipated his cruelty. If Kanae hadn't been forced to call him and spill the beans he might never have found out that the personification of his own hellish immorality had followed him here to the land of his birth with her boyfriend. He might've done his work, dallied with his friends, and driven Yukihito around under the Californian sun blissfully unaware that not a hundred miles away Kyoko too was breathing and behaving cutely for another man's benefit.
He turned off the car, kicked open the door, stomped out onto the street, and slumped down on the sidewalk.
Then his phone rang again.
This time he checked warily to make sure it wasn't Lory with more harassment and harrowing news, but it was only Yukihito. Ren brightened up. Touching the screen lightly, he took the call.
"Hello, Ren. How are you?"
Ren opened his mouth to trill his fineness, and shut it right up again. Five minutes ago, he could have honestly said he was doing well. Five days ago, he could have happily lied to hide his true feelings. Right now, however, Yukihito was privy to a lot of his secrets and sadness and did not despise him for anything. Ren could not utter an untruth to him.
"Ren?" the manager managed to pick up quickly on the tone. "What's happened? Is everything all right? Are your friends unhappy to have you with them?"
"No, they're fine. Still, maybe I should've stayed in a hotel..."
"No," Yukihito was certain, "It was definitely smarter to make sure you have company. I'll sleep easier knowing it, and it lessens the burden on everyone we've inconvenienced already. When I come we can stay together in the L'Ermitage and not see anyone else if you like, but for now bear with it and play nice. You are being nice? Social? Making small talk?"
"Yes," Ren smiled tenderly at the motherly man's worry, "I'm playing nice. I'm being social. I don't have to make small talk; they're my friends. I enjoy their company. Not as much as I enjoy yours, though. Can we stay at the Beverly Wiltshire instead?"
"It'll be so expensive, Ren! Unless you're paying out of your own pocket, the best I can do for you is the Chateau Marmont."
"The Wiltshire," Ren decided, "My treat. We'll get the honeymoon suite."
"Ha-ha, very funny. I'd hoped you'd gotten over this immature joke."
"It may be a joke, Yashiro-san, but I really do cherish you. No one else in the world has such a caring manager."
"And no one else has such a careful charge," Yukihito said amusedly, "I enjoy working with you too, Ren the Responsible."
"I ate a big breakfast today."
"Really? A whole omelette?"
"Who's joking immaturely now? It was two omelettes, for your information. And a pancake. Plus a big glass of milk and some bacon."
"Milk?" muttered Yukihito, "As if your bones need any more growing. As if you're already not towering over us all. Get some vitamin C in you next time."
"Sure, mock me. You don't know how much I worry. If you really cherish me, stop forgetting to wear sun block!"
Ren glanced guiltily up at the sky and ducked back into the car. "I don't need sun block," he protested, "I'm not even outdoors!"
"The sun doesn't care. And don't wear sunglasses either. Imagine if you came to the set with a panda tan; can you picture their faces?"
The superstar laughed. "Yes."
"It's no laughing matter! Take care of yourself. For your career's sake. And for me."
"I told Mogami-san once," Ren recalled and sobered suddenly, "That managers hardly just fetch toast for their clients. Sometimes though I think you spend more time telling me to eat one more bite than you do telling me to work one more hour."
"No one needs to tell you to work harder," observed the other man, "And every minute I don't spend nagging you I work on finding you jobs. Or rather, rejecting job offers. I might just be the busiest man in Japan. You should be grateful I took the time to call you now. And..." Yukihito hesitated. "Mogami-san's out-of-town, did you know?"
"Yes," Ren said heavily, "She's here with me."
There was a pause. Ren pictured, with no small amount of exasperation, glee galloping across Yukihito's face as he held back a squeal of delight.
"You met up with her there? You sly dog! You never even mentioned—don't let me take up your time...!"
"She's not by my side, Yashiro-san. She came with Ishibashi."
"Oh...oh. Oh, Ren. I'm sorry."
Ren stayed quiet. Yukihito did not resist.
"I did tell you so."
"That when you were ready to have her she might not be ready to have you. That some other fellow would snatch her up while you made up your mind. Well, I never expected it would be Ishibashi-kun, but there you have it. C'est la vie, say the old folks. It goes to show you never can tell."
"Am I being comforted?"
"You're being given the truth, Ren, and that's more than most people would offer. Cherish me? Should've cherished her. Cherish me? That's all you'll be able to cherish if you continue to give up on your ardor so easily. Cherish me! I've listened to your story, and I think you deserve happiness. It's about damn time. Cherish me. Cheer up, Ren. There's always the chance they might break up."
"No," Ren said vehemently, "They can't. She won't survive it."
"Then be happy for them, for her, and move on. How long has it been since you've dated an American? A long-distant relationship might work for you. She'll put your natural indifference down to the miles separating you."
"I'll have you know I'm a very attentive lover," Ren smarted from the insult and snapped because of the burn. Yukihito simply scoffed.
"I've been talking to the President, I'm afraid. Though I've never seen you in a loveless relationship, I have a good idea of how you are. He assures me you wouldn't notice if the girl wrote out her need for attention in blood on your walls. An attentive lover? Do you cherish your girlfriends, Ren?"
"I take it back," Ren made a moue. "I don't cherish you at all. You're a terrible person and my heart feels heavier than ever."
"You remember how once Mogami-san counted on you to be stern with her? That's what you need right now. That's what I'm giving you. Hold on, I beg you, till I get there. One week. Call me as much as you like. Bear with it for a week."
Ren turned the car on and threw a gear. "A week. I can last a week. I have more to tell you about my past, Yashiro-san. It's about her. I knew her when we were children."
"A week," Yukihito sounded rather tired. "I'll be with you in a week. I'll listen to you now, if you like. Or later tonight. Or even tomorrow..."
"Or in a week." Ren moved forward. "I'm driving. I'll call you later."
Hikaru and Kyoko sat on their queen-sized bed in their guest-sized bedroom and looked down at their feet. Kyoko fidgeted and said:
"I'm sorry, Hikaru-san."
"Don't revert to –san because you're guilty," he told her absently.
She took it to heart. "I'm sorry, Hikaru. I can't say it enough."
He thought about it. "You have. In the end," he decided, "there's no real harm done."
There had been terrible tension for a while as Hikaru became very angry in a very cold way towards Kuu and Julie. However, when he voiced it as indignation over Kyoko being put through the horror of believing she might lose a parent rather than having his time wasted, the tension shifted as other matters came out into the light. These people weren't even her real parents, Kyoko explained, and that did make him angry about having his time wasted and his heart touched until she also explained that they were very dear to her nonetheless.
He apologized to Julie and Kuu for losing his temper, and Julie and Kuu apologized for each other. Kyoko apologized for not checking her facts with someone sober, and Hikaru apologized again and the whole thing kept repeated until Agafea came along to ask snootily if the guest bedroom needed setting up. There was further tension when Hikaru explained his intent as to the brevity of the visit and then a moment of levity when Kyoko persuaded him that they could spend the night here instead of in a hotel. It would be more decent. It might've been even more decent to give them separate rooms, but Agafea had made assumptions about their status as a couple. She promised to have another room ready by tea time and Kuu and Julie and gone to wash up, leaving Kyoko with a moment of peace in which to make up with her boyfriend.
"It's just that their son passed away," she told him, "And they've always wanted a daughter. And when Da—um, Kuu-sama came to Japan I took care of him as a sort of one-man entourage and he made me pretend to be his son and gave really good advice and told me to take the role of Natsu and that I was as good as a son to him, or a daughter if I could be that. If I could accept them...and who wouldn't?"
"It's true," he admitted grudgingly, "They seem to be doting parents."
"Yes. So I'm very sorry—and you really aren't angry anymore?"
"No," he said quietly, sidling up to her, "I'm not."
Even Kyoko could not be oblivious to his intentions, but even Hikaru couldn't convince her that she was ready to be kissed. She hemmed and hawed and slipped away from his side. To his credit, he took it in stride.
"We should probably go ahead and wash," he gestured to the restroom. "I'll go first; I only need to scrub the travel off my face."
"Yes," she said, very much subdued. He shook his head and sighed.
"Kyoko, look at me. What is a good kiss? Whenever two people are putting all they've got into it. Isn't that what your senior taught you? Isn't that what Tsuruga-san always says? Whenever you're ready. Whenever we're ready."
She nodded like she understood, and soon after they had Kuu and Julie fairly sprint in. Julie seized Kyoko once more and held her to her bosom.
"I'll never let go! My sweet little girl. When Kuu told me he'd had a new child in Japan I was scared for a minute that he'd actually found the balls to cheat on me. Little did I know what a blessing he'd gotten. I don't know who bore you in her womb, darling." Here she let the girl up to breathe for a second and looked into her eyes with her own earnest gaze. "But I am eternally indebted to her. You've given me more joy by your presence alone than I've experienced in five years."
Hikaru looked away abashedly as Kyoko's eyes filled with tears. Julie gripped her foster daughter's arms and asked what was wrong. Bit by painful bit, Kyoko told her American mamma about a woman that was more monster than mother. She elucidated how incomprehensible it was that she, Kyoko, could make someone's life better by merely existing. She outlined, in brief, how the eternal debt belonged to her and not to Julie.
"You've given me more joy by your affection alone than I've experienced in all my life. Moko-san notwithstanding."
They didn't know who Kanae was, though, and that required further explaining. Just when Hikaru was thinking these parents didn't know their child at all, Kuu rubbed his hands together and said:
"Right! Down to business. Itinerary: to be planned. We'll take a day to see Sea World and a day to see Universal Studios. If you like roller coasters, we'll spend a day in Knott's Berry Farm as well. We should probably stay over at the Disney hotel for at least two days to fully enjoy the California Adventure Park and Disney Land. Then...road trip to San Francisco! I'll call ahead and let Bernard to get the ranch house ready. Tell him the wife and I are coming with the kid and the son-in-law, eh?" he winked at Hikaru.
"Actually," Hikaru said politely, "I'm afraid I have my own schedule. My band is performing soon and we need to practice."
Both Julie and Kuu made disappointed remarks about how sad it was that he couldn't spend time with them, but it was obvious that they were delighted with Kyoko's company and not his. They appreciated him and admired the way he'd brought her here at a moment's notice, yet he wasn't the apple of their eyes. She was. As that was how it should be, Hikaru had no complaints. He held Kyoko's right hand as Julie held her left and Kuu drew on a dry-erase board with a blue marker, making plans.
"Question." Since both her hands were occupied, Kyoko tilted her head. "What's today's plan?"
Julie and Kuu looked at each other.
"It's your choice," she said, "I thought you'd be tired and might want to sleep. If you've got the energy and enthusiasm though, we were thinking the beach house in Laguna Beach was worth a visit."
"I'm sorry," Hikaru frowned, "Shouldn't it be a beach house in Malibu?"
"Oh, that's residential property. We would feel bad having a beach house there and not using it year-round. No, we liked the Laguna Beach better; it's a resort city basically. Lots of cute stores and restaurants. I think you'd really like it."
She sounded hopeful. Hikaru was exhausted from the trip he'd made across the globe, and it was Kyoko's first battle with jet lag. Still, they nodded at each other and then at the older couple.
"Sounds good. Let's do it."
The nice thing about California, Ren cogitated as he drove, was that there was always a beach at hand. No matter how far inland you were in the state you could make a day of it. Beach Sunday. Beach fun day! Beach, he thought, this one day, show me some love too.
They had beaches in Japan as well, Ren knew, but the Californian ones were different. It was the sky. It was big enough for everyone to soar. When he was a child he had felt like he was being crushed into the ground. It wasn't like that anymore. Ren breathed deeply. He had wings. He could fly as much as he liked now. The sky was higher here, the women freer, the water colder and the sand softer. Ren wasn't given to glamorizing or favoring America unduly; he had to admit California was world famous for its beaches with good reason.
Laguna Beach's beach wasn't as large as the Huntington beach and it didn't have a pier like the one at Santa Monica. Nevertheless it was a pleasant place. In accordance to Yukihito's wishes, the superstar left his sunglasses in the rental Lexus and stepped out into the hot sun barefoot; his Armani shoes would be safer in the car. He scurried into the shade of a shack to buy sun screen and set out towards the tide line, glad he'd chosen to wear shorts and lathering cream onto his bare arms.
Then he heard a scream.
Without looking up, he knew who it was. He froze in place. That was not a voice he would ever forget. That was the voice of the woman who'd brought him forth into the world. That was the voice of Hizuri Julie.
It was a voice he wasn't ready for. Before he could turn and run, more voices he wasn't ready for hailed him.
"Kyoko, is that really him?"
He raised his eyes. Kyoko was running towards him in a swimsuit. A swimsuit. It was a one piece, and it tore his heart into a thousand pieces. It was black, and it made him blue. It tied around her neck like a halter top, and tightened around his neck like a noose.
"It is! It is, Hikaru! Tsuruga-san, what are you doing here?"
"Why," Hikaru was quicker to the point, "Did Julie-san call you 'Corn'?"
"It's not 'Corn'," Kyoko turned to tell him impatiently, "She said 'Kuon'. It's the name of her—" she caught the implication behind the technicality, and gazed upon Ren with an amalgamation of horror and fascination.
"It's the name of our son," Kuu said, leading Julie by her wrist. The mother Hikaru and Kyoko had thought bereaved had a hand clasped over her mouth and tears slipping down her cheeks fast.
"I thought," Kyoko spoke as if by someone's deathbed, "Kuon had passed away."
Kuu surveyed her. "I guess I did word it ambiguously. Actually, our Kuon ran away."
"He was kidnapped," Julie choked out, "By that great silly man Takarada Lory, who thinks he can arrange the world like some sort of god!"
No one disagreed with the concise summation of Lory's personality. Everyone turned to Ren, who was still squeezing the SPF bottle so that his hand was filled with cream and it was running down his arm and dripping off his elbow.
"Tsuruga-san," Kyoko marvelled, "You're Hizuri Kuu's son? You're..." her breath caught. Hikaru caught what she was thinking and chuckled.
"I guess that means you two are siblings. Tsuruga-san, meet your little sister. Hizuri Kuon, meet Hizuri Kyoko."
It wasn't funny. It wasn't funny at all. His parents and his beloved and his beloved's love were all laughing in amazed appreciation of the twist, but Ren had seldom been less inclined to giggle. He locked eyes with his father, who at least understood part of his distress and ceased his unseemly guffawing.
"He was in Japan to make a name for himself. We agreed not to contact him till he was satisfied with his position in international cinema." He grinned ruefully. "Still, Kuon, a mother's love cannot be controlled. Julie, why aren't you hugging your boy?"
"I want to make sure," she said shyly, her great dark eyes looking up at her offspring from under great dark lashes. "I remember what you told me, Kuu, and I remember Kuon in his video mail. I wanted to know if he was a dream or real and if he was going to stay or run away again."
It was too much. Ren would've rather watched Kyoko have sex with Shou than bear his mother being anything but overbearing. If not her right, then whose was it? He went down on his knees and said:
Kyoko looked on with shiny, shiny eyes and Hikaru turned his head away in discretion demanded by the universal bro code as Hizuri Kuon held his mother's hands and said:
There were so many tears that Hikaru actually fled the scene. When he came back half an hour later with ice cream cones for everyone, things had settled down some. Julie had put Kuon to her left and Kuu had put Kyoko to his right so that the family of four looked like a proper mother, father, brother and sister. Hikaru felt awkward until Kyoko scooted closer to Kuu and patted the sand between her and Ren, thus shooting the last, straggling piece of Ren's heart that still beat some drum of hope. Everyone licked their ice cream in silence and looked at the sky. Hikaru had bought three chocolates, a strawberry, and a vanilla. Ren ended up with a flavor he didn't like so that Kyoko could have the strawberry.
The parents sighed happily, Hikaru nuzzled the top of Kyoko's head and everyone smiled at Ren.
Then Kyoko turned her face upwards and declared, "The beaches back home are nothing like this. I had a friend when I was young who was scared the sky was going to press down and crush him one day. He would've been happy here. The sky is high. There's room for everyone to soar."
She turned to smile at Ren again, but he was gone. Breaking free of the family group, he was running back towards the rented Lexus and already taking out his phone. They called after him, and Julie ran, but his legs were too long. His heart was too hurt. He yanked open the door, swore to find it locked, solved his problem and slammed the door after him before putting the pedal to the metal.
He called Yukihito.
"Come now," he said, "Not a week. Not in three days. Not in two or one or in twelve hours I need you here now Yashiro-san I think I'm dying. I think I'm crying."
There was no answer. Yukihito was breathing, and Ren was breathing a lot. There was a tapping on the manager's end though, and Ren knew he was on the internet looking for flight tickets.
Yukihito waited a moment more before speaking.
"Pick me up in eleven hours at the airport. Can you do that?"
Ren breathed a little more evenly. "Yes."
"I cherish you too."
There was this reviewer that said I'm depicting Ren as, well, pretty fucking gay. I thought and I thought about how to fix my tendency to razz on his sexuality, and decided that the best way to amend my misdemeanor is to not. And so you have this chapter where Ren does not show mere homosexual undertones; he is smeared with the rainbow hues of faggotry. While still being completely straight for Kyoko. Hey, that's how a bishounen works, right?
Seriously though, I'm sorry hentai18ancilla.