25 February 2009

Leave it up to Fate: Chapter Nine

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Excerpt
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8Jon was definitely on the verge of meeting someone new. He was spending the afternoon browsing through the newest paperbacks at the ABC bookstore in Roppongi. For the past fifteen minutes, he had been playing eye-tag with a hunky northern European who he was sure had been checking him out. The guy was just about to approach when his phone rang. The guy smiled and proceeded to the counter as Jon fumbled for his phone.

“Winner timing ka talaga,” he muttered into the phone.

“Asan ka?” Kaye asked abruptly.

Jon sighed; his peaceful afternoon was about to be invaded. He told Kaye where he was and hung up. He looked around, but just as he thought, the guy was nowhere to be seen. He sighed again and continued browsing until he heard the steady clatter of heels that signaled Kaye’s approach.

He looked up at her and thought life would be so much simpler if he could fall for someone like her. Although he changed his mind not ten minutes later as they lined up for ice cream at the Cold Stone Creamery. When he had asked where Ana was, Kaye had started in nonstop. Jon was surprised when Kaye told him that Ana was with Nakamura. He knew that Ana had accepted the proposition and that they were bound to start going out soon, but he couldn’t suppress a flicker of worry. Ana had cocooned herself in work for so long that he feared that she had forgotten all about the niceties of dating. He glanced at Kaye who was still talking up a storm. Thank goodness they were able to converse in a fairly uncommon language.

“… tapos naka-heels pa sya. Dyosko, if she isn’t careful baka ma-inlove talaga sya dun,” Kaye said as she paused for breath.

“Would it really be that bad?”

“Well, he’s not exactly the steady type I’d wish for her.”

“Aruuu, you yourself said steady was boring.” Jon reminded her, “Actually I’m more worried about the guy; he’s probably regretting his plan now.”

“At bakit naman?”

“Well, the phrase ‘go calmly into the night’ doesn’t necessarily describe Ana.” He turned to Kaye to reassure her, “Relax, however fragile she may sometimes seem, she’s tough. She won’t let herself be forced to do anything she doesn’t want to.” He chuckled, "I assure you, hinding-hindi nya isu-surrender ang Bataan"

“Sana nga,” Kaye muttered as they finally reached the counter.


“Whoa. Babe. You hot.” Jon exclaimed when Ana joined him and Kaye for coffee at Starbucks later that afternoon. He and Kaye had both gaped at Ana for almost a full minute after she had arrived at their table.

“The guy has taste, I’ll give him that.” Kaye commented, still shaking her head in disbelief at the expensive cut and the stylish makeup.

“He has balls if he managed to convince Ana to shed her manang image” Jon commented.

“Well, he couldn’t very well show her off as his girlfriend in the state she was in” Kaye argued.

“Hahaha.” Ana retorted good-naturedly. “Does it matter to anyone that I am actually privy to this conversation?”

“Don’t get us wrong girl,” Kaye explained, “but your old look didn’t exactly beckon to men.”

“She means you looked like a yuki onna masquerading in a lab coat,” Jon joked, ”So what’s the next stage in the plan?” he asked.

“He wanted to go shopping for a cocktail dress for the launch, but I couldn’t afford it. So I’m just going to have to find something,” Ana said as she took a sip of Jon’s frappucino.

“Wait a damn minute,” Kaye butted in, “don’t tell me he made you pay for all of this?” she said as she gestured towards Ana.

“We-ell,” Ana started to say, but Jon, who knew her all too well, beat her to it.

“Ok. Don’t tell us, I get it, he was supposed to pay, but Ms. Dalagang Pilipina turned him down. Am I on target honey?”

“I couldn’t make him pay for something that I would be using exclusively now could I?” Ana retorted, “He’s not even my boyfriend!”

“Honey, he’s your pretend boyfriend. Couldn’t you have pretended that that was part of the deal?” Jon asked.

When Ana stonily refused to answer, Kaye sighed in exasperation, “Ann, it was his idea, let the man pay.”

“I don’t get you, sweetie,” Jon said, shaking his head, “You’re one of the most giving people I know, but when someone tries to give you something its like pounding your head against a brick wall.”

“It was more along the lines of a nuclear explosion,” Ana commented, recalling Ken’s reaction when he had found out that the bill had been paid for. He had started to ask Taki for a refund for her, but Ana put her foot down and firmly said that she was paying for the makeover herself. This announcement didn’t go down well with Ken, and Taki tactfully exited as the two of them had a pow-wow in the waiting room. Finally, it was resolved when Ana said she would refuse to go on with the plan if Ken insisted on paying the saloon fees. So, with gritted teeth, Ken had ushered her back into the car and driven her to Roppongi where she was to meet Kaye and Jon before the 6 pm anticipated mass at the Franciscan Chapel Center.

“That bad, huh?” Kaye asked.

“Yup. But at least I won,” Ana said with a mock-wave.

“But you’re still lacking something to wear to the event next week,” Jon reminded her.

“I’ll figure something out later,” Ana prevaricated.

“Oh good, here’s Tessa” Jon announced as he spied Tessa walk in the doors, unfortunately she was not alone.

“Ano ba namang buhay ito,” Kaye muttered as she saw whom Tessa was with. “What could have possessed Tessa to bring her along?”

“Uy, marinig ka nun” Ana warned.

“Hay naku, wala akong pakialam,” Kaye answered as they collectively turned to greet Marga and Tessa.

“Hey everyone!” she called out in her sing-songy voice, “I asked Tessa if she was meeting you today and when she said yes I thought I’d drop by to say hi.”

Tessa had turned to gape at Ana, and studiously ignored Kaye who was glaring at her. “Omigod, Ann you look fabulous!” She said as she took a seat across from Jon.

Oblivious to what was going on around her, Marga sat down beside Ana and continued, “So Ana, I didn’t know you were such good friends with Ken Nakamura,”

“We didn’t either,” Tessa muttered and Jon kicked her under the table.

“Well, we know each other very casually,” Ana began, but Jon cut her off.

“Maybe you used to know each other casually, but now you’re really good friends, right Ana?” he said, with a warning not, reminding her that she was in the presence of one of the worst gossips in Tokyo.

“Where exactly did you two meet?” Marga asked again.

“In Los Angeles,” Kaye answered, “He was shooting a movie and she was there to present at a conference.” Ana almost smiled, she felt as if she had her own personal press agents.

Marga considered this for a moment, then she stared critically at Ana, “Wow, you changed your hair! It looks really nice,” Then she said, “Did he make you change it?”

Ana shook her head, “Actually I’ve been toying with the idea of changing it for some time, but I didn’t know where to go, but I recently discovered a great salon in Omotesando.” She explained as she ran her hair through her newly shorn curly locks, “I just felt that it was time for a change. It’s been so long, you know?”

Marga smiled, “I’m glad you feel that way, you’ve had the same hairdo since I arrived 2 years ago,” she observed, “and it was a bit ah…”

“Frumpy?” Ana suggested.

Marga smiled in relief, “Exactly.”

Leave it up to Fate: Chapter Eight

Read:

Excerpt
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7“Where’s the fire?” Kaye asked as she poured some coffee into a mug. She watched as Ana rushed out of the bathroom, tripped over a rug, and stubbed her toe on something Tessa had left on the floor. It was like something out of an Ai-Ai de las Alas comedy. She looked at the clock on the wall; it was just a little before ten on a Saturday morning. Kaye liked to linger on Saturdays and therefore could not see what Ana was rushing for.

“I’m late!” Ana exclaimed.

“For what? Do you have to go into the lab today?”

“No,” Ana explained as she walked into her room, “I’m supposed to go to a product launch with Ken next week and he said he’d help me get ready for it.”

Kaye raised an eyebrow. A few days ago, it had been 'Nakamura,' and after dinner last night it was now 'Ken.' “Get ready how?” She asked.

“No idea, probably tips on what to say and who I’ll be meeting.” Ana answered. “Damn,” she added when the bell at the lobby sounded, “that can’t be him.”

Kaye peered at the monitor connected at the lobby, sure enough Ken Nakamura was waiting to
be admitted. “It’s him,” she gaily informed Ana, “do you want me to get rid of him?”

“Let him up and entertain him for a bit while I try to dry my hair off,” Ana instructed as she turned the drier on.

Kaye shook her head. Drying Ana’s hair would take forever. She pressed the button that would open the doors at the lobby. Then she looked down at her own ensemble, it wasn’t exactly designed for entertaining, but then she wasn’t going out with the guy, was she? She tidied the living room up a bit and turned towards the door when another bell sounded. She opened the door to admit Ken.

He gave her a discreet once-over and took off his glasses. “Ohayo gozaimasu. Nakamura desu. Is Ana here?” he asked.

“She’s not ready yet. I’m Kaye, Ana’s flatmate. Would you like to come in?” she answered in fluent Japanese. Despite her invitation, her expression was less than welcoming.

“Thank you. Ojamashimasu.” he said as he entered. He took in the woman who stood before him. Even with her hair loosely piled on her head and clad in loose, pink Hello Kitty pajamas, she seemed like a force to be reckoned with.

“Can I get you anything?” she asked, as she bade him to settle on the sofa, “Coffee? Tea?”

“No thanks,” he answered, “I’m taking Ana to Omotesando to have brunch.”

She nodded and turned to go, then suddenly stopped. She seemed to be listening for Ana when she hurried back to him, “Mr. Nakamura,” she started.

“Please call me Ken,” he invited.

“Ken,” Kaye started, seemingly searching for the right words, “Ana says you’re alright, but I don’t know you at all and I certainly don’t trust you.”

Ken was too amused, to be offended. What was it with Filipinas and their tempers? “I assume that you are giving me some sort of warning?” he inquired.

“You bet your boots I am,” Kaye countered, her gaze unflinching. She held his gaze as she delivered her ultimatum, “If you harm a single hair on Ana’s head, I will personally start a smear campaign against you that will go all the way from Sapporo to Okinawa. Do not doubt me, I can do it. Do I make myself clear?”

“Very.” Then he smiled at her, “you are a good friend Kaye. Please don’t worry, I give you my word that I’ll take care of her.” He assured her.

Kaye stared at him, still trying to size him up. Then she turned around and said, “See that you do.”

They both turned when the door to Tessa’s room opened. She froze in mid-stretch, stared incredulously at Ken, and rushed back into her room. Before either of them could react, Ana emerged from her room and smiled shyly at them. Kaye’s left eyebrow went up of its own volition. Ana, who usually favored simple clothes was actually dressed up. She wore a frilly blouse in shades of amber paired with tailored beige shorts and beige suede heels. Although her hair was pulled back from her face in its customary ponytail, she was wearing a light dusting of makeup.

“Sorry to have kept you waiting,” she said to Ken while Kaye fairly goggled at her.

Ken, on the other hand hadn’t noticed Kaye’s astounded expression. He smiled at Ana, “No problem, Kaye and I were having a very interesting conversation.” He saw Ana glance swiftly at Kaye, who suddenly seemed fascinated with her nail polish. “Shall we go?” He asked, and after bowing briefly to Kaye, they were off.


“If only I had realized that changing my image was your idea of helping me get ready for the event tomorrow, you’d never have gotten me out of my front door,” Ana complained. She and Ken had just finished a leisurely brunch in which he had explained details regarding the product launch next week. She thought they were done for the day; he however told her that they had another errand to take care of.

He now ushered her through the doors of one of Tokyo’s more chichi salons. A receptionist led them into a hallway that led off to private waiting rooms. Ana had never been in a salon as posh as this. The waiting room was equipped with upholstered seats, a television, several glossies, and even a mini-bar.

“Ana, remember what I told you last night about breaking out of the category you’ve been put into? This is the perfect way to do that.” When he saw that this argument was making little headway, he sighed, “A visit to a salon was a foregone conclusion,” he argued, “If this is to be believable we have to change some things, and your hairstyle is one of them.”

“I’ll have you know that I have very nice and healthy hair!” she argued, holding up several curly locks.

“Yes, but there’s too much of it. It’s too … what the word? Ah, I learned the word in class just last week … it’s frumpy.”

“Frumpy?!” Ana almost shrieked as she sat down on an overly upholstered sofa. “Ha! That’s rich coming from a guy who looks like a perpetual hosto!”

“Nani?” Ken’s voice dripped of icicles.

“Look at yourself, how would anyone believe that you’re in a serious, mature relationship if you go around like that?” she said, gesturing at his getup.

“These were picked out for me by my personal stylist” Ken argued.

“Yes, and they may have worked if you were a few years younger, but that’s not what normal people wear. You’re too … too flashy.” She stared pointedly at the studded leather belt around his waist.

At this comment, Ken’s brows threatened to rocket towards the atmosphere. However, before a third world war could break out, they were suddenly interrupted. “A-hem” the head stylist discreetly coughed behind them.

“Taki-san,” Ken greeted, as he took a fortifying breath to calm himself. “This is Ana. Thank you for opening your schedule for us today.”

“Of course, what did you want to do today?”

Ken considered this for a moment, then his mouth softened into a smile as he glanced at Ana, “I think she can figure out what style she wants,” he told him. He saw Ana’s jaw drop and decided to tease her a bit more, “But make it something more modern and not so frumpy”

“Excuuuuse me,” Anna spluttered but stopped when Ken flashed her a grin to indicate he had been teasing her. Ana found herself smiling back in return. No one other than Kaye, Tessa, and Jon had teased her before. Even her family tended to take her seriously. And at work, well, it just wasn’t the best place for teasing. She gave him a wide grin “Alright, but prepare to be amazed at the results,” he laughed at this. She then turned to follow Taki into the salon. At the last moment, she spun back to face him “Oh, and Ken?”

“Yes?”

“If I have to change my image to suit you. I expect nothing less from you”

Ken raised his eyebrows at this. “What did you have in mind?”

“I’ll let you know later, but consider yourself warned,” she said as the drapes covering the entrance to the salon swooshed close.

Ken found himself smiling in reaction to that last veiled threat. When was the last time someone had tried to manage him like this, he wondered. Other than his staff and his manager, no one had ever tried to make him do something he wasn’t ready to do, and yet he was looking forward to what the bossy Ana had in mind.

He chuckled to himself at this. Then he went back to his car to retrieve the script that he had to read that afternoon. He knew that he could leave Ana in Taki’s capable hands but he realized he wanted to see the transformation, however minute it was to be. Perhaps they could even have coffee afterwards to discuss her planned transformation for him.

His mind then switched gears as it concentrated on the script. It wasn’t too odd that he could find a quiet haven at a salon at this time of day. Salons like this invested much in the comfort and privacy of its clients and were fully equipped for waiting. In a few minutes, he was fully immersed in the technicalities of the script in his hands.

Ken checked his watch when he heard the soft, rhythmical tapping of Ana’s heels on the marble floors of the corridor just outside the waiting room. He was amazed to realize that it had been more than two hours since they had arrived. He was even more amazed that he had actually waited that long for someone. When Erina had succeeded in wheedling him to accompany her on her errands he usually just deposited her there and picked her up afterwards. He disliked it when she tried to manage him or arrange his schedule for him. He laid the script aside and stood up in anticipation. When the door swung open and Ana stepped in, Ken smiled in reaction.

Ana smiled shyly at him, “Well? Do you like it?” she asked uncertainly. She would never admit it to anybody, but in fact she had been wanting to try something new with her hair for the longest time, but kept putting it off, as it was easier to bundle everything into a ponytail when she went off to work. Plus, she didn’t exactly have an audience when she worked in the lab.
She was a bit apprehensive when she saw Taki with his streaked blonde locks walk into the room earlier. She had been prepared to do physical battle to keep her curls, but Taki surprised her by wanting to keep them. She was secretly thrilled to have her hair compared to Boticelli’s venus, and suspected it was why she had let him talk her into getting some subtle highlights. Ana preferred long, naturally colored tresses to the current Asian blonde evolution. Taki had suggested layering the thick brown waves so that they now framed her face in soft waves. Her new cut barely skimmed her jaw line, and she was pleased to see that but instead of turning into one frizzy mass, the layers framed her face nicely. She was also delighted with Taki’s styling tips; he taught her different ways of styling her new hairdo with wax.

She was surprised when a professional makeup artist had come in to show her how to do her face. Ana rarely used makeup and refused point-blank the garish colors, but the stylist laughed and said that if used sparingly, the colors had great effects. Not wanting to be impolite and knowing that she could wash it all out later, she agreed to the makeover. She was pleasantly surprised when she looked in the mirror and saw how shades of green brought out the amber glow of her eyes and how the mascara thickened the lashes that framed them. The soft peach tones were subtle enough not to be noticed, but nevertheless brought out her cheekbones. She was so happy with the overall effect that she had bought everything that they had used on her.
Now she stared back apprehensively at Ken as he surveyed her, “Well? Is it that bad?” She asked worriedly.

He slowly stood and walked towards her. “You’ll do. You look much younger.”

“Gee, thanks. That’s what every woman hopes to hear from you.” She retorted, a bit deflated by his lack of a reaction.

Ken slowly smiled and surprised himself by pushing back a lock of her hair that had fallen over her eyes. “That’s not what you wanted to hear?”

Ana stared at him stonily, she was inwardly miffed. She had expected more than that after significantly depleting her bank balance.

Ken chuckled, “Ana you look beautiful. You don’t need me to tell you so.”

Ana felt a blush suffuse her face, “Well, that’s a definite improvement from your earlier comment.” She said and smiled, “so do you think this is going to work?”

“Definitely.” Ken answered.

Go to Chapter 9

Leave it up to Fate: Chapter Seven

Read:

Excerpt
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6

“Just because I agreed to cooperate with your insane plan doesn’t give you the liberty to abduct me at your leisure,” Ana grumbled as she strapped herself into Ken’s Porsche. They were at the conference hall of the Hongo campus of the University of Tokyo where she had just attended a conference. Ana had been one of the presenters that afternoon. She had been chatting with a couple of other researchers during the informal reception afterwards when she realized that her colleagues’ awed silence was due to something other than her advanced results and the preciseness of her answers. She had turned to find Ken standing slightly behind her, watching her. For a moment she had been reeled in by the indulgently affectionate look on his face before she remembered what he did for a living. She had scowled at him, but he had just smiled.

Although he was similarly clad in a suit, he completely stood out in the sea of black and white. His shirt was open at the neck and his suit was leanly cut. The growing buzz of speculation at his presence had alarmed her, but he had charmed her colleagues with his excuses. She was privately amazed at how smoothly he had extricated her from the gathering.

Ken chuckled softly as he strapped himself in. “Can’t I take my girlfriend out to dinner?”

“Pretend girlfriend,” Ana hissed as he pulled out of the parking lot. “You didn’t have to make such a spectacle of yourself,” she grumbled.

“Did I?”

“Don’t play innocent. You deliberately put your arm around me when you saw Dan approach”

“I was playing a role.”

“You didn’t have to overdo it.”

“Who knows? I may truly be affectionate in real life.”

“Do you even have a real life?” she shot back.

He glanced at her, amused at their childish sparring, “That’s what we’ll find out tonight.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, shouldn’t we take some time to get to know each other?” He asked, glancing at her, “In order to play our roles out successfully, we have to do a bit of research and preparation. Isn’t that what they call a scientific approach?”

Ana saw the logic in his argument and pouted grumpily, “Oh alright, I see your point.” She conceded, “But I’m not some dog you can snap a leash on and lead away at your leisure. If you had called first…”

He glanced at her profile and was struck at how cute she looked when she was in a tantrum. Her arms were folded in front of her and she was staring stonily ahead. She had sass; he’d give her credit for that. He decided to try and pacify her, “I’m sorry,” he said, “I took it for granted that you would be free.” When she finally fell silent, he glanced at her once again and asked, “Is it just me or are you like this with every man you meet?”

“It’s you. I’m usually really charming,” she assured him. “So is it just me or are you this high-handed with every woman you know?” She countered.

He chuckled, “Pretty much every woman,” he told her, “however, it seems that you’re the only one who has fought back so far.”

“Thank you. I’ll take that as a great compliment.”

“No wonder you haven’t managed to get Sato,” Ken observed and smiled as Ana turned to him, and demanded to know what he meant by that. “Men like women who are soft and subservient,” Ken explained.

“Intelligent men like women who stimulate them,” Ana argued hotly.

“Soft women can be stimulating too.”

“Not that kind of stimulation!”

“Was there any other kind?” Ken discovered that he was having fun sparring with Ana. This was a novel experience. Since he wasn’t romantically involved with her, he felt comfortable saying what he really thought. Plus, he felt that she was tough to take anything he threw at her, and she gave back as good as she got.

Ana leaned back in her seat and stared at her companion in frustration. For what seemed the hundredth time, she berated herself for agreeing to his plan. She must have had a bout of insanity. They were never going to get along long enough to pull this whole thing off. She briefly wondered at her attitude towards the man who sat beside her, for some reason his taunts really got to her, and damned if arguing with him didn’t feel good.

Jon had said last weekend that she needed some Sturm und Drang to liven up her placid life. But this seemed to go beyond that. It seemed that she and Ken couldn’t go ten minutes in each other’s company without going for each other’s throats. She glanced at Ken, he had a truly beautiful profile, she thought abstractly. He wasn’t as pretty as most Japanese actors seemed to be, but there was an attractive roguishness about him that sort of crept up on you. She winced in mid-thought and shut her eyes determinedly. It wasn’t advisable for her to think of him in that way. They had a business arrangement. Boba. This was all pretend. She had her role to play and so did he, and it was utter foolishness to suppose anything else. She sighed, absently rubbing her temples.

“Hard day?” Ken asked, glancing at her.

Her eyes still closed, Ana tilted her head back and said, “Uh-uh, same as usual. I’m just glad my presentation is over.”

“I saw your presentation,” Ken told her.

“You did?”

“I couldn’t understand half of what it was about, but I saw a lot of impressed faces.” He glanced at her and smiled, “It didn’t hurt that you cut a pretty impressive figure up there. And that’s not just lip service.”

She decided that he was sincere and smiled in response, “Thanks. I’ve found that it’s good to doll up for any presentation, especially when your audience can get nitpicky if you aren’t.”

“Isn’t that unfair for the men?” Ken queried.

“Hey, I’m a woman in a male-dominated field; I need all the help I can get.”

Ken glanced at her. She suddenly seemed so delicate, at odds with the hard-as-nails image he had had of her. He suddenly felt a twinge of guilt at what he was going to put her through. However glamorous it seemed, public life was hard; there were paparazzi all around, waiting for the right moment to make a scoop, reporters prying into every aspect of your life, and critics waiting to pounce on your next wrong move.

She had agreed to his proposition and he was grateful for that. He decided to try and make the task as easy for her as possible. In a deliberately light tone, he asked, “Ana?” when she opened her eyes to look at him, he smiled at her, “What if instead of pretending too hard to be lovers let’s try to be friends first?” When she gave him a quizzical look, he continued, “We’re about to embark on something that will ultimately affect both of us, shouldn’t we try to at least be friends?”

Ana looked at him in amazement, he seemed sincere enough. From a practical viewpoint, his suggestion indeed had merit. As she contemplated this, they arrived at their destination.
He stopped the car in front of large rambling house, surrendered the keys to a valet and went around to Ana’s side to help her out. “So what about it,” he asked when they were waiting to be seated by the maitre ’d, “do you want to declare a temporary truce? Are we to be friends?” He said as he held a hand out.

Ana looked at his outstretched hand and smiled slowly up at him before she grasped his hand in a firm handshake, “I’m willing to give it a try if you are. Sure, friends it is.”

The restaurant they went to was a trendy French bistro in the quieter part of Omote-sando. It was an old, rambling structure that had once been the house of a shogun’s descendant. It had been reconverted to accommodate several adjoining private dining rooms that afforded the users a modicum of privacy. The foyer was discreetly furnished in shades of wine and mahogany, and the wooden floors gleamed from a recent polishing. After perusing their menus, both Ken and Ana opted for a light dinner course menu. When the waiter had served them wine and water,

Ken turned conversationally to Ana, “So what do new friends talk about?”

She shrugged, “I guess they ask each other questions and try to get to know each other”

“Un, I’ll go first shall I?” He searched for a safe topic to start on, “Where are you from?”

“I’ll give you three guesses,” Ana challenged, her eyes sparkling up at him mischievously.

Ken considered her for a moment, “Hm, you aren’t American,” he observed, “South Asian maybe. Are you from the Philippines?”

Ana snorted, “How did you find out?”

“Lucky guess,” he answered as he held her gaze. Yoshi should see this, he thought. Ana, with her eyebrow slightly raised and a patient smile on her lips, looked very much like the schoolteacher he had initially likened her to. He finally shook his head and gave in, “I asked your lab assistants. They were very informative. Or at least one was.”

Instead of getting mad as he expected, the woman before him dissolved in giggles, “Nakano is a big fan of yours,” she said, “You bribed them, didn’t you?”

He grinned sheepishly, “Four free passes to my new movie at Roppongi,” he admitted, “Plus I had to autograph some pictures for her.”

“Well, she isn’t cheap at any rate,” Ana commented as she took off her glasses and laid them on the table. “So why did you ask if you already knew?”

Ken shrugged, “I wanted to see how you’d react.” He glanced at the folded glasses, and asked,

“How long have you been wearing glasses? Are your eyes really that bad?”

Ana chuckled as she regarded the glasses, “They’re just for show,” she admitted, “I used to wear them so that I’d look older, but now I wear them out of habit.”

Ken picked up the pair and studied the glass. He smiled at her in wonder, “So you’re an actor too, huh?”

She smiled at that, “I guess you could say that I am. In this field it not sufficient that you have the skills, people have certain expectations.”

Ken nodded, “I understand,” he said, “You have to be who people expect you to be.” Ana looked at him in surprise, she felt that he truly did understand. “Why did you choose to study physics?” he asked.

She shrugged and idly stroked the stem of the water glass, “I guess the main reason is because I like solving problems, and physics trains me to analyze and dissect problems and find solutions.”

“But what practical application does your research have?” Ken queried.

“My research deals in pure science, so it’s not about anything that will save the world, if that’s what your question is about. But hopefully some other researchers will be able to apply them to current technology. For instance, semiconductors and fiber optics have their roots in physics.”

Ken asked a few more questions and was amazed at the patience Ana displayed in making him understand. Instead of using highfaluting terms, she stuck to the basics. Her passion for her job was something that he understood and respected. He was caught unawares when she smiled and turned the tables on him by asking how he had got started acting.

He grinned ruefully at her, “You want the press-version?”

“Nope, I want the truth. Friends are honest with each other.” She declared as she popped a mushroom canapé into her mouth. Ken stared as she closed her eyes, enjoying the food. Most girls he took out had picked at their food, as if they were scared of gaining even half a pound. Ana’s appreciation for good food was certainly refreshing. He started when she pierced him with a direct gaze, “Well? I’m waiting.”

He smiled at her impatience, “Truth is, I started acting in middle school because one of the girls I had a crush on was part of the school production. I figured it was a good way to get close to her.”

“So did you? Get close to her I mean,” Ana asked.

Ken shook his head, “She got sick and dropped out in the middle of the production.” He ignored Ana’s amused snort and went on, “I was really disappointed, but by the time we finished, I was in love with the stage. I continued acting until I was scouted.”

She tilted her head in consideration, “Why did you shift to the movies if the stage was your first love?”

“Movies and TV paid more.” He answered simply. “My parents died early and I had to find a way to support myself. It seemed like the easiest solution.”

Ana smiled at him, “I guess we’re lucky,” she said. At his raised brow, she clarified, “To be able to do something we love and get paid for it.”

The rest of the evening seemed to pass in a blur. Ken was surprised to find himself opening up to Ana about his work. Somehow, she made him feel as if acting were simply a profession like any other, and that he was more than just an actor. He told her about his recent movie in the States, and about Yoshi, who to his surprise she actually knew of. He made her laugh as he told her of the things he was required to do as part of his job when he was much younger—joining game shows, and pulling gags on people.

In turn, Ana found out that Ken was easy to talk to. He expertly extricated details of her life from her; listening intently as she spoke of her family, friends, and work. She told him about living with Kaye and Tessa, and working with Nakano and Tanaka. She didn’t feel comfortable talking about Dan, and thankfully he didn’t seem to mind her omission.

“But your English is really good,” she exclaimed, wiping tears of mirth after he told her about the time he had been asked to interview twenty foreigners in Shibuya and how he had gotten his words mixed up, and ended up offending a large, African-American woman. So far, they had both been talking in a mix of Japanese and English. In fact, Ken was much better at it than some of

Ana’s co-workers who spoke English with very pronounced Japanese accents.

“Well, it used to be bad. To be honest I actually spent part of my childhood in the US,” he admitted, “My father worked there for a while and we accompanied him. I attended an American grade school for three years. But my skills have gotten rusty over the years.” Ken smiled at her, “Your Nihongo isn’t so bad either. Where did you learn it?”

“It was compulsory for all of us to study Japanese when we got here,” she answered in reference to her study grant.

“Was it hard to learn?”

She tilted her head as she considered his question, “Well the kanji was a bitch, but the pronunciation wasn’t so bad, it’s very close to Filipino pronunciation you see”

“Is it?” asked Ken, intrigued.

“Uhuh. I think that it would be one of the easiest languages for Japanese people to learn.” At his dubious look, she smiled, “For example, take the word hito,” she said.

“Hito as in person?” He clarified.

“Exactly. In the Philippines, hito is a fish. So you can just imagine one of my lab mates’ surprise when he saw a sign in Davao that said, ‘Live hito for sale.’ He thought it was part of a white slavery ring!” Ken burst out laughing at that.

They were finishing off their main course when Ken turned to Ana and expressed astonishment at why she didn’t have a boyfriend.

“Wow, and it was really going well,” she observed, “That was a short truce.”

“Seriously, you’re not bad-looking at all,”

“Gee, thanks,” Ana muttered under her breath. “Ken, I do think some men look for more than just looks in a woman.”

“I completely agree,” he surprised her by saying, “but it's the looks that first catch our attention.” At her quizzical look, he continued, “I know you think we’re pigs, but most men classify women upon meeting them. There are two categories, friends and possible lovers.”

“How scientific.” Ana retorted, amused in spite of herself.

“The thing is, if you’ve already been sorted into one category, it would take a miracle to make a guy change his opinion. We’re mulish like that.”

“Okay, so you’re saying that Dan hasn’t noticed me because I’m not a Ms. U contender?”

“Sou desu ne,” he agreed and grinned at her sudden frown, she was really easy to rile. “Was I supposed to deny the fact?” when she hmphed, he laughed. “Ana-san, you are definitely not as stunning as some women I’ve taken out, but you have the potential to be.”

She sighed, “Ken, if this is going to work at all, I’m afraid I will have to insist on a few rules.”

“Un-n?”

“I know you think of this as playing a role, and in a way I guess that it is so, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t treat me like a witless fan who’d drop to your feet if you so much as wink at me. We’re business partners, plain and simple. You don’t have to flatter me unnecessarily.”

“What do you mean?” He asked, truly puzzled.

“I mean save your platitudes for women who’ll fall for them. You don’t have to tell me that I’m beautiful or that I have potential.” Ana knew she was far from being butt-ugly, but she knew her limitations. Plus, she had fought long and hard to be recognized for her brain, not for her face. The climb up the academic ladder not only had made her downplay her looks, it also had made her think that it was something to be suppressed.

Ken stared at her incredulously, perhaps some of his earlier comments had indeed been desultory, but he hadn’t been kidding when he said she had potential. He had arrived during the tail end of her presentation, but he couldn’t help but notice that she had her audience spellbound. And although he couldn’t make heads or tails of what she was talking about, he suspected that her audience was much more interested in Ana as a woman than in the contents of her presentation. The sight of her standing on the stage, in a black suit, white shirt, and heels, looking confident and enthusiastic, had been truly arresting. Even the curly lock that had escaped her ponytail and the dark-rimmed glasses she had donned were sexy somehow. He imagined that the sway of her hips as she had walked off the stage, as well as the flash of well-turned leg revealed by the slit of her skirt, had most of the male percentage of the assembly drooling in reaction. He smiled, she seemed completely without guile or artifice. She was so unlike most of the women in his profession. He turned to her, “I think Ana, that I know more about female beauty than you do.”

She wondered whether she should believe him or not. He sounded sincere, but then again, he was an actor. But she agreed that he probably did know about female beauty—what with having females bodily fling themselves at him all the time.

“What?” she said after a prolonged silence.

“There’s actually an event next week that I want to invite you to,” Ken said

“Huh?” Ana was surprised at the quick change in topics.

“It's a launch for the new Suntory malt whiskey at the Keio Plaza Hotel,” Ken went on, “there’s going to be a big reception, would you mind coming with me?”

Ana noted the polite phrasing of the invitation. She smiled inwardly, this must be killing him, she thought. She smiled at him, “I’d love to go.”

He smiled, relief patent on his face, “You aren’t going back out at the last minute, are you?”

Ana bristled, “I never back out of something once I’ve committed myself to it. A deal is a deal.”

“There are a few things we need to take care of before next week,” he explained, “Are you free tomorrow?”

“Mmm, I have to go somewhere in the evening, but I’ll be free most of the day.”

“Great, I’ll pick you up at ten.” Ken said and turned his attention to the chocolate mousse on the table. He refused to divulge any information about their outing other than it would help her prepare for the event next week. He knew Ana would throw a fit when she found out what he had planned for her tomorrow, but he’d handle it somehow.

Go to Chapter 8

Leave it up to Fate: Chapter Six

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Excerpt
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5When Ana turned the key in the lock of her apartment that evening she heard the hurried scrapes of chairs being pulled back and the soft patter of feet as they sped towards the door. To her surprise, it was Jon whom she saw first.

“Jon?” Ana said, confused at this unexpected occurrence. Jon was usually busy partying in Shinjuku ni-chome on Friday nights.

“I came as soon as I heard,” he said “you’d better get in and reassure Tessa you’re fine, she’s almost killing herself with guilt.”

“I’m fine” Ana said as she shed her shoes, “Well, sort of…”

“Ann,” Kaye said from the doorway of the dining room, “Thank god you’re here. Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” she reiterated. When she turned, she almost had the breath knocked from her as Tessa engulfed her in a hug.

“Ana, I’m so sorry!” She wailed despairingly. “When I called and Nakano told me that you had gone with him I was so frightened.”

Ana smiled at this, “Were you all afraid he’d kill me and cut me up into little pieces? He’s fairly well known and it’d hurt his career if he did that,” she reassured Tessa.

“Actually,” Jon butted in, “We were all more concerned that you’d lose your temper again and end up killing him then we’d have to find a good enough lawyer to fish you out of jail” he joked.

“Wow, thanks for the concern” Ana replied, mock-punching him.

“Well, where have you been?” Kaye asked, ”You’ve been gone for hours. Nakano told us that you had taken the day off. When Tessa told me about what happened I wasn’t overly worried because I figured all he’d do was ask an apology for his abominable behavior at the airport ”

“Well, he didn’t exactly get into that, but I insisted that he did in the end.”

“Well? C’mon Ana, spill!” Jon commanded

“It’s kind of complicated…” Ana prevaricated, how does one explain such a situation? It was almost like something out of a convoluted teleserye plot. She almost jumped when Kaye suddenly stood up and reached for the phone. “What are you doing?” she asked

“I’m calling for a pizza,” Kaye answered, “I feel we’re going to be in for a long night.”

“Great!” Jon said as he reached for his coat and wallet.

“And where are you going?” Ana asked him

“To go get some wine,” he explained. Then turned to Kaye, “Red or white?”

“Get a little of both,” Kaye answered as she perused the menu.

“We’re having a party now?” Ana asked disbelievingly.

Tessa gave her an impish grin, “Well, now that we’ve ascertained that you haven’t been abused in any way, we’d like to have a blow-by-blow account of everything that’s happened between you” she quipped, “And for that, we need supplies.”

“Correct ka dyan,” Jon said as he slipped out the door.

“Will two medium sized ones do?” Kaye asked, her hand covering the phone’s mouthpiece.

“I want some chicken too, and some fries. And don’t forget to get the cheesy-roll-crust with maple syrup!” Tessa requested.

Ana shook her head at their banter, but inwardly she smiled because she was thankful for their support. If her instincts were right, she’d need it in the days to come. She took the pins out of her hair and headed for the shower. If it was going to be a long night, she might as well be comfortable.



Four hours, two pizzas and two bottles of wine later, Jon, Tessa and Kaye were finally satisfied with her recital. Their combined forces were worse than a Butch Francisco and Boy Abunda tandem on drugs. They had considered every angle and had asked her countless questions. She inwardly kept waiting for someone to bring up the magic mirror question.

“So what do you plan to do?” Kaye finally asked.

Ana shrugged, “I’ve been considering his offer,” she took a deep breath, “and I think I’ll say yes.” Stupefied silence greeted this announcement.

“Are you sure about this hon?” Jon asked as he opened a can of chu-hi and handed it to Tessa who was more into it than she was into wine. He could not believe that Ana would consider the proposition for even a minute. If he were in her position, he would, but that was another story altogether.

“Well, it’s just a business deal right? A trade-off, nothing more,” Ana answered, her voice wavering a bit.

“Sounds to me like you’re convincing yourself,” Kaye commented. She knew that not a few weeks ago she had prayed for some excitement to enter into Ana’s life, but this was way too complicated. She shook her head, feeling as if she had brought this on by her wishful thinking.

“Actually I am,” Ana admitted. “It all happened so fast that I feel that I’m still reeling in reaction”

“That’s the wine dear,” Jon assured her, “you never could hold your liquor.” He exchanged a knowing look with Kaye and Tessa, who both snickered.

“I can’t believe that you’re going to agree to masquerade as his girlfriend to get Dan’s attention.” Tessa giggled, “When I suggested you find someone to make Dan jealous, never in my wildest dreams did I think you’d follow through.”

“Or literally use an actor to do it,” Jon observed.

“Ann are you sure you want this? You’re bound to get more attention than you want in the first place.” Kaye warned.

“Ano ba, don’t inhibit her, she’s thirty-two, its about time she did something stupid,” Jon argued.

“This is serious Jon,” Kaye warned, bent on playing devils advocate, “Ann, are you really sure?”

“That’s the crazy part,” Ana answered, swirling the last remnants of her wine in a mug that they normally used for coffee, “I’ve never been less sure of anything in my life. But I know I want to do this… that I feel that I have to do this … I know it isn’t going to be easy, nor is it the most intelligent choice I’ve ever made, but I want to do it.” She turned to look at Kaye, “Am I making any sense?”

Kaye stared at her for a few moments before answering, “Yes and no. But at least I think you’re going into this with both eyes open.”

“What if …” Tessa started excitedly, and all eyes turned on her, “what if you two fall in love?”
Ana, who was just finishing the contents of her mug, choked. “That will never happen,” she vehemently declared, “I am never going to fall in love with someone like him.” She went on muttering on her way to the toilet.

Tessa, Jon, and Kaye looked at each other. “Famous last words,” Jon commented.

Kaye rubbed her temples, “I have a very bad feeling about this,” she said.



Yoshi had a very good feeling as he put down a folded newspaper. He and Ken were relaxing in his dressing room after their appearance on a popular evening variety show. Ken had been given his own dressing room, but he had preferred to relax in the company of Yoshi. They were calmly drinking cans of beer and picking at the boxed meal that the studio had provided. Like most studio dressing rooms, this one was clean and sparsely furnished. The walls were done in hues of cream and beige, with royal blue wall-to-wall carpeting on the floor. Its main feature, a large mirror with a dressing table in front of it ran along the whole side of the room. Several chairs were propped up in front of it. To the side were two racks for clothes and costumes to be hung on. A small cubicle for changing clothes and a sink were also provided. On the other end was a small sofa and coffee table where Ken and Yoshi were currently lounging.

“So I hear you found your girl?” Yoshi asked conversationally.

Ken glanced up at Yoshi, “How did you find out so fast?” he asked curiously as he discarded a pickle.

“I have my sources,” Yoshi said mysteriously. He used his chopsticks to pick up Ken’s pickle and popped it into his mouth. At Ken’s irritated expression he laughed, “Haven’t you seen the papers?” He asked as he indicated the newspaper he had just put down. “You were photographed driving around in Daikenyama.”

Ken grabbed the paper and took a look. He then shook his head in respect for the ingenuity of the local paparazzi. It didn’t help that they were usually fully equipped with the latest technical and photographic equipment in the market. Japanese papers and tabloids always paid a hefty sum for a good picture. “Yes, I did find her,” he said to Yoshi.

“And did she fall to your feet and blindly agree like most women do?” Yoshi asked with a dramatic sigh.

“Actually she didn’t”

“Wha-at?” Yoshi choked out.

Ken smiled as he recounted the events of the afternoon to his friend. After his account, Yoshi chuckled, picked up a can of beer and took a long sip. “So she wasn't impressed at all?” He smiled, “I like this girl already.” Ken snorted and Yoshi laughed, “Seriously Ken, if she agreed, I would truly be worried about the whole thing. But she seems like a sensible person. Plus, you need someone who’ll stand up to you, otherwise you’ll be impossible.”

“That’s probably the reason why I tolerate you then,” Ken joked back.

“Exactly.” Yoshi agreed as they shared conspiratorial grins, “So, what does this dragon look like?” he asked, curious at what kind of woman had the balls to stand up to his friend.
Ken frowned as he pictured Ana in his mind. She was definitely unlike most of the Japanese girls he had dated, both in looks and in temperament. Ken remembered a teacher whom he had had when he was in high school; she was fresh out of school; young, idealistic, and ready to take on the world. She had managed to touch the lives of her students in a way that most Japanese teachers never even bothered to. He had the damnedest crush on her. Ana sort of reminded him of that teacher, full of life and willing to take the world on. He noticed his friend looking at him strangely, still patiently waiting for him to speak, “She’s pretty I guess … brown eyes and long, curly hair … she actually reminds me of a grade school teacher I used to have.”

Yoshi almost spewed his beer, “A grade school teacher? You want to convince the press that you left Erina Sakamoto for a grade school teacher?” he asked incredulously as he coughed. He had half-expected an Amazon princess, but a grade school teacher? Erina may have been irritating, but she was one of the cutest idols of her generation.

“I’m not kidding,” he said as he pounded his friend’s back, “it actually fits since she’s in the academe. She’s actually got a PhD in some unknown science.” Oblivious to Yoshi’s raised brow he continued, “She has this way of looking at you when she wants to warn you to behave yourself or suffer the consequences. She wears these slanted, dark-rimmed glasses that enhance the fire in her eyes and freeze you over with a look. That’s what she is—fire and ice.” He looked up to see Yoshi looking at him searchingly, “What?”

Yoshi was privately astounded; it was the first time he had ever heard his friend expound on the topic of a girl. He usually brushed them off with superficial comments about their appearance. But this one seemed to have gotten under his skin. Yoshi smiled, “This girl is not your usual type Ken,” he warned, “you may just fall in love with her.”

Ken snorted. “That’s not likely at all,” he said, “she’s much too strong and independent for my taste.”

“Ah, I forgot, you like them young and stupid. Girls you could easily ignore and silence with a look had they the temerity to complain at your absence.” Yoshi observed, taking a swig of beer. Ken didn’t answer and Yoshi continued, “Face it Ken, you want someone who you can completely distance yourself from. Your dad…”

“Leave him out of it Yoshi,” Ken warned.

Yoshi shrugged, unperturbed at the look in Ken’s eyes, “I just don’t know how someone as cold as you could act so well.” He teased, “Careful, you may scare your girl off before you get what you want.”

“She doesn’t scare easily, and she isn’t my girl yet,” Ken said, and for once he really wasn’t sure about what would happen.



Ana took the call in the middle of the regular Monday meeting at the lab. She ran to the women’s toilet and locked herself into a cubicle. She hurriedly answered the call before she lost her nerve. Without preamble, she spoke two words, hung up, and went back to the meeting.

“I’m in,” Ana had said. Ken smiled as he disconnected the call. Short and businesslike, just how he liked things to be. Ken grinned as he put the phone down. Time to immerse myself in my new role, he thought as he strolled towards the studio.

Go to Chapter 7

Leave it up to Fate: Chapter Five

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Excerpt
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4Ana had just come into her office when the extension on her desk began ringing. She sighed and sat down. The morning had gone by so quickly and she had forgone lunch to finish a long set of experiments. She looked at her watch and realized that the cafeteria would be closed by now. Double sigh. She wondered if she could send someone out for a McDonalds or something. “Hai?” she answered the phone as she leafed through the memos on her table.

“Ana is that you? Thank god you picked up! I’ve been calling you for the past half-hour!”

“Tessa. Yup, I have about a dozen memos from Nakano-san saying informing me that you called. Warui! I left my keitai at my table, I was in the lab doing an experiment for the past three hours…” Ana said. She tucked the phone under her chin as she leafed through the pamphlets of the various delivery services in the area. She kicked her shoes off and unclipped her hair, letting the heavy mass fall down her shoulders and tiredly massaged her scalp.

“Ann, first of all I just wanted to say how sorry I am.”

“Uhuh,” Anna said distractedly as she mentally debated whether to get a pizza or a bento box, “what happened now? Did you break one of my plates?” she murmured almost amusedly. Tessa always prefaced her wrongdoings with a guilty apology. The last time that she had gotten so worked up was when she accidentally broke one of Ana and Kaye’s wineglasses.

“Oh Ana, its worse than that. Remember I told you about Marga?”

“Yup. Did you finally murder her for Kaye? You don’t have to be sorry” Ana joked as she decided to get a pizza. Calories be damned.

“I didn’t, but I may as well might …”

“Oh. Then Kaye will certainly be disappointed, but then if you do then I promise to get you a good lawyer” Ana said as she reached for her keitai and began dialing the pizza service.

“Ann! She told Ken Nakamura about you!” Tessa finally burst out.

The mobile device slid from Ana’s nerveless finger to the carpet. “What?” she asked faintly. “How did she know?”

“Some of your batch-mates recognized the suitcase.”

Damn. Damn. Damn.

“Ana?”

“Yeah?”

“Well, she was sort of fishing at first but when she saw my face she sort of jumped to conclusions.
I didn’t even say anything, I swear!”

Ana understood. Tessa’s face was like an open book, with each and every emotion clearly portrayed. “Its okay Tessa,” she managed to say, “It’s not as if he’s going to come and look for me, is he?” Tessa was silent for a bit too long and Anna suddenly felt the small hairs at the back of her neck rise. “Tessa? He wouldn’t come and look for me, would he?”

A soft knock came at her door, “Uh, Ana-san?” Nakano’s voice softly called.

Assuming that it was about the experiment, without turning Ana covered the mouthpiece and called out, “Nakano-san, chotto matte, I’ll be back in the lab in a few minutes.”

“Uh, Ana-san, you have a visitor”

Ana turned to see Nakano, her eyes almost bulging out from their sockets as she looked back and forth from Ana to the man beside her.

“Ana? Omigod. Is he there now?”

“Tessa. I’ll talk to you later,” Ana said as she put the phone down. She turned to Nakano and said, “Thank you,” clearly indicating that she ought to leave.

“Do you want coffee or tea or something? You haven’t had anything for lunch yet” Nakano suggested, clearly wanting to come back to the office for another glimpse of Ken Nakamura.

“No thank you.” At these words Nakano smiled at the man beside her and left the room. With her departure, the room was enveloped in silence. Ana and Ken stared at each other warily, like competitors in an arena, waiting to see who would strike first.

Ken smiled inwardly, she may be mute for the moment, but her eyes were steady as they held his. Damned if there wasn’t a challenge lurking in those brown depths. He didn’t regret the impulse that had made him come here to see her. When Marga said that she knew the girl he had met at the airport, he knew that fate had handed him an opportunity. And he was not one to waste opportunities. In addition, this could be the means to get Takashi off his back. For more than two weeks now, his manager had been nagging him non-stop to find a new girl. News of Erina’s new American boyfriend had already filtered through the Japanese dailies. And since Ken hadn’t been seen with anyone, they were noisily speculating who had really broken up with whom. In lieu of finding a new girlfriend, Takashi had even showed him the new roster of idols from their sister agency. Yoshi had even told him over drinks last weekend that Takashi had asked him to set Ken up with someone. Yoshi also echoed Takashi’s sentiments, albeit to a lesser degree.

Ana broke the silence first, “Mr. Nakamura, you took me completely by surprise, please have a seat” she said as she stood up and gestured to the chairs at the other side of her desk. She belatedly realized that she had kicked off her shoes and hurriedly sat back down and discreetly felt for them under the table.

“Dr. Madrigal,” he slightly inclined his head in a respectful greeting as he took the proffered seat.

“I know that you were clearly not expecting this visit,” he ventured. He suddenly bent and handed her one of her shoes.

She nodded in acknowledgement of the shoe and put it back on her foot. “I didn’t know that our chance encounter two weeks ago would have such lasting repercussions,” Ana said in response. He noted how she stressed the word ‘chance.’

He smiled at her phrasing. This was getting interesting. He knew firsthand that the woman before him had more spirit than all the women he had dated, but for the meantime she kept all that passion hidden under a cool façade. She may seem levelheaded, but she was not about to let herself be quashed down without a fight. “I thought I’d come and apologize in person,” Ken stated. He had actually come with the intention of apologizing, but now he decided that she would be perfect for his purposes. That is, if he could get her to agree.

“Oh, is that all?” she said, half relieved. “Then please consider your apology accepted. I expect you’re used to having legions of girls throw themselves at you at every opportunity that it’s hard to give one of us the benefit of doubt.” Ana bit out sarcastically. She was surprised by how churlish she sounded. She wasn’t normally like this with people she didn’t know well, but there was something about this man that made her hackles rise. “Well, is that all? I do have a lot of work to do today …”

“Actually, there was something I hoped we could be able to discuss in private.”

“I’m sorry, I’m too busy today, I …” Ana broke off embarrassingly as her stomach have a hungry gurgle.

“You have not eaten,” Ken observed, “Why don’t we eat together where we can discuss matters in a more private place.”

“I’m afraid I can’t…”

“You have to eat sometime you know.” He argued.

“Ana? I didn’t know you had a visitor.” Both Ana and Ken started as Dan walked into the room. He came around to her side of the desk. “I came to bring you these files,” he said as he laid some folders on the table. Dan stepped back and frowned as he looked at Ken. He looked familiar, Dan thought, and wondered where he had seen him before. “Domo. I’m Dan Sato,” he held out his hand as he introduced himself.

Ken clasped his hand in his, “Ken Nakamura,” he intoned. He was amused that his name didn’t seem to evoke any sort of recognition from Sato.

“Are you a friend of Ana’s?” Dan asked as he turned to smile down at Ana.

“You could say that,” Ken answered as he too looked at Ana. He was surprised to see her blush profusely as Sato continued to smile down at her. As an actor, Ken had been trained to observe the changes in people’s nuances and could most often correctly gauge people’s reactions. Especially so, since Ana was one of the most open and passionate women he had recently met. She likes this guy, he thought. He filed the information away to be used for future reference. “Are you Ana’s boss?” he asked.

Dan laughed, “You could say that,” he answered.

“Do you mind if I borrow Ana for the afternoon Sato-san? There is something very important that we need to discuss,” Ken requested.

“I’m far too busy…” Ana protested.

“Our discussion can’t wait Ana,” Ken said firmly. He needed to convince her to agree to his scheme. Takashi was right, the ‘no comment’ releases were already wearing a bit thin.

“Please don’t call me that. I much prefer Dr. Madrigal. I don’t have anything to discuss with you. If you could just leave…” she said as she stood up.

Dan had never seen Ana so antagonistic towards another person. She was renowned in the institute for her control. He couldn’t help but notice how attractive she looked when she was angry. She had never as much as raised her voice in the two years that he had known her. He wondered what had caused her anger. When he saw Nakamura rise from his seat, he instinctively shielded Ana. “Is this man bothering you?” Dan asked Ana as he looked menacingly towards Ken.

Ana stared at Dan, he was just so sweet! “No, no,” she reassured him. Realizing that the people from the nearby cubicles were conspicuously silent as they tried to listen in on the confrontation in her office, she impulsively decided to go with Nakamura. They would discuss whatever it is that he felt needed discussing and then it would end there. “Actually, would it be alright if I went out for a an hour or two?” she asked, “I finished the last batch of samples and Nakano and Tanaka are encoding the results as we speak. Its too late to start on a second batch so I thought I’d leave it for next week.”

Dan looked searchingly at Ana and then glanced back at Ken, trying to size him up. The guy had the gall to smile amusedly back at him. He frowned at him and turned back to Ana, “Are you sure?” he asked her. At her decisive nod, he continued, “Sure, take the day off. You’re done with the week’s target anyway.” He turned to Ken, “Make sure nothing untoward happens to her,” he warned, “I’m quite fond of Ana,” he said as he walked off.

With a raised brow, Ken bowed to him and then turned to Ana as he broadly gestured to the door, “I promise to return you in one piece,” he said in an undertone as they went out.

Ana looked at him coldly, grabbed her bag and headed towards the door. “Don’t worry,” she said softly as she passed Ken, “I’ll make sure that you do. I can take care of myself.” She stared at him and her voice hardened, “You're the one who should be worried. I can’t assure you that you’ll get back in one piece,” she menacingly said as she headed towards the lifts.

Ken suddenly smiled. This was going to be an interesting afternoon, he thought as he followed her out of the building. She stiffened as he took her elbow and led her to the parking lot behind the building where he had parked his car was located. The ride passed by in silence. He took her to an Italian café in Daikanyama that he frequented. As it was mid-afternoon on a weekday, they had almost the whole of the indoor patio to themselves.

As Ken sat, he watched Ana mulishly peruse the menu, still refusing to speak to him. He quickly re-evaluated his strategy. This was not the biddable Erina who would obey his every dictate; this was a woman who was used to deciding for herself. Since tough-guy tactics wouldn’t likely work, Ken thought of the way her eyes had softened when her male colleague had come into the room, and decided that a tradeoff was more likely. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that she was attracted to Sato; he’d use the information to his advantage. He contemplated the possible win-win situation. They could both gain from this. It was better this way, he decided, this way there were no sticky good-byes in the end and everything would be purely business.

“Have you decided what you want?” He asked conversationally. Ken watched as she put down the menu and looked at him with fire in her eyes. He was amused to note that she apparently had a temper to rival his own.

“What I want is for you to tell me what this is all about. I cannot believe you would go to all this trouble just to apologize.” She retorted, her arms folded across her chest.

“Let’s order first, then I’ll explain” Ken said amicably.

“No, I want …” Ana broke off, as a waiter appeared to take their order. He ordered for both of them and she struggled to keep her temper under control. Immediately after the waiter had turned away, she started in on him again, “You can begin anytime,” she said as she reached for the glass of iced water that the waiter had served them both.

“That day we met at the airport,” he began as she took a sip.

“That day was an accident. And if you hadn’t been so high-handed about the incident, I would have kept my temper in check and avoided making a scene.”

He acknowledged this with a nod, “I sincerely apologize. It was not an entirely unlikely assumption on my part.”

She snorted, “I assume you’ve been accosted about a dozen times.”

“About a hundred actually,” he said with a quick smile.

Ana felt a reluctant smile tug at her lips. She felt a wash of shame at her bad temper and she smiled tentatively at him, “Touché. I apologize for being antagonistic.”

“So this isn’t your normal attitude with men?” he asked, partly surprised by her quick turn of temper.

She almost giggled at that, “No, I’m usually much more reserved. Now Mr. Nakamura …”

“In light of the circumstances, I believe you should call me Ken”

“Alright. So Ken, why did you want to speak to me?”

“Actually Ana, I may call you Ana, can’t I?” he paused for her affirmation, and she gave a reluctant nod, “That incident at the airport had repercussions for me. My relationship …”

“Omigod. Was I really responsible for your breakup with Erina Sakamoto?” Ana covered her face with her hands and moaned. “I am so sorry.”

He paused as he registered her assumption and recognized that it was the leverage he needed to get her to help him. He decided to push another nail into her coffin of guilt. “I was going to ask her to marry me”

Through the gaps in her fingers, she peeked at him, his face was a mixture of anxiety and she felt a cold wave of sympathy and guilt engulf her. “I am so sorry. I didn’t know…” she dropped her hands and faced him, “Do you want me to talk to her? We can explain the whole situation…” but even as she suggested it, she realized that if she were in the other woman’s shoes, she wouldn’t likely believe such an explanation without proof. And what proof could she offer?

Ken was shaking his head, “She has already moved on”

“So soon? But no, maybe you can still get back together …”

“I am afraid that it is not only my relationship with Erina that needs salvaging,” Ken started to explain.

“What do you mean?” Ana asked, bewildered.

“When Erina left me, our breakup had repercussions on my career.”

“Is your career all you can think of?”

“It’s the only stable thing I have,” Ken returned.

Ana was taken aback, however skewed she may think he was, he indeed seemed to have a passion for his work that she couldn’t help but empathize with.

“Its just about time for me to tie the knot as you put it. I was expecting to marry her soon, but when we broke up…” he trailed off.

“What is it that you need to do?” she asked.

“What I need to do is at least salvage my image before the Japanese media find out that Erina is now with someone else.” He started to explain, “I need your help to…”

But Ana held up her hand to cut him off. She hadn’t gotten through graduate school and post-doctoral grants on looks alone. “So you want me to pose as your girlfriend in the meantime?”

Ken nodded, “Just until I find someone else,” he clarified.

“Wow,” Ana said sarcastically, “Am I supposed to jump with joy at that proposition?” she asked as she took a sip of the iced tea that the waiter served them.

“No jumping is necessary. Just think of the positive effects of this could have on your relationship with Sato.”

Ana almost choked on her iced tea, “Wha-what are you talking about?”

“Let’s not beat around the bush,” Ken said, “Its obvious that you have a thing for this guy.” He looked at Ana, she was red in the face and if looks could kill, he’d be dead by now. He hid a smile and continued, “As I said, I may not be as intelligent as you are, but I do know a thing or two about human nature. If you want this guy to notice you, make him jealous. Believe me,” he said at Ana’s incredulous look, “nothing makes a man notice a woman more than having another man notice her first. We’re competitive in that way.”

“That’s never going to work,” she said disbelievingly.

“Really now? The how do you explain why he was suddenly so possessive of you a while ago. I gather that’s not his usual style?” at Ana’s blush he added coaxingly, “All he needs is a little push.”

She was silent for some time, and he could see that she was testing out the different possibilities and scenarios in her mind. The food arrived as she was thinking. They ate the pasta and bread in silence. Finally, she spoke up, “If I agree to this,” she said, her eyes noting the feral gleam in Ken’s eyes, “how long would it have to go on?”

“Not more than a few months,” Ken swiftly said, “we got out a few times, make Sato jealous, then we break up, and you can turn to him for comfort. He seems like the rebound type. It won’t take that long, just as long as it takes for the issue with Erina to blow over. You were partly responsible for it, you know,” he added, sensing that victory was within his grasp.

“What would going out with you entail?”

“Well, we wouldn’t have to sleep together, if that’s what you are asking.”

“I wouldn’t sleep with you if you were the last…”

“See, so we’ve already agreed on that,” he said, brushing her off, “All I want from you is for you to appear together with me at a few functions, no more than a few per week.”

“Define a few”

“Once or twice a week,” he clarified.

“No lovey-dovey stuff?”

“Naturally, I will try to contain myself,” he said sardonically, “but I request that you restrain yourself from indulging in any affairs while we are together.”

“I have never …” she spluttered, aggravated at his bossiness. Then she looked him in the eye and demanded, “I expect the same from you.”

“But of course,” he sensed the indecision in her eyes and said, “This is going to work. It’s nothing different from your standard business contract. Plus, we understand both our motives from the start, that way at the end, there won’t be any sticky goodbyes,” he said pragmatically.

Ana considered this for a moment. She couldn’t believe the situation, yet it made an odd sort of sense. In any case, the chances that she’d fall for this egoistic, domineering man in the process was practically nil, so in any case, she would be safe.

“So, do we have and agreement?” Ken asked

“I have to think about this,” she prevaricated.

He shrugged, “Sure, when can you decide?”

“By next week at the latest” she answered. He smiled and signaled for the bill.

Go to Chapter 6

24 February 2009

Leave it up to Fate: Chapter Four

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Excerpt
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3


“Good morning everybody” a sing-songy voice shattered the companionable silence in the teacher’s room as a girl entered the room, she was a tall, svelte girl, fully-made up and with clear skin that bespoke wealth and high-maintenance.

Tessa felt her spirits sink as she thought in dismay, oh no, what is she doing here at this time of the day? She wasn’t made to wonder very long as Marga announced, “I decided to open my schedule up a bit, so I’m here earlier on Wednesdays and Fridays. Isn’t that great?”

Just perfect, Tessa thought to herself as she smiled weakly in response. “Great, it’ll be nice to have you around more often.” Ack! She thought, gagging inside, did I just say that? How plastic!

It wasn’t that Tessa minded having a fellow Filipino on-board at the school; it was just that the attitude of Marga usually rubbed her the wrong way. On the whole, Marga was a nice girl; but she was rich and she knew it. She was a brat. She was a scholar from the Philippines and took every opportunity to remind them all of that fact. Her family was big in Manila as one of the top clothing retailers and she was used to having her every whim catered to. Being the only child and the only girl in a family of male cousins, she was more than used to being pampered.

Before coming to Tokyo to do an MBA program at Waseda University she had dabbled in managing the family business. But based from her regular stories, her ‘work’ seemed more like a ‘hobby’; she went into work when she felt like it and indulged in long sabbaticals in between. Her weekends seemed to be filled with jet setting to this and that tropical location and her weeknights were all colorfully whiled away at the top bars and restaurants in Makati and Manila. She was a known socialite, her face was plastered in the glossies and she was friends with all the people in the know in Manila. She had been somebody. That was probably why it grated so much to be nobody in the sea of faces in Tokyo.

On a whim, one of her best friends had suggested applying together for the Japanese government scholarship program because Tokyo seemed like a nice place to live. They did so, however, only one of them passed. Marga had wanted to give the scholarship up, but her family had pressured her into pursuing it, saying it was an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and that it would be good for character building. It wasn’t as if they couldn’t afford to send her elsewhere, she had explained in an aside, it was just that her dad (who, according to Marga, had gone to Harvard) believed in character building. Tessa almost choked on that one. If her dad really had believed in building up her character, he would not have started too late. Tessa suspected that it was his way of injecting late-intervention measures into a potentially hazardous situation.

So, half-hearted, Marga had come to Tokyo with two huge cases crammed with clothes, accessories, makeup and shoes. And since last year, she had been pouring this poor-little-rich girl story to anyone willing to listen. Kaye had reported that when they had met at a students’ soiree a couple of months ago, Marga had been complaining about life in Japan non-stop.

Since the Japanese Ministry of Education had decided to slash the stipend of scholars, a lot of them had had to find part-time employment. Some waited tables at restaurants and packed cards at phone companies, some worked as part-time researchers or teaching assistants, and some decided to teach English. Since she couldn’t imagine working at a call center or something similar, Marga decided that teaching English would be a no-brainer, since she spoke it fluently. Tessa however, cringed every time she spoke in that sing-songy Kris Aquino accent that a lot of colegialas and Makati-girls adopted.

Since Marga started working part-time at the English school were Tessa worked, she had been complaining daily of having to walk everywhere, about the crowded trains, about how she had to cook and clean and do laundry by herself. She had even complained of how her dad had forbid her from charging all her purchases to him and suggested she look for something to supplement her income. She spoke wistfully of how full her life had been in Manila, full of parties and beautiful people. She spoke of how she missed her car, her dogs, and her friends. When Kaye had heard of this, she had started fuming with anger, “If she wasn’t sure about coming here, she should just have given it up.” She said, pounding a fist on the table for emphasis. “She wasted a slot. There are tons of other deserving people who would give their eyeteeth to come here.” Kaye was one of those students who did not have much opportunity to improve themselves back home, but with the help of the scholarship had actually managed to establish themselves. They were part of the new breed of professionals who supported their motherland from abroad.

Oh well, Tessa thought as she browsed through her schedule for the day, I’ll only be seeing her during the five-minute break; I should be able to survive that. Or so she hoped.



Always mindful that his opportunities as an international actor were limited if he could not communicate in English, Ken spent most of his spare time trying to perfect the subject. Thankfully, due to the nature of his father’s work, part of his childhood had been spent in the US and English wasn’t too much of an uphill climb for him as it was with others. He found that he was a quick study at languages and he sometimes regretted not being able to study other languages that interested him, such as Chinese and Korean. Although he managed to communicate fairly well in English, it was pronunciation that gave him pause sometimes. His accent was better than most of the haltingly syllabic English most Japanese people had, but he still felt there was room for improvement. More so for someone who was constantly in the public eye.

He regularly took classes from one of the more established English schools in Tokyo whom he knew he could count on being discreet. A lot of local actors and actresses favored this school and the branch where he usually took classes had a couple of other celebrities in their roster.

He had had Takashi schedule a couple of classes for him today. He hadn’t been to class in months since he had gotten busy with the new movie in L.A. However, he felt that his accent had improved a lot while he was in America and he couldn’t wait to try it out on his teacher.

He had been taking classes here for more than two years now. There were a lot of decent people here and teachers whom he liked. It always amused him that most of them had no idea of who he was. Things always got tricky when it came to discussing his job, since most teachers simply assumed that he was one of the many bankers, financiers, and lawyers who frequented their school.

The sound of the bell heralded the start of the class and he stood up as the door opened to admit his teacher for the day.



“Omigod. I cannot believe how cute he really is!” Marga squealed as she closed the door of the teacher’s room behind her when she came in during the five-minute break.

Mentally bracing herself, Tessa asked, “Who is it this time?”

“You know, it’s that actor…” Marga said dramatically, widening her eyes for effect.

“Uh, honey, might I remind you we have quite a few of them in this school” David, an Australian from Sydney piped up.

Marga started giggling, “Oh right.” She shuffled over to the schedule board and perused the list of names and turned dramatically to Tessa, “It’s that guy Ken Nakamura. You know---he was in that coffee commercial.”

“Oh right. I had him a couple of months ago. Lovely guy,” Sarah, a Brit joined in the conversation, “not as uppity as you’d imagine stars to be. Hey, you alright Tessa?”

Tessa suddenly erupted into spasms of coughing when she heard Ken Nakamura’s name mentioned. She then called herself ten kinds of silly for being affected by the news. She knew he went to their school, but she had never taught him and he hadn’t come to their school in months. Someone had told her that he stopped when he had to go to Los Angeles for a movie shoot of some sort. Tessa zoned out the rest of the conversations swirling about her as she mentally started composing a text message to Anna on her phone. Her reverie was interrupted when Marga sidled up to her.

“Hey Tessa, you’re room-mates with Kaye and Ana right?” she asked

“Yup, I am.” Tess answered as she began sipping her coffee again. What now, she thought irritably.

“I met up with some of our common friends over the weekend, you know, our sempais. And some of them were talking about how the other week Ken Nakamura was photographed at the airport in some sort of altercation with a woman and one of them swears that the woman looks exactly like Ana Madrigal. Wouldn’t it be a funny coincidence if … are you alright?” she asked as Tessa choked on her coffee yet again. She sat next to Tessa and rubbed her back, “Hahaha. Its not as if sempai Ana was the woman he was photographed with … was she?” she asked when Tessa raised guilty eyes to hers.

Damn! I was never good at subterfuge, Tessa thought as she faced Marga. “Please don’t tell anyone,” she pleaded.

“Omigod. It was her then?”

“Promise me…” Tessa began, but then the bell signaling the end of the five-minute break rang and everybody started to file out of the room.

Marga smiled mysteriously and said, “My lips are sealed,” and walked back to the classroom with an extra spring in her step.

Tessa was filled with dread as she saw Marga saunter out of the room. But she tried to push her worries aside as she concentrated on preparing for her next class. After all, what was the worst thing that could happen, she asked herself.

Forty minutes later, she was in the bathroom and had just finished brushing her teeth when the door suddenly burst open. Marga grabbed Tessa, toothbrush and all, and hauled her out of the bathroom.

“Hey! What?!” Tessa managed to get out.

Marga turned to her and smiled, “He wants to meet you!”

Oh no, Tessa thought as a wave of cold dread washed over her as she looked up into Ken Nakamura’s eyes. The worst thing that could happen just happened.

Go to Chapter 5

Leave it up to Fate: Chapter Three

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Excerpt
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
“Hey Ana! You’re famous!” Tessa squealed as Ana emerged from her bedroom late the next morning. It was a Sunday and both Tessa and Kaye were already seated at the table that occupied most of the dining-kitchen space of their small flat.

“Huh? What do you mean?” Ana replied as she groggily padded towards the kitchen. Having lived with her flat-mates for the past four years, Ana had learned to take Tessa’s declarations with a grain of salt. Always excitable, Tessa always had a tendency to exaggerate even the most mundane detail of her life.

“I got to hand it to you Ann, when you decide to get noticed, you certainly don’t cut corners.” Kaye commented over the monitor of her laptop, which she and Tessa were ogling.

Ana smiled, “Wow, my paper made the headlines huh?” She asked as she rummaged in the fridge for some yoghurt. “Mind you, the jury touted it as exactly the kind of ground-breaking research that we need to focus on today,” she continued as she lapsed into one of her daydreams about Dan, which involved trysting in a deserted supply cabinet as he congratulated her over her latest accomplishment. Ana was abruptly pulled out of her reverie as she realized that Tessa and Kaye were looking at her strangely, “What?” she asked defensively, blushing as she set her yoghurt on the table. She fervently hoped that her lascivious thought had not been apparent in her expression.

“Uh…” Tessa began, but Kaye cut her off.

“It’s not your paper that got you into the headlines, Ann.” Kaye clarified.

“Huh?” Ana was confused. If it wasn’t her paper that got her into the papers, then what had?

“It’s about the mishap at the airport yesterday. The media got wind of the incident and pictures are all over the papers,” Kaye continued.

“Wha-at?” Ana choked on a spoonful of yoghurt. She belatedly remembered the flash of the paparazzi’s cameras yesterday as she had snatched the items away from Golden Boy, stuffed them back into her suitcase, and hurried away. The balding man had been shouting and explaining that it was just a misunderstanding.

“It’s not that bad,” Tessa commiserated as she patted Ana’s back as she continued to cough, “at least they only got a few pics of your …er, my undies… Are you alright?” She frowned worriedly as Ana erupted into renewed spasms of coughing.

“Let me see that,” she said, turning Kaye’s laptop to face her. “Ooooh noooo…” She moaned as she glimpsed images from the scene yesterday captured in living color. Damn Japanese technology. One picture focused on the instant when their eyes had met over the wispy pieces of silk. Another photograph showed an enlarged shot of the lingerie cradled in those big, strong hands. Ana quickly scanned the reports and saw that already, the papers were filled with speculation as to her identity. Fortunately, she was wearing glasses and her hair was in disarray and covered most of her face.

Omigod, she thought as she sank down onto a chair and buried her face in her hands, how could she not have recognized Ken Nakamura? Geesh. The papers were even speculating that she was the apparent cause of the recent breakup between this guy and Erina Sakamoto. Unlike Tessa and Kaye, Ana was fairly oblivious to the main movers of Tokyo’s glitterati, but even she knew of Ken Nakamura. He was one of the so-called A-list actors and was one of the most sought-after male stars in Japan today. He had a zillion and one dramas and his face was literally plastered all over Shibuya because of a recent mobile phone advertising campaign. And that was only the tip of the iceberg; he had tons of other commercial endorsements. Privately, Ana thought him one of the manliest Japanese male stars. All the others seemed either puny, too immature, bisexual, or outright gay. She was even surprised when Tessa related that he had hooked up with a young, kawaii starlet some time ago. She had thought his type would go for someone more sophisticated, but then again what did she know about the lives of stars?

She hurriedly scanned the article, her eyes jumping from kanji to kanji. The papers had even speculated about the piece of paper that she had scribbled and crammed into his hand before she left. Ooooohhh! Why, oh why did she let her temper get the better of her? After the whole fiasco, she just hadn’t resisted whipping out her filofax, scrawling out her signature on a page, and handing it to him in retaliation of his overly pompous treatment of her. That was after she had whipped Tessa’s lingerie out of his hands and stuffed them back into the bag.

Why couldn’t she have just walked away and left the misunderstanding at that. No, she had to get all palaban and strike back.

Now all the papers were speculating on the identity of mystery woman and the contents of the love note she had given her lover before they parted. Ana had hoped to make a splash upon her return to Tokyo, but never had she imagined that it would turn out like this. She groaned. This was just perfect.



“This is perfect Ken-san,” Takashi crowed as he paced the room, holding the paper aloft in his hands. Emblazoned on the cover were color photographs of Ken and the mystery girl the press took to be his new girlfriend. “This is the perfect diversion we need to erase the bad publicity of the situation with Erina.” He paused to mop his forehead; “Some papers are already hinting that you have had an affair with this gaijin girl and that that was the reason you broke up with Erina.”

Ken remained silent as his assistant paced his living room. Copies of the latest papers were scattered across the coffee table. But Ken’s mind was far from the present; he thought back to Erina and their last conversation at his hotel room in LA.

“I think a split would be best for both of us,” she had said.

He had stared at her as he lounged on one of the room’s couches. He had not expected tonight to turn out like this. He had felt the ring in the box in his pocket burn a hole through his suit as he asked, “Why?”

She breathed in deeply. This was not easy for her, he knew, but he had to find out why she was telling him it was all over between them when just a few weeks ago she had hinted at the ring she wanted at Tiffany’s. The same ring now in Ken’s pocket.

“Perhaps it is my fault,” she began slowly “when we first started going out, I could not believe my luck; I was going out with Ken Nakamura!” She looked at him sadly, “I was more than happy. You were every girl’s dream… And yet after almost two years, it still isn’t working out as I had hoped.”

“We are good together,” he had asserted, wondering what the hell she had hoped for in the first place. The press looked favorably upon them both and photographs of them attending events often made the papers.

“Yes we are, but are we good for each other?” She had countered.

“What do you mean? Don’t speak to me in riddles.”

“I mean that I feel that all this time I have never really felt as if you needed me … that you never really needed anyone at all. And I feel that lack of passion eating away at me.” She turned to face him, “I loved you in the beginning, but now I feel as if …” She couldn’t finish her statement and simply bowed her head. She walked towards the windows and said, “Gomenasai. I’ve met someone”

Unfortunately Ken had met him too. He was one of the American actors in the movie they had just finished shooting. He was an affable enough fellow and well-liked my most of the cast and crew. Even Ken himself had gone out with him once or twice. He mentally shook himself when he realized that Erina was talking again.

“… He asked if he could be here tonight to help me explain but I thought it would be better if…”
“If you gauged my reaction to it all first?” he stood up and walked over to her.
She stiffened at his approach. He knew his temper was something to be reckoned with, but he had never physically hurt a woman in his life. Nor had he mistreated Erina in all their time together. Yet, she often shrank back and dissolved into tears if he raised his voice even a little. He was surprised to realize that he was often irritated by her timidity. Her on-screen persona was so bouncy and spunky that he thought that she had more than enough spirit to deal with him.

“Don’t worry, I won’t make a scene. I understand that you have fallen for someone else”

“Gomenasai. We didn’t mean to…”

He shook his head and held up his hand to silence her. Then he turned away and walked over to the large picture window, which afforded him a nice view of the casinos in LA. “I guess there is nothing more to be said, is there?”

“Ken, I … thank you for understanding” she paused delicately and then turned to leave the room.

Now, as he sat back and watched Takashi pace and strategize, Ken didn’t know what bothered him more, the fact that the situation with Erina could seriously affect his career, or the fact that he cared little beyond that. Erina had been a nice companion these past years, but other than the occasional twinge of guilt, he hadn’t mourned the loss of her. He admitted that in the beginning he had been attracted to her, but although his feelings petered out only after a few weeks, he had let the relationship continue because on the surface it had been popular with the press. On the inside, for Ken at least, it had been uncomplicated. In a way, Erina had just been to somebody to sleep with; someone to stand by his side and smile while the fans looked their fill.

“…but how do we find her?” Takashi groaned as he sat down in a chair opposite Ken. Takashi had been with him since he had started his career. He was as sharp as a shark and often had good, solid advice that raked in good money for Ken.

It was actually Takashi who had brought Ken into show business. When Ken was twelve, he had been part of a school production of Shakespeare that Takashi’s niece had also been in. That was when Takashi had scouted him. His family had encouraged him in his new profession and he was able to land a commercial and a bit part in an afternoon drama. Back then, Ken had thought of acting as a lark, something to pass the time. He had wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and enter diplomatic service. But after a few years, tragedy struck and his mother discovered she was in the final stages of cancer. She died just a few months after Ken’s drama had started airing.

Theirs had been a close-knit family and the death of his mother devastated all of them. His father was the most affected. Out of grief, he had buried himself in work and alcohol and died of heart failure a few years later.

Ken had been seventeen then. With a younger sister to look after and bills to pay, had learned to steel himself against the pain. He decided to quit school and act full-time. Takashi had been more than supportive. Things began to look up when he was offered a small part in a movie. His role was very minor, a mean biker who scares off the female lead, starting a chain reaction that would lead her to the love of her life. Ironically, it led her to his bed, but that small role highlighted how well Ken stood out onscreen. He had a quiet presence that transmitted the moodiness and edginess of the scene to the audience. Afterwards, he was given a few other roles in the same mold where he made a name for himself as a mature character in a rampant sea of pretty boys and cuteness.

However he soon broke out of that typecast mold and was lucky enough to be given a variety of roles both onscreen and onstage. By the time he was twenty-five, he was financially independent and was constantly referred to as one of the younger generation of A-list actors.

Ken didn’t stop there. Whereas his contemporaries were more into preserving the last vestiges of youth, by clinging to roles as high-school kids and other youthful roles, he honed his craft and made connections abroad. He starred in a couple of Chinese films and had even played a part in a Korean drama. He also made sure that his investments outside of the industry would be able to keep him in relative luxury should his career skydive. He invested in a couple of trendy local restaurants and had also an impressive stock portfolio.

Currently, he was one of the most sought-after talents in the local entertainment industry and sometimes worked more hours than was humanly possible. His manager Takashi warned Ken that he was going the same way as his father if he didn’t slow down. He had been begging Ken to take a bride for years now. Ken wondered if that would really relax him or simply add to his problems.

His sister was a relatively well-kept secret from the media, she was currently in Germany, finishing a masters degree in design. Sometimes Ken regretted that in wanting to provide a better future for her he had ultimately missed out on the closeness that they used to share.

The doorbell buzzed and Takashi went to check whom it was. He came back a few minutes later, “Ken-san, I have here someone to cheer you up”

Ken smiled broadly when he saw the tall man lounging in the doorway, “Yoshi!” he greeted Yoshihiro Samuta, a Japanese actor-singer whom he had often worked with on several movies and dramas in their youth. Although they were poles apart in temperament, they shared the same interests, and had managed to develop a strong friendship over the years.

“Hisashiburi!” Yoshi gave a smart salute as he sat down beside Ken. “Ne Ken, Takashi tells me that you are depressed about Erina?” he asked, grinning.

Ken smiled, he’d have flattened another man for less, but Yoshi’s irreverence just brought a grin to his lips, “Me? Depressed? No way.”

Yoshi winked at Takashi, “See, it takes more than that to bring this guy down.”

Takashi smiled, “It wasn’t that I was worried about”

Yoshi laughed, “Ne, Takashi, you’re always worried about something or the other”

Ken found himself laughing in agreement, “Takashi is worried that the breakup with Erina will badly affect my career,” he explained to Yoshi.

“It might,” Takashi reiterated, “Ken in a few years you will be forty, you need to get married soon”

“It’s sad when it comes to this, marrying out of necessity,” Yoshi mused jokingly, “And I thought this was the new century.”

“Ha, don’t worry Yoshi-san, I’ll start in on you in a few years,” he warned and Yoshi groaned.

“Seriously, Ken-san if you find this girl and manage to convince her to go out with you a few times, it’d really help the situation with Erina.”

“Why can’t it be another girl Takashi?” Yoshi asked. He didn’t have to ask which girl, the news was splattered everywhere. Furthermore, Takashi was brandishing one of the tabloids with Ken and her on it.

“Because he’d been going out with Erina for more than a couple of years now and it has to seem as if they broke up for a good reason.”

“And what is the real reason?” Yoshi asked Ken.

Ken shook his head, “She found someone else,” he said without heat.

“And we can see how cut up you are about the situation,” Yoshi joked.

“Sono ue ni,” Takashi continued ignoring them both, “she’s a gaijin. Erina’s with a gaijin now so this is perfect.”

“Sasuga na Takashi,” Yoshi grinned, “it’s amazing how you can come up with all of this stuff.”
Ken snorted with laughter and Yoshi turned to look at him. He had somehow sensed that his friend was never really into Erina much, despite the length of time that they had been going out. Privately, he had thought that although the couple had looked good in print, they had always seemed kind of flat when they were with friends. Ken was too serious by far, and tended to dominate women by his sheer force of character. Although Erina had managed to put a good face on it onscreen, Yoshi had always suspected that she was secretly afraid of Ken. Yoshi propped his feet up on a nearby ottoman and gazed at his long-time friend.

Nah, he decided, Ken needed someone more spirited. “Don’t worry Takashi,” he tried to assure Ken’s assistant, “Ken will work something out. He always does.” Yoshi smiled to himself, he didn’t know why, but he had a good feeling about all this. He wondered what new role fate had cast his friend in; Yoshi was ready to sit back and enjoy the show.



Ana almost considered putting a scarf over her head when she went to work on Monday but quickly squashed down the fanciful idea of a celebrity disguise. After all, no one would dare associate the primly dressed Dr. Madrigal to the gypsy in the grainy photos that were still making headlines.

She stepped into the office, greeted her colleagues, and waited in anticipation of someone noticing something. However, everyone was preoccupied with writing abstracts for the newest call for papers of a prestigious scientific journal.

At lunch, Nakano and Tanaka corralled her, and the three of them sat at one of the farthest corners of the cafeteria. This was standard operation procedure whenever they had juicy news to impart about the on-and-off relationships of some of the grad students and their tutors.

Ana slid into her seat and laid her tray on the table. She had picked a heavy lunch today, a pork soy-ginger shougayaki set, as she was famished from working non-stop in the lab the whole morning. After a hasty “Itadakimasu” they all picked up their chopsticks. Ana inhaled the fragrance of her miso soup. She almost choked on the hot broth when Nakano leaned forward and whispered, “We know it was you.”

Ana shook head in disbelief as she stared at two pairs of eyes that were as wide as was possibly allowed.

“What do you mean?”

“The woman in the papers with Nakamura. It was you, wasn’t it?” Nakano answered.

“How did you know?” she asked disbelievingly.

“We’ve traveled with you before,” Tanaka stated, “Who else could have been at the airport that day with that color luggage?”

Ana breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh, so it wasn’t my face then?”

“No, your hair was in the way,” Nakano smiled mischievously, “So are you having an affair with Nakamura-san?”

Ana started giggling. “I didn’t even know it was him. And apparently it seems that he shares my taste in luggage …” she went on to regale them with the whole story.

“Eeeee. You didn’t even recognize him? Masaka? I have been in love with him all my life!” Nakano gasped dramatically after Ana had finished her tale.

“Maybe he looks different in person,” Tanaka offered as an explanation.

“Un, tabun desu ne. What was he like Ana-san?” Nakano asked.

Ana chewed a particularly tough piece of pork as she considered her answer. “He was a bit more refined in person …you know, less hade.” Tanaka and Nakano started nodding. “But there was something about him that should have tipped me off if I hadn’t been tired and cranky at that time …”

“Heehee. You’re always cute when you’re in that mood,” Nakano interjected

“Shhh.” Tanaka interrupted her, “Nani ka? What was it you noticed?”

Ana laid down her chopsticks. “I don’t know, there was a golden glow about him, as if he was really someone special. That’s why I was calling him Golden Boy in my head the whole time. I guess it’s like that for actors, they all have this golden glow huh?” she asked Nakano whom she knew sometimes stalked stars when she wasn’t at the lab.

Nakano was silent and considered this for a moment. “Hmmm, I’ve never really noticed that about them …” she finally said

Tanaka snorted, “Maybe that’s because you’re too busy getting them to notice you”

“Hidoi!” Nakano exclaimed as she mock-hit Tanaka on the arm.

Ana giggled at this and they proceeded to eat their lunch talking about recent developments in their own experiments that morning. As they deposited their trays on the conveyor belt Ana turned to both of them as she balled up some tissue to throw in the bin, ”I hope you don’t mind if this stays kind of private …” she began.

But Nakano interrupted her, “Of course!”

Tanaka smiled, “As you say in English, ‘Our lips are sealed’”

“Thank you. I have the most wonderful assistants ever!” Ana smiled as she clasped both of their hands briefly and led them back towards the lab.

Go to Chapter 4