“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