Ana stared at the array of controls on the dashboard as she sat in Ken’s Porsche; it was one of the most luxurious cars she had ever been in. The engine was idling as she waited for him in front of his agency in Azabu where he was supposed to pick something up. Afterwards, Ken told her that he would take her to one of the best Indian places in Shibuya. Ana was a big fan of Indian food herself, and for the nth time she told herself that it was the reason why she was now sitting in his car.
Kaye’s warning from the night before rang in her head, “Careful that you don’t start believing in this fairy tale, proximity has a funny way of breeding familiarity,” she had said when Ana told her and Tessa that she was having lunch with Ken. Then she had started muttering that being a fairy godmother was hard work and that there ought to have just compensation schemes. Tessa started giggling as Ana stared at both of them in confusion.
It was just lunch, Ana told herself, as she fidgeted in the plush leather seats. It was just a simple lunch in a room full of people. Nothing more proper than that, Ana argued, people had lunch with each other everyday. Only people didn’t usually have lunch with handsome and charming companions who could steal your heart if you weren’t careful, a niggling voice inside her reminded her.
She was so caught up in her thoughts that she gave a start when her mobile began vibrating. She picked it up gingerly and peered at the word ‘call’ as it flashed on the screen. Ana sighed, it was another unidentified number. Over the past few days, she had been getting calls from a lot of local reporters and journalists, begging her for an interview. Even her private line at the institute had been inundated with calls. Resignedly, she decided to answer the call.
“Hello?” Ana answered warily. She hoped that answering in English might put the Japanese press off a bit.
“You forgot didn’t you?” a female voice whispered.
“Huh?” asked as she glanced around nervously, she wondered if she was being paranoid about the paparazzi, but she couldn’t seem to help herself.
“Tanya’s birthday,” her sister-in-law clarified.
Ana groaned, she couldn’t believe she had forgotten her godchild’s birthday. “Lynne, I’m so sorry. Is she mad at me?”
Her former best friend chuckled, “Don’t worry, I took care of it,” she answered, “But mind you, I expect her Christmas gift to be extra-special,” she warned.
“You can count on it,” Ana promised, “Is she there? I’d like to talk to her.”
“Alright, I’ll put you on speaker phone,” Lynne said.
Ana could hear Lynne call to her daughter in the background. The excited patter of feet heralded her godchild’s voice, “Ninang Ana!” Tanya bellowed into the mouthpiece.
Ana smiled, “Hi sweetheart!” She could hear Lynne admonishing Tanya to speak in a normal volume. “How are you sweetie?”
“I’m fine Ninang,” Tanya answered, “Thank you for the dollhouse! Judy loves it!”
“Judy?” Ana asked, wondering if Judy was a playmate, a nanny, or otherwise.
“Yes Ninang,” the child piped up, “Remember Judy, the doll you gave me last Christmas. So now you gave me a house for her. Remember?”
“Yes darling, I remember,” Ana answered as Ken opened the door and slid into the driver’s seat. He tossed a sheaf of papers onto the backseat and looked curiously at Ana. She held up a finger asking him to wait.
“Ninang?” Tanya called.
“Yes darling, what is it?” Ana asked, missing Ken’s reaction at her statement. His brows were doing impressive aerial gymnastics again.
“Ninang, will you come home soon? I miss you,” Tanya asked plaintively.
Ana’s heart melted, she so loved her godchild. “I’m sorry baby,” she apologized, “I miss you too, but I can’t come back anytime soon,” she answered.
The frown on Ken’s face was definite as he growled, “Are you talking to Sato?”
Ana shushed him, “No, I’m talking to my godchild,” she said exasperatedly as she activated her mobile’s speakerphone system.
“Ninang?” Tanya’s childish voice came through loud and clear, “who was that?”
“That’s just Ninang’s friend sweetie, say hello,” Ana turned to Ken, and motioned for him to answer when Tanya said hello.
“What’s your name?” Tanya demanded.
“I’m Ken, what’s yours?”
“I’m Tanya. I’m five and I’m going to a real school soon,” she proudly announced, “Ninang, is he your boyfriend?”
Before Ana could reply however, the sound of heels on marble indicated that someone was hurrying towards the phone. She groaned as she heard her mom’s voice, “Ana? Hija? Who was that?”
“Hello Mama,” Ana answered as she scrambled to turn off the speakerphone system. Ken chuckled and Ana glared at him, “Uh, that was a friend,” she told her mother.
“Is he really?” her mother sighed, “I wish you would go out more hija, you’re not getting any younger…”
“Actually, I’m on a date. Right now,” Ana answered, her temper getting the better of her. Even her family believed her to be hopeless!
Her mother giggled in satisfaction, “I knew it hija!” she trilled, “So who is he, hmm?”
“No one you know,” Ana answered in Cebuano, glaring at Ken’s amused expression, “Uh, Ma we’re having lunch so I’ll call you back later. Love you, bye!” Ana sighed as she hung up.
“What was that all about?” Ken asked as he started the engine and eased the car onto the street.
“Ii yo. We have time.”
Ana looked at him in exasperation, he smiled innocently at her and she laughed. “To make a long story short, my mother was about to launch into her favorite topic,” at Ken’s inquisitive smile, she continued, “If you must know, its the ‘poor-lonely-Ana-should-find-someone-to-spend-the-rest-of-her-life-with-soon’ speech.” She glared at him when he started laughing, “Its not funny at all! My mother can go on for hours on the subject!”
“Are mothers really like that?”
“I think all mothers are pre-programmed to do that.”
“I guess if my mom were still alive she’d probably be pressuring me to marry too.”
Ana could have kicked herself. How insensitive could she be? How could have she forgotten about Ken’s parents? Keeping her tone light, she turned to him and said, “Consider yourself lucky then, it’s not a situation I’d wish on anyone.”
Ken laughed at that, “I think I am lucky,” he said as he smiled at her, “In any case, I don’t think either of my parents would approve of my lifestyle.” Although Ken’s parents had encouraged his acting career, they were simple people who would never have approved of the superficial relationships that abound in his profession. In fact, if his parents still lived, Ken doubted if acting would have been anything other than a hobby. His dad had actively encouraged Ken’s early interest in diplomatic service and had even put Ken’s early earnings into what he called a college fund.
At Ana’s inquisitive look, he continued, “My parents loved each other. It was a rarity in those times,” he smiled as they turned a corner, “I remember what my mom said when she was asked if dad was omiai,” he said in reference to the traditional Japanese marriage mart, “she said that it was ai.”
Ana smiled at that. Ai—the Japanese word for the ephemeral concept of love. In Japan, most people expressed their feelings with the word suki or ‘like.’ The term daisuki or ‘to like very much’ was one level up, and ai suru or ‘to love’ was rarely used.
She smiled at Ken, “Your parents must have been happy together.”
He smiled back, “They were.”
Ken thought of his parents as he navigated through the light traffic. It wasn’t the girls he had gone out with that they probably would have disapproved of, Ken mused. No, it was his lack of emotional commitment that would have worried them. He had never really thought about it before now, but he acknowledged that part of his reticence in forming emotional attachments was because he had witnessed how it had destroyed his father when his mother died.
In the months after his mother passed away, Ken had seen the despair eat away at his father. He drank and worked until he became a mere shell of the man he used to be. He had forgotten about his children, Ken and Yuki, who were also grieving. After his father died, Ken had enclosed himself into an impenetrable cocoon and focused all his energies on bringing up his sister.
Over the years, Ken had found it difficult to build emotional connections. Yoshi had said as much when Ken ended a two-year relationship with a popular model a few years ago. The girl had been a common friend and had gone crying to Yoshi when Ken broke up with her. It wasn’t as if he did it consciously, Ken thought, it was just that not letting anyone get too close had simply become a force of habit. It had been easy. Most of the girls he had gone out with had been fun, but they had been flighty and immature and it had been easy for him not to form emotional roots with them.
Distractedly, glanced at the girl sitting next to him. Ana looked cool and composed as she quietly stared out at the passing scenery. Ken idly pondered what his parents might have thought of Ana and impulsively decided that they would have liked her. He may not be involved with her on a romantic level, but he enjoyed her company and felt like they could eventually be good friends. However explosive their relationship may be, Ken thought that he was truly himself when he was with her.
She was unlike any girl he had even gone out with. And therein lay the problem.
Go to Chapter 16