“Ja, what happened?” Yoshi asked as he sauntered into Ken’s living room. He took off his jacket, tossed it on top of the sofa, and then looked around for the remote.
“What do you mean?” Ken asked as he locked the door and tossed his keys on the dish that lay on top of the shoe cabinet. He went into the kitchen and fetched two bottles of beer from the fridge. When he came back to the living room, Yoshi had already commandeered the couch and was flipping through channels at the speed of light. Without taking his eyes from the screen, Yoshi blindly reached one hand out for the beer.
Ken almost smiled as he handed him the bottle. He watched as his friend gulped down half the bottle and belched. At times, Yoshi felt more at home at his apartment than he did. He sat down on the adjacent armchair and took a fortifying sip. Although Yoshi kept his own private apartments in Shibuya, he often hung about Ken’s place in Minato a lot. When Ken asked him why he didn’t get an apartment nearby, Yoshi said that he liked living where the action was and that Minato was for yuppies. Privately, Ken thought that Shibuya was the perfect place for his friend who was out on the streets more often than he was in his own house.
That was probably why Ken had been surprised when barely an hour ago, at a little before ten, Yoshi had rounded up the party and called it an early night, reminding everybody that they had relatively early call times for the concert rehearsal the next day. Yoshi and the girls were performing, and Ken was hosting one of the segments.
Reiko and Nana were actually sweet girls, if a bit shallow, and although they pouted a bit, they went without much fuss. Ai however had trouble retracting her claws and keeping up her angelic façade. The look she gave Yoshi as she left would have killed a lesser man. However, Yoshi had stood firm and packed them all into taxis. As soon as the girls had left however, he hopped into Ken’s car and tagged along to his apartment.
Although he hadn’t said so, Ken was glad to be free of Ai. A few more hours in her company and he would have started screaming. The sight of her red-talons caressing his arm almost sent shivers up his spine.
Lost in his thoughts, Ken was slightly surprised when Yoshi suddenly leaned over and stared fixedly at him. “Ne, it’s about Ana isn’t it? You haven’t seen her in a week and you’re having withdrawal symptoms. You should have gone to see her tonight…”
“So she was busy. It happens,” Yoshi tried to console his friend as he went back to surfing channels.
Ken shook his head and paused to take another swig of his beer. He grimaced as the bitter brew went down. “My evening schedule cleared up so I went over to the institute to surprise her for dinner. And what do you know, she was already eating at the cafeteria with her preppy boss.”
“Eeeee?! Maji de?!” Yoshi almost dropped the remote in surprise.
Oblivious, Ken continued, “Deshou? I know, right? We had a deal, an agreement, and now she’s screwing around on me,” he looked for confirmation in Yoshi’s shocked face.
“Jitsu wa, I was surprised about the fact that you went to surprise her,” Yoshi clarified, shaking his head, “You’re not exactly an impulsive person by nature.”
Ken grunted in response. Yoshi surveyed his friend; Ken was hunched over his seat, staring moodily at his drink. Yoshi bit back a smile; he knew exactly what was happening. He knew Ken wouldn’t appreciate the humor of the situation, but he couldn’t help himself, “They were just having dinner Ken,” Yoshi said, trying to placate his friend, “Nothing to be jealous about.”
“I’m not jealous!”
“Hai, hai,” Yoshi agreed in the tone that mothers used to humor little children with.
Ken raked his hair from his forehead, “It’s just that we haven’t seen each other at all this week, she’s been away and I’ve been busy. Then when I get a break in my schedule to see her, she’s making goo-goo eyes at another guy.”
“Whereas you would have wanted her to wait placidly and make goo-goo eyes at you when you happened to throw snippets of attention her way?” Yoshi asked, tongue-in-cheek. Deciding to stoke the fire, he lowered his voice, “It’s not as if she’s really your girlfriend you know … or is that what’s bothering you?”
Ken glared at him, “What the hell do you mean?”
Yoshi held his hands up to placate Ken, “Ma ne, I think I’ve gotten too used to version 2.0 these past few weeks,” Yoshi said as he surfed channels.
Yoshi nodded, his eyes still glued to the screen, “Sou sou, Ken-chan version 1.0 scowls and grunts, he gives monosyllabic answers, freezes people with a look, and walks around with a haughty look on his face.” Yoshi paused, drank from the bottle, and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. He grinned unrepentantly at Ken, “Ken-chan version 2.0 smiles and laughs more, he’s more patient with people, and for the past few weeks, when he’s in the company of a certain someone, he walks around with a stupid grin on his face.”
Startled, Ken stared at his friend. He started to shake his head, “That was just acting,” he said in a low, scratchy voice, “I was playing up to the cameras.”
“Right,” Yoshi took another swig of beer, “and you put on a damn good performance every time. Man, when you scowl at any man who talks to her, or when you start looking impatiently around for her when she’s been gone from your side for at least five minutes, one can almost believe that you are truly head over heels in love with her.”
“I should really get acting lessons from you sometime Ken-san,” Yoshi continued as he surveyed Ken’s sudden pallor, “I have never ever seen you treat a woman like that,” Yoshi reached to put his bottle on the table, “Either you have learned some new acting tricks while you were in America or there’s something different about the situation this time around,” he clapped Ken on the shoulder, “Think about it my friend.”
Ai Otani knew that her time had come. Ever since she was a child she had dreamed of stardom. She had stood in front of the full-length mirror in her bedroom, imagining herself standing on a stage, dressed in luxurious clothes, being adulated by thousands. She dreamed of walking around on the arm of a rich, gorgeous, and famous man. And as she stared at her reflection in the mirror above the dresser in her room that night, she reflected that almost all her dreams had come true. All but the last one.
She had recognized her destiny when she first laid eyes on Ken Nakamura.
He was exactly the kind of man she deserved. The kind of man who would further propel her towards the stardom she had always dreamed of. She was honest enough to admit to herself that she didn’t love him. Nor did she fool herself into thinking she’d be susceptible to that crippling emotion. That was simply the reason Ken was perfect for her purposes. They were two of a kind.
The door opened and Reiko and Nana, chattering noisily, sat down on her bed. Ai scowled at them, but they took no notice of her. Sometimes Ai thought they were either really thick-skinned of plain stupid not to have noticed how much she despised them. However, Ai acknowledged that she needed them. She had dreamed of stardom, and the easiest way to fame and fortune was by forming a singing group. True, singing with Saga as a group didn’t exactly strain her vocal chords, but their group, with their cutesy techno songs and shockingly sexy ensembles, had found a solid fan base in the thousands of randy, repressed salarymen and Akihabara otaku.
“I still think that Yoshi-san is more into me,” Nana said as she flopped on the bed, her flimsy lingerie hiking up to reveal part of her back.
“Chigau,” Reiko protested, “he hugged me far longer than he hugged you.”
“Ne, ne,” Nana nudged Ai with the fluffy slipper that covered her foot, “Who do you think Yoshi-san likes more?”
“I couldn’t care less,” Ai shrugged. Frowning as she noticed a chip in one of her long, lacquered nails.
“Well, at least Ai isn’t into him,” Reiko consoled Nana as she bounced on the bed.
Nana laughed, “Yes, unlike some people, at least we know how to share,” she twisted round to look at Ai, “So how’s the campaign with Ken-san going? Have you made any progress?”
“Well, he was talking to her more than usual,” Reiko mused.
“Sou, sou,” Nana agreed, “He almost ignored her the last time they were introduced.”
“Has he broken up with the gaijin?” Reiko asked.
Ai smiled at them through the mirror, it was the kind of smile that would have sent chills down the spine of an ordinary mortal. “They might still be together, but they won’t be for long.”
Go to Chapter 20!