Ana sat in the van in silence as her companions discussed the concert they were attending. Takashi informed them that the event was usually held at Tokyo Dome, but they managed to snag a slot at the Budokan so they changed venues this year. Tessa and Jon were noisily perusing the list of performers, while Kaye and Takashi launched into a discussion of the Japanese entertainment industry.
When the got to the Budokan, Takashi helped them out of the van and led them into the hall, “Your other guests are already here,” he told her.
Ana nodded, thinking of Nakano and Tanaka and how excited they must be.
Takashi continued, “As you know, Ken will join you after the program because he has to take care of hosting duties,” when Ana nodded, he gestured to a row of seats in front, “Most of the companions of the performers are seated with the VIPs in the first few rows, but Ken thought you’d be more comfortable with your friends,” he said, indicating a few rows behind the VIP seats.
“Arigato,” Ana smiled her appreciation. She looked around, most of the seats of the Budokan were already filled and there was an excited buzz going through the air.
Built in 1964, the Nippon Budokan is an arena in central Tokyo that was originally built as a venue for the Tokyo Olympics. Although this arena had been built with Japanese martial arts in mind, it has since served as a stage for a host of performers ranging from the Beatles to Beyonce. In fact, for most foreigners in Tokyo, the Budokan is synonymous with large-scale rock concerts.
The stage was positioned to one side of the vast arena. It was large, semi-circular and had several catwalks projecting from it. The longest one was down the center aisle and helped define the VIP areas. Several rows of seats were positioned in front of it. The stage itself was a maze of stairs and platforms that went up, down, and nowhere. The area behind the stage, which Ana assumed led to the dressing rooms, was completely covered in black canvas. From the flat, middle area, seats surrounded the stage in two tiers.
As they approached, Nakano and Tanaka jumped up from their seats to greet them. Ken had also graciously invited them to the party afterwards so they were dressed up nicely. As Takashi excused himself, Ana introduced her friends to her lab assistants.
“Ana-san, I think you’re supposed to sit over here,” Tanaka said indicating a chair nearest the aisle.
Nakano nodded, “Yes, your friend wanted to sit there, but an usher told her that the seat was for you.”
Ana looked at Nakano, puzzled, “What friend are you…”
“Hey guys, what took you so long? We were here ages ago.”
Ana had hardly finished her question when the unmistakable sing-songy voice made the hairs at the back of Kaye’s neck rise. The four of them turned in unison. Sure enough, Marga was walking down the aisle towards them. Jon, Tessa, and Kaye gaped at her.
“Marga!” Tessa managed to gasp out, “What are you doing here?”
“I was invited,” Marga told them as she air kissed them in turn.
“Invited by who?” Kaye couldn’t help asking.
Marga laughed, “Why, Ken of course,” oblivious to their astounded countenances, she continued, “When I had a class with him last week I mentioned that Tessa told me about the event tonight.”
Kaye and Jon looked at Tessa accusingly as Marga went on, “And of course, I knew it was only an oversight on his part not to have given me a ticket since sempai Ana and I are such good friends. So he sent me a ticket and here I am.”
She turned to beam at them, “Isn’t this great, we’re all here together!”
Ana almost giggled as she saw the expressions on her friends’ faces. Tessa managed a weak smile and Kaye and Jon both grimaced. There was a mad scramble for seats as both Jon and Kaye were loath to be seated near Marga. Finally, Tessa ended up seating next to Marga and Ana. Jon and Kaye sat at the end of the row, skillfully using Nakano and Tanaka as a buffer.
“This is so much fun sempai,” Marga chortled as she sat in the seat next to Ana, “I’m so amazed at how orderly everything is,” she turned to Tessa, “It’s so different from Manila, no? Whenever we watch concerts there, everything is so unruly. We usually get prime tickets, but people in the bleachers are so annoying. They always try to get into our section, you know?”
Tessa nodded abstractedly as she scanned the audience, “Oh look, isn’t that the guy from the drama they show on Thursday nights?” she asked Nakano.
Nakano’s answer was drowned out by Marga’s voice, “Oh but here, its great that we got prime seats! This is where all the stars are,” she said as she primped her hairdo.
Ana glanced over at Kaye and Jon and saw them roll their eyes in unison. Ana almost burst out laughing; she wondered how long those two would last in Marga’s company. She started in surprise as an usher tapped her on her shoulder. “Hai? Nan desu ka?” she asked.
“Ano, Ana-san desu ne?” the usher asked, verifying Ana’s identity.
When Ana answered in the affirmative, the usher handed her a backstage pass and told her that he had been asked to accompany her there. Bemused, Ana told her friends where she was going, then stood up and followed the usher.
He led her through a series of cordoned-off areas and through a maze of makeshift hallways before they came upon a door, which had a card with Ken’s name printed on it. The usher then took his leave and Ana thanked him. A warm feeling flooded her senses as she realized Ken had not entirely forgotten about her.
“Ken?” Ana called as she stepped into the room. She heard a rustle from behind the screen at the far end of the room. She smiled in expectation and was shocked when a woman stepped out from behind.
She was fully made up, her short black hair was perfectly teased, and her generous décolletage, visible from the open vee of the short robe she was wearing, was amply dusted with gold dust. She looked Ana over and asked insolently who she was, “Dare?”
“Gomenasai,” Ana apologized, “I thought this was Ken Nakamura’s dressing room…”
“So it is,” Ai shot back, “who are you and what are you doing here?” Ai raised a brow and crossed her arms. She knew perfectly well who this woman was; she had been the one who had sent for her after all. Under her heavy lashes, Ai inspected the gaijin. She wasn’t bad looking, she was pretty in a wholesome kind of way, but she certainly wasn’t of Ai’s caliber in any case.
Ana visibly tried to control her mounting anger, who was this woman and what the hell was she doing in Ken’s dressing room? And how dare Ken call her in here when he was obviously entertaining someone else!
Ai almost smiled when she saw that the gaijin was getting worked up, “Dressing rooms are off-limits to fans you know,” she said as she sat down on one of the chairs, “Security deals harshly with stalkers these days.”
“I’m a friend of Ken’s,” Ana managed to say, “He actually asked me to come here.”
“Ah sou?” Ai asked disbelievingly, “Ken never mentioned anything about us having any visitors.”
Ana suddenly saw red. Was this Ken’s way of telling her he wanted out of their agreement? Was this woman the girl whom he had been seeing this past week? How dare he treat her this way!
“Would you like to take a seat while you wait for him?” Ai invited, smiling as she turned to check the contents of the mini fridge, “I think we have some tea in here…”
“No thank you,” Ana managed to say, “I have to go now,” and she marched out the door to Ai’s satisfaction.
Goodbye gaijin, she thought.
For what seemed like ages, Ana walked aimlessly down a series of clinical white corridors, before she finally stopped to lean against a wall. Takashi had told her that Ken would start to see people soon, but this was all too abrupt for her. Perhaps this wake-up call was best, Ana thought.
Ana looked up and goggled at Yoshi who was walking towards her. He was outfitted in an amazing red and white tux made of some shiny material. He even had a ginormous feathered corsage affixed to one shoulder.
He smiled as he reached her, “Wakatta, wakatta, I know it's a bit too much, but it looks good onstage,” he said defensively as he held his hands up. As Ana grinned, he sighed, “The only consolation is that I’m not the only one wearing this costume,” he said, gesturing to the group behind him.
Ana gaped at the assemblage. It was all a bit hard to take in—five grown men in shiny, sequined red and black tuxes strutting as if their getup was normal.
“Oi Yoshi, who’s your friend?” A tall curly-haired man asked.
“Ah sou ka,” Yoshi said as he turned to Ana, “You’ve never met Freeway, have you?”
Ana shook her head. She belatedly realized that Yoshi was one of the members of Freeway, one of the famous all-male singing groups that were very popular in Japan.
Yoshi smiled as he turned to his friends, “Ne minna, this is Ana,” he said. Ana bowed slightly, and Yoshi proceeded to introduce his mates. There was Tachi, Tatsu Akigawa, a tall blonde who was the leader of the group; Maki Sakamichi, who had shoulder-length hair and carefully sculpted brows; Youichi Semakawa, who, with a boyish grin told Ana to call him You-chan; and Hide, Hideaki Matsuyama, who sported a perm and had his shirt open to reveal lightly oiled pectorals.
“Ah sou, you’re the mysterious gaijin who has captured Ken-chan’s heart,” Tachi said with a smile.
“We’ve been asking Yoshi to introduce us to you, but he’s been a bit reluctant to do so,” Hide said as he stepped closer to Ana, “Now we know why.”
“Hide,” Yoshi cautioned, “Don’t scare Ana off.”
“Hide can come on pretty strong, but he’s harmless,” You-chan informed Ana, “He’s only dangerous when he’s had a couple of beers.”
Ana smiled at him, “Wow, that’s comforting.”
“Consider that a warning,” Maki told her, “Hide turns into a kissing monster when he’s drunk.”
Taki sighed, “He’ll kiss anyone.”
“Even us,” You-chan confided and Ana burst out laughing.
Ken walked back to his dressing room in frustration, a note clutched in his hand. “Meet me at the rehearsal room on the second floor,” the note said, “We have something important to discuss.” The note had been signed in Ana’s name. And so he had went and waited for almost an hour for her. He worriedly thought that perhaps she had been held up somewhere. He had been unable to reach her on her phone, but Takashi had assured him that he had delivered Ana and her friends safely to their seats.
He was rounding a corner when he heard her laughing. She stood leaning against a wall, laughing with Yoshi and his band mates. So this is what held her up, Ken thought. So this is why he had been waiting for her in vain for the better part of an hour.
“Ah, Ken-chan has come to pick his princess up,” You-chan quipped as he spied Ken at the end of the corridor.
Ana stiffened and turned to look; sure enough, Ken was approaching them and he didn’t look happy.
“Ne Ken,” Tachi said, “We’ve been getting to know Ana-san.”
“So I see,” Ken said icily, pinning Ana with his stare. She stared back defiantly at him. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but Ana and I have something to discuss.”
“C’mon guys, back to the dressing room, we have to practice that last move,” Yoshi said, recognizing the note of steel in Ken’s voice. He gave Ana an apologetic grin and herded his band mates away.
“It was nice meeting you Ana,” Maki said as they walked away.
“You’ll be at the party later, won’t you?” Hide asked Ana. At her nod of assent, he smiled and gave a jaunty wave, “See you there!”
Ken waited until the last of the men had rounded the corner, then he turned to Ana, “You seem to forget yourself,” he said, grasping her arm and dragging her towards his dressing room.
“Ken?” Ana quickened her pace to match his, “What do you mean?”
“We have an agreement,” he reminded her as he thrust her into his rooms, “and until we conclude that agreement, you have to restrain yourself from running into another man’s arms.”
Ana wrenched her arm away, “Nani? What are you talking about?!” she asked incredulously.
“Obviously, being with me has given you a taste for fame,” Ken said derisively turning to face her, “Isn’t Dan enough for you anymore? Do you need to add other stars to your collection?”
The slap was like a crack of thunder in the silence.
Ken raised his hand to his stinging cheek and glanced at Ana. She looked back furiously, “How dare you?” she spat, “How dare you when you’ve been carrying on with someone else under my nose.”
Ken glanced at her in confusion.
“Oh yes, I know about her,” Ana went on, “I know about the girl you’ve been spending time with for the past few weeks.”
“Short hair, humongous breasts, and legs up to her armpits?” Ana she saw recognition dawn on Ken’s face, and her heart sank, “So you do know her?”
Ken nodded, “Ana,” he started, his voice softer than it had been, “It’s not what you think…”
“It’s not what I think?! Then what? Are you saying you haven’t been spending these past few weeks in her company?”
“I…I may have but…”
Ken remained silent.
“So it’s alright for you to take up with strange women, but for me to talk to someone is a crime?”
“Don’t talk to me like that, its not as if…”
Ana looked at him directly, “Yes, its not as if we’re really in a relationship,” she said before walking out the door.
Go to Chapter 22!
Thank you for reading!