“What is it with those two?” Jon asked as he, Kaye, and Yoshi observed Ken and Ana from the other side of the room.
“Sou ne, they’ve been acting strange all evening,” Yoshi mused.
“Ana was quiet on the way to the Budokan a while ago,” Kaye commented, “she seemed deep in thought.”
“I wondered about that,” Jon nodded, “she was in such high spirits when we were at the house.”
“Yeah,” Yoshi seconded, “She seemed alright when I saw her backstage before the concert.”
“She went to see Ken before the concert began right?” Jon asked Kaye.
“Well, that’s what Marga said,” Kaye muttered and in unison, the three of them looked to where Marga was laughing in the midst of a group of young men. Tessa was a few feet beside her, talking to a few young men from Johnny’s Jimusho, who Yoshi had introduced them to. They both looked like they were having the time of their life.
“Ah,” Yoshi chuckled, “To be young and without a care in the world.”
“Who’s the hanger-on?” Jon asked, indicating the woman who was sidling up to Ken.
“Wasn’t she one of the performers a while ago?” Kaye asked.
“If you call that screeching a performance,” Jon muttered, remembering how he had visibly cringed when the girl’s group had come on stage.
“That’s Ai Otani, she’s the lead singer of the group Saga,” Yoshi told Kaye. Then he turned to Jon and said mockingly, “You don’t really think that when men watch her perform, they actually listen to her music.”
Jon gave Yoshi a speaking look, remembering the barely-there costumes, “How fortunate for me then.”
The three of them turned back to look at Ana and Ken. Gone was the connection that they had observed in the previous weeks. They both acted stiffly towards each other and although they smiled, it didn’t seem to reach their eyes. They spoke to each other in over-polite stilted sentences. They stood apart, separated by a seemingly invisible wall. And when the crowd jolted them and they happened to bump together, they jumped apart as if they had been electrocuted.
What the hell is going on, they wondered.
It was excruciating. Ana didn't know how much more she was expected to take.
For the past hour, she had had to stand next to Ken while another woman was draped over him. The sly, sidelong glances Ai had been giving her were almost too much. But she wouldn't back down. No way, sir. She would prove that she could stick to the rules of the game, even if Ken didn’t seem to mind.
But Ken did mind. He wanted to bodily hurl Ai from his side, but aside from causing a scene, the gesture wouldn’t help fix things up with Ana.
“Na Ken, you’re so lucky,” Hide said as he came up beside them, “to be surrounded by two gorgeous women.” Ken smiled crookedly in response, not really in the mood to humor Hide, whom he liked least among Yoshi’s friends. Ignoring Ken’s lack of response, Hide addressed Ana, “Hey Ana-san, would you do me the honor of dancing with me?” he invited with a low bow.
Ken was about to tell Hide to go to hell when Ana laughed and held out her hand, “Sure, I’d love to,” she said as Ken gritted his teeth. Belatedly, she turned to him, “Ken? Is it alright if…”
“Sure. Go, I’m sure I can keep myself occupied while you’re away,” Ken answered as he draped an arm around Ai. He hated himself for the flash of pain he momentarily glimpsed on Ana’s face. But she recovered quickly, smiled at him and then turned to Hide.
Beside him, Ai was suggesting that they dance too. He was about to snap at her when he realized that it sounded like a good idea. Two could play at this game, he thought. However, he quickly regretted his decision when he realized that Ai’s idea of dancing was akin to making a spectacle of herself. She dragged him up to the raised dais and proceeded to gyrate beside him. He scowled at her, but she didn’t seem to notice; she was loving the all attention that they were getting. He glanced over at Ana, who was dancing with Hide. Their eyes met briefly, but she quickly turned away.
“Daijoubu?” Hide asked, “Are you alright, Ana-san?”
Ana shook herself out of her stupor and turned to look at her dance partner. He smiled at her and said, “You looked like you were miles away. Or,” he glanced at Ken and Ai on the raised dais, “at least the other side of the room.”
Ana grimaced, was she that transparent? So much for playing it cool. She put her hand up to her temples, she had a raging headache all of a sudden. “I think the noise and the smoke may all be too much for me,” she said smiling ruefully at Hide, “I think I’ll step out for some fresh air.”
“Allow me to escort you, there’s a small park just near here,” he said as he took her elbow. He paused to down a glass from a tray that a waiter proffered before leading Ana out the side door.
“Whoa, I sure am having a good time!” Yoshi, Jon, and Kaye turned at the sound of Marga’s voice.
Yoshi grinned as he spied Kaye roll her eyes behind Marga’s back. He hailed a passing waiter and snagged drinks for all of them. “Careful with this stuff,” he warned as Marga guzzled hers down, “it’s pretty strong.”
Kaye, who wasn’t a novice at drinking, humphed after sampling a sip, “It’s strong --- by Japanese standards,” she qualified.
Yoshi held his hands up, “I admit that given the amount of alcohol we put away, Japanese people don’t have a strong stomach for alcohol,” he smiled as he nursed his glass, “I’m not so bad, but my bandmate Hide turns into a kissing monster after a few glasses. Once, when we were on tour, he even kissed us all.” He made a face as Jon and Kaye laughed.
“Oh, sempai Ana better watch out then,” Marga tittered.
“What do you mean?” Jon asked her.
“Well, it’s just that I saw Hide downing a couple of these,” she gestured to the cocktail glass she held, “before he went out with Ana.”
“Went out where?” Yoshi frowned. Marga pointed out the door the couple had exited. Yoshi briefly exchanged looks with Jon, “I’ll go get Ken,” he called over his shoulder, “just to be sure.”
Go to Chapter 23!