20 December 2010
As they drove back to her apartment later that morning, Ana couldn’t imagine how she had survived breakfast with Yoshi and Ken. Although the three of had eaten breakfast as if it was something they did together every day, Ana still felt like the whole thing was like something out of the Twilight Zone.
Ana fiddled with a button of the borrowed shirt she wore. Ken had thoughtfully rummaged in his sister’s drawers for something for her to wear, as the gown of the previous night was quite ruined. Ana was now wearing jeans and a white button-down shirt of Yuki’s.
When Ana had emerged from the bathroom, she found Ken, who had also showered and changed, deep in discussion with Yoshi over how to bring Ana home. She had blanched at the idea that this whole episode could be blown out of proportion by an enterprising reporter who could be camped outside. In the end, it was decided that Yoshi would drive and Ken would sit in front, while Ana ducked in the back until they were well on their way. Ken had wanted to wait for Takashi to bring the van over since the van’s windows were dark, but Ana had balked, not wanting his manager to know that she had spent the night.
It was early afternoon when they finally got to her apartment. Yoshi dropped them off at the foyer while he found a place to park. Ana and Ken were silent as they rode the lift up to the Ana’s floor.
When they got to her door, Ana, who was rummaging in her bag for her keys, started when Ken suddenly turned her to face him.
“You’ve been awfully quiet.” He observed.
She shrugged, “It’s just that this whole thing has gotten so surreal …”
“Really? Which part?”
“Don’t tease,” Ana said, frowning.
She looked so adorably irritated that Ken couldn’t resist gathering her in his arms for a hug, “Well, life with you is never boring at any rate.”
“Ha-ha.” Ana retorted, though she didn’t resist the comfort of his arms, “I keep expecting the sky to fall next.”
“Pessimist.” Ken teased as he leaned back to look at her, “Ne, what else could happen?”
“Hey Ana, is that you?” Tessa called as the door suddenly burst open, “Where have you been? Guess who I found downstairs…”
Still in Ken’s arms, Ana whirled around and was floored to see the identically shocked faces of her parents, behind of course, the equally shocked face of Tessa. She looked up at Ken, pushed him away abruptly and turned to face her parents, “Mom? Dad? What are you doing here?”
“These are your parents?” Ken inquired.
“Yes, they are, uh…” Ana began “Mom, Dad, it isn’t what you’re thinking…” she began.
Her dad’s reddening face resembled a volcano that was about to erupt “Really now? Then kindly explain to us what we ought to think. Two days ago, a Japanese reporter turned up at our house in Cebu. They’ve apparently been doing an investigation on you.”
“They what?” Ana and Ken both got out.
“Yes, and they were quite insistent to find out what we thought of your relationship with…”
A slight cough made them all pause and look at Ana’s mother. “Why don’t you two come in,” she invited in a placid voice, “I don’t think this is a discussion that should be held at one’s doorstep, don’t you think?” She turned and walked back into the living room, followed by her husband, Ana, and Ken.
“Ana?” Her mother said as they sat down on the sofas, “You have not yet introduced us to your companion.”
“Oh, mom and dad, this is Ken Nakamura. Ken, these are my parents,” Ana managed to get out, wringing her hands worriedly. She shot a glance at Tessa, who was still standing at the genkan, her mouth still a perfect little O. No help from that quarter.
Ken stood and shook hands with her mom and dad. “I am very pleased to meet both of you.” He said.
Ana’s father kept a firm grip on Ken’s hand as he tried to size him up. “And who are you exactly in relation to my daughter?” he bit out.
Ken’s smile broadened as he began to answer, “Actually I’m …”
“He’s … he’s … he’s my fiancée.” Ana suddenly announced.
It was suddenly so silent that you could have heard a pin drop. Tessa, Ana’s parents, and Ken simply stared at her.
Then suddenly as if on cue, Ken turned to her dad, “I am sorry you had to find out this way. Ana and I had planned on flying to Cebu next weekend to formally ask your permission, but I guess the cat’s out of the bag.” He said and smiled amiably.
Ana’s parents’ expressions thawed slightly at this. Her mother looked back and forth between the two of them, before finally glancing at Ana’s hands, “But she doesn’t even have a ring!” she exclaimed.
“That’s because we had to get it resized.” Ken explained quickly as he reached for Ana’s hand. “You’ll see it tonight,” he continued, “As I’m hoping you’ll do us the honor of dining with us.”
This, apparently did the trick for Ana’s mom suddenly burst into tears and came to hug both of them. “Oh we would love to! This is wonderful news, isn’t it darling?” She nudged her husband. Hard.
Ana glanced at her father. His face could have been set in stone. He looked stonily at Ken, “What do actors make nowadays?” He asked baldly.
“Dad!” Ana wailed.
But her father ignored her, “I came over here with the intention of paying off the sleazy actor my daughter got involved with,” he said, “I do wonder if you’re the type that could be bought.”
Ken recovered his composure, “I’m not.” He answered.
“Dad, how could you even …”
“When I die, Ana will come into quite a fortune of her own,” her father told him, “Were you aware of that?”
“No I wasn’t,” Ken answered, “I’m not marrying her for her money.” He assured the other man with a smile, “Please don’t worry, I’ve got enough to support us both.”
“Have you slept with my daughter?”
“Ana, I am your father and I have the right to ask him this,” Ana’s father shot back and then barked at Ken, “Well, have you?”
Ken smiled yet again, “If I did I wouldn’t tell you. It is entirely our own business. But please rest assured that I only have the highest respect and affection for Ana and that I really do intend to marry her.”
“Daddy!” Ana shouted as she got up and faced her father, “Now you listen to me, you have no right to interrogate Ken like this! I’m not a child and you can’t fob me off on your friends’ sons anymore. I am of age and I will marry whomever I want! Now if you don’t like that, you can get back on a plane to Cebu right now because I’m not talking to you until you stop treating me like this!”
Everyone was staring at Ana again. Ken even had the audacity to wink at her.
Her father stared at Ken for a long minute before harrumphing and said, “I don’t believe in long engagements.”
“Da-ad!” Ana wailed yet again, but Ken grabbed hold of her hand and urged her to sit next to him.
“I don’t either,” Ken answered. “I was hoping to convince Ana to marry in two months’ time.”
“Wha- what?” Ana turned disbelievingly to Ken, she was glad he was game, but this was taking the farce more than one step too far.
“Two months? Oh, that’s not enough time to plan everything,” Ana’s mother protested. “We have to call the caterers and photographers, have the gowns and invitations made, and inform all our relatives.”
Ken turned to Ana and smiled, “Well sweetheart, I’d rather not wait, but if you’d really like a grand wedding…”
“No! I mean yes I do want a nice wedding but…” Ana wailed, “Mom, Dad, why don’t we talk this over first. Our schedules are both quite packed at the moment…”
“I’d be happy to clear my schedule for you,” Ken said and Ana gave him a murderous stare.
“Oh, alright. We have two months at least,” Ana’s mother declared. Then she suddenly stood and reached for her bag. She walked over to the couch, emptied the contents of the bag on it, and then hurriedly rummaged through the spilled contents.
“Mom, what in the world are you looking for?” Ana asked, still trying to think of a way out of this situation.
“My phone,” her mother explained as she found it and turned it on. She looked through her planner and began dialing a series of numbers.
“We don’t have to tell everybody about it yet…”Ana protested, but trailed off when her mom lapsed into Cebuano. Ana felt the blood drain from her face as she realized that her mom was arranging for the Cebu Cathedral and the ballroom at the Mariott in Mactan to be blocked on a weekend roughly two months from today. She was also directing Coring, her secretary, to contact photographers and couturiers and caterers and to Fedex a bundle to them tomorrow. She even had Coring call both her sister and Ana’s godmother to tell them the news. “There, that’s that.” She said as she ended the call. “Coring will arrange everything with the church and the hotel…” she explained, “…and between Auntie Jackie and your Ninang Mildred, everyone in Cebu will be notified by the end of the week.”
Ana was close to panic, “But mom…”
Her mom turned to face her suddenly, “Don’t tell me you didn’t want to get married in Cebu?” she asked.
“Of course I’d rather get married in Cebu, but…”
“Is there a problem with having the wedding in Cebu?” she asked Ken instead, “Would you rather have a traditional Japanese wedding?”
“I would rather that Ana be able to celebrate it with the people she loves,” he replied.
Her mother beamed at him, “That’s lovely. Now let’s all sit down and get to know each other. Ana,” she gestured to her daughter, “where are your manners? Get us some coffee and biscuits. Come Dad, enough of that glowering,” she admonished. “Now dears,” she said as they all sat down, “Have you given any thought as to the theme?”
12 December 2010
Juggling a couple of paper bags in his arms, Yoshi entered in the security code that would let him into the genkan at Ken’s apartment. A beep sounded as the code was accepted and the doors swished open to accommodate him. As he headed towards the elevators, he took a swig of hot coffee, and hoped that Ken was in a good enough mood to talk to him.
Based on the state of Hide when he had managed to crawl back to the party, Ken had been furious last night. And when Ken was in that state, anything could happen. Kaye and Jon assured him that Ana could hold her own in any shouting match, but Yoshi was worried that Ken might have said something to permanently damage the relationship. And more than anything, Yoshi wanted their relationship to continue. Ana was good for his friend; Ken needed happiness in his life, and Ana made him smile.
He just hoped that Ken and Ana, with their mercurial tempers, hadn’t broken up already when Ken had taken her back to her apartment last night.
Yoshi sighed. If Ken were smart, he would soon make this stupid pretend relationship a real thing, he thought. And who else to push him towards the right direction but his best friend? Yoshi was grinning as he contemplated his tactics. When he reached Ken’s place, he inserted the spare electronic card key that Ken had entrusted to him and sauntered into the apartment.
Yoshi deposited the paper bags on the dining table and rummaged in one for a doughnut. With the doughnut in his mouth, he turned the coffee percolator on. He glanced at the sun streaming in through the open windows of the living room. The weather looked enticing. Maybe he’d ask Ken to go cycling with him. Yes indeed, fresh air was exactly what Ken needed to relax him and open his mind to the possibilities. Maybe a two-hour trip to Gunma to cycle in the Ashikaga area would revive Ken’s spirits.
As he turned to the sink to wash his hands, he noticed two plates, two teacups, and a kettle of now-cold tea at the bottom of the sink. He dried his hands and walked over to the living room, as he stooped to pick up the TV remote, he noticed a bottle of water and two glasses on the coffee table. Yoshi stopped cold as the realization hit him.
There was two of everything.
His friend was not alone.
Yoshi raked his hair off his head and bit his lip. His first thought was to get the hell out of here and leave Ken to wallow in this mess of his making, but the more stubborn instincts of a friend kicked in and he decided to give Ken a piece of his mind. He knew that Ken wanted Ana, perhaps even loved her, and if he did, he ought to have done something about it instead of screwing around on her, pretend girlfriend or not.
He headed straight to Ken’s bedroom and opened the door gingerly. Sure enough, the lump in the middle of the bed was too big to be made by one person. Practically steaming at the ears, he decided to give them a morning greeting they’d both remember. He went to the foot of the bed, grabbed hold of the futon, and yanked. Hard. He managed to get the futon half off the bed and shouted, “Ne, minna! Okinasai! Get up and face the music!”
Ken, who was still clad in jeans and a t-shirt rubbed his eyes sleepily. Surprisingly, the woman he was with was clad in over-large pajamas, not exactly the sexiest nightwear in Yoshi’s opinion. Her face was buried in the crook of Ken’s embrace.
Ken sat up, rubbed his eyes, and stared at this friend incredulously, “Yoshi, what the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Yoshi looked at his best friend and scowled, “Me? What do you think you’re doing? For once you get together with a decent girl and now…” he broke off as the figure beside Ken stirred. Ken bent down and murmured soothingly to her. Suddenly, as if she sensed something was amiss, she stiffened and slowly looked up into Ken’s face and then guiltily into Yoshi’s.
Yoshi wished the floor would open up and swallow him whole. He was looking into the wide, brown, and highly embarrassed eyes of Ana. Over the years, he had seen Ken in situations far more compromising than this, but somehow, the intimacy of the moment had Yoshi blushing like a schoolboy.
She closed her eyes for a split second and then she snatched up the futon that lay at their feet and struggled to sit up, “It’s … it’s not as it seems, we … nothing happened … we just slept …” she stammered out as she cast around for the robe she had discarded last night. “I was sleeping … and Ken …”
“Yoshi,” Ken said ever so politely, “would you mind giving us a moment of privacy?”
Yoshi turned towards the door at once, mumbling about getting breakfast ready as he stumbled out the door.
Ken turned towards Ana who was now standing by the bed, shrugging into the robe she had found on the floor. “Ana,” Ken began, but she rushed past him, murmuring something about the bathroom only seconds before she shut herself in.
Ken knocked at the door, “Ana are you alright?”
Inside, Ana leaned her head against the cool mirrored surface of the door and answered, “No I am most definitely not.”
“Let me in,” he cajoled.
“No. That has to be the most embarrassing this that has ever happened to me,” she wailed. “I wish I could stay in this bathroom forever and forget anything ever happened.”
“Open this door sweetheart or I’ll break it down.”
Ana reluctantly turned the lock and opened the door a fraction. Ken stepped in. To Ana’s surprise, he swept her into his arms for a hug. “Ana, look at me,” he said after a while and she slowly raised her eyes to his. He took her chin in his hand and gave her a tender kiss, “Nothing actually happened, you know.”
“Yes, but Yoshi thinks …”
“Does it really matter what Yoshi thinks?”
She let out a sigh, this was definitely getting complicated. “It’s not that, its just that I’m not … I don’t usually do this…”
He raised a brow, “You think I do this all the time?”
“No, no,” she said, obviously rattled, “I mean I’m just not used to … I haven’t really …”
He smiled down at her. For some reason it gave him a perverse sort of satisfaction knowing that he could do this to her. That he could reduce a confident, self-assured, sassy, and intelligent woman to someone who couldn’t even finish her sentences.
“Ana, we are both adults and we are in a relationship,” he told her firmly.
“We are in a pretend relationship,” she corrected, stressing the word pretend.
He leaned back and looked down at her again, a smile playing around his mouth, “So we were pretending to sleep together. Unless of course…”
“Well, unless you want to sleep with me for real?” he teasingly asked.
Ken shrugged nonchalantly, “We could make an experiment of it.”
“A-a-an experiment?!” Ana parroted. Hazy, sensual images of her and Ken naked and entwined flashed in her mind and she felt a blush creep up her face.
Quelling a grin, Ken nodded solemnly at her, “I thought you’d like the idea, being an academic and all that.” Ana stood there, her mouth opening and closing, like a fish out of water, albeit a bute fish, Ken thought as he took advantage of her distracted state. He put his hands on the counter on either side of her and leaned in closer, effectively trapping her. “Think about it,” he said as he turned to leave, “Oh and Ana?”
“Since we’re on the subject of learning …” Ana’s mind went blank as Ken’s mouth swooped down on hers for a passionate kiss. Her legs felt like jelly by the time he released her.
He smiled at her bemused look. “There, I’ve just shown you how I wanted to be greeted in the morning. Good morning sweetheart.” With a wicked smile he closed the door behind him.
Ana sank down to the floor. The tiles were very cold against her over-heated flesh. “Omigod, I’m in big trouble.”
09 December 2010
Ana opened the door a crack and surveyed the room. It seemed empty. She emerged from the bathroom clutching at a large fluffy white robe that engulfed her from head to toe.
She inspected a pair of pajamas on the bed that Ken had probably laid them out for her. They were overly large for her frame, but they were clean and dry. And after all, what choice did she have, Ana thought as she trotted back to the bathroom with the pajamas in tow. It wasn’t as if she had anything more suitable to wear — her dress had been drenched in the sudden downpour.
Although the night air had been balmy, she and Ken had stood in the rain far too long and Ana had been chilled to the bone when they got to his apartment. When Ana had started sneezing, Ken had ordered her into the shower, while he grumbled about her cavalier attitude towards her health. Duh. As if he hadn’t been sopping wet himself. She would have protested his high-handedness — after all, no one appreciated being dictated to like a child — but she had been too cold.
She looked at her reflection in the large mirror that hung above the sink as she buttoned the pajama top up. Her face was scrubbed clean of makeup and her hair clung to her scalp in riotous wet ringlets.
This had been a really weird night.
Ana felt as if she had gone through a whole range of emotions in the span of a couple of hours; First she had been excited at the prospect of seeing Ken again, then Takashi had brought her down to earth by reminding her that it was all a “business arrangement.” Then instead of enjoying the concert, she had spent the whole time fuming, partly because of what that darned woman in Ken’s dressing room had insinuated, but mostly because Ken had been a pig. She was further infuriated at the party when that woman had tried her best to drape herself over Ken. And the damned man hadn’t even minded. Ana had had a brief respite at the park with Hide — before he terrified her with his amorous advances, that is. She had been relieved when Ken had stopped Hide, but she was incensed at his assumption that she couldn’t have handled the situation.
Then there had been that kiss.
Ana wasn’t the type who swore often, but it seemed fitting. Damn. That kiss had been something else.
She closed her eyes and shook her head. No, no, no. Hindi ako dapat kiligin, hindi ako dapat kiligin, she repeated in her head as she donned the clothes.
When Ana finally emerged, Ken, who was in the kitchen, offered her hot tea. In companionable silence, they both lounged in the dining room, sipping their tea.
Ken looked up, “For what?”
“For rescuing me,” Ana couldn’t quite meet his gaze, “Not that I couldn’t have handled it myself,” she mumbled. But she was grateful anyway.
She looked up to see Ken smiling at her across the table. She smiled back.
“It wasn’t a problem, you’re my girlfriend, remember?”
“Pretend girlfriend,” she corrected.
“Right, so I’m pretending to be your boyfriend.”
“Honto ni?” Ana said as she regarded Ken in disbelief, “Then what were you doing with that woman?”
“That was a mistake … a misunderstanding really,” Ken grimaced. “She wasn’t … we weren’t …”
“Well, if you weren’t what the hell was she doing semi-naked in your dressing room?”
“She was what?”
“When I went to your dressing room in answer to your summons, I found her there,” Ana told him, “As if she had a right to be there.”
“Nan de nan de, are you jealous?”
“Of course not!”
“Usooo! Not even a little?”
“Oh, I’m just pretending to be jealous for your benefit,” Ana told him airily, “After all, for someone who’s pretending to be my boyfriend, I haven’t seen much of you in the past weeks.”
“Gomen, I was busy …” Ken prevaricated.
“Oh yes, too busy for me, but not too busy for that … that bimbo!”
So much for companionable silence.
“Well, you were busy too,” Ken countered heatedly.
Yeah, Ana thought, busy checking my phone every other minute to check if you've called.
“I mean,” Ken continued, “you couldn't have noticed my absence much, not with Dan around.”
“Eeee?! What do you mean?” she asked, crossing her arms over her chest.
“Well, I assumed that since you’ve been holding hands and playing lovey-dovey with him, you’d have been too preoccupied to miss me.”
“Holding hands? With Dan?” Ana stared at him incredulously, “Have you had too much to drink?”
“I saw you Ana.”
“Saw me where?” Ana wanted to start pulling her hair out, this conversation was insane!
Ken didn't like where the conversation was headed, but he went on, “I saw you and Dan having dinner one night, you seemed to be having too much fun so I didn't interrupt.”
“Huh? When was this?”
“A couple of weeks ago …” Ken stood up and raked his hands through his hair.
Suddenly, Ana remembered what Ken saw. “It’s not what it seemed,” she told him.
“It’s really nothing,” he said, trying to brush the whole thing off, “I dropped by to see if you wanted to have dinner, but you were busy and so I took off.”
“No, Ken, let me explain,” Ana stood up and walked over to him, “Dan and I did have dinner together that night, and he did clasp my hand, but it wasn't anything romantic. He was simply trying to convince me to… to…” she suddenly broke off, turned away and cleared her throat,
“Dan has invited me to join him in Texas; he’s been offered a job. He’s leaving in a couple of months and he wants to continue our research there.”
Ken felt something icy grip his heart, “And will you go?”
“I ... I’m not sure,” Ana answered, “The offer is really good, and the research is right in my line, but … but there’s still a lot to do over here and I …” she cleared her throat again, “I haven’t really decided.”
Ken hadn’t realized he had been holding his breath. He let it out slowly.
Nothing was definite, he told himself. She wasn't going anywhere.
It was then that Ken came to a realization: somehow during all the weeks and months of plotting, scheming, and pretending, it had happened. He had finally met someone who was essential to his existence. He had found someone who made him happy. He had found someone who didn't cower from him. He had found an equal.
After all this time, after years of trying to avoid it, he had finally fallen in love.
She can’t go. He wouldn't let her.
“You have to stay,” he found himself telling her.
“Why?” She turned to face him. “There’s really nothing that’s holding me here…”
“There’s your work … your friends …” he argued.
She smiled sadly, “I could still have those in Texas.”
“There’s me,” Ken said, his voice barely a whisper.
Ana stared at him in shocked silence for what seemed an eternity. Then she laughed, it sounded
hollow, even to her own ears. “That’s taking this pretense too far, isn’t it?”
Ken’s heart sank, but his acting skills rose to the fore, “We could always make the relationship for real you know,” he suggested flippantly, smiling at her.
This time Ana laughed in earnest. “You are impossible,” she told him. But a little part of her heart crumbled. Ken wasn't serious. He couldn't be serious. Why had he even suggested it?
Because he wasn’t falling for her … or was he?
“Don’t worry, I’ll still be here a while longer,” she said, turning away from him. She gathered their cups, and put them in the sink. “There’s still time for you to find someone suitable to replace me. Just not that bimbo,” she warned, turning back to wag a finger at him, “you could do way better.” She sighed, “Yes, there’s still time.”
“Indeed there is,” Ken agreed. There’s still time to make you fall in love with me, he thought. He suddenly smiled and walked over to her, “So what do you want to do? Do you want to turn in or shall we do something else?”
“Yes. We could watch a movie, sing karaoke, or chat,” he answered, “Or if you like, we could make out on the couch like teenagers,” he added mischievously. Ana gave him an exasperated look and he started laughing.
“I’m glad I manage to amuse you,” she said, drying her hands, “Now, what about watching one of your movies?”
“Eeee? Honto ni? You want to watch my movies?” he asked delightedly.
She smiled, “Sure, you’re my pretend boyfriend, I should know more about your work. And I bet,” she added with a sly sideways look at him, “That you’re dying to show them off to me”
“How’d you guess?”
They settled themselves on the sofa, and Ken brought out some DVDs for Ana to select from.
She picked a romantic comedy, Ima Anata ni, one of Ken’s earlier movies. Halfway through the movie though, Ken realized that Ana was more tired than she had let on, after she fell asleep at the other end of the sofa. Amused that the movie had put her to sleep, he tried to wake her. When she mumbled groggily, he smiled, scooped her up, and carried her into his room. She’d be more comfortable there, he thought. Although there was another bedroom, which he kept for the use of his sister when she was in town, he had been using it as a storage room, and it was pretty messy.
He laid Ana on the bed and sat down beside her, staring down at her prone form. He liked seeing her here, in his bed, he thought possessively. In sleep, Ana had shed her bossy mantle. She looked soft and biddable. And sexy, Ken gulped as he noticed the top button of her pajamas had come undone. Unaware of the direction of his thoughts, Ana let out an inelegant little snort and turned on her side. Ken grinned as he put his feet up and lay next to her. He smiled and savored the moment; I’ll just watch her for a few minutes, he thought as he stifled a yawn. Just a few more minutes, then I’ll transfer to the sofa, he thought as he slowly drifted to sleep.
In the middle of the night, Ana awoke to find an unfamiliar arm around her waist. She turned sleepily and realized that Ken had fallen asleep beside her. Groggily, she made an attempt to disengage herself, but even in his sleep, Ken tightened his embrace. She looked at him as he slept peacefully beside her and decided to let him be. After all, she thought as she snuggled even deeper into his arms, it was just for tonight and no one else was here. Sleeping with Ken was something she could easily get used to, Ana thought as she drifted off to sleep.
Read Chapter 25!