Chiori and Kanae sat in the LoveMe room, chairs pulled up in front of a laptop borrowed from the managers' desk. They were having an impromptu viewing party; neither had been free to watch Kyoko's interview the night before and they knew she would ask their opinion first thing the next time they met.
Both girls rolled their eyes all the way through the host trying to bait Kyoko into talking about the kiss or the so-called "relationship" she had with Fuwa Sho. After watching an ad for paper towels they were able to click on to the next segment, where the host finally got it into her head to ask Kyoko about herself. It was easy to see from the way she sat and talked how much more comfortable she was with this topic, but then the conversation hit something of a stumbling block.
"No," Ayame said, "I don't think you understood my question. I asked when you knew you wanted to become an actress."
"Yes, I know," Kyoko replied lightly. "And as I said, it was about a year and a half ago."
"I don't mean when you debuted, Kyouko-san," the host contended. "I mean when you first got it into your head to try acting as a career. Like for instance, many actors caught the bug when they had to perform in school plays, something like that?"
"Oh, no," Kyoko said. "I was always behind the scenes for plays and festivals. I mostly just helped with the costumes."
"Did you maybe see an actor that inspired you?" Ayame asked. "In a movie or a television show? Or was there an idol you looked up to as a child? What was it that made you want to take up acting?"
"A childhood friend of mine made…a suggestion," she said carefully. "He told me to go into show business, and I decided it was something I was interested in."
"And when was this?" The host asked, her goal in arm's reach.
"About a year and a half ago," Kyoko said.
Sweat started beading on Ayame's forehead. "Why don't we move on?" She suggested. "So you helped with costumes as a child. Do you have any interest in clothing design?"
"Not especially," Kyoko said. "I just happened to be the best in my class at sewing." She fidgeted sheepishly. "This is going to make me sound so old-fashioned," she said awkwardly, "but I'm quite proud of my skills when it comes to crafts and cooking."
"Well, there's nothing wrong with being a little old-fashioned," came the response. "And a good Japanese girl should have some household skills, I think. Do you have a specialty? What kind of dishes are you best at?"
Kyoko brightened at the question. "Well, I'm rather good at traditional Kyoto cuisine, even the high-class type, and I also do fairly well with western pastries. But I think what I'm proudest of would have to be the Katsura technique."
"I'm sorry…what?" Ayame asked, floored. "The Katsura technique? You don't mean the advanced knife technique used to cut a vegetable into an unbroken, paper-thin sheet?"
"Yes," Kyoko nodded eagerly. "It took me a long time to master. I started as a young girl. It's actually part of the reason I made it into LME."
"I…" The host seemed lost for words. "Well, that's…" She trailed off, mouth gaping uselessly. ""You know, I think we're nearly out of time, so…um…do you have anything you can tell us about the next season of Box "R", which will begin airing in October?"
As Kyoko dutifully reported whatever pre-approved information the director told her to pass along, they clicked out of the window and each started gathering up their things.
"Huh," Chiori said, in a tone of mild surprise, and closed the laptop with a click.
"Yes, Amamiya-san?" Her fellow LoveMe member asked.
"Hmm? Nothing important. Just thinking about how I kind of hate Kyouko-san right now."
"Oh, that." Kanae shrugged. "You get used to it."
"Kyouko-chan!" Director Anna waved wildly at the young woman, who was seated at a cafeteria table flipping through a stack of paper.
"Anna-san!" Kyoko jumped up and bowed. "Good afternoon."
"I'm glad you could come by and meet me," he said cheerfully, pulling out a chair. "I watched the interview. You did great!"
Kyoko blushed. "Thank you, sir. I took your advice to heart."
"And lied. Like, a lot," he laughed. "You'll be a top-notch actress, I'd bet on it."
The blush intensified. "I was trying to be delicate," she said. "It's unprofessional to—"
He waved a hand, cutting her off. "Hey, we all do it. We might be in the public eye, but our business is our business, you know?"
"Yes, sir," she nodded, shocked to find that she agreed with him. Every so often, he does say something sensible, doesn't he?
"And it was all worth it, too. Have you seen the ratings?" Kyoko shook her head. She'd been kind of busy lately. "They exploded! Having Fuwa-san on the show and being the first place anybody heard his latest single? People are streaming the episode left and right! The song is playing on practically every radio station, and the network's already re-run the episode a couple of times. We might get even get a special out of the deal." He was charged with energy, throwing his hands up in big, sweeping gestures with every sentence. "I have to say, this was one of the best ideas I've ever had."
Kyoko wasn't sure if she agreed with that. "Well, Box "R" is a good show, and I know people will enjoy it once they give it a chance. I'm glad it's worked out so well," she said diplomatically.
"And I was thinking," he said, even more excited now, "we could do it again. Not with Fuwa Sho, mind you," he backtracked a little, "'cause I don't think anybody wants another go-round with him, but a partnership with a band or singer. It just makes sense, doesn't it?"
"Pop groups and school dramas, you know?" He went on, "we hit the same demographics. We could get a reputation for having the latest music, spice up the show."
"So I was looking around, trying to find out what groups are popular with our audience right now, and I came across a band with sort of the same vibe as Fuwa Sho, still visual kei but more mysterious and spooky," he expounded.
"You might have heard of them, Vie Ghoul? What am I saying, you're a teenage girl, too, of course you have. I've already put in a call with their agency. We're only in talks for the song deal right now, but who knows? A cameo or two—"
"Director Anna!" Kyoko said sharply. He finally actually looked at the girl to whom he was talking, her face dark and stern. "Do you remember when you told me to come to you if anything was troubling me?"
"Yes, of course," he said, confused at her expression. "I want you to be able to talk to me, Kyouko-chan. This relationship only works—"
"Then hear me now," she interrupted, grudges rising at her back, the lights flickering around them. "Song deal or not, I don't care, but if you bring those Beagles on set," and she rose out of her seat to tower over the director, enunciating clearly, with plain malice in each drawn-out syllable, "It. Would. Trouble. Me."
He shrunk back in his chair, forehead pouring down sweat. "Um…okay. So…no cameos." Anna-san nodded. "Got it."
Kyoko's face brightened, and she sat back down. "I really am glad the show's doing so well," she said. "And I've already gotten several new requests," she fanned out the papers she had piled on the table. "It feels like I'm moving forward, you know?"
When she looked at the director, waiting for him to continue the conversation, he started and nearly toppled sideways out of his seat. "Oh, is that so? How nice."
As she kept talking, looking every bit the sweet schoolgirl, he couldn't help but think that he would be needing that omamori, after all.
"So, Ren, I was thinking," Yashiro said, as they got in the elevator, leaning in with a sly smile and a lowered voice, "I checked with Sawara-san, and Kyouko-chan has a free night tonight."
"Oh?" Ren asked mildly. "That must be nice for her."
"Re~n," his manager practically whined. "You have tonight free, too, remember?"
"So I do," said Ren, still pointedly uninterested.
"So if I ask, I bet I could get Kyouko-chan to come over and cook you dinner." He grew exasperated at his charge's lack of enthusiasm. "Kyouko-chan! The girl you're in love with!" His voice rose until Ren glared at him.
"I thought we agreed you'd stop bringing that up," he growled dangerously. "After the last time. What if that reporter had overheard you?"
"I know, I know," Yashiro said, shamefaced. "But you keep passing up all the opportunities I've tried to give you! Last week, I shifted half your schedule around figuring you'd at least talk to her, but when I asked she said she'd never heard from you. It's exhausting."
"Well, I'm sorry, Yashiro-san," the actor said. "But I do have other things –and people—in my life than Mogami-san, as does she. And I'm not going to disturb her just to fulfill your fantasies. Our lives aren't a Dating Sim."
"I just…" the manager sighed, fiddling with the latch on his briefcase. "I want you to be happy, that's all, Ren."
Ren looked conflicted for a moment, almost as if he wanted to say something, and then he nodded. "I know you do," said tersely.
"So? Do you think you'll see her tonight? I'm sure I can arrange it." Yashiro continued, the elevator shuddering to a stop and announcing, with a ding, that they'd arrived at the parking garage.
"I can't," Ren said immediately. "I already have plans."
"Again? With who?"
"A friend. From school."
"You dropped out of school at fifteen," said Yashiro. "I haven't heard you mention a single friend before."
"We reconnected," said Ren. "…online. It's amazing the people you meet on...er...Facebook."
"You have a Facebook account?" The older man asked, shocked. "Since when?"
"Oh, look, there's Mogami-san," he said quickly.
The young actress was bending over the bike rack near the garage's stairs. "Oh, hello, Tsuruga-san," she bowed. "Yashiro-san. I hope you're well."
"Very well, thank you, Mogami-san." Replied Ren with an identical bow.
"Hi, Kyouko-chan," said Yashiro, looking at Ren oddly. Since when did they speak to each other so formally? "Do you have a busy night tonight?"
"No," said Kyoko cheerfully. "I'll be done early."
"Any chance you'd care to help me out with this guy here?" He asked, jabbing a thumb at Ren. "The way he eats, it's a tragedy."
"Oh, I'd love to," she said, "but I'm afraid I already made plans to help out at the restaurant tonight."
"Oh," Yashiro said. "So you have a night off and you…work?"
"Yes," she nodded. "I haven't helped the couple I live with in such a long time. I felt it was only proper."
"Okay…" he sighed again. And now she's talking like that to me, too. It's like I can't win. "Come on, Ren," He said, leading the way to the car.
Ren nodded and followed him to the silver doors before pausing for a moment, "actually, I'm sorry, but could you go ahead? I think I left something in the office."
"Hmm?" Yashiro asked, surprised. "If you want. I could just come with you—"
"No, that's okay. I'll just be a moment."
"All right," said Yashiro. "I guess I'll go, then?" He walk off as the actors looked in opposite directions, as if unaware the other existed. It's so strange. A few months back they'd be happy to spend time together. Now it's like they would rather be anywhere but with each other.
Maybe it's just not going to happen, he thought glumly. And here I thought those two were meant to be.
The moment the manager was out of earshot, Kyoko and Ren turned to face each other.
"I feel bad," Kyoko confessed. "He's trying so hard."
"But it's the fact that he tries so hard that's the problem," Ren reminded her. "If we let him in on it—"
"I know," she said, "but maybe he'll surprise us. He's discreet about so much. If we just ask…"
"I want to, believe me," Ren said. "I just don't think it's time yet."
"Yet," she repeated. "So eventually?"
"Eventually, yes. I need time to think of the best way to frame it. I don't want the poor guy to explode," he said, smirking.
"Okay," Kyoko said. "Eventually. And sooner rather than later," she added. "We're running out of decent excuses."
"I think we're doing okay," Ren disagreed. "Working at the Darumaya makes sense."
"Yeah, but last week when he asked I told him I was going to Disneyland." She shook her head ruefully. "At eight o'clock at night. It made no sense, and he looked at me like I was insane."
"…Okay, it is getting a little harder," Ren admitted, thinking of his own excuse. "But I'm about to start this new project, and I'll have to film on location—" Kyoko looked amused. "I'll figure it out. I promise."
"I know you will," she said, laughing, before stretching up to plant a kiss on his cheek. "7 p.m., your place?"
"See you then," he said, and watched her ride off on her bike before heading back to his car.
Yashiro looked at him oddly when he arrived. "Where is it?"
"Where is what?" Ren asked.
"You said you forgot something. Where is it?"
"Oh…" The actor glanced down at his empty hands. "Um…I was wrong." He said lamely. "I didn't forget it after all."
"Okay…" his manager said slowly. "Well, I guess we'd better get going. You wouldn't want to keep your Facebook friend waiting."
"Right." Ren said, shifting around, feeling for his keys. "Um, here they are."
Yahsiro just stared.
He got in the car and revved the engine. Soon, he thought, I have to tell him soon. This is going to make me crazy. Yashiro continued to watch him, a bemused look on his face. Or at least make him think I am.
A/N: Thanks so much to everyone who read this, whether you've been here all along, joined the story in progress, or got to it once it became complete. I hope you enjoyed One Take Only, that the ending met your expectations, and that I did the learning-to-kiss fic justice. I especially hope that I managed to surprise you once or twice along the way.
Thank y'all again!