Chapter 11: Hello And Goodbye
Two Years Later:
"And so, the hummingbird flew up and up and up, until he found the land that was made of pure sunshine. He carried with him, fused to the deepest core of his soul, protected within his heart, the beauty of the butterflies and the black sheen of a crow's wing. But, he cherished them both, utterly and forever, for their love exists beyond rationality, and time, and even mortality."
I close the book in my lap and take off my glasses. I can't believe I have to wear reading glasses now. I should get contacts, really I should, but I'm not big on the thought of poking myself in the eye every day.
I'm getting Kumagoro glasses, too. Yesterday he was playing on the couch and fell clean off, bumping his head horribly.
"Argh, Sakuma-san, that's the worst story. What the heck is it even supposed to -mean-?"
"Yeah, it's completely DUMB."
I laugh and shrug, running my hand through my hair in mild embarrassment as I look around the room. Yeah, they say they don't like it, but they all sat very still and listened to every word. The nine kids sitting around the room, in wheelchairs, laying in comfy beds with fuzzy pillows, in bleak hospital gowns and less bleak flannel pajamas, all look like they are in just a -little- bit less pain than an hour ago. And, I like that. I really do.
I don't come here -every- day, but I do try to come one or twice a week. Sometimes I play guitar for them, sometimes we read. Once, we tried board games, but they kept hiding Kumagoro, and then stealing my Monopoly money when I would go look for him. It was pretty funny, though.
"Tell us about zombies! Tell us a scary one, Sakuma-san!" Aki-chan says from his spot on the couch. He's only thirteen, but I'm pretty sure if they all decided to form a gang, he'd be the leader. "Oh, I know, a story where Kumagoro eats brains!"
"Ack!" I cover Kumagoro's ears, "You can't say things like that to Kumagoro. You'll give him ideas. And then next time I visit you, I'll have a bite chomped out of my head."
Mirayu-chan clamps both hands over her mouth as she giggles. She has braces, and doesn't like people to see them when she laughs. However, she doesn't seem to care much about the fact that she's mostly bald now. Most everyone around here is. I feel, actually, sorta left out on the whole bald thing. Mirayu told me that it feels really neat to be bald when there's rain or a good breeze. "Sakuma-san, you're so -weird- sometimes."
"Yeah, you're just like a kid shoved into some adult's body," one of the other children adds.
"Hmmmm," I put the book on my head and Kumagoro balances on top of that. "I guess that means that...somewhere out there...some adult is running around in a kid's body. That's gotta suck. You'd be too short to ride a roller coaster, and you wouldn't even want to, anyway."
"Seriously, Sakuma-san," Aki reiterates as he adjusts his baseball hat, "Tell us a scary story like last time."
"I can't do that, someone had nightmares last time."
All the children look at each other, trying to discern the culprit. When nobody fesses up, Aki puts his hands on his hips and asks, "Who? Who had nightmares?"
"-I- had nightmares, na no da."
They all break into laughter, making fun of me quite mercilessly. I don't mind. We're really friends, after all. And I am so glad to see them laugh. Every time I can bring a smile to their faces, it is one more tear I cried for Tomi healing up inside of me. There will always be a little sorrow, I know, always a little sadness that I carry with me everywhere. But, instead of an ocean, I will keep my sorrow in a glass snow-globe, decorated on the inside with all the things I liked best about my first love.
There's a tap on the door, in the middle of Miji-chan trying to pry my actual age out of me again. I think they have a pool going. It's up to 392 yen, a rare Pokemon card, a bunny slipper without a mate, and one of Mirayu's mood rings.
"Come in, come in! We have plenty of room!" I squeal. I didn't know anyone else was coming. I thought we had everyone. But, new friends are -always- welcome. Yup. Making new friends is the best thing in the world.
The door opens, and almost immediately, the room echoes with several high-pitched screams of delight.
This confuses me for a moment, since it's only Shuichi. Kumagoro falls off my head, along with the book, and ends up sprawled on the floor.
I knew he needed glasses.
"Oh my gosh! Oh my GOSH! It's Shindou Shuuuuuiiiichiii!"
"The lead singer of Bad Luck, don't you know -anything-?"
"Oh my god, Bad Luck fucking ROCKS."
"Oooo, don't curse, you'll get in trouble."
"Sakuma-san's not going to say anything."
"Shuichi is the coolest! The absolute coolest."
"What's he doing here, though?"
"I don't know, maybe if you would shut up for one second, he'd say something."
A lot of this goes on for some time. It always strikes me as bizarre. I'm still famous, sure, but not so much with kids this young. My fans are usually in their twenties or (yikes) thirties. I mean, I go to Shuichi's concerts all the time, I watch people go absolutely insane over him, but it still catches me off guard on occasion.
Shuichi wiggles his fingers at me, and then wiggles his fingers at the kids. He's pretending to be mostly -unaffected- by the outburst, but I can tell his cheeks are just a little pinker than they should be. It's hard -not- to be moved when even kids hospitalized with leukemia go nuts just because you walk in a room.
They just throw stuff at me when -I- walk into the room.
It's usually only pillows, though.
"Everybody, this is Shuichi. Shuichi, this is -everybody-," I say by way of completely unnecessary introduction.
"Oh my -god-, Sakuma-san," Aki-chan says, his jaw practically on the floor, "You know Shindou Shuichi? Like for real, you know him?"
"Well, duh! Shuichi, we know each other, don't we?"
Shuichi quirks an eyebrow and his lips twitch, -twice-. He's trying -so- hard not to laugh, which makes his voice an entire octave higher. "Yeah, you're that weird guy who hangs out with the International Superstar of Fashion Expertise, the One and Only, Kumagoro, aren't you?"
"So MEAN!" And then, Shuichi is struck soundly on the forehead with the One And Only Kumagoro Beam, he is. "Take THAT!"
"Wah! No faaaaiiiir! Itai, Kumagoro!"
Mirayu leans over to the girl next to her and says, "There's two of them."
The girl nods and agrees. "Scary. Very Scary."
"Hi everybody!" Shuichi says as he picks up Kumagoro off the ground. Poor Kumagoro, he's just having a bad week. "Do you mind horribly if I steal Sakuma-san from you a little early today?"
A murmur ripples through the gathering, and finally, High Commander Aki replies from his throne, er, couch, "No. No way. Sakuma-san stays right here with us. Unless, that is...you're prepared to pay a toll."
"Toll?" Shuichi and I both say it at the same time, causing some of the younger kids to whisper, 'Jinx!' Shuichi looks at me, but I can only shrug. I don't know anything about the toll thing.
"Yup. You have to pay us in lots and lots of autographs, Shindou-san, okay?"
Shuichi has the wickedest smile I've possibly ever seen. "Well, alright, but...how about I do you one better? I brought portable CD players for everyone, and CDs, too. Bad Luck and...Nittle Grasper."
"Who the heck is Nittle Grasper?" one of the kids asks.
"Oh, I know, I know," Mirayu replies, "They're my mom's favorite band."
I'M NOT THAT OLD!
WE'RE GETTING CONTACTS, KUMAGORO.
Shuichi gives me a big hug in the hallway. I like his hugs. No. I love his hugs. I always have. I hug him back, of course, as tightly as possible. I try to tell him, with my body, that I'm there for him. I'm going to always be there for him.
"Huh? Oh. Sorry!" I let go and take a step back. I keep forgetting that I am so much stronger now. I have to be extra careful. Because frankly, Kumagoro and I can kick ass now. Except, we don't, due to the fact that it's bad to be violent when it's unnecessary. "We didn't know you were coming to see us, Shu-chan. I thought you were on tour!"
"Yeah, but we're back now. Didn't you get my phone message?"
I peer at Kumagoro. Cheeky bunny. Did you forget to tell me that Shuichi had called? Oh, you wanted it to be a surprise, did you? Well, I guess that's okay then.
"You're home? Really really?"
"Yup!" Shuichi gives me a little smile. He seems a bit tired out, I think, but not too bad. I know that sometimes when I come home from tours I just want to sleep for weeks and weeks. "But, that's not why I am here. You got anything planned for this afternoon?"
Do I? Hm. Kumagoro, hand me my Palm Pilot, okay? Ah good. In the words of Elvis-sama, "Thank you very much".
Shuichi chuckles as I poke at the screen with the stylus. I don't actually care if I have anything scheduled for this afternoon, because I'll rearrange everything for Shuichi, but I should look, nonetheless. "I got some stuff, but nothing that can't wait until tomorrow, na no da."
"I can't believe you finally figured out how to work that thing. What was the secret?"
"Buying one that was in English." I shift my weight as one of the day shift nurses walks past, eyeing Shuichi as if he's a succulent cherry on the top of her sundae. Give her the Death Glare, Kumagoro. If she lays one finger on him, she's going down. But, she doesn't. She just walks on past. Thank goodness. It seems like a bad idea to send someone to the hospital FROM the hospital.
"You're lookin' good," Shuichi says. He pinches me on the side, right where he -knows- I'm sensitive. "But a little skinny."
"You better not be forgetting to eat."
"No sir!" I give Shu a bit of a salute with Kumagoro, "I've been eating some salads..." The rest of that comment is, 'Because I'm not twenty, anymore,' but I leave it off. "They aren't so bad if you put on lots of olives. Mmm. Salty, salty, yum, yum."
"I brought you some taffy from New York."
"Cooooool." Well, a little candy won't hurt once in a while. "So, what's this about this afternoon, hm?"
Shuichi puts his left hand in his hair, rubbing at it to make it even -more- messy. It falls into his eyes, and laps at his cheeks like little pink and blue tongues. I wish he wouldn't do that. It makes me itchy in places I can't seem to scratch. "I, Shindou Shuichi, have come to abduct you." Shu pushes himself up onto his toes and then falls back down, a cute little bunny bounce. "Got a big surprise."
"Really? We like surprises, na no da. What is it?"
"No, it's a surprise," Shuichi says, poking me in the chest with an outstretched finger. Itai! Itai! He sure does like to injure me close to my heart. "You know, a surprise?"
"Okay, but what kind of surprise?"
"Waffle?" Now it is my turn to scratch my head, "You're going to make me waffles? That's a wonderful surprise!"
Shuichi gives me a -look-. I think he may be taking lessons from Tohma on his facial expressions. This one means something along the lines of 'you're the silliest person I've ever met, but I am glad you're you'. "Not waffles, no. Anyway, you ready to go? We have to hurry."
"Yeah, I..." Then I remember that Kumagoro is holding the storybook. It's not anything published. There's only about a dozen copies in existence, all made at my local copy shop. I pluck it out of Kumagoro's hands and smile at the metallic blue cover, which I made with gift wrap. They're all different, all special. Most of them ended up in the hands of my friends and family, but this one lives here in the hospital.
The Adventures of Kumagoro and Friends.
Decorating the title with glitter was quite a messy affair, if I remember correctly.
Yuki Eiri said it was the stupidest title he'd ever heard. Still, he helped me a lot. He said it was so I would shut up about it, but I think in reality, he liked the idea of doing something nice for someone who had passed away. We put all of Tomi's stories that I could remember into the book. I think I did a pretty good job for him. If I messed up on some, I guess he can tease me about it someday when I see him again.
"I gotta put this away first," I say, "Then..."
"Oh, um..." Shuichi's fingers brush over mine, just a pale shivering ghost of a touch, "Let me, okay? I wanted to say 'hello', anyway."
I nod and hand Shuichi the book. He holds it for a moment, just turning it slightly left, then slightly right, watching as the hospital's phosphorescent light catches in the glitter. I know he's thinking about what he wants to say. Then, with another bounce, Shuichi turns his back to me and crosses the hall. I hear his voice, so hopeful, so gentle, saying the same thing he always says before he goes inside.
"Hey Yuki....I'm coming in, okay? I hope you're not busy..."
It's strange, but I can hear him smiling. I can literally hear the smile on his face. It's as soft and giving as tissue, and twice as fragile. He disappears into the room, creeping timidly around the door as if worried he might be interrupting Yuki Eiri at work. I guess...I guess old habits die hard.
I lean against the wall, the cold tiling slick against my silk shirt, my shoulder pressed into the plaque hanging beside the door.
Are you watching, Tomi? I'm still trying. Trying my hardest. But, just for right now, let me lean against you for a moment, okay?
I don't come to the hospital every day. But, I come when I can. I'm not scared at all of being here, not anymore. Me being afraid wouldn't help anyone. It doesn't help those kids, it doesn't help Shuichi, and it certainly doesn't help me live my life. Besides, if I was afraid, how would I come visit Tomi's special place?
I lift my arm and let the backs of my fingers brush over the raised lettering of the plaque. I wish they could have been glittery too, but apparently they don't make plaques with a disco theme.
"The Yoshimi Tomiji Recreation Room" is a fun place, I think. Tohma helped us raise the money. It isn't as hard as you think. We had a benefit concert. I did all the decorating of the room myself. Okay, with a little help from Nori-chan. And I put some of Tomi's pinball machines in there, too. It's a place in the hospital that isn't sad at all.
Of course, there's another place that isn't so sad, but it's not really for kids as much as adults.
I look at the plaque across the hall. The bronze seems to almost glow from this angle. Maybe it's just me, but that plaque always appears lifeless...when Shuichi isn't in the room. But now, now it looks so warm, so alive.
So, that's where you put that smile, hm? You thought you were so clever to hide your love from him, but Shuichi knows. He still knows. And he carries on, I made sure he was alright, just like I promised. So smile as much as you want, Yuki Eiri. It's okay. I won't tell anyone. It's our secret.
The plaque across the hall, the one which reads 'Yuki Eiri Memorial Reading Room', makes no reply.
Oh well, he never was much of one for fruity sorts of romantic chatter, was he?
"Shuuuuuuuuichi." I run down the hallway when Shu finally emerges from the Reading Room. I'd gotten distracted by the neon lights on one of the vending machines, which then reminded me that I was quite thirsty. I come skidding to a stop only about a foot from Shuichi. I want to infect him with pep, and make sure he's not feeling too sad now. "Did you have a good talk with Yuki-san?"
"Yeah," Shu replies quietly. "Told him about the tour. Told him not to worry, since I am home now."
Shuichi is always so much quieter when he finishes talking to Yuki-san. Not so much in a solemn way as in a...
Do you know the sound of wind chimes when the breeze has already passed? The tone lingers on, just for a few seconds, reverberating cheerfully, saying, "Goodbye, goodbye wind, I'll see you again sometime."
"I bought drinks. You like grape?"
Shu-chan and I head for the elevators. I put my arm around his shoulders as we walk. He feels a little bony, too. Sometimes, you can lose weight on tours because you're running around so much that you don't always have time to eat good meals. I'm going to feed him lots while he is home. Pasta, I think. Big fat tasty Italian noodles, and gooey cheesy nachos, and pizza -without- pineapple. Yup. An international feast of horrible bad food.
Sometimes I even cook now. I'm not very good at it, because it takes a lot of concentration. But, more than that, I tend to try to put extra stuff in the food. I mean, if pizza is good...it's gotta be extra good with walnuts and banana slices on it, right? That always worked for ice cream at the Softy Tasty. But, apparently pizza is a whole different species of animal. It might be the rhinoceros of foods.
But, sometimes, when Kumagoro helps me stick to the recipes, things turn out okay. And there haven't been any kitchen fires or emergency trips to the hospital, so I must be doing something right.
Shuichi stops to give a young nurse an autograph before we get on the elevator. He's so famous now. Mega-famous. Godzilla famous? No. Famous-er even.
But, not so famous that he doesn't have time to kidnap me for a surprise. I wonder what it is.
The elevator music is some horrible off-key pansy crap that I've never heard before. Shuichi and I listen to it for about ten seconds and both simultaneously break into giggles.
"No wonder people are dying in here," Shuichi says, "This music is killing them."
"Definite sonic attack," I agree. Kumagoro covers his ears. He's such a music snob. Shuichi nods, and begins to lip-sync badly to the squealing sounds coming out of the overhead speaker, making pained faces as he imitates every pretentiously bad singer I've ever seen. "You're so funny," I say, giving Shu a wink, "But, Kumagoro and I, we're real glad you're home."
"I'm glad to be home, too. Touring is fun, but so much work. But, we're back until Ayaka-san has her baby, and that's going to be at least three months. Think you can put up with me for that long?"
"Of course, na no da." I'm glad that Shuichi never moved out. It's good. When he's home, I can look after him, and when he's on the road, Hiroshi-kun, Ten, K and Sakano-san keep an eye on him. In fact, there's really only one problem with Shuichi living at my penthouse.
Smile big, Ryuichi. Look happy for him. You are happy for him, aren't you? Never you mind that feeling of hungry mouths munching on your sugar-cookie heart. Never you mind the way your blood feels so tepid, the way your vision goes temporarily blurry, the way your arms ache to reach out and touch him.
"How's that boyfriend of yours, Shuichi?"
"No. Just stop. Just...stop."
The car lurches forward as I try to remember which pedal is "stop" and which one is "go". I mean, my brain remembers, but the signals just aren't getting to my feet. Why do my feet have to be so dumb, anyway?
"Turn it off," Yuki-san says annoyedly. I grab the key and turn. Unfortunately, I turn the thing in the -wrong- direction, causing the car to make a loud screaming noise. Every muscle in my body tenses. It's obvious that I am hurting the car, but only slightly more than I am hurting Yuki Eiri.
"Sorry, Yuki-san. This may be a bit too complicated for us, na no da."
"It's not complicated. Millions of people across the world can drive. You're either stupid, or not a person."
Huh? If I am not a person, what am I? I think I'd like to be a bunny, maybe, because you don't see a lot of sad bunnies. Plus, if I switched places with Kumagoro, -he- could learn to drive, and -I- could just sit on the dashboard and watch.
Yuki Eiri unlocks the door and climbs out with a frustrated snort. We're practicing in the parking lot of some old abandoned factory because the garage at NG has just -way- too much stuff to run into. He slams the door and proceeds to walk a few paces from the car. I guess he's probably going to smoke again. He needs a lot of smoke breaks when he's dealing with me.
I grab Kumagoro, undo my seatbelt, and hop out, as well. It's evening now. In this district, a subtle haze of pollution covers everything like poisonous fairy dust. The sky, the road, even the factory building, all live in a world slowly regressing from color television back to black and white. Everything is becoming colorless, except for the sunset, which peers at us naughtily from behind a robe of mauve and tangerine. Cheeky pin-up sunset.
"Ano...Yuki-san..." I rub the toe of my sneaker into the gravel, trying to decide the best words. Words that won't cause him to yell. Because really, I am very thankful that he's trying to teach me to drive. I just don't understand -why- he offered, out of the blue, to do it. "You don't have to teach me, you know. I get around just fine. Even when Ten can't drive me...I do okay."
"This has nothing to do with you," Yuki-san replies, pulling his cigarettes out of his pocket and lighting one. I wonder if smokers even know that they are smoking, sometimes. They don't even seem to think about it.
Yuki-san turns around and looks at me from behind his sunglasses. He's trying to be scary, but I'm not really so scared of him anymore. Because someone who Shuichi loves, and who loves Shuichi, can't be all bad. Even if he did beat Shuichi up. I still haven't forgiven him for that, but I'm trying to love Yuki-san more than hate Yuki-san. It's a constant inner battle, however, because he absolutely doesn't make it easy.
"Are you going to take care of Shuichi or not?," Yuki-san asks after exhaling, adding even more haze to the heavy air.
"Yes. Yes, of course I will." What made him think that I would suddenly change my mind? "Kumagoro and I..."
"No." Yuki-san's lips are tied up into an annoyed little squiggle, "No. Not the damn toy. You. Just you, Sakuma. Are you going to go on living the same life you always have? There's no room for Shuichi in that."
"I..." I put Kumagoro on the car's roof, watching as my friend flops forward, face first, landing with his nose against metal. What are you doing, Kuma-chan? Smelling the paint? "I can't be someone different, Yuki-san. I can only be Ryuichi. And, I'm going to do my best, but..."
"I'm sorry, Yuki-san. I can't be you. I really wish I could." Leaning forward, my forehead presses against the top of the car. It doesn't really smell like anything, does it, Kumagoro? All the color, all the scent, all the sounds slowly leak away from this place, dripping and slipping into an unseen gutter. This world is a watercolor painting set out in the rain. "If I could," I whisper, lifting my head, watching Yuki-san watch me, "I'd trade places with you. I'd surely die...to allow Shuichi to live on happily with you. But, I can't, Yuki-san. All I can do is to make sure he doesn't follow you when you go. All I can do is be his friend..."
Yuki Eiri's eyebrow quirks. He's slowly fading away, too. More and more, he has days where he can barely get out of bed. They spend almost every waking minute together. Usually, it's Yuki-san typing on his laptop in bed, with Shuichi curled up beside him. Every moment is utterly precious to them. So, I know that if Yuki-san left Shuichi...even for a day...to teach me to drive, it must somehow be important to him.
"His friend...is that what you're planning on being?"
"Yes. That's more important, isn't it? That's what he'll need, more than a lover..."
"I don't..." A breeze blows through the empty parking lot. It catches the edge of Yuki-san's navy blue jacket and pulls it to the side, revealing the beshirted torso of a man who is just getting thinner and thinner. There's no healthy glow to his face anymore, and even his hair has gone from shiny blonde to fragile straw. "I've never known, Sakuma. I've written a dozen books on the subject of love, and I can't say for certain one damn thing about it."
What do I say to that? I don't know if there is anything I can say to that. But, because I'm possibly the stupidest person on the face of the planet, I try anyway. "Shuichi is the love you never expected, and the love I can never have. Beyond that, there isn't much to be said about it, I guess. Whenever I buy a dictionary, I tear out the page containing the word love and burn it. Because no one will ever know what it really is, Yuki-san. Not all the poets, not the artists, not the singers. But, I do know one thing, and one thing alone. It never dies. Because love exists beyond time, beyond rationality, and beyond mortality."
Yuki-san tosses his cigarette to the ground and crushes it with the toe of his shoe. I'm pretty sure he's going to yell at me for being a silly sentimental romantic, since he apparently hates that sort of stuff. Instead, he pushes his sunglasses up onto his head and turns to look at the sunset.
"You're not really as stupid as you pretend to be, are you?"
"Uhhh...." I shrug, even though he's not looking at me. "Nope. I'm pretty dumb, as far as I can tell. But, I've got great fashion sense, and I make a wicked banana split."
"Get in the car, idiot."
"Huh? Okay, na no da." Kumagoro and I climb back inside and wait for Yuki-san to get back in. He stands there for some time, just looking up at that pollution-enhanced sunset, shaking his head sadly. Finally, he comes over to my side of the car, opens the door, and tells me to 'get in the goddamn passenger seat'.
I guess the lesson is over for today.
But, I decide Yuki-san is right about one thing. I can't go on like this, living my life this way. I can't exist inside a bubble forever. I need to become a better person, a more rounded person. I need to become...someone Shuichi can depend on.
I can't stop being Sakuma Ryuichi. But maybe, just maybe if I put my mind to it, I can be an even better Sakuma Ryuichi every single day.
Just, maybe not one which drives a car.
"How's that boyfriend of yours, Shuichi?"
Yeah. That's his name. I keep -forgetting- it. But, at least this time, I'm forgetting something ON PURPOSE.
They started going out two months ago, right before Shuichi left on his tour. Before that, there was Yukio. But, they only went out on a couple of dates. And before -that- was Dai-san, whom Shuichi didn't like at all, but went out with twice because Hiro dragged him out on double-dates with Ayaka-san.
It's just sick the way I keep track of these things.
Suko-chan is nice, though, I guess. He smells like cedar chips and hamsters. Shuichi met him in a pet shop, where Suko works, when we were buying me more goldfish. And, I will have you know, those goldfish are doing just fine, and I feed them -fish- food every day. I bought a year's supply.
"Nah, Suko-chan and I aren't..."
The door to the elevator opens, effectively cutting off Shuichi's statement. Shuichi and I head through the lobby and out the electric glass doors. And...
Heh. It's not every day you see a limo sitting in the front driveway of a hospital. That's gotta be breaking some sort of emergency vehicle law. I studied all about those when I was trying to pass my driving test. Ten is leaning against the driver's side window, reading some god-awful tabloid with a badly photoshopped picture of a 'Lizard-baby" on the front.
"Hey! Ten-san! I found him!"
My ex-bodyguard folds up his tabloid and gives us a small wave. Kumagoro and I return the gesture. Touring looks like it definitely agrees with Ten. He's even got a tan.
"Hey, Ten, did you have fun chasing this guy all over the globe, na no da?"
The usually stoic man just crosses his arms and peers at me with an intense look, one I am sure that can only be taught by government agencies with three-letter acronym names or -really- good acting studios. "Did you burn anything, Sakuma-san?"
"Did you remember to water my bonsai trees?"
Kumagoro! How could you let me forget? Shit shit shit shit shit!
Wait a minute...
"You don't own any bonsai trees!" Oh man! I thought I was in trouble there, for a minute. Sorry, Kuma-chan, didn't mean to yell at you.
"I was just testing you," Ten says, opening the back door for Shuichi and I. I think maybe Shuichi is laughing at me a little. That's okay. I'll get them both back. Someday. Somehow.
"Oh, I can't..." I say, stopping at the door. "What about Kokomogo? Can't just leave her behind."
Ten rolls his eyes. "You can come back and pick it up later. I can't believe you bought that stupid thing, Sakuma-san. It's hideous."
"You sound like Molly."
"Get. In. The. Goddamn. Car," Ten grunts, trying to catch me by my shoulder and maneuver me into the vehicle. But me, I'm too quick. I do exactly like sensei taught me. I block with my left hand and step away with my right foot.
Ten nods, his black ponytail bouncing behind his head, inscrutable lips turned into a proud sneer. "Mmm. You're getting better at that."
"You think so? You really think so?"
"If I say yes, will you get in the car?"
I slide into the car, sitting next to Shuichi who, I think, is laughing behind his hand. Or yawning. I can't tell. Ten closes the door behind me, mumbling something along the lines of 'should have stayed in Hollywood'.
Alright, so maybe I never did exactly learn how to drive a real car. I kept running over curbs on the driving test, and going way too fast in residential zones, and I think once I might have even gone through some lady's yard and smashed up her rosebed.
-But-, with a little tutoring from Hiroshi-kun (who, by the way, is infinitely more patient than Yuki-san), I -did- eventually get a license to drive a scooter. So, of course, I bought a really great Vespa scooter, which I named 'Kokomogo'.
So what if the scooter is cotton-candy pink and made for girls? I -like- pink. Kumagoro is pink, and he's very secure in his masculinity.
Yes. A lot of things have changed. Ten helped me find a great tutor for Aikido, and I take lessons every week. It really helps a lot with my concentration. And with pushy fans.
It's very hard to learn new things, and I still hate studying. But, it is good to be able to do things for myself. And...I want Shuichi to understand...
I want him to understand that just because someone you love dies, it doesn't mean you have to stop living life.
But, you also don't have to try to be someone you're not.
I just do my best. Every day.
As the car takes off down the road, Shuichi leans his head against my shoulder. His hair is getting so long now. Light wisps of it brush against my neck, giving me goosebumps.
"Nah," he says, nestling against to my arm, curling up next to me as slinky as a cat, "Well, maybe a little."
It's always been like this between us, and I suppose it always will be. Shuichi's just touchy-feely. I swear I don't encourage it. But, then, I guess I don't discourage it, either. What can you do?
But, seriously, I have other things on my mind at the moment.
"Why'd you break up with Suko-chan, Shu? He seemed nice. He didn't do anything mean to you, did he?" Because, I swear, if he did, I'm going to fucking kill him. And then, I'm pretty sure, Yuki Eiri will find him on the other side, and beat the crap out of him.
Shuichi turns his face to look up at me through those long eyelashes. How does he get his eyes to sparkle even in the dark like that? Pink glitter electric sex magic. Shuichi has it locked away in his eyes.
"He wasn't mean. He just wasn't..." Shuichi sighs and turns his head, pressing his nose into my shoulder. I can feel his breath sinking into my shirt, warming the entire left side of my torso like taking a nap in a sunbeam. Welcome to my beautiful, eternal, hell. "What about you, Ryu-chan?"
"Eh? What about me?"
"You haven't gone out with -anyone- these whole two years. I mean, surely you've had offers. I know Tatsuha-kun would go out with you at the drop of a hat. Or, there's that pretty lady that works for Molly-san, the one with the blue hair..."
"Are you trying to fix me up, Shindou Shuichi?"
"Well..." Good lord, what is he doing? He's rubbing his face into my sleeve. He -must- be tired. "No. I was just wondering. I thought maybe...taking care of me...might be getting in your way of doing things you'd probably rather be doing."
"Nooooo, Shu. That's not it at all." I'd rather be with you. I'd rather...just be next to you. I...better think up a good lie, and quick. "I'm thirty five now. That's just too old for stuff like that. And, I'm so busy all the time now, you know? Besides, Kumagoro would be jealous!"
Shuichi laughs a little. I can feel the little bead on his eyebrow ring catch a bit on my shirt. I wonder if that hurts.
Why did it have to be Shuichi? There are billions of people on this planet. I can't even count that high. Why do I have to love him? Why can't I make myself stop loving him? I can learn to drive a scooter. I can learn to cook. Even Aikido isn't beyond me. But, in this, I feel so helpless.
Is it because he is forbidden? If I had him, would I suddenly stop wanting him? Am I merely punishing myself for some crime I don't dare to even remember?
And why Shuichi? Beyond his beauty, beyond his sincerity, beyond his kindness, what is it that makes us love one person more than any other?
I guess if someone as smart as Yuki Eiri couldn't figure it out, I never will, either.
"Ryuichi," Shuichi says quietly, his voice weary, "You can't live in the past forever, you know? Tomi-chan would want you to be happy, to find happiness as best you can. And...we all do, too. You have to stop torturing yourself about someone you can't be with."
"I know." I do know. I know I have to...stop. Is there a clinic where you can go...to help stop being addicted to someone else? Is there some sort of procedure for weaning yourself off of unrequited love?
I look out the window of the limo, watching the world pass. I can't remember Tokyo ever seeming so calm. So content. Does the city ever change, really? People come here. People leave. New buildings rise. Old buildings fall. Wide roads lead us to the places we know best. Small roads take us to secret alcoves and hidden treasures. Despite any changes made to her, she can't help but remain...Tokyo.
I watch the clouds morph. How do they manage to stay so detached, so lofty, so impermanent in their love for the city? How do they know when to linger...and when to move on?
A bird sits on a telephone wire, watching the world, watching me as I pass. He takes flight, soaring into the air, going into the world in search of better scenery.
In the language of the birds, the word for 'goodbye' is the same as 'hello'.
I see. I understand. I have to let Shuichi go. He's fine now. And he needs to be on his own. He can't live with me at my penthouse forever. He came home to tell me hello. He came home to tell me....goodbye.
I'm so happy for him.
I'm so happy...
That's he's alright.
It was winter, I remember. The kind of day where you can tell it is cold outside without even looking. Even though my house was warm and snuggly, even though the curtains were drawn, you still knew, that outside the falling snow was blanketing everything in drifts of white. The snow came to herald the death of color.
I had been in the kitchen, making hot chocolate for Yuki-san's live-in nurse, Meiko. Tohma had suggested hiring her, even though I'd insisted that Shuichi and I could do it ourselves. But, in the end, I was glad to have her help. And Meiko-san turned out to be a very quiet, and very -patient- woman. Which, in fact, is probably the virtue most needed when dealing with the grumpiest man on the planet.
Meiko-san suddenly appeared in the doorway, her white uniform looking a bit ruffled. "Ano, Sakuma-san..."
"Yes? Do you like marshmallows in yours, Meijo-san?"
"Yes, but, Sakuma-san..."
"Mmm? I like lots of them in mine. In fact, sometimes I just have a cup of marshmallows with no hot chocolate at all."
"Uesugi-san is asking for you."
I went to his room, leaving the hot chocolate in Meiko-san's care. Yuki Eiri almost never wanted to talk to me. Mostly, I'm pretty sure, he just tolerated my presence for Shuichi's sake. In the living room, I found Shuichi asleep on the couch. I was glad he was finally sleeping a little, and covered him up with a blanket to keep off chills.
The room Shuichi shared with Yuki-san was dark. Yuki-san was sitting up in his bed, the glow of his laptop reflecting in his glasses. I know the light gave him bad headaches now. He couldn't walk around much without someone's help, because the blood thinners made him extremely dizzy. And, let me tell you, if anyone sympathizes with dizziness, it is me.
"Hn?" It's amazing the way he can keep typing and hold a conversation at the same time. "Sit down."
I pick up one of the chairs by the foot of his bed and put it down nearer to Yuki-san's arm.
"You wanted to speak to me?"
He doesn't look up from the laptop. I really envy that type of intense concentration, that focus. Once again, I am reminded of all the things which Yuki Eiri possesses, and which I will never have. "Three things."
"Shuichi isn't to come to my grave. I don't want that brat moping around a cemetery. And second, he's going to want to stop singing. Don't let him."
"Ummmm..." This is terribly creepy. I don't like the way Yuki-san is talking. But, no. No, I have to hear him out. His voice is so level, so crisp. It's like he isn't dying at all. Tomi's voice turned into a whisper when he was sick. Yuki-san's just stays the same and...
He's in much more pain than he's letting on. I see. I understand. The illness isn't killing him as much as knowing that Shuichi has to watch him...fade away. That's why he's pulling this strength from somewhere deep inside. He's still trying to hide the most hurtful things from Shuichi.
"I'll do my best, Yuki-san. But, what's the third thing?"
That's when Yuki Eiri takes his hands off the keyboard. Those amber eyes turn towards me, lock on my own, and search me. He's divining my worth, in this instant, he's seeing through me, down to my very core. I feel a fire, burning me, eating away at the insignificant parts of me, leaving only a raw, pulsing lump of Sakuma Ryuichi.
"Don't touch him, Sakuma. I'm serious about this. Don't pursue him. The last thing that he needs are your goddamn problems. He'll have enough of his own. Let him find someone on his own."
"But, I wasn't going to..."
And just like that, he's typing again, completely ignoring me. He doesn't even tell me to get out. But, I leave anyway. There's nothing more to be said. There's nothing more...that will ever be said...between myself and Yuki Eiri.
I sat in the hallway outside of their room that night. I knew, somehow. I'd seen, out the window on the balcony, the same one from which Shuichi had almost jumped, a land so stark I felt I might go blind. I could hear the sound of a faraway flute carried softly along in the stillness of the snowy land. It floated farther and farther from my ears, until I had to strain to even catch a note. I knew when I heard Shuichi's voice begin to sing that Yuki Eiri would squeeze his hand one last time...
Because it is too painful to say goodbye.
I knew when Shuichi stopped singing...that Yuki Eiri didn't have to pretend to not be in pain anymore.
Please take care of him for us, Tomi. You'll like him...
Yuki Eiri is a good man.
Shuichi was a mess for a long time after Yuki Eiri died. For a while, I thought it might be possible that he would just waste away. He was literally physically ill with sadness. He couldn't eat. He couldn't even speak. He could only cry.
We were all pretty torn up. Tohma and Mika, Tatsuha-kun, the crew of Bad Luck, and even a great deal of the nation of Japan. For weeks, I couldn't turn on the television for fear of someone mentioning how much Yuki Eiri's books meant to them, and so forth.
I spent a great deal of my time with Shuichi's tearstains on my t-shirts, and the constant worry that I'd wake up one morning and find him gone. Or worse, bleeding to death in my bathtub. And, Shuichi did run away twice. Once we found him after two days, sleeping in an alleyway outside of a bar. The second time the police brought him back. Apparently, he'd been standing in the middle of a park, yelling something at the top of his lungs about having 'no talent'.
And, just like Yuki-san said, Shuichi told me that he wanted to quit Bad Luck. Somehow, though, I was able to convince him to put off the decision for a few months.
Then, one day, news came that one of the television studios had decided to make a made-for-TV movie out of one of Yuki-san's books. I read the letter to Shuichi, and he immediately asked for his phone. Somehow, with K's help, Shuichi got the TV studio to agree to let him sing the songs for the opening and ending credits of the movie.
After that, little by little, Shuichi depression improved. There were bad days, and there were good days...
There were a lot of days where I thought we both wouldn't make it through...
But, we did.
"Huh...what?" Where the heck...
Mmm. I must be dreaming about Shuichi again. Because there he is, right in front of me. I wonder if I get to kiss him in this dream. Except, usually in the dreams where I kiss him, we're someplace more exciting than a stuffy limo.
"You fell asleep!" Shuichi says, poking me on the forehead. Yikes. He's got fingernails. When did he stop biting them?
"No, you fell asleep first, na no da." Shit. Narrowly avoided complete destruction, right there. Might have kissed him. Would have kissed him. Kumagoro, you're being no help at all.
"You both fell asleep." Ten is standing with the limo door open waiting for us to get out. I climb out first, followed by Kumagoro, and then Shuichi. We're standing...
Well, we're standing in front of Shining Collection CDs.
The second one.
Oh, right. I forgot to tell you about that.
I've been very busy this past year.
I bought Rexie's store when he decided to retire, expanded it, and then opened three more. It's been great, really. We have a deal with NG records to get their new releases twenty four hours before anyone else. With all my music contacts, I've set up a lot of in-store shows and signings. And I get to help promote the music of a lot of deserving bands that would otherwise be overlooked. Like 'Tempest In a Teapot'. People say they might be the next 'Bad Luck'. But, that just makes me laugh a lot.
Well, yes, I own SCCDs, but, really I don't run the day to day operations. I leave that to my Managing Vice President, Molly-san.
I'm the president of a company.
Tohma laughs at me every time I remind him.
But, it's a good kind of laugh. He's proud of me, I think.
This isn't to say that Nittle Grasper has broken up, or I've stopped singing or anything. Later this month, were going to record a song for a CD to help save the whales. Or the Canadian moose. Some big animal that needs to be saved. And, I'm scheduled to do a solo for the soundtrack to some upcoming Shinchiro Watanabe anime.
Like I said, I'm an extremely busy person now. But, never, ever too busy for Shuichi.
"Why'd you bring me -here-, Shu?"
"You'll see...come on..." Shu grabs my wrist and drags me into the store. Geez. You'd think he'd been the one working out. I think he's going to tear my hand off. And then I'll be running around with a stump, Kumagoro, and my pink Vespa. AS IF PEOPLE DIDN'T ALREADY THINK I WAS BIZARRE ENOUGH!
Alright, I know very well I could have made him let go of my wrist. But, of course, I don't.
This SCCD's has a bubble theme. There's giant trails of bubbles painted on the walls, and big plastic bubbles hanging from the ceiling with CDs inside. There's even a bubble machine that constantly releases soap bubbles to float down the sidewalks outside. -I- wanted the bubble machine to be -inside- the store, but Molly said that probably wouldn't be a good idea. Too sticky.
"What is it Shuichi? Why are you breaking my arm off to get here?"
Shuichi drags me behind the counter and points at a cardboard box with the NG logo lying on the floor. "Open it."
"Huh? Okay?" Kumagoro and I bend down and rip off the tape. Packing peanuts spill out onto the floor as the flaps fly open.
Inside, I find stacks upon stacks of brand new CDs. I pull one out and examine the cover. It's Bad Luck, standing in a field of purple and blue butterflies. And, above the scene, in fine white script, is the title of their new CD...
"Shu, it's..." I look up at him. He's sitting on the counter, swinging his legs, sucking on a piece of licorice.
Hey. Where'd he get the candy?
"No, silly, read the liner notes."
As you know, it takes forever to get the plastic wrapping off of a new CD. But, when I finally do, I slip the booklet out of the cover and turn it over to the back to find the notes. It reads:
"Dedicated to Yuki Eiri, a butterfly who spread his wings and flew away. Inspired by Sakuma Ryuichi, the butterfly who closed his wings around me...and kept me from following him."
"That's no good."
"Huh? What do you mean, it's no good, Shuichi? Hey, don't kick me, na no da. That hurts."
"You didn't tell it right. You're a bad storyteller. That's not how it ends at all. Or did you -forget- because you are so -old-?"
"What do you mean? Of course that's how it ends."
"No it isn't. Tell the rest."
"Ohhhh...you like that part, do you?"
"I'll kick you again."
"Alright, alright. I'm telling it! Don't beat me up, na no da!"
"Itai," Shuichi moans, "Ice cream headache!"
"That's because you're eating it too fast," I reply, licking my own ice cream cone. Did you know that they have seventy-two flavors of ice cream at the Softy Tasty now? SEVENTY TWO! I could have one different kind every day for two months and still have some left to try. "Ice cream must be savored, not devoured. It's an entire unexplored science. I mean, what is ice cream, after all? Is it a solid? A liquid? Forget cloning. Forget DNA. They should do more research on Chocolate Pecan Swirl."
"I guess ice cream is just one of those mysteries of life," Shuichi says, popping the last of his cone into his mouth. "Like love."
We're sitting on a bench in a beautiful park. It's just turned springtime, so everything is green and blue and sparkly and bright. It's hard to imagine that just a month ago this place was covered in snow.
Shuichi suggested we get ice cream to celebrate 'Pianissimo Butterfly', and, of course, who am I to ever turn down ice cream? Nope. I think I'll be dead before I'll say 'no' to ice cream.
Shuichi leans against my arm as we watch some children play with a soccer football in the distance. Ah. This is good. I'm happy to have such a great friend.
"Ryuichi?" Shu asks as I take another bite of my ice cream.
"Why haven't you ever told me that you love me?"
I feel every single ounce of my blood drain into my toes immediately. I'm sure that I'm as pale as an albino's ghost in a snowstorm. How? How did he... Oh God, no.
"What Shu? Where did you hear...?"
But, I can't finish my question. I can't, because I'm being kissed. Cautiously, and tenderly, airy and light. Our lips stick together a bit because of the ice cream. An amazing sensation, meltingly creamy, like frosting on red velvet cake, but better. So much better. Shuichi's hand twines in my hair, pulling me down...or is it up? I'm made of jello. I'm made of hundreds of thousands of sparkles, twinkling in the sky, winking, blinking in shock, shuddering in happiness.
Shuichi licks away a drop of ice cream at the corner of my mouth, causing my skin to sizzle with tingles. His lips make a little smacking noise as he draws his tongue back, and contemplates the taste.
I can't breathe. I can't move. I'm terrified. I'm exhilarated.
My heart stops. Yes. It skips a beat. And I hear a very small a voice within me say, "Goodbye, I'll love you forever." Then, my heart starts again, and a new voice says, "Hello, I'll love you forever."
This is my last kiss of many kisses, from Tomi.
This is my first kiss of many, many kisses...from Shuichi.
Well, that is, if I can ever get any single part of my body to move again. Shuichi's looking at me. He must think I'm insane or something, because I'm just staring at him...
The boy done kissed me stone retarded.
"Ryuichi? Are you...alright?"
Say something brilliant, idiot. Say something fantastically romantic -right- -now-. "Yummy. That was...yummy." That was -not- brilliant. Shit! What the hell just happened? "Shu...how did you...how did you know?"
"Yuki told me, silly," Shuichi says, taking off my hat and throwing it on the ground. Ah...what was that for? I like that hat. WAIT. Did he just say YUKI EIRI TOLD HIM?
"HE TOLD YOU? YOU KNEW ALL THIS TIME?"
"No, he told me today, when I talked to him in Reading Room. So I...why are you crying? Don't cry. I'm the one who cries. I'm going to cry too...please don't cry!"
I wipe away scalding tears with the back of my hand. "Shuichi...you don't have to do this just because..."
"Kiss me, and kiss me, and kiss me. Let's make a new forever, together. Kiss me until they throw us out of the park for indecency."
"Really, Shuichi? You mean it?"
"Mmmm," Shuichi's hands slide around my neck and pull me close, "Why do you think I took off your hat? It was just going to get in the way."
"Ooo, you're a cheeky bunny."
Speaking of bunnies, Kumagoro, cover your eyes.
You're too young for this part.
THE END. REALLY FOR REAL, NA NO DA.
Sorry the epilogue is so long. I tend to get a bit more verbose than usual when I get to the ends of stories. If you hate happy endings, like I do, pretend that last part is optional.
Well, it has been a long, strange journey. I've had a blast writing this story, and I hope that you've enjoyed reading it at least a fraction as much as I did making it. I don't write sequels, so I'm afraid this is the end. But, to paraphrase the words of these characters, Goodbye is just Hello to new project. I hope I'll see you there!
I hope to have the review replies for this chapter and the last one up on my webpage very soon!
Sappy Liner Notes:
Pianissimo Butterfly is inspired by a love I lost, a love I threw away, and a love I never should have started. Those all ended badly, but I survived.
Pianissimo Butterfly is dedicated to the love I hope I someday find, that I hope we all someday find. In the name of 'forever', may butterfly wings speed our true loves to our sides.