I really hate it when I walk into a recording session and Hiro and Suguru look up and ask me how Yuki is. As though the outcome of the entire day is completely dependent on whether or not my self-esteem has been crushed under the heel of one cold, blonde romance novelist. A sexy heel, yes, but a heel all the same. And what really irks me is that I know they're both genuinely concerned about my welfare, and that it shouldn't bother me like it does, but it bothers me all the same. And still I'll give them a smile, show them that good old Shindou enthusiasm, and we'll skyrocket to the top of the charts by the end of the week.

It's been years since the New York incident. Five years, to be exact, not that I'm counting or anything. I mean, math was never my strong suit anyway. But nevertheless, things have changed. Not for the better or the worse, really. Just changed. Bad Luck has been number one for quite some time, though not entirely through our own skill. Not to say I'm knocking our skill, because I'm not, I'm really, really not. Not to sound cocky or anything, but I know we're good. We're damn good, and there's nobody around that could even come close to knocking us off our pedestal. We're what other artists aspire to be, we're the cream of the crop, hell, even Americans know who Bad Luck is, something Nittle Grasper could never quite manage. Aah, but Nittle Grasper is where it all begins, isn't it?

I still remember the day when Seguchi Tohma walked into NG's pristine offices and handed his grand title over to Sakano. I'm still in shock, really, because I didn't think Tohma would ever tire of waiting until my life settled a bit before stirring things up with one crisis or another. I know he loved torturing me, just as much as I loved succeeding if only to throw it back into his face, but I suppose he'd simply be too busy to continue picking on me. Well, during office hours, anyway. But Seguchi Tohma resigned as President of NG Records nonetheless, simply because his wife was having a baby.

I was floored when I heard the news, and even more floored when I actually saw Tohma and Mika together. He would hold her hand affectionately, and ask about how she was doing and whether or not she was comfortable and what in the world she wanted just so he could be the first to give it to her. I was... more surprised than disturbed, but I figured he was doing it just because he wanted to show the world that he was a good father, and I assumed that as soon as the kid was born it would be right back to the same old routine, and he'd be as cold to everyone as he ever was.

But that wasn't the case, and if anything his cold exterior melted even more once the kid showed up. He would show the kid off, swelling with pride, and he'd smile and coo and fuss and you could just tell how incredibly happy he was. Mika's reaction was much the same, but with her it was more the fact that their relationship had seemed like it was wilting, but their new addition gave it just the water and sunlight it needed. I always liked thinking of Mika as a flower, because whenever I saw her she was beautiful and strong and prepared for anything, but still retained that feminine delicateness. But I'm rambling again.

The addition of a child to the Seguchi household brought about interesting developments. Tohma left Grasper for good, with Noriko and Ryuichi's blessing, though it was kind of obvious how broken up about it Ryuichi was. Hell, pretty much the entire world was broken up about it, but during one of our late-night conversations, Ryuichi said he'd much rather go out with a bang while they were still on top than to slowly fade away, only to be briefly remembered on oldies stations and on discount racks. Ryuichi had a habit of staging weird sleepovers at two or three in the morning, much to Yuki's annoyance, where we'd talk about everything and nothing. He asked me a lot about the music business, and any groups that were up-and-coming, and even though it was just small talk, I could tell how much he missed it. Even Kumagoro lacked enthusiasm, and one night it finally occurred to me how utterly lonely Ryuichi was. I asked him about it, and it was like poking a hole in a huge dam, and we both ended up bawling on the living room floor. I told him how robbed I felt that Grasper retired before we decided who truly won our rivalry, and he told me how alone he felt because he was this huge legend that no one could relate to, so we both clung to each other like a life raft from the Titanic and cried our miseries away. At least until the next morning.

It was kind of awkward when he left my apartment the next day. We both felt kind of vulnerable, and for the first time I saw him watching me the way Yuki sometimes does when he thinks I'm not looking, like I'm the only one in the world that understands his situation. That was when it first occurred to me that my idol, Sakuma Ryuichi, might think of me as more than a friend. I was scared as hell that he might act on his feelings in that less-than-sane way Ryuichi has, and that in the end I'd end up ruining our friendship, like I tend to ruin everything else. So I did the only cowardly and moronic thing I could think of. I called Tatsuha Uesugi.

I count myself very lucky that things turned out the way they did. Tatsuha, as opposed to trying to jump immediately into Ryuichi's pants (as he tends to do) or wetting himself with joy at the fact that he was in the presence of his God, actually managed to present himself to Ryuichi as a human being. Even Yuki was impressed, which is really saying something. I could climb Mount Everest and he wouldn't lift an eyebrow, but that's a whole different topic. Ryuichi was reluctant to be anything more than friends, more for the fact that Tatsuha was 17 at the time than anything else, but over a period of four years, (I applaud Tatsuha's fidelity, by the way) they managed to get it together. Tatsuha still worships the ground Ryuichi walks on, but it's more for whom Ryuichi is than for what Tatsuha expected him to be. Tatsuha is ever the romantic, and Ryuichi's constantly telling me about flowers or candy or skywriting or all the other romantic things Yuki writes about but chalks up to "bullshit for idiots who feel the need to remind their partners of their own existence." Leave it to Yuki to put it so romantically, ne?

Ryuichi and Tatsuha, though sickeningly adorable at times, really seem to have found everything they're looking for in each other. After they first got together, Tatsuha apparently gave Ryuichi a stuffed rabbit, an exact match to Kumagoro (though in much better condition) because he was "afraid that Kumagoro would get lonely without Ryuichi around so much." I don't see Kumagoro as often as I used to, which has taken some getting used to, and I see Tatsuha more often than I'd like, which has also taken some getting used to. Ryuichi and Tatsuha often try to cajole Yuki into going out on a double date with them sometime, and Yuki always "politely" declines for the both of us, which more often than not lands me a one-way ticket to the couch for the night. Not much in our relationship has changed, except for the fact that my ratio of nights on the couch to nights in his bed has changed a little bit for the better.

Hiro is another story entirely. We're not as close as we used to be, obviously, because our "boy's night out's" have all turned into "boy's night in taking care of the baby, listening to hideous baby stories, and Ayaka is there too, plus the baby's a girl, so I guess they can't even be called boy's night anything anymore." It's not as bad as I make it sound of course, and little Tomoko is the cutest thing on two legs, plus Ayaka is the best thing to happen to Hiro since, well, me, but I reserve my right to mourn my nineteen-year-old reckless nights of alcohol and poorly preformed karaoke. Not to say I don't still have those nights when I'm feeling particularly bummed or neglected, which happens more frequently as of late, but it's never with Hiro and I miss him. I know it's childish and stupid, but it's hard being second place when I used to be number one! Though I suppose I should have been more considerate of Hiro when Yuki came into the picture, but well, this is different! And I reserve my right to be a hypocrite too!

Alcohol isn't as fun as it used to be, however. I wasn't as into the club scene when I was younger, but now it seems like I go out more than twice a week. Most of the time I just meet up with a bunch of strangers who recognize me and end up keeping me company for the night, if only to say that they got to hang out with the Shiuchi Shindou. It's kind of boring having people hang on every word you say, and it leaves a sour taste in your mouth, but the more alcohol that makes it's way around the room, the less coherent everyone around you gets, until it just doesn't matter anymore and nobody remembers a word you said in the morning anyway.

Suguru sometimes goes with me, but he ends up "calling it a night early" with two or three pretty young things more often than not, so he's not that much fun to go out with anyway. Suguru has all the Tohma charm, though. He's got a following nearly as big as mine, and they adore him because he's available, while I remain the untouchable one with an angel's voice. I can see how Ryuichi came to rely on Kumagoro, not that I'm thinking of picking up stuffed animals anytime soon. It just gets pretty lonely sometimes. And Kumagoro probably doesn't insult Ryuichi's intelligence when he's got problems. I'm not complaining, I swear I'm not, but most of the time I'm glad when Yuki turns down those double dates, because seeing them together only serves to remind me that their relationship is probably what mine would have been if Yuki weren't so messed up. Not to say I'm not messed up too, but it's hard watching Tatsuha and Ryuichi dote on each other, or finish each other's sentences, or do a thousand of those other coupley-things that they do together that drive me completely crazy with jealousy because Yuki wouldn't be caught dead doing any of those things with me. Ryuichi's relationship with Tatsuha has made him look ten years younger, while lately I've felt years older than Ryuichi actually is.

I started really taking notice of things when Tohma invited Yuki and I over, shortly after the baby was born. We assumed that they'd be telling us his name, and when we got there Yuki even had the decency to put out his cigarette, something that he won't even do when I ask him. So we sat on their plush couches and made small talk, and I felt as uncomfortable as I always do in Tohma's presence, and he and Mika just sat there looking so damned happy that I wanted to shoot myself, but only managed to finish off my drink quicker than I normally would. Tohma didn't even attempt to insult me, underhandedly or otherwise, and I was bracing myself for something really unpleasant Tohma had in store for me. That's when Tohma told us they'd named the baby Eiri, and that they'd be delighted if Yuki would be the Godfather.

I wanted to laugh out loud and be sick at the same time, and only just managed to keep my mouth shut when I was dying to tell Tohma that I hoped he intended to look after this Eiri better than the last one. I was also wondering if they'd give him schooling in New York, and try to model him after Yuki so that Tohma could feel like he'd succeeded in saving this Eiri where he'd otherwise failed. I wanted to spit insult after insult at him, make him feel as awful as he'd made me feel all those times when he'd ruined my life for the sake of "protecting Eiri," but I couldn't. If only for the fact that Tohma wasn't doing this to hurt me through Yuki, and his face, once a smooth mask of menacing calm, actually looked like it might burst with all the joy he was trying to hold in.

I really, truly wanted to hurt Seguchi Tohma, but the obvious love he felt for the kid kept me from doing so. And then Mika asked Yuki if he wanted to hold him, and Yuki said no and Mika smiled and forced him to anyway, and Yuki just stared at him, holding him out at arm's length like he didn't know what the fuck he was supposed to do, before the kid make a gurgley sound, and the softest expression I have ever seen appeared on Yuki's face. He bounced him on his knee and actually showed some kindness without being forced. And he smiled. I felt like I was trespassing, Mika, Yuki, and Tohma in their own little world, one that I could never even hope to be a part of. I was suddenly nineteen again, and I would never have the bond, the connection with Yuki that these two have. I was jealous, and scared, and bitter, but I just sunk into the couch and out of the conversation, occasionally offering a smile or a nod to let everyone know that Shuichi was just fine. I didn't want to ruin it for them, so I remained quiet for the rest of the evening, and was even polite when we said goodbye.

Yuki asked me why I was so quiet, and I told him it was nothing and he glared down at me and I kissed him on the cheek and giggled, and he just glared some more and I silently prayed that we'd get into a car accident where a passenger-side impact would kill me instantly. I figured he'd mourn my death as stylishly as ever, wearing his designer clothes, cigarette dangling from his mouth, staring coolly at my casket as my sister tearfully read my eulogy, fans and reporters surrounding the funeral, waiting for Yuki's reaction. And then Yuki would walk up to my casket and stub his cigarette out on the finished mahogany, and then he'd walk away from me forever, only to find the perfect woman the very next day, who'd hear his sob story and fall madly in love with him, and then they'd have four babies, and Yuki have the same look he gave Eiri today on all the time. At least that's how I imagined it.

When we made it back to the apartment, Yuki wanted sex and I couldn't say no to him so we did it twice and he threw me out of the room in complete confusion when we were halfway through the third time and I started to cry. I didn't mean to, it sort of just happened, and then he told me to stop it, so I cried harder, and he pushed me away and grabbed his cigarettes, and I just cried at the end of the bed until he told me to get out. So I grabbed a pair of shorts and a tank top from the bureau and made my way to the couch, completing my journey through my nineteenth year.

I woke up under a blanket, of course, because Yuki, sometime early that morning, was bound to wake up and realize he threw me out when I was crying while we were having sex, and this would strike him as out of the ordinary and he'd feel like a complete asshole about it, so to compensate for being a complete asshole, he'd cover me in a blanket to reassure me that he still cared, and then ignore me and write for the rest of the day. You have to have lived with Yuki for as long as I have to understand his little gestures. At this point, I was expected to get up and peek into his office, looking all small and adorable wearing my pj's and little white socks to complete the "Pedophile's dream" image, and I was to apologize to him for acting like such a spaz the night before, and he'd grunt incoherently and I'd press the matter until he told me to shut up and go away because he has "deadlines." However, it seems I'd grown a backbone overnight, so instead of crawling into Yuki's office, I got dressed as silently as I could, grabbed some Pocky, and went off to wander Tokyo aimlessly for the remainder of my Saturday.

I ended up in the park, Pocky long gone, sitting on a bench in a poor disguise, watching people walk by. After a while I started to play this game, where I'd look at the women who walked by and see if they'd be a good match for Yuki when I'd died, whether or not they were tall enough, or thin enough, or had the right color hair or shoes or taste in clothes because I wanted the girl who has Yuki's babies to be just perfect for him. Then I started wondering what their babies would look like, so I went to a department store and bought a camera and a sketchbook and took pictures of the girls and drew pictures of what their babies would look like, but then I decided that that certainly wasn't enough information so I started giving interviews, pretending to take a survey for a popular magazine, until I ran out of film and paper in my sketchbook. After I finished developing their pictures, I taped them into the correct spots and wrote down their phone numbers and addresses. It was already eight in the evening by that point, and I hadn't eaten all day, so I went to a grocery store and bought some more pocky and walked around, circling the best choices for Yuki's wife.

By nine that evening I was exhausted, lost, and miserable, and I knew that Yuki wouldn't even thank me for all the hard work I'd done to find him the right wife once I was out of the picture, which only made me think about what would happen when I was out of the picture, which led me back to the park where I cried my eyes out until ten. It wasn't until that point, of course, that I realized I was in front of Hiro's apartment building, so I asked for him at the door and he buzzed me up.

Hiro and Ayaka had just sat down to dinner, and they actually looked happy to see me, so I ate with them. It was kind of pleasant after the day I'd had, until I was playing with Tomoko and watching Hiro and Ayaka clean up, and I saw how they complimented each other, even when doing ordinary household chores. They just looked at each other with that same shy affection they'd had when they first started dating, and I felt decidedly out of place. Ayaka was just about to bring in dessert when I put Tomoko down and thanked them for their hospitality. I grabbed my coat before Hiro could protest, and had made it down the hallway before he caught up with me. He looked worried, and he had the sketchbook I'd spent the day filling under his arm. He said that I forgot it, but I knew he was really asking what it was, and I knew he'd probably looked inside already. I gave him one of my disarming smiles and took it, thanking him, before telling him awkwardly that it was "just some research." He gave me the "concerned" Hiro look, and I took off down the hallway before he could ask me anything else.

I didn't get home until midnight, and I couldn't help but notice the silence when I entered the apartment. I could see the light in Yuki's office when I walked in, and I was secretly pleased that he'd stopped typing when I closed the door. He obviously knew I was home, but he would stay in his office like he always did, trying to pretend he didn't care, and wait until I went in to bother him to pounce me like he always does. I made my way into the living room and jammed my sketchbook, which I'd lovingly entitled "Yuki's Prospects," pleased that I'd been able to come up with such a good name, under the couch. Yuki would be proud, if I showed it to him now, but I supposed that would have to wait until later. Instead of going to his office, I walked through the bedroom, stripping off my clothes, and turned the shower on. I liked making the shower as hot as I could make it, because once that burning feeling went away, my skin would turn all pink and tingly. I left the door unlocked, knowing full well that Yuki would come after me. Which he did. Twice.

Later that night I cuddled into his back, feeling lethargic, and since I knew he wouldn't lower himself to cuddling back until he fell asleep and did it unconsciously, I was content with what I had. I also knew that he was still awake, because the muscles in his back weren't relaxed, and I was almost positive it was because he was dying to ask what happened the night before, and where I was all day. I felt a little bit guilty for worrying him, but it was kind of fun having a secret to keep from Yuki. I'd have to be careful the next time I went out wife hunting for him, because I couldn't give anything away. Before I fell asleep, I also made a mental note to buy a nicer camera and a bigger sketchbook.

I spent the next five Saturdays wife hunting, and every time I came in late Yuki would be awake, but he never asked. He spent even more time in the evening at his computer, and most nights I ended up on the couch for minor offenses, and I could tell my secret was really bothering him, but until he asked about it, I wasn't about to tell him. Hiro started acting really worried about me as the months went by, mainly because I was always busy on Saturdays, and I was neglecting the band. Even Suguru and K took notice, and they kept pestering Hiro about me whenever they thought I wasn't around. I always kept up my cheerful demeanor around them, and once I knew they were watching me, I was on my best behavior. Or, well, at least on my normal behavior. Whatever normal is for me, anyway.

Sometimes when Yuki wasn't around I would embellish my sketchbooks. I liked to buy scrap-booking materials and make fancy borders around the girls I thought were the best for him. I admit, it cut into my free time, but I wanted Yuki to have his choice of the best girls in Tokyo for his future wife. Hiro started alluding to the ones he'd seen, but I became very good at acting like I didn't have a clue what he was talking about. Besides, they couldn't be on my case all the time. Hiro had Ayaka, K had Judy, and Suguru had... well, Suguru had a life outside of Bad Luck, just like everybody else. So what if I'd taken up a new hobby?

As the months went by I ran out of things I could do with "Yuki's Prospects", and I was getting increasingly frustrated with Yuki anyway. I mean, I knew he was stubborn, but he'd have to be dense not to have asked about where I was going on those Saturdays. I started looking forward to it, you know? Like my birthday, or when you're waiting for a package. I would wake up all excited, and the excitement would build and build, only to have my hopes crushed at the end of the day. Yuki just seemed mad all the time, but sometimes I would catch him with this weird, worried look on his face. Other than that, he was unfazed by my weekly disappearances. He started lashing out at me too, and he became even more critical of my music, and just about everything else. His insults, which had once been kind of cute, because it was his way of paying attention to me, became actual complaints about my character. It hurt, to have him say those things and actually mean it. I... was making Yuki unhappy. We both knew it, I just... couldn't help myself. Maybe it was wrong for me to want him to pay attention to me.

After a while I just stopped caring. Yuki was too stubborn to say anything, and I wasn't going to back down, so we were at a stalemate. The apartment was quiet. Really quiet. I think it started to bother Yuki after a while. He'd come in and yell at me to turn my music down, and I'd actually listen to him. We ate dinner in silence, when I ate at all. After a while I didn't even play music anymore, and I'd watch TV with the volume turned down to the point where I couldn't even hear it. I became restless, and more than a little upset, until about three months into it.

It was a carbon copy of evenings before it, Yuki was typing and I was finishing the last page on "Yuki's Prospects," when I put the last sticker down and closed the book, satisfied. I slipped it under the couch before I started to cry, hugging my knees to my chest, the realization hitting me. The scrapbook was a prelude to my suicide. It was my time limit, my last straw, I had been putting all of my hope and faith and certainty into the fact that before I finished the book, Yuki would come and ask me what was wrong and I would cry and tell him and he'd call me an idiot, and he'd tell me that he loved me and that he'd never leave me, and that no wife or child could possibly replace me, and things would go back to normal. I had wanted so badly for him to find out, to talk to me, hell, I would have settled for Hiro coming and demanding what was wrong so that Yuki could find out the truth, but those convenient times in my past were behind me. Nobody was looking after me anymore. I wasn't the center of everyone's universe, they had wives and kids and social lives, even jobs to make them happy, to keep them going, and no one was going to watch out for Shuichi. I wasn't nineteen anymore.

I think I knew that Yuki wouldn't come before I'd even begun.