For the next ten minutes, I become a complete fake.
"Don't cry because I laughed at you." My arm goes around his shoulders as I escort him from the room. "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. Here, let's go downstairs and join the reception and have some of that orange ice cream punch."
My mind is working like a machine gun, processing information. He's breathing like he's been running, eyeing me with apprehension. His head's a little shorter than mine, but he'll probably be taller when he grows up. How old is he, dammit? Fifteen or so?
He turns his head and his warm hair flicks my cheek. Instantly, a nervous flutter goes through my stomach. I feel a heartbeat inside my trousers, a pushing, swelling ache against the cloth. He looks so good in that suit. Good enough to--
NO. Not that, Ryuichi. You will have no Michael Jackson thoughts. He's far too young and barely knows what a girlfriend is, much less a boyfriend. A boyfriend would scare him to death.
I babble. I tell him the story of Kumagoro's earring and the Yakuza, and the boy begins to relax against my body. I love the feeling. Now he's watching me as we ride the elevator down. His vivid dark eyes are really wonderful to study, and I'm holding him so close I have an excellent view. Somehow, he's shifted so he's completely inside my arms. I'm embracing him. His upturned face is scarcely an inch away. He's starting to smile, and it's a very sweet expression.
The elevator doors open. Lights flash. Instantly, my arms drop. Tatsuha looks surprised and hurt, then he understands. We're facing those damned photographers. But I was quick enough that they caught nothing. I smile and wave to them. Then I usher Tatsuha through the crowd and back into the reception hall. There, I tell him to wait at an empty table while I bring us some punch. As I leave, I can feel his gaze following me around the room.
I return and we toast each other with the slushy orange beverage. His eyes never leave mine as we knock our silver mugs together and toss the punch back. Noriko joins us, and for a second, I resent her presence.
A very bad sign. She's just checking on him and I'm already jealous. My subterranean ache has grown worse. I try to will myself back into a normal state. Ice. Ice cold, right down there, deadness, numbness--
"How about some wedding cake?" Noriko asks. "I haven't had a slice, yet."
"I'll get some," I reply hurriedly. My methods are not working. The sight of the boy is too much and I need to escape from him long enough to settle down.
As I return with the trio of cake plates balanced along my arms, Tatsuha blows me a kiss, and winks.
WHAT THE HELL?
I drop the plates.
A few minutes later, after the worst of the frosting has been cleaned off my shoes and pants by Noriko and the waiters have swept up most of the crumbs, I make another attempt for more cake. At least my below-the-belt problem has been cured.
But right now I'm so upset, I can't face Tatsuha.
Near the drinks table I come across Eiri, and pause. I need an answer to a question. Eiri looks very punk, his hair in his eyes, a cigarette poking through the strands. He's watching the dancing with sullenness.
"Do you happen to know if your brother is a Grasper fan?" I ask. It's hard to sound innocent. "I was wondering if he'd appreciate a poster or two."
"Tatsuha the fuckhead?" the writer replies crisply. "Hell, he'd give you a blowjob in gratitude. The little pervert's your biggest fan."
I think I hate older brothers.
I leave him. Now that I know Tatsuha's feelings are no joke, it takes all my courage to return with more cake. Noriko makes small talk, bless her.
Tatsuha's very different now. He's turned completely red and his eyes are scared. He's just told me in his graphic way that he loves me, and he's terrified about my reaction.
I'm staring at him, he's staring at me. We fork up pieces of cake. We keep glancing away from each other and looking again. Neither of us are smiling. I've never felt so grim. Noriko's voice wavers. Just then I hear Saki squalling for her mother and Noriko excuses herself, after giving us a funny look.
"Let's go up to your room," I say. I'm polite, but the words are not a suggestion. They're a command. We rise and take the elevator up. This time, I keep my hands to myself.
"You're sharing with your brother?" I ask.
He nods, his face anxious. He's studying me, trying to read my expression.
We say little until we're inside the room. Once there, Tatsuha faces the wall and gives a little shudder. I know he's crying again. He's expecting disaster.
"What's the matter?" I say softly.
I swear he almost sucks the tears backwards. With two sweeps of his hands, his face is dry, his expression smoothed over and cool.
"Nothing," he says. "Why do you ask?"
I remember being that age.
"I was wondering if you need my help."
"Well, I could use some advice," he replies.
"How do you kiss a guy?"
What? He looks so calm he might have just asked me about the weather. I'm the one who's embarrassed.
"The same way you kiss a girl," I reply, "with love."
He squirms. "No, I mean the practical stuff. You know, lip mashing. You see," he says in a rush, "there's this guy I want to ask out on a date and I don't want to embarrass myself!"
My throat goes completely dry. Great Buddha. Boys his age never talked like that in MY day.
"Do you know if the other person likes men? You always need to find that out, first."
He watches me closely, then studies the floor. "Do you know any gay men?" he asks, his voice low.
"Yes," I reply. I want to add more, but I can't. I'm twenty-eight and famous, and I can't tell this boy everything.
"And you're--still friends with them?" he asks hesitantly.
This seems to reassure him. He gives me a shrewd look, like an urchin casing the candy counter for a grab just as the shopkeeper is about to turn away. His face is so transparent.
"Could you teach me how to kiss?"
I can't believe his boldness. I want to laugh. Then I want to put my head in my hands and groan. He's doing this because he's got a crush. I am a responsible man. I do not take advantage of boys with crushes. Children with crushes.
"Your family would kill us if they caught us," I say.
"They're out of the way downstairs," he retorts. "You can teach me. C'mon! Let's do it, quick! It's not any big deal."
I look at the ceiling in exasperation. Neither of us believes this. He's treating me as if I'm the terrified little virgin who needs reassurance, and he's the rake. Well, he's certainly on the path of becoming one, considering his years.
"You've forgotten your age--and mine."
"No, having SEX would be immoral," he insists. "But a kiss isn't sex! I don't even know how to kiss! Please, you've got to help me."
I'm growing annoyed. He's behaving like a brat, and I want to shut him up. So I grab his shoulders. I'm about to--
He flinches backwards in my arms, but my grip tightens to hold him still. The ache has returned with insane force. At this point, my sexual hunger is so strong that all I have to do is lean forwards, brush myself against him, and I'll explode. The temptation is unbearable. Vaguely, I register the alarm in his eyes at my strange expression. I pull our bodies together, bending over his face--
I let go, and turn around.
Stupid Ryuichi. You almost let him manipulate you. And his own scheming is beginning to frighten him as well.
"Would you like some posters? I have a few in my car." I'm the polite visitor again, bland and harmless.
He makes a surprised, inarticulate noise. I suppose fishermen sound the same when their line breaks.
I don't wait for a reply. I step out into the hallway and head downstairs to the parking level. When I return, I have five cardboard tubes in the crook of my arm.
His eyes are soft with longing, his mouth about to speak.
I interrupt. "This is from our latest shoot. Tohma's probably wasted on you, so he's just in the group photo." I drop all the tubes on the bed, pop the plastic stopper out of one, and talk solid. "I've brought you a pair of Noriko posters. You'll love these. One's a stage shot showing her behind her keyboard and the other has her singing backup during our latest recording session."
Tatsuha's mouth is moving silently. His lips frame the words, NO, NO. He's not even looking at the posters as I struggle to slide them from the tubes.
"The leather jacket she's wearing is a loaner from me. She's always borrowing my clothes." I force a laugh. "I'll sometimes steal hers in revenge and wear them on stage just to poke fun at--"
I break off. Tatsuha is staring at me, hauntingly.
Stupid Ryuichi. Stupid, stupid Ryuichi. You've just admitted the symbols of gender don't matter. And if they don't matter, then little else about gender does, either.
One last barrier exists. Age. It's still firm.
I remove another plastic stopper. "This is our latest group photo." I slide it out, and falter. I've forgotten the session completely. I'm standing in front of Tohma and Noriko, whirling a microphone like a lasso above our heads. And I'm wearing Noriko's frilly white blouse.
I look gay. VERY gay. Except for the expression on my face. It's much too aggressive, as if my services include whipping the clients. DOUBLE Gah.
I can't believe I'm showing this to Tatsuha. Quickly, I roll it up and move onto the next tube, pulling the poster out so hard I wrinkle it permanently.
"And this one--" I give the poster a shake to unroll it.
Kill me, for I am a fool with no memory. It's the infamous 'hump Tohma,' shot.
He's sitting on his piano bench and I've shoved him back against the keyboard. My legs have swung between both of his and the camera has caught my hips in a brief moment of crude and sweaty rocking against Tohma's crotch. My shirt is dangling open in his face, and my singing mouth is harrying him like prey.
I'm too stupefied to move.
Tatsuha giggles. "I can't believe you did that to my fatheaded brother-in-law."
I can't believe it, either. I drop the poster. Then I land on the boy's bed, sprawling across the hard cardboard tubes. My face is in my arms. Fuck.
Go away, Tatsuha.
"Are you okay?"
Tatsuha's voice is shaking. He may be old for his age, but he's still too young to understand an adult crisis.
"Do--do you need me to get you something?"
Just return the last five hours, please. I want my sanity back. And my soul, too, come to think of it. The worthless thing has some value to me. I roll over. The damned poster tubes are digging into me. "No, I'm fine," I lie.
Suddenly, I'm forthright. "Never have a love affair with a grownup, Tatsuha. It's too much to handle at your age. Adults are terrifying. Hell, they can be terrifying to deal with even when YOU'RE an adult."
He frowns. "So, I have to wait until I'm a grownup, huh?"
Then he grins. "So you'll wait, too?"
I sit up. I can say things, like, what the hell are you talking about, or have a nice day and you're welcome for the posters, or any other nonsense.
But I can't say anything.
He's crouching next to me, his shoulder against mine. Then he takes a quick breath and dips his head before I can react. His mouth brushes mine, and our lips catch lightly, then release.
I'm paralyzed. I didn't--move? I swear to the Buddha I DID NOT move. I DID NOT KISS HIM BACK in that instant.
But--I'm not certain.
"I did it! I did it!" Tatsuha screams. He throws himself down and rolls along the floor, hugging himself and laughing maniacally. "I kissed him!"
He looks like he's just won a video game. Pure, childish glee. As for me, the twenty-eight-year-old man? I'm just staring like an idiot.
I have to regain control. I stand up, and Tatsuha strikes out, latching onto my ankle like a python. "You'll wait, won't you?" he blurts, begging.
I bend down. "How old are you?" I whisper.
"I'm--" He starts to lie.
My face is stern.
"--thirteen," he gasps, and lets go of my ankle. His head thumps the floor in misery.
"Three years is a long time," I say. "But didn't Tohma and Mika wait that long?"
He flips over onto his back, gaping. I kneel, and gently brush the hair out of his eyes.
So that was our first kiss.
I'm sorry, Tatsuha, that our first date will have to be so much later.