DISCLAIMER: If I owned Skip Beat! this wouldn't be FAN-fiction. Skip Beat! is the creation of Yoshiko Nakamura, and I use her creation for my own enjoyment only. I make no profit from it, and if asked by someone with the right to do so, I would remove this fiction from the internet immediately.
NOTE: I'm not sure what I'm doing, uploading another oneshot, but I had this on my computer for a couple of months and never uploaded it due to vague dissatisfaction (LOVE the idea, but not so sure the product lived up to its potential) and some confusion about whether it was funny or not. But since it's done, it might as well not moulder, right?
I've said it before, but I'm not really very funny...at least not intentionally. The type of humour I can do is more the type you smile at quietly than laugh out loud at. Still, the basic premise is just silly enough that it kind of HAS to have 'humour' as one of the categories, or that's how I see it.
This story takes place probably about 2 months after current manga developments (we're at chapter 130, atm) perhaps a month after Ren starts filming his new movie.
Ren sighed heavily and rolled his shoulders, trying to ignore the worried look on his manager's face. He knew Yashiro was concerned, but there was nothing he could do to reassure the man; he was already using all his energy just to keep Ren Tsuruga afloat. Every time he got into character as BJ, he felt like a piece of his persona was being stripped away forever, and it was a struggle to bring himself back into the light. BJ was too similar to his true self, in some ways…it was like wallowing in all the things he most hated about himself and his past. He'd finished playing BJ for the day two hours ago and had been working on a magazine shoot most recently, but BJ still clung to him.
Getting into BJ's character made him revert to the state of mind he'd been in at fifteen…and that had been very dark. He'd once said he 'might as well wither to death', and he'd meant it. That had been a very black period in his life when he had held no hope at all and felt trapped, unable to move forward or go back. It had been so bad that his father had called President Takarada over all the way from Japan to try to pull some desperate last trick to save his son from utter despair.
Was he insane, to have taken on a role that took him back to those feelings? After playing BJ for a few hours, he again started focusing on the negative aspects of his life. He still wasn't nearly as successful as his father. There were still times when he couldn't control his own intensity. And the girl he loved…she didn't know his feelings and wouldn't be able to accept them even if she did know about them. Some day she would likely end up falling back in love with Sho Fuwa, the scum who had taken everything from her and then destroyed her will to love and be loved.
When he dove into BJ's character, bitterness sank all the way down to his core, and every time it was a struggle to shake it loose, to remember that that was not who he was anymore, that his life had improved and that there was no aspect of it that was hopeless, now.
"It's a good thing this was a shoot for FX," Yashiro said quietly as they walked toward the car after the photo shoot for the magazine ad was finished. "Their image is edgy and a little sullen, so you looked perfect in the gear, today. But Ren, tomorrow you have to do that commercial for the hospital charity drive…"
"I know," Ren held up a hand to dissuade his manager from saying anything more. "I'm sorry, I know. I'll have it under control."
"I don't mean to pressure you, Ren, but you've been looking more grim every day…" Yashiro worried.
"I just have to find the most effective coping strategy," Ren muttered under his breath, thinking aloud more than attempting to converse. What he needed was a way to immediately disassociate himself from BJ after filming was over for the day. He was still working on finding that method.
"Sometimes I wish you were a girl," Yashiro sighed. Startled by this statement, Ren raised an eyebrow.
"How's that, now?" he asked.
"If you were a girl, I'd just hand you a box of chocolates and tell you to go take a hot soak or something, and you'd be fine."
"That's stereotyping, Yashiro-san," Ren said…but he did smile slightly. Yashiro just looked so distressed, and it sounded like he was more than half serious about the chocolate. "I'll be fine."
They got into Ren's car, and Ren quickly reached into his bag to check his cell phone, as it had been eight hours since he had last looked at his messages. When searching for it, he came across a loose piece of paper, and frowned. He never kept loose papers in his bag. It was too easy for everything to get into disarray, that way. He pulled it out. The paper was pale yellow, with daisies on the corners, and about the size of one of those little lined notepads. Written on it in very neat script was a puzzling message.
'Tsuruga-san,' it began. 'Did you know that eucalyptus is poisonous to people and animals, and that koalas live almost solely on it even so? Also, koalas are nocturnal, and newborns are only a little bit bigger than a jellybean. Who'd have thought something like a koala could be so mysterious?'
"Wh-what the…?" Ren murmured, baffled. It wasn't signed. A confused chuckled slipped out involuntarily. The handwriting was not that of Yashiro or Lory Takarada…nor would either of those men have addressed him as 'Tsuruga-san'. Who on earth would leave such a bizarre note in his bag? When had they done so? "Yashiro-san, can you read this aloud for me?"
Yashiro frowned and accepted the note, reading it aloud as requested. It said just what he'd thought it had. There was a silence.
"What on earth is that about?" Yashiro asked. "Who wrote that?"
"I have no idea. It was floating loose in my bag. I thought you might know something about it."
"If we discovered a mysterious love letter in your bag, that would be easy to understand, but this note about koalas?" Yashiro looked just as baffled as Ren felt.
"Did you see anyone near my bag today?"
"No…most of the time it was in the locker, and when it wasn't, one of us was always nearby, weren't we? It can't have been while you were filming as BJ, since no one knows that the actor playing him is you and you carry a different bag, then. Could it have been put in yesterday?"
"No; I go through my bag every morning before work so that I'm not carrying anything unnecessary around with me."
"Then I guess it was one of the people at the FX shoot," Yashiro suggested helplessly.
"But why would they write a note telling me about eucalyptus and koalas and not explain themselves, or even sign it so I'd know who left it?"
"I am utterly at a loss," Yashiro replied.
"Me too," Ren agreed. They were silent a while, each trying to figure out if they'd missed anything, and they talked about it for a while on the drive, but no solutions to the mystery were forthcoming, so they had to put it aside as one random piece of weirdness.
Ren paused for a moment before getting into the car, taking a deep breath and attempting to properly appreciate the weather that day, with the soft sunlight and the beautiful breeze. Being outside in beautiful weather did help…the only problem was that he didn't have enough time to let it fully recharge him. He sighed silently and turned his attention back to business, lifting the windshield wiper and pulling the flyer out from under it, slinging himself into his car. He glanced at the flyer idly before tossing it aside…and stopped. It was handwritten, not some mass-produced flyer. It was written on plain white 8.5 x 11 paper in the same script as yesterday.
'Tsuruga-san,' the mysterious note-leaver began again. 'A cluster of bananas is called a 'hand' and consists of ten to twenty 'fingers'. And did you know that banana plants are the biggest plants in the world without a woody stem? It's because they're actually considered to be herbs…huge herbs, from the same family of plants that lilies and orchids come from! Isn't that weird?'
Ren gave a short laugh, shaking his head in bafflement. "Yes, it certainly is," he agreed, and Yashiro leaned over to read the item that had Ren so interested. Yashiro's face twisted in confused fascination.
"What, another one?" he said. "Who on earth is leaving these? And why?"
"Well it wouldn't have been hard to access my windshield wiper…all they'd have to do is know which car is mine. It could have been nearly anyone."
"But yesterday it could only have been someone who was able to get into the FX shoot, and who knew which bag was yours. Should we be worried about this?"
"I don't think so," Ren said slowly, looking the note over again. He had no proof for saying so, but nothing about this felt threatening to him. The small, round handwriting and the tone of the notes made him suspect that the writer was female. In fact… "Yashiro-san, don't you get the feeling that these are from Mogami-san?"
"From Kyoko-chan?" By Yashiro's expression, he had not gotten that feeling. "Why on earth would she, though? If she wanted to tell you about koalas and bananas, she could just call you. Though why she would want to do that in the first place…" Yashiro trailed off with a shrug.
"I know the content is odd, but somehow I just feel like it's her," he admitted. He had to confess to himself that he was actually hoping they were from Kyoko. He had no idea why she would leave these strange notes, but he didn't really want to discourage her from doing so. Somehow even the suspicion that this was contact from her made him feel happier…he wasn't seeing her much these days. He wasn't sure how she'd react if he confronted her on the topic…if she was the one writing these notes she had probably neglected to sign them on purpose. Did she think he'd be angry? If so, she'd probably react very badly to being confronted about it. There would be tears and trembling and over-the-top apologies, and Ren didn't want to deal with that.
"Don't you think we should make sure?" Yashiro pressed. "What if it's a stalker?"
"If it's a stalker, it seems like a harmless one," Ren pointed out. "And if it's Mogami-san, then we'll find out what she's up to sooner or later, but for now the notes are kind of amusing, don't you think? So let's just leave it."
"All right." Yashiro was clearly reluctant, but an agreement was an agreement.
Yashiro watched Ren as he read the latest in their series of daily mystery notes. He was smiling slightly as he scanned the little piece of paper, as he usually did; Yashiro was well aware of the fact that Ren was enjoying these notes. In fact, they had lightened his mood noticeably. The notes arrived at a different time each day, and in various places…the car, Ren's jacket pockets, Ren's bag…sometimes they were even stuck into something of Yashiro's, though always addressed to 'Tsuruga-san'. Best of all was when they showed up soon after Ren had finished filming as BJ for the day…that way he came out of his dark introspection right away. It was obvious that Ren had convinced himself that the notes were from Kyoko; there was no way they could have effected such a change in his mood, otherwise. As such Yashiro hated to be a spoilsport, but…
"Ren," Yashiro said slowly. Ren looked up, then handed over the note.
'Tsuruga-san,' this one read. ''Guess what! Steel products can be recycled repeatedly without any loss in strength! And for every ton of steel that gets recycled, 2,400 pounds of iron ore, 1,400 pounds of coal and 120 pounds of limestone are saved as well! It's amazing what you can learn every day, isn't it?'
The notes were still completely innocuous, yes, but…
"Ren," Yashiro said again, reluctantly. "I know you think these notes are from Kyoko-chan, but this makes ten, now, and I still haven't been able to spot who is leaving them. Shouldn't we make sure? Stalkers are nothing to be blasé about. Even ones who seem harmless."
Ren sighed. Yashiro understood that Ren and Kyoko hadn't had much chance to see each other lately and that Ren cherished the notes as evidence that she was thinking about him, even if the way in which she showed it was inexplicable. But there were just too many questions to be asked, and no evidence that the answers would point to Kyoko.
"I'm sorry, Ren, but…"
"I understand," Ren replied, with a dismissive gesture. "But you know if we ask her, she'll go completely overboard with unnecessary apologies." Unspoken went the fact that if she were the one responsible and were to be confronted about it, Kyoko would doubtless stop sending the notes entirely. Yashiro didn't want that, either; these notes were the best help Ren had found for his struggle playing BJ. Yashiro didn't fully understand why the role pulled the actor in so deep, but it was obvious that it was a great effort for him to both perform well and maintain his mental and emotional equilibrium. So of course anything that helped him was something Yashiro wanted to continue. Still, stalkers simply weren't something to treat casually. But…
"Only if you ask her," Yashiro said thoughtfully. "If I ask…"
Ren caught on immediately. "And you don't tell her I suspect anything," he added. Yashiro nodded.
"She won't be upset," Yashiro concluded. "Not much, anyway. If she's the one leaving the notes, I'll make sure she doesn't think she has any reason to worry about it."
"Then I'll leave it to you," Ren conceded.
"Kyoko-chan," Yashiro said, approaching the girl who was cheerfully mopping the floors of the Love Me section. Startled, she looked up, then smiled when she saw him.
"Yashiro-san, I haven't seen you in a while! Are you here with Tsuruga-san?"
Well, technically…Yashiro thought, sweating slightly. Ren was lurking out in the hall, just outside the door, no doubt listening intently.
"Not this time, Kyoko-chan; I just dropped by on a quick errand. Actually, I wanted to ask you something. Ren says that they're harmless and not to mind it, but as his manager I can't be so blasé about a potential stalker. So, I just wanted to check with you about something. Do you know anything about the notes Ren has been getting…one every day for nearly the last two weeks?"
Kyoko coloured immediately, just a slight flush across the top of her cheeks. "Y-you thought they were from a stalker?" she stammered slightly.
"Well, Ren didn't," Yashiro reiterated. "He thinks the notes are totally harmless, at least…but it's my job to make sure. Ren has a lot of fanatic fans, after all, and the notes weren't signed. Since the person leaving them obviously knows where Ren is for at least part of every day, and recognizes all of his possessions…well…" he trailed off with a shrug, letting her draw her own conclusions.
"Oh, no, Yashiro-san! I'm so, so sorry…it was me. I didn't realize you'd think it was something to worry about! I never intended that at all."
"It's all right, Kyoko-chan," Yashiro switched from serious to cheerful. "As long as it's you, it's fine! The notes didn't bother Ren, so it is my own concern alone that I'm here to assuage. But…why were you leaving such strange notes? And why not sign them? Even if you had reason to tell Ren the orbital speed of Jupiter's moons, why not call him with the information?"
Holding the mop handle tightly in her concern, Kyoko leaned forward slightly as she explained. "I didn't have to tell him any of those things," she admitted. "I know the notes are really weird and stupid, but…" she hesitated, cheeks pinker than ever.
"What is it?" Yashiro prompted kindly, curiosity burning. He would have bet his last cent on Ren listening even more closely, and held in a chuckle as he imagined it.
"Well…" Kyoko hesitated some more, then sighed. "Tsuruga-san has been looking so serious, lately. At first I wasn't sure, but he's been wearing that face more and more often, even when I just glimpse him in the halls for a moment, and I…I hate not being able to do anything. I-I mean, he always takes such good care of me. I didn't know what else to do; I just thought that if he could take his mind off whatever is bothering him, even for a minute…that would be one minute when he wasn't making that face. I can't ask him about it…I'm his kohai. How can a kohai help her senpai with a work problem? And if it's a personal problem, it would be too presumptuous of me. So, I…well, I don't know why I thought this was helping, but somehow I couldn't stop myself. Have I made things worse?"
"No, no!" Yashiro rushed to reassure her. "Ren thinks the notes are funny." To say he found them 'funny' was not entirely accurate. Believing that they came from Kyoko, Ren thought the notes were adorable. And they had certainly cheered him up; whenever he got one, he entirely lost that dark look he got when he was struggling to escape BJ's character. "Actually, I think he likes them. He particularly liked the one about the bananas…and the one about custard." Frankly, Yashiro had found the custard trivia disturbing. But Kyoko had added some rather interesting commentary to that particular note…her personal thoughts on custard…and as he read it, Ren had covered his face and bent over the steering wheel with his shoulders shaking. What part Ren had been laughing about Yashiro was not certain, but it was probably more over Kyoko's eccentricity than the information itself.
"O-oh. That's good, then. I'm glad!" she finally stopped looking like a puppy that was imagining a big rolled up newspaper hanging over her head, though she was still blushing.
"Why the notes, though, Kyoko-chan?"
"Like I said…I don't really know. I didn't know what else to do."
"Didn't you feel kind of…silly?" he wondered.
"Are you kidding?" Kyoko asked dryly. "I feel like an idiot every time. First of all, you wouldn't believe the things I had to do to get the notes to Tsuruga-san in the first place; I didn't always know where the car was, and I could never guarantee that he'd have anything out at the right time on set or wherever I managed to catch up with him…and I didn't want to get caught because…well because it's such a weird thing to be doing! And of course I know Tsuruga-san isn't likely to be interested in the chemical properties of a lemon, but…well I've already said it, Yashiro-san. I was just hoping it could…distract him, I guess. Since that's all I can do, then even if it's something stupid and embarrassing…" she trailed off with a shrug, fiddling uncomfortably with the mop.
"That's sweet, Kyoko-chan," Yashiro smiled.
"Y-Yashiro-san, it's not 'sweet'!" Kyoko scolded. "I was just trying to…"
"Yes, I understand," Yashiro interrupted, reassuring her, refusing to let her ruin things by attempting to explain why her actions were not something to find 'sweet'. They were sweet, whether Kyoko was comfortable with that or not, and he wasn't going to let her say otherwise! "Ren is lucky to have such a concerned kohai."
"No, I'm the lucky one," she contradicted. "Please don't tell him about this, Yashiro-san."
"I won't," Yashiro promised. "Though he wouldn't mind…"
"No, please don't tell," Kyoko urged again, a little desperately.
"I won't," he said again. "Well, then…since that mystery is solved… I'll be on my way. Thank you Kyoko-chan. See you again soon, I hope."
"Yes, I hope so," she agreed, and waved as Yashiro slipped out the door to find Ren sitting on a bench very near by, his elbows on his knees and his head cradled in his hand, face mostly hidden. Yashiro could see the corner of his mouth curving upwards, but more telling than that was the fact that the entire hallway was seemed to be filled with radiance, a glow emanating from the man on the bench.
"Well, well," Yashiro said, very quietly, so that it wouldn't carry back into the room, to Kyoko's ears. "It was Kyoko-chan after all, as you suspected. What do you think of that?"
Ren's hand passed over his face slowly and he drew himself up off the bench, raising his head and lowering his hand, composed once more. But when he smiled wordlessly in Yashiro's direction, the soft, brilliant warmth of his eyes gave all the answer that was needed.
Thank you, Kyoko-chan. Somehow you have come to the top of my list of items necessary to properly 'manage' Ren, Yashiro thought, his own smile safely hidden behind Ren's back.
Additional Note: The facts Kyoko sent Ren? All true. Also, she personally illustrated several of them.