Disclaimer: Skip Beat! belongs to Yoshiki Nakamura. No money is being made with this story.
Dear readers, since it is Rens birthday today in the manga I decided to write a little something to let off some steam. ;-) I hope you enjoy it, even though it's not long.
Happy Birthday, Ren!
It had been a long, hard day for Ren Tsuruga. As had been his wish, Yashiro, his manager, had packed his schedule to capacity so he would be busy enough to avoid his many fans and well-wishers.
It wasn't that Ren didn't like his fans, and he was certainly grateful that people liked him enough to wish him well. It was just … since leaving America and his parents he had disliked every kind of holiday, be it Christmas, Japanese holidays or even his own birthday.
He simply had no use for them.
Since beginning his act as "Ren Tsuruga" he hadn't formed any real, lasting friendships (the relationship to Takarada-san or Yashiro didn't count; the former was more of an uncle and the latter almost like an annoying, albeit very capable, cousin or even brother, and all the other people only got to know an act anyway, someone who wasn't truly 'real') so he hadn't felt the desire to actually celebrate on these occasions.
Of course, all of this had changed when Kyoko Mogami had stumbled back into his life.
At first she had just sparked his interest with her unusual ways and her less than impressive reason to enter the showbiz. That spark had quickly grown into a small flame which, over time, had blossomed into a torch. Recognizing her as his long lost childhood friend had only sped the process up.
Ren was a taciturn man out of necessity. He had a whole identity and less than stellar past to hide while also trying to keep his temper in check – which was tested more often than not, even without the current circumstances (but we will come back to those later).
Having his childhood friend turn up so unexpectedly therefore put him into a considerable dilemma: He remembered her carefree and giving character and tried to match these memories with the actual girl, which, as anyone could surely understand, made it necessary to get in contact with her, to get her talking.
At first Ren had been bitterly disappointed by how much she had changed. She had seemed like a vengeful harpy that had entered showbiz for a petty wish for revenge. He hadn't known then what had happened with her, and frankly, he hadn't really been interested enough to know.
But they belonged to the same agency and that meant they crossed paths every now and then. Back then the LoveMe-Section really got people talking, especially when a second member turned up just days later. And those shockingly pink overalls were hard to miss, too.
Despite himself Ren watched her from a distance, first merely in passing curiosity, then in open interest. Soon that disastrous first impression began to change when he saw her working hard and trying her best at every job they gave her.
Unfortunately, interest didn't even begin to cover the feelings he was now feeling for her. His childhood friend had redeemed and proven herself as an actress over and over, always astounding her friends and colleagues anew although they knew her well enough by now and should expect nothing less from her.
Ren's second 'first impression' of her had completely changed – in fact it had done a complete one-eighty, much like that of a certain Elizabeth Bennet had in the famous novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
No, Kyoko Mogami was not a vengeful beast bent on destroying the one that had hurt her (even though the prick deserved it). She was still a hard-working, intelligent, honest and loyal girl. She could also be very funny when she wanted to be, and she was even more so when it was unintentional. True, her cute pigtails were gone, but Ren had never really cared about a girl's hairdo. Hers suited her personality – it was changeable and easy to manage, both practical and chic, and that was that.
The problem obviously wasn't the girl … it was him.
After two years of knowing her Ren had lost all of his considerable amount of common sense and fallen in love with the girl. He was, he had admitted it to himself (and even Yashiro on a weak evening with one drink too many), head over heels for Kyoko Mogami, his childhood friend turned crush turned love of his life.
Sometimes he wondered if fate really was so cruel to send him The One in exactly that moment when she wanted nothing more to do with love, or if fate had decided to give both of them another chance at it, when it was proven that other people just didn't work out for them.
For Ren it certainly hadn't ever worked out. It was easy to meet women who were beautiful. He himself was still on top of 'Japan's Most Desirable Men' poll and therefore highly sought after but with 'The most beautiful of all' for a mother Ren had learned early that outward appearances were only skin-deep and that true beauty also came from the inside.
He'd had his fair share of girlfriends and even affairs but eventually those had become unsatisfying and even boring. The girls hadn't been able to tell him what they wanted from him, always expecting him to know, to be the perfect boyfriend. When they broke up he had mostly been indifferent and after a while he hadn't even bothered and work had taken the place of a lover. Since then he had been a lost cause to both President Takarada and Yukihito Yashiro.
For Kyoko it had been the other way around. Some people had called her 'damaged goods' concerning love because Shotaro Fuwa, her childhood Prince, had used her as a cheap maid and then thrown away like a used rag. Since that day she had scoffed about finding romantic love for herself, preferring to work instead to make it to the top quickly.
Her friends didn't mean the comment in a bad way, it was more of a sad observation because Kyoko was astoundingly, absolutely and completely capable of being oblivious to romantic advances. She cared for many of her co-workers and was able to become friends with just about anybody but when it came to men trying to ask her out … well, the list of guys who had gotten shot down without even being able to ask would be too long to include in this little story.
Well, they were both 'damaged goods', Ren mused. He swiped his key card through the card reader, causing his apartment door to open obligingly.
She had been burned so badly that she feared the fire, and his had never truly been kindled before.
But he loved her now, his naïve little princess. He loved her so much that he sometimes felt physically ill when she wasn't with him, smiling and generously sharing her optimism.
Sighing, he entered his apartment, switching he lights on and toeing off his loafers.
His thoughts returned to the beginning of his mental ramblings.
Ren hated his birthday.
Already he was another year older. It reminded him of the goal he had set for himself seven years ago. He had wanted to make his own name, away from his too-famous parents. Considering that he was Japan's top actor as well as Most Desirable Celebrity he might have fulfilled his quest. Still, there was something that kept him here, kept him from revealing his past to the world and become the man he really wanted and needed to be.
This something, he thought with a groan, was that girl.
He needed to tell her first, needed to see whether she could love him even a little, if only as a friend. The word 'love' hurt her almost as much as the feeling itself, and it was painful to watch. Ren knew that he couldn't keep it bottled up much longer, though. He needed to clear the tension between them and tell her in clear terms what he wanted. Only then could he let go and perhaps, one day, start a life without her.
That she would ever consider his feelings seemed so improbable that Ren rarely entertained any hopeful notions. His feelings were real but he had no reason to believe that they would be returned one day. Her behavior had made that very clear.
Sighing again, he flopped down onto his couch and switched the TV on with a lazy flick of the remote control. Yashiro had cleared his schedule for tomorrow enough so that he could sleep in – it was the only small reprieve he allowed himself.
Today had been so hectic that he didn't even have the time to speak with Kyoko. Not even on the phone. He was so used to their little chats at all odd hours that he felt quite lonely.
Last year she had been so distraught upon discovering that she had his birthday wrong that he had felt oddly special. Her honest, giving nature had warmed him up like ice in the sunshine (forgive the pun) and melted the last reservations he might have had. Besides, he had also received a unique Valentine's Day gift and had felt very pleased with himself, all things considered.
So it was understandable that he felt a bit lonely this year, even though he himself had wished for his special day to be hectic. Right now he called himself a fool and a loser. He wished for whiskey on the rocks but felt too tired and drained to get up.
For a few minutes he stared mindlessly at the TV, not bothering to zap around although the current show didn't interest him.
Only half an hour until midnight.
Half an hour and his birthday would be over. The time for celebration would have passed and the newest of his years would begin bleaker than many other years of his young life.
Fool! he cursed himself.
The doorbell rang.
At first Ren didn't react. He couldn't quite get his mind around the fact that someone wanted to see him so late in the night.
But the doorbell rang again, spurring him into action.
Ren opened the door without looking who it was. Yashiro would have his head on a normal day (there were fans and there were fans after all) but tonight Ren wasn't up to be disappointed too early. He enjoyed the few moments of hoping that it might be Kyoko demanding entrance before reality would undoubtedly throw him back to Earth.
" … "
"Good evening, Tsuruga-san," she said timidly. "I know it is very late but Yashiro-san told me that you'd be working long tonight."
Speechless and almost doubting what he saw, Ren motioned her inside. It took all of his willpower to get his slipping face under control. Still silent, he watched her take off her cute, girly coat and stylish boots. At one point he had gotten more guest slippers (previously he had owned only one pair, and that was too large for most people) so she wouldn't have to walk around in socks and perhaps catch a cold. She slipped into 'her' pair with practiced ease, the shoes long since having been formed to be comfortable for her feet.
Only when she hefted her backpack and a bag that looked suspiciously like take-out and disappeared into his kitchen, did he shake off his surprise.
"I don't want to be rude, but what are you doing here so late?" Ren asked, letting his question linger. "It's almost midnight."
"Oh, I know that," she replied with a smile. "I really hurried to get here. Sorry that I didn't call you today, Yashiro-san told me how busy you are."
For you I would have made the time … anytime, he thought tenderly. Out loud he said: "That's true. I only got here half an hour ago."
"And on your birthday, too," she admonished. "Now, please take a seat. I brought you something to eat from the Daruma-ya. Taisho insisted. He and the Okami-san send their congratulations."
Stunned, Ren sat. Kyoko placed a plate of food in front of him. She then hurried away to get him a glass of the wine she had also brought.
"Won't you eat something, Mogami-san?" Ren asked when she had returned.
"I've already eaten, thank you. Besides, this is just for you. Taisho kept his best meat just for you so please accept his gift." She looked at him so pleadingly that he gave in, took the chop sticks and began to eat.
The meat almost melted in his mouth, despite having been cooked a while ago and carried through the cold. It was delicious. Ren nearly enjoyed eating it, especially when she admitted that she had helped with the cooking. The plate wasn't overly full which also helped him polish it off.
Kyoko glanced at her wristwatch when she took the dishes away. Ren had barely let out a sigh when she was back again, this time with a tiny cake, barely larger than a big muffin. She had stuck a colourful candle in its soft top.
"What is that?" Ren felt he had to ask. The little confection looked as if it came straight out of a puppet store. It was perfect with its tiny adornments and cocoa icing, and it even had real fruit in it.
"This is a miniature strawberry-chocolate cake. I made it very light since you mentioned that you don't really like sweets." Blushing, Kyoko fidgeted with a lighter. "Uhm, but it wouldn't be right to celebrate your birthday without any cake at all, would it? So I made it really small so that you can take a bite and have it over with … I hope it is okay. You don't have to eat it if you really don't want to, though."
Touched and feeling annoyingly sentimental, Ren showed her his warmest smile.
"No, that's alright, Mogami-san. You went through all that trouble, the least I can do is having a taste." Still smiling, he watched as she lightened the small candle.
"I wish you a happy birthday," she whispered while offering the beautiful little cake to him. "May all of your wishes come true, Tsuruga-san."
"Thank you," he replied around the lump in his throat. The candlelight made her look even more beautiful to him. Her amber eyes shone with emotion and her face was relaxed in happy relief.
Making a wish he quickly blew out the candle before he made a fool out of himself and perhaps stared at her for too long.
Carefully, Ren then proceeded to cut the cake in two halves, offering one to her. Smiling, she took it from him. Their fingers touched briefly, causing Rens whole hand to tingle and his heart to skip a beat. Sneaking a glance at Kyoko, he saw her blushing again and lowering her eyes.
His heart decided to skip another beat.
Perhaps all hope wasn't lost. He would find out later though. First he had to eat his birthday cake.
Hello, I really hope you liked my little birthday story. Perhaps I'll write another chapter and see how they handle revealing their feelings to each other ;-)
That being said: Happy Birthday, Ren Tsuruga! ^_^