Summary: Kyoko was unprepared when Ren made the mistake of showing his true feelings, and she ran away. Now she is more mature, but is unwilling to forgive herself for her childish action. Will Ren be able to win his way back to her side before another steals her heart?
Disclaimer: I do not own SkipBeat! or any of the manga's characters. All of the rest is the invention of my odd, restless mind.
Chapter 23 – Never Again
Kyoko smiled and bowed to Chisato, which, in the world of the okami-sans, was high praise for a job well done. Chisato tried unsuccessfully to suppress the grin that insisted on breaking out on her face. Then she tried to rise up from her kneeling position and the grin promptly disappeared. In her mind she groaned as the blood began to rush to her legs, but this time she was able to maintain her composure. Kyoko watched sympathetically; she knew exactly what Chisato must be feeling at that moment. She felt a surge of pride and affection for the slightly older lady as she stepped aside to allow the okami-san-in-training to exit the Snowflower Room.
"Your tea ceremony has improved marvelously, Chisato-san," Kyoko had felt uncomfortable using the future okami-san's given name, but Chisato had insisted. "You have learned so much in such a short time that I am amazed."
Chisato's grin of pleasure was tempered with a feeling of guilt, "I'm glad to hear you say that, Kyoko-san… but I haven't improved quickly enough. I feel really guilty about the fact that you still have to stay here for another few weeks while Tsuruga-san has to head back to Tokyo. I'm very sorry."
Kyoko couldn't completely hide the sadness in her expression as she replied, "I couldn't possibly expect you to learn everything any more quickly than you have, Chisato-san. A ryokan is unlike a modern hotel, and the okami-san is the person who makes the experience real for our guests. I want you to feel absolutely comfortable and confident with every aspect of the job before I step aside… and Re… Tsuruga-san understands."
Yet even as her mouth said the words, her eyes were scanning the foyer and the dining hall, trying to catch even a glimpse of the man she loved. He was nowhere to be seen.
Ren stood on the edge of the tarmac as he watched the single-engine American Express airplane settle onto the runway. He felt anxious even though he had already confirmed that the package he had been waiting for was on this flight. He wasn't going to be satisfied until he had it in his hands and he had verified the contents. He understood why his mother had insisted on her contribution, but he would have been better pleased had she just sent to smaller package without waiting for the dresses to be completed. Still, he was glad that Yashiro had been called back to Tokyo, or he would have found all sorts of amusement out of Ren's anxiety.
The plane turned off of the runway now and taxied up the tiny terminal building he was standing in front of. He watched impatiently as the man from the terminal slowly wheeled his cart out to the plan, popped the door, and began to carefully extract each package. Ren was normally a patient man, but at the moment he wanted to march up and take over; at least until his package was identified. Instead he forced a nonchalant expression on his face and carelessly scanned the horizon. Until the man began walking back.
"'pears I have a package for you, Mister Hizuri… or are you Mister Tsuruga… I can't quite get that straight in my mind," the elderly man said as he wheeled his cart back toward the terminal building. "Would you like to take it now?"
Ren presented his most gentlemanly smile and said, "I may as well, Norita-san, since I'm here anyway." He accepted the pen from the elderly man's outstretched hand and signed in the spot indicated. Then he waited again as the man carefully separated the triplicate form, folded the customer copy, and handed it to Ren. Then, before the man could strike up a conversation, Ren picked up the box, bowed, and made a hasty exit. He allowed his long legs to carry him to the Morishita Ryokan's truck before using his keys to score the packing tape so that he could rip open the lid. His mother had personally created three new dresses for Kyoko to use for her return to Tokyo. He carefully lifted the first dress off of the top to reveal what was concealed underneath. Anxious fingers took up the smaller package and opened the lid. All was well with Ren's world as he beheld the contents and smiled.
"Are you sure about this, Takanami-san?" The Editor prompted one more time, "You do realize that you can write your own ticket here in Tokyo now that you have practically become LME's personal reporter, don't you?"
Aika smiled tolerantly and continued to clean out her desk, "I'm sure, Editor-san. Don't worry. I'm only relocating to our affiliate newspaper. I promise to continue to provide you with valuable articles about the Hizuri's and anyone else who crosses my path. Besides, you know that I'll be available for any travelling assignments you want to send my way. But in-between those assignments I want to live with my husband."
"I doubt that many stars will 'cross your path' while working at the Fujioka affiliate. Perhaps there will be quite a few heading out to Ukita Island?" He sighed dramatically, "It's a shame really. You were made for Tokyo, my dear young lady… still, who am I to stand in the way of true love. You will send me an invitation, won't you?"
"Hai, Editor-san," Aika responded in a sing-song voice; and with that she gave the grizzled old man a peck on the cheek before hefting her box and heading for the door. The other reporters seated nearby whistled and clapped, either to say goodbye to Aika or to tease the Editor. Aika turned and bowed to her peers and then she was gone.
It was curious to her that she felt so completely at peace with her decision now. With her major scoop four weeks ago, and the subsequent insider news that had followed, Aika had finally achieved the level of professional acceptance that she had struggled to achieve. And yet, now that she was acknowledged as a serious player by her Tokyo peers, she no longer cared. What comparison was there, really, between the envious acknowledgment from those who she barely knew and the loving support of Keitaro, her family, and friends? She could have both her career and her love, she now understood, simply by being willing to take a less prominent posting just across the water from her home. Besides, now that she had proven her trustworthiness to the Hizuris, she knew that she would often be in-the-loop on big issues that she might have only guessed at while sitting at her desk in Tokyo.
The event taking place on Ukita Island were the perfect example. She only wished that she could be there to mimic Kyoko's performance from a week before. Good Luck, Ren.
Kyoko tried to argue once again as Ren firmly guided her out of the ryokan and over to his car, "Tsu… Ren, it's the start of the lunch hour! I really can't afford to leave right…"
She gave a startled cry as Ren pulled her toward him and bent to give her a quick kiss. "Trust me, Kyoko. Chisato, Maki and Satako assure me that they can handle things. You and I have our own lunch plans."
Red faced and feeling flushed, Kyoko could only nod docilely as Ren gently guided her into her seat and reached across her to buckle her in. As he pulled back his face stopped inches in front of her and her eyes grew wide. She thought he was going to give her another kiss, but he only smiled his evil, seductive smile and then stood to move to his side of the car. He's playing with me. That's not fair. With great effort she restrained the hand that wanted to reach up and touch her lips where his kiss still lingered.
The car followed the single highway until they reached the same easy-to-overlook turnoff that Ren had taken on that other occasion. "We're going to the property?" She asked curiously. That did make sense. Ever since the day he had shown her the property he had been meeting with an architect to discuss the floor plan and details. Ren, normally so calm and placid, had immersed himself in the planning until he reminded her of a schoolboy preparing for his first big trip… sort of like the Corn she remembered from her childhood. As much as she loved the Ren's controlled character, she also found this other, hidden side to be very endearing.
As Kyoko had expected, Ren slowed and turned off onto the property on the ridge. She gasped in surprise when she saw that there was a small platform built, and that a meal was already set out on a table. She looked inquisitively at Ren, but he only smiled as he climbed out of the car to walk over and open her door. "Come, let's eat before the food gets cold."
"But how…" she looked around to find the workers who had set the table, but there was nobody around.
"Magic, my dear Kyoko. After all," he grinned mischievously, "I am the Prince of the Faerie Kingdom."
Kyoko blushed to remember how firmly she had believed in Corn's magical identity. Ren guided her gently into her seat. Then he popped the cork on a bottle of wine and poured her a small portion. Lifting the lids on the various trays, he revealed a sumptuous feast of Kyoko's favorite foods. Once again she looked at Ren with a question in her eyes. He smiled and said, "Kazue cooked the meal and Mayor Namuro's wife graciously offered to deliver it… you've made some very devoted friends, Kyoko." He grabbed several serving utensils and extended them to Kyoko, "Here… please eat."
Kyoko was surprised to realize the tall actor was actually very nervous, not at all his usual self. More than just nervous, he actually seemed apprehensive. "Tsu…Ren… Is something wrong? Is everything…"
"Everything's fine, Kyoko… it's just… well I didn't really plan things out when I heard that you were caught in the storm. I came here without intending, I mean, I didn't arrange things in advance and then we were up there on the mountain in the cave and I just said it… which wasn't the way that I had visualized…" He stopped talking and suddenly dropped to one knee while fishing around in his pocket. Then he grinned as his hand extracted a small black box, which he opened and extended towards Kyoko. "Mogami Kyoko, I would be honored if you would accept this ring, and my hand, in marriage"
Kyoko's eyes sprouted tears as she looked into Ren's handsome face and nodded as she extended her hand. Ren pulled the ring out of its protective case and slid it onto her slender finger. He continued to hold her hand and study the effect until he rocked back on his heels and pronounced, "There, that's better." Then he gave her a hug and kiss before moving to his seat at the table.
Kyoko tilted her head at the curious words. She waited until he was seated before asking, "Why were you so nervous when I'd already said yes?"
Ren reached across and took possession of her hand. "You have been a difficult person to catch, Kyoko. I knew that I would never feel secure until my ring was on your finger. Do you like the ring? It was my grandmothers."
Kyoko studied her hand in Ren's, and the ring on her finger, "It's truly beautiful. Is it really okay for me to wear her ring?"
"Of course, Kyoko. It was set aside for me for the day on which I would choose the woman I wanted to share the rest of my life with. It has just been waiting for you."
Kyoko was less joyful that same evening as she watched Ren's plane leave the runway and leap into the air. It would only be another week or two, but she already felt lonely watching him go.
Two weeks later, Kyoko glanced nervously over at Kotonami Kanae as the little jet taxied off of the Tokyo runway and toward the large crowd of expectant spectators. Kanae had been sent along with the jet by Takarada Lory in order to prepare the prodigal actress for what was coming. Less than two years before, Kyoko had snuck out of Tokyo as a relatively unknown actress, despite having two very popular dramas under her belt. For almost eighteen months she had lived anonymously and with relative obscurity. Now she was returning to Tokyo as one of the most talked about young celebrities in Japan. She was the young lady whom Tsuruga Ren had chosen for his bride. She was the young star who had abandoned her career in order to help save the hotel of an elderly friend. She was the twice-blessed figure who had survived nineteen hours in a typhoon in a tiny yacht. All of those stories and more had circulated, along with multiple photos of the captivating young okami-san. Now everyone wanted to be on-hand to watch the rising star's triumphal return to Tokyo.
Kyoko was unaware that she was squeezing Kanae's hand until her friend snapped, "Careful, Kyoko. I need that hand!"
"Gomen, Moko-san… it's just… well couldn't we have the pilot taxi us to somewhere more…" She glanced out the window again, feeling a little green.
Kanae shook her head in amusement, "Kyoko, most actresses dream of being greeted by a crowd like that. You must be the only one who dreads the idea. What exactly made you choose to go into acting in the first place?"
Kyoko looked at her friend, mostly to avoid looking out the window, "Oh, I love acting, Moko-san. I'm just not really into the whole popularity thing."
Kanae rolled her eyes heavenward, "Well you had better get into it, because you're going to marry Tsuruga Ren, Japan's most popular actor. Even if you weren't a rising star yourself, you could have expected to become well known for that reason. Anyway, we've already talked about this all of the way here. Look, the ramp is at the door. It's showtime!"
It was over an two hours later by the time Kyoko had given her last interview and signed her last autograph. Per prior agreement, Ren stayed away during Kyoko's initial return so that the spotlight would be focused on her. Takarady Lory had decided that this event would help to demonstrate Kyoko's popularity, thereby giving her a better chance for job offers. Not that this was too large of an issue, since there were already seven scripts sitting on Matsushima's desk waiting for Kyoko's attention. Still, LME did not grow into Japan's number one talent agency through lack of attention to details.
Matsushima and the Acting Department would have to wait now. Tsuruga Ren had been as cooperative as he intended to be on that day. Now he wanted Kyoko's undivided attention, and nobody was going to deprive him. He stood there in the entry of LME, oblivious to the stares and amusement from the many people passing through the lobby. His eyes were fixed on the driveway in front of the main doors. And then the limo pulled up to the curb and Ren was out of the door. Kyoko suddenly found herself gently but firmly pulled out of the vehicle and into those long arms she had missed so much. Just like that, she knew that she was home and where she belonged.
Nine years later:
Hizuri Kuu stretched his long legs under the coffee table of his children's Ukita Island home and watched the awards ceremony while cradling the newest member of the family, one-year old Koshiro. Outside on the large patio his tall, handsome son was flipping steaks… the only cooking that he was allowed to do. Oddly, Kuon seemed to know how to grill a perfect steak despite the fact that he couldn't even cook ramen without it bloating. Beyond the patio stretched the forest and then Old Town, where Kuu knew that Julie had taken Maki and Satako shopping. Maki had only recently returned to the island after completing her Master's degree. She had also finally given in to Sanjuro's persistent pursuit. In one week she would marry Satako's younger brother. It was fitting, since Satako had pursued and captured the heart of Morihiro two years ago. Kyoko had remained behind to make dinner for everyone.
Kuu felt a pair of slender arms wrap around his shoulders, "Are you watching that again, Otou-san? How many times do you need to see the same tired old awards ceremony?"
Kuu tried to sit up and act offended while at the same time trying to avoid disturbing the precious bundle in his arms. "I'll have you know that it's not every day that a man gets to watch his son, his daughter, and his granddaughter receiving top awards all in the same night."
Kyoko gave her father-in-law a benign smile, "Sumiko is pretty amazing, Otou-san. I've never heard of anyone winning Best Supporting Actress at the age of seven."
Kuu beamed proudly, "With parents like hers, what else can we expect? Between the two of you the Hizuri's swept the honors. Now we'll just have to see how you do in the U.S." Kyoko would be departing in three weeks to film her first movie in the United States. There had been several other offers over the past nine years, but she had always turned them down. The producers found her weak spot this time when they offered her the chance to play the queen of a magical forest people in a major film. They had sealed the deal when they had asked Kotonami Kanae to play the role of her arch enemy. This would only be their second film together.
Kyoko pouted, "It's not fair. I finally get the role I wanted in an American film and Ren is stuck here. Why can't we ever seem to get movies in the same place at the same time? First it was Korea, and then Japan, and now the United States."
"Are you complaining or bragging," another voice broke in. Kyoko looked over to see Takage Akemi walking through the kitchen.
"Akemi! How was the zoo? Did my children behave?" The Takage's had taken their son and Kyoko's older two children on a day trip to the mainland. Akemi had set aside her journalism career to raise her son and to write best-selling books. The two families made time to visit whenever Ren and Kyoko found the time to visit their island home,.
"Just like the angels they are… though I think I caught a glimpse of the horns holding up Eijiro's halo. He was having great fun teasing Sumiko and Keiji. You know how my son looks at your daughter? Well, little brother was having a great time embarrassing the two of them." Kyoko knew that her daughter was just as infatuated with Akemi's son. Keiji looked like a carbon copy of his handsome father and the Sumiko was smitten.
Kuu turned his head, "Your son is interested in my granddaughter? Perhaps I'd better have a talk with the young man…"
"You just leave those two children alone, Otou-san," Kyoko said in a teasing but firm voice, "You're as bad as Eijiro. Don't you dare scare that poor boy off."
Keitaro had walked in during the conversation and he gave a deep-throated chuckle, "Oh, there's not much chance of that. Do you know that he's already completely worn out our DVD copy of The Faerie Stream? He doesn't really care about the story, he just wants to watch Sumiko." Morihiro had gotten hold of Ren and Kyoko's childhood story and used it as inspiration for a romantic film. Naturally, Kyoko's golden-eyed daughter had captured the role as the child-version of the main female character.
"I still think that I should have a talk with him," Kuu grumped, not entirely good-naturedly.
"Otou-san, it's not like they're teenagers. Keiji is eight and Sumiko is only seven. It's just puppy-love."
Ren had walked in holding a tray of steaks as Kyoko spoke, and he regarded her with that look that still made her feel weak in the knees. "I knew another seven year-old who was quite formidable with her shining golden eyes."
Kyoko blushed and then started glancing around. "Where are they now, by the way?"
"I dropped them off at the ryokan so that they could visit with old Morishita," Keitaro answered, "He's always happy to see them and they'll be able to play with Kazue's kids. Chisato said that she would drive them up in time for Maki's party."
Kyoko sighed, "As much as I love acting, this place is home and all of the people around here are our true neighbors."
It was later on the same evening when the four older Hizuris sat together on the patio under the starlight. The children had been put to bed and the visitors had gone home. Kuu and Julie sat and pretended to look at the stars, but instead they were watching their handsome son as he gazed at Kyoko. One of the greatest joys in a parent's life is to see his or her child joined together with the perfect partner. Neither of them could imagine Kuon with any other woman, neither could they imagine Kyoko with another man. The fact that both had struggled so much in the beginning only made the happy ending more worthwhile.
Suddenly Julie sat up and released her husband's hand, "Oh, I almost forgot." She looked at the younger couple and smiled, "Don't go anywhere. I've brought you something." The other three followed her progress into the house until she disappeared from view. Then Ren turned to look at his father with one eyebrow raised. Kuu could only shrug.
Julie was out again in a flash with a large, rectangular package that was obviously a picture frame. The twinkle in her eye and the grin on her face made the younger couple feel nervous. She smiled triumphantly as she extended the package to her son, "Here Kuon; I suspect that you might like this… at least I'm sure that it will move your heart."
Ren looked at his still-beautiful mother before reaching around to break the tape. As he carefully worked, Julie talked. "Cindy Edwards was sorting through her archives when she encountered this photo that both of us had forgotten about. You see, a photographer can't publish the photo of a person without the express consent of the person. Cindy never had the courage to speak with the subject of this photograph due to the emotional impact… you see, she was afraid to ask the person about why she looked so sad…
Ren had the package unwrapped now, but the night was too dark to see the image well. "Kyoko, could you…?" Kyoko was already out of her seat, moving over to the corner of the patio where the light switch was mounted. When the lights on the poles flashed on, Ren looked down at the picture frame and his eyes grew wide.
Kyoko returned to stand behind him so that she could look over his shoulder and she said, "Oh!" She looked up at Julie and then back down on the photo. Ren was still completely absorbed, oblivious to his surroundings as he looked at the blown-up image of a beautiful young lady with heart-breakingly sad golden eyes standing on a rail, looking off toward the horizon. Kyoko looked at Julie again, "but... how? When in the world did Cindy take this?"
Julie glanced over at her son, and then smiled softly at the subject of the photograph. "You may not remember, but you went to Fujioka to mail a package on the day that my team first went to the island for our modeling shoot. We actually travelled on the same ferry. That's when Cindy took that photo. She wanted to submit it to the contest, but since she never got your consent, she has to set it aside."
Ren reached one hand up and ran a finger along the picture. "Your eyes looked so sad," he said, his voice deep and emotional. He looked up into Kyoko's face with an expression that made her heart ache.
She could have told him about her self-imposed exile. She could have talked about how desperately she had missed him and how hopeless she had felt. There were so many things that Kyoko could have told Ren at that moment, but it was all unnecessary. Instead, Kyoko took the picture out of his large hands and sat it on the table. Then she turned and sat in Ren's lap without any trace of embarrassment. Her golden eyes met his green eyes and held them as she spoke softly, oblivious of even the presence of Kuu and Julie, "There was once a very foolish young girl who was afraid of love. Then one day the most wonderful man in the world, her prince, offered her the thing that she feared. As I said, she was very foolish, and she ran away. For a long time that foolish girl was always sad. Thankfully, her prince wasn't as foolish. He found her again and he made that foolish girl understand that one should never be afraid of true love." She traced the slender fingers of one hand along Ren's jaw. "And now that foolish, undeserving girl will never, ever look that sad again."
And, true to her word, she never did.
This concludes the story Sad Eyes. I hope that you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it. I know that several of you wanted me to include the story of the wedding, but I decided against it. Another story in progress, The Shadow's Heart, will feature Ren and Kyoko's wedding, and I didn't want to exhaust the subject.
Several people also wanted Fuwa Sho to make an appearance, but I decided that this would be too formulaic. Actually, I couldn't seem to find him in the story… if that makes sense.
Thank you to everyone who took the time to read and review this story and to those who made it a favorite.