Story - Love As Is
Author - Yours Truly, my dear readers.
Genre - Glass Mask, romance!
Preface - Hayami Masumi & Kitajima Maya, star-crossed lovers? Perhaps. It's been three years since Tsukikage-sama cut herself off from the world, since Masumi married, since Maya re-entered the acting industry to perfect her craft. But things are changing, an old love blossoming, and no one can help Maya and Masumi but themselves. Will they...or won't they?
Key - The cross-like figure represents a break in time within the same point of view. The cross surrounded by left and right slashes represents a switch in point of view and, more often than not, a break in time from the previous dialogue.
Author's Notes: I've actually been thinking about writing this for awhile...there are so few 'Whatever happened to them?' out there. I listened to FrouFrou's "The Dumbing Down of Love", Sara Bareilles' "Betwen the Lines" & "Gravity", and Kate Havnevik's "Grace" while writing the break up scene. Go figure. Anyway, here ya go! Enjoy.
"The beginning is the most important part of the work." - Plato
"How do you feel about your upcoming role in the second remake of Hotelier?"
"Is it true that Daitou Theater has made offers to get you to leave Seiriten & Co?"
"Have you heard news of Ayumi-san's role in the movie Koi Zora?"
Maya Kitajima blinked once but let the questions wash over her. So many questions, so many people. And so little time. Starlets gave up many things in their quests to become the best in their fields - Maya was no stranger to the lack of privacy. Indeed, after thirteen years of working and struggling and perfecting her craft, she was used to being pelted with questions as sharp and hard as didn't bother her as much as used to because she hadn't been involved in scandal for over five years. Her brief affair with Sakurakoji-kun hadn't even really rocked the industry as much as it could have.
Alright, it had rocked the industry. Rather hard, actually. It had gotten her knowing looks from her former Tsukikage Theater comrades, a severe ribbing from Ayumi and Rei, and the undying hatred of a few hundred fangirls. But Sakurakoi had been an amazing friend, and the perfect boyfriend, even if the love had dwindled back into friendship after half a year. Sadly, the hatred of his preteen fangirls had blazed all the brighter after the break-up. But...that was another chapter, wasn't it? After losing the role of Satoko after the loss of her mother, Maya could handle anything. If she had weathered those tragedies, she could very well weather the whirlwind of public romance. Nothing would shatter her ever again.
To have come this far, Maya still couldn't believe it. She had people who loved her and wanted the best for her, who stood by her side and cheered for her. Even if she was overwhelmed by loneliness sometimes, even if in the midst of a crowd she felt herself separate, even if she hadn't seen Hayami Masumi more than a handful of times in the last three years, she had more than most people had. She was still in love with her career and was learning so much about how to perfect her craft every single day. Her name had aquired such weight that she could afford to pick and choose her roles now, and manage time well enough to see those she loved and work with what she loved. Scandal would never rock her, upsets would never stop her, and Kitajima Maya was convinced of her own self-worth. She had more than enough to be happy about, and she was grateful for and thankful to providence everyday.
Her manager and her assistants made headway through the crowd, batting away the more overzealous of the reporters and moving through the rest. Maya smiled for show but said nothing. Her business was her own and the mask she wore in public would not shatter anymore.
"Kitajima-san, what about the Crimson Goddess?"
What about it? She couldn't block the thought. The elusive play was in the hands of the two women most suited to the role, and overseen by the one man who had fought for it most. Immediately following the week in Plum Valley, Ayumi and Maya had been hounded for weeks on end about the rights to production. The two had had to meet in private to decide that silence would be best - that not even family nor friends could be spoken to about the play. The press was too dangerous, the secret unsafe, the world too greedy. Maya had wondered if Tsukikage-sensei had left instructions somewhere...to someone...anyone but doubted. Genzou-san had been the only one she would trust with precious information.
Unless Genzou had trusted someone else, who was biding their time. Ayumi agreed. There had to be other instructions, some sort of guide, something conclusive somewhere. But God only knew what the plan was.
"Are you hungry?" Otoka Megumi, the manager, swept her bangs back and pulled a folder out of her big brown purse. The folder was their life's blood - a weekly calendar that held anything and everything planned for Maya that week. And, boy, it was a busy week. She was set to "Traffic is rather light today so we'll make it about fifteen minutes early. Takoyaki or sashimi?"
"Sashimi." Maya grinned and reached for the folder. "Let's switch things up today."
Megumi arched an eyebrow. "Just because?"
"Today's a good day," the young actress responded carelessly. "A very good day."
Megumi was used to her charge's cheerfulness and Maya had never been much for routine. Still, the woman ended up wondering why today should be any different. Well, it didn't really matter did it? As long as her charge was happy.
"I'm not sure why you are holding unto 'us' so tightly."
Any other woman would be crying at this point, thought Hayame Shiori with an internal sigh. Better internal than external. Better controlled than helpless under the onslaught of emotions. She might have been born with a weak constitution and started out with an unstable character but she'd changed. This charade had been comfortable in the beginning, when he'd seen Kitajima Maya rarely, when he'd focused on her more. Even if she hadn't had his heart, she'd had his attention. Even if she hadn't been the love of his life, she'd become a very good friend.
But Shiori now believed in calling a spade a spade.
Once Kitajima had returned to the industry under Daitou Productions, the charade was shown for what it was - a fleeting vision of warmth, a snapshot in time of something that could never be, a farce in the face of what her husband felt for his subordinate. Masumi was in love with Maya, had been in love with Maya long before Shiori had entered the picture.
And yet I entered the picture anyway.
The two families had arranged the marriage, Eisuke Hayame hurrying things along once he'd realized his son would unconsciously delay things as long as possible. Said it would be in the best interests of all involved to make sure that the wedding happened soon after the strange disappearance of Tsukikage-sama and her butler. Said a wedding was a new beginning. Shiori had doubted him even as he said it but hoped that it would be true.
Her love for him had waxed stronger after marriage. But it wasn't enough. And she'd fought (oh, how long she'd fought) but it had never been enough. Now it had come to this: after thirteen years of wondering at what point she wouldn't be able to take it anymore, she had decided the day had come. Yes, any other woman might have been crying softly or cursing the distraught man across from her. Not her. Shiori Hayami nee Takamiya had known this day was coming for a long time, and in the face of her divorce, was more relieved than anything else.
"We've always known that this day was coming." She reached across the table to take one of his beloved hands in hers. "You don't want to admit it. You've never wanted to."
"We've known? We?" Masumi looked stunned, and it made her ache for the privacy of being alone to cry. He didn't want to believe it. "Shiori, we haven't known this at all! You cannot decide this on your own. You do not have that right! I can't...where...how...when did you even-"
She headed him off before he could plead ignorance. Niceness wouldn't break through his veneer, or get it through his head. She would just have to slap him in the face with the truth.
"Silence," she said swiftly. "Be quiet and just listen. Even if you had no idea, I did. I've always known that you were in love with Maya."
How could I have not? There'd been no way to blind myself to it.
God, just remembering the first moment she'd seen him laugh. At something Maya had done. Eyes so focused that she'd suspected he'd been in the habit of memorizing the girl's face. And then suspected a lot more in the week after that, where she'd done something couth and unlady-like and very much unlike her. She'd hired a discreet investigator to tail him wherever he went and to find out as much about him as she could.
Her obsession had sky-rocketed after that. Shiori had become single-minded in wedging her rival and her love farther and farther apart. Her beauty and culture wasn't enough so she'd resorted to learning more about his business to replace that intuitive secretary, and to learning as much as she could about cooking and cleaning and managing a rich household. Shiori had been determined to overcome her sickliness as well. She hid it from him when she could and minimized it when she couldn't. It hadn't been a racking coughing bout that had kept her up all night, not at all - she just hadn't been able to sleep. She would often worry that he could see through the fibs but he'd given no indication that he had.
But, of course he hadn't. Not when all he had ever seen was Kitajima Maya.
"Long before we got married, I realized what you had not realized yourself. You've always loved her, you still love her, and you very likely always will." She promised herself that she would cry later. The words weren't coming as easily as they should. "You always will, Masumi. Just the way a part of me will always love you too."
She wondered absently why he always went so white when she voiced this particular truth. Was it because he was still lying to himself about the reality of his feelings, or because 'forever' didn't seem real to him? Or was it because she was the one voicing it? Perhaps saying it to yourself was different than hearing it aloud, where the words took shape and form in the air and hung with real weight.
Shiori steeled herself for the next words-
"It ruined me before. I'm not proud of the things I did before our engagement and I'm not proud of the person I became after our marriage. The things I did are inexcusable but, in my defense, I did them out of love. I've only ever done things for you out of my love." Masumi's face was even paler than before. "What I felt for you eclipsed anything I'd ever felt for anyone before. I needed you to see me, only me, and when you couldn't do that, I vowed I would turn you to me however I could."
She'd seen her need for his love as essential, not reckless, and her single-mindedness as focus, when it was in fact an unhealthy indulgence.
"But we've been better in the last year," he pleaded, "haven't we?"
Shiori stared at him. They had. But he seemed to think it was because of romantic love and it wasn't. Well, at least, not for one party involved. The fight for his heart was fruitless. She knew that now. And, heavens, though it had hurt to give it up, she'd resolved to do so. He wouldn't love her the way she wanted to. And she couldn't make him.
"We've become friends in the last year," she corrected. "Something that we should have done before because marriage is not for strangers. We didn't know each other, Masumi, but we got to know each other last year. And it's made me see-"
"Isn't that progress?" Still pleading. The great cold-hearted director of Daitou Productions was pleading. "Isn't it?"
Shiori closed her eyes, her throat nearly closing up. She had to believe she wouldn't cry.
"I can't make you love me if you don't." She opened her tired eyes. Pinned him with her gaze. "Do you understand me? I cannot make you love me and, frankly, I'm tired of trying. I'm tired of being second place. I'm tired of finishing last."
Becoming his friend had been one of the most eye-opening, most rewarding, most painful things she'd ever done. She knew him almost as well as Karato Hijari-san did. And she now knew herself even better.
"It's because we got so close that I can no longer fool myself into thinking I can stay. I want out of this relationship because-" and here, she couldn't stop her voice from trembling, "I deserve to be loved. I deserve to be someone's first place, and if it isn't you, then I would like to go find him. I want a house full of laughter and love, where I will never find myself wishing I were a different person. Where I'm not struggling to learn more to keep him tied to me, where a child will be more than just a way to make him mine. I need that. I deserve more than this and better than you."
Masumi couldn't look more pained if she'd struck him across the face herself. "But I tried."
She stood then, and let her eyes wander around the room. It was only fitting that the break-up took place in one of her favorite rooms of the house. Masumi had given her free reign of this house after they'd chosen it as their primary Tokyo residence. It had been unloved and un-lived in - the cobwebs alone had given her pause when she'd visited prior to the move-in. But this room had been spacious and airy at it worst. And now, three years later, it was beautiful at its best. This was their shared study (they had separate ones, of course, in a house as large as this one) and she remembered how pleased he'd been when she'd shown him the fruit of her redecoration efforts. Many a night had been spent here - Masumi reading over files from work at the desk on one end, and Shiori curled up close to the heat of the fireplace at the other. She came around the table to stand in front of him. All of those nights - she would miss that.
And she would miss him very very much.
"I know you tried." The hand she touched his beloved face shook. Her vision swam. She fought it fiercely. She won the battle but knew she had little time before the war was lost. "I think you really did the best that you could but the truth is we've run out of time, and there's no reason for us to be together. We were finished before we started."
"Shiori, I-" He stopped speaking when the hoarse words stopped coming. She watched as held her hand against his face. His eyes were sad. "I'm just...I can't begin to...I'm sorry. I am so very sorry."
"We did what we could," she whispered, "and we are friends, are we not? And friends wish each other happiness. We deserve to be happy, Masumi, and we should be. It's just that for us 'happiness' definitely means being apart."
Shiori used both hands to cup his face. She smiled bravely. The very faint laugh lines around his mouth, the strength of his jaw, the way his thick hair fell around his face, how his shirt was halphazardly unbuttoned when he returned from work. This had been her whole world for longer than she cared to remember. But she would remember. So she'd might as well take the time to memorize him right now.
"And you know what, darling? That is okay. It's okay. It's okay and it's right for us to go our separate ways."
"I'm sorry that I couldn't be what you needed," he whispered. His hand on hers relaxed, and let go. "I wish I could have."
Hayami Shiori let go too, and kissed him on the cheek. No lingering, no self-infliction of pain. She crossed the room with her spine straight and her head held high, so that there would be no regrets. Letting go wasn't supposed to be easy - still, she waited until she was safe inside her car before the walls came crashing down. She lost the war...then lost herself.