Obligatory Disclaimer: Gravitation in all its glory was conceived and written by Maki Murakami. My story is but a humble tribute to her greatness.
The scorching heat beat down upon me as I maneuvered uneasily through the crowd. This was the last thing I wanted to do today, but I knew if I ditched the little brat and went home early, K would probably shoot me in the ass. For three weeks Shuichi had been in a slump, but as soon as K mentioned this stupid date, he "miraculously" bounced back.
Hell, he did more than just bounce back. He wrote a song so popular it shot to the top of the charts, and it's been there for the past four weeks. Damn it, I moaned inwardly. Why is it that every time Shuichi has writer's block K has to dangle a date with me in front of his nose to get him out of it?
As I shuffled listlessly behind my overly enthusiastic companion, I gingerly massaged my throbbing temples. The noise, the heat, and the suffocating stench of sweat, perfume and vehicle exhaust were beginning to make me sick. Slowing my step, I wondered if I might be able to get a momentary reprieve from this worthless excursion. People flowed around me as if I were a rock in a river bed, and within seconds, Shuichi's tiny body was swept away. Breathing a sigh of relief, I ducked into a restaurant and ordered myself a large, frosty mug of Budweiser.
Lighting up a cigarette, I stared at the droplets of water sliding playfully down the side of the glass. I took a large sip and held the cold, refreshing liquid in my parched mouth for a couple of seconds before swallowing. Closing my eyes in contentment, I welcomed the cool air-conditioned atmosphere.
Soft laughter from a nearby table roused me from my respite. The source was a dark haired beauty with ample bosoms and long shapely legs. A year ago the sight of such a woman would have been enough to set my libido aflame, but that was before my soul had been infected by that pink haired, hyperactive demon. How was I to know that an off handed remark about some poorly written lyrics would screw my life up so completely? No…that's not entirely true. What had altered my life so drastically wasn't that first ill fated meeting with Shuichi. It had been my twisted desire to provoke my overprotective sister by playing with his virginal heart. I thought it would be fun to make him cry, but the first time I embraced him, I knew deep in my tormented soul that my life would never be the same.
Damn it! What am I doing here? I took a large drink of my beer in frustration. I might as well be here for all the good I'd be doing back home. Shuichi wasn't the only person in that apartment with writer's block, but unlike him I didn't have anything, or anyone to inspire me out of my slump.
"Yuki!" Shuichi's shrill voice on the verge of panic sent a discomforting chill down my spine. "I finally found you!"
"So it would seem," I answered wearily.
"I met this really amazing person," he began excitedly flopping into the chair across from me. "His name is Tsuneo and he owns the occult shop a couple of blocks from here at the corner of T and K Avenue. He knew everything about me, my family and friends, where I grew up and went to school… he even knew my birthday and blood type!"
"Shuichi," I interrupted trying my best to control my temper. "He probably read all that about you in one of the dozens of inane pop music magazines that litter the newsstands."
"He knew that I am in love with you," he pressed on undaunted.
I gritted my teeth. "Everyone knows you're in love with me!"
"He… he knew that you lived in New York and that Kitazawa was your tutor!"
The hairs rose on the back of my neck. "What the hell! Playing you for a fool is one thing, but digging into MY past like that…" I jumped up abruptly and tossed some money on the table for my beer. "Come on!" Grabbing Shuichi by the wrist, I plunged once more into the sweltering summer heat.
"Wait a minute Yuki! Where are we going," Shuichi asked as he struggled to keep up with my brisk pace.
"We're going to Tsuneo's shop so he can personally explain how and why he's so familiar with me!"
"D…don't get into a fight with him," he pleaded trying his best to slow me down. "Tsuneo is a very powerful wizard. Please don't do anything to make him angry with you!"
"How gullible can you be," I retorted laughing scornfully. The fact that Shuichi had already begun to idolize this idiot made me angrier than his digging into my past. "This guy is just your typical run of the mill scam artist, and YOU are the world's biggest sucker!"
Shuichi's face turned bright red. "I am not," he shrieked in indignation. "I know I'm not a smart as you are – Mr. High and mighty ROMANCE novelist, but I am definitely a good judge of a person's character."
"Sure you are," I interrupted derisively. "You picked such a fine, upstanding person to fall in love with!"
"But you are a good person, Yuki."
The sincere emotion in his voice and the obvious love in his eyes made my heartbeat quicken, but I wasn't about to let that stupid sentimentality distract me from my objective. "There it is," I exclaimed adding extra speed and determination to my strides. "What the hell," I blurted heatedly as I noticed the 'sorry we're closed' sign posted on the door. Ignoring the sign, I yanked fruitlessly at the door.
"Come on Yuki, Tsuneo isn't here anymore. Let's go somewhere else."
"You can go if you want to, but I'm not leaving until I find out what that bastard wants from me!" I began to pound on the door. "Hey, Tsuneo… I know you're in there!"
"Cut it out," Shuichi appealed urgently, "before someone calls the cops on you!"
"Like hell I will!" I pounded harder. "Get out here and face me like a man!"
"What's going on out here," yelled a voice from above.
I looked up to find a balding, middle aged man with thick glasses peering down at me from a second story window. "Why the hell is this shop closed? It's only two o'clock in the afternoon!"
"Ah, that Tsuneo," the man replied affectionately. "He comes and goes as he pleases. I honestly don't know how he manages to stay in business, but he always pays his rent on time so it doesn't really matter."
"Do you have any idea where he might be," I asked struggling to keep the anger out of my voice.
"I don't know." He shrugged his shoulders and scratched the top of his head ruffling the sparse, graying hair. "He might have gone back into his apartment. It's right behind the store." Gesturing to the left he continued, "You can get to it through the alley around the corner."
Ignoring Shuichi's protests, I walked down the narrow, litter strewn alley until I found Tsuneo's unobtrusive doorway. I pounded on the door hard enough to rattle the very hardware that held it into place. "Get out here you meddling bastard!"
"Yuki please," Shuichi begged anxiously grabbing my arm. "Don't anger him."
"Why the hell should I be afraid of that third-rate charlatan," I questioned indignantly yanking my arm out of his grasp. Shuichi's reverence for this person was seriously beginning to piss me off! I banged loudly on the door once again. My hand started throbbing painfully and I knew without looking that I'd have a nasty bruise on it tomorrow.
"It's no use," he said pulling emphatically on my arm. "Let's go home. Besides," his face brightened, "I… have a surprise for you." He pulled it out of his pocket and held it proudly in the palm of his hand.
It was a round, perfectly smooth, caramel colored crystal about the size of a robin's egg.
"What am I supposed…?" I'd taken the crystal from him and before my very eyes it changed from caramel into a deep golden yellow. "To do with this," I finished in astonishment.
"It happened just as Tsuneo said it would," Shuichi exclaimed with deep veneration. "Make a wish Yuki, and it will come true!"
"What kind of an idiot do you take me for?"
"It's true," he insisted. "The crystal turned yellow just like Tsuneo said, so that means you can make a wish on it too!"
"This thing has probably been treated to change colors whenever it comes into contact with the different chemical compositions in each person's sweat."
"No it isn't," Shuichi interrupted. "It was the same yellow color when Tsuneo gave it to me, and it didn't change into that tan color until after I'd made my wish!"
Laughing at his childish naiveté, I dismissively shoved the 'magic crystal' into my pocket. "And just what did you wish for? No, wait let me guess. It was either a case of strawberry Pocky, or the complete set of Nittle Grasper's remastered CDs."
"Yeah, something like that," he answered pain and disappointment radiating from his exquisite violet eyes. "Just make a wish, and you'll see."
"Do you honestly expect me to entertain such a fantastic notion? What kind of idiot…"
"Come on Yuki, just make a wish!"
"No! I refuse to be made a fool like you." I could see that I was hurting his feelings terribly, but I was too tired and fed up with this whole wasted day to stop myself.
"Make a wish," he declared more as a challenge than a request.
"Forget it," I waved him off dismissively as I turned to leave. "Unlike you, I don't believe in fairy tales!"
"But you have to make a wish!" He grabbed my arm in an attempt to slow my progress. "Tsuneo said… j..just make a wish," he sputtered guiltily.
"No!" I drug him effortlessly through the alley.
"Pleeeeease make a wish," he plaintively wailed fruitlessly digging his heels into the pavement.
"Fine," I conceded in a huff. "You want a wish? I'll give you a wish! I wish I never met you!"
One moment I was looking into Shuichi's shocked, horror filled face, and a split second later I was knocked to the pavement by an immense gust of wind. Dust and debris swirled around me as I struggled to my knees. It felt as if I would be swept away, but at the moment that was the least of my worries.
Choking and blinded by the dust, I slowly groped my way to where Shuichi had been standing. Then, just as suddenly as it began, the tempest completely subsided.
"What the hell was that," I asked as I quickly climbed to my feet and gingerly opened my eyes. "Hey Shuichi…" He wasn't where I thought he would be. "Are you… alright?" I turned in a complete circle and rubbed my eyes in disbelief. He was nowhere to be found.
I sprinted to the end of the alley and looked desperately down both sides of the street. It was as if he'd vanished into thin air. I picked a direction and started running.
Although Shuichi was a swift sprinter, I knew I could catch him – if I'd started in the right direction. Pushing my way through the crowd, I frantically scanned the sea of people, every flash of pink catching my eye. Finally, after running flat out for what felt like an eternity, I slumped dejectedly against the side of a building. Struggling to catch my breath, I continued to scan the crowded street.
Wait a minute… it felt like something was out of place, but I couldn't tell at first what it was. I studied my surroundings thoroughly until at last I noticed it. The ramen shop across the street had definitely not been there earlier today. I glanced over at the street signs to confirm my position. I was exactly where I thought I should be except there should be a bookstore in the place of that ramen shop.
My stomach churned uncomfortably as I made my way across the afternoon traffic. This can't be. Shuichi and I were just in here looking for his favorite manga a couple of hours ago. Stepping into the shop, I could see in my mind's eye the layout of the bookstore.
"What in the hell is going on around here," I whispered to myself in disbelief.
"It's amazing isn't it?"
I jumped slightly and turned toward the speaker. I couldn't prevent the astonished gasp that suddenly escaped my parched lips as I gazed upon the most unusual person I'd ever encountered. His short, loosely curled, disheveled, jet-black hair was the perfect accompaniment to his rich chocolate colored skin. He had the ethereal, androgynous beauty of an angel, but the smooth, well-sculpted chest under his delicate, silk, turquoise shirt and the tight-fitting black leather pants made his gender blatantly obvious. Those qualities were enough all on their own to make him an object of admiration for both men and women, but what really made him stand out were his large, almond-shaped eyes. The right eye was a brilliant sky blue, and the left was a deep emerald green perfectly fringed with long, lustrously thick, black eyelashes.
"Wh..who are you, and what are you talking about," I stammered completely spellbound by those unusual eyes.
"The name's Tsuneo," he said in an annoyingly mischievous tone. "I was merely commenting on your recent turn of events. Surely by now you've noticed some unnerving changes around here. This ramen shop for instance…"
I felt the color drain from my face. "What in the hell have you done to me, and where is Shuichi?"
"I wish I could take credit for all of this lovely chaos." He twirled around giddily throwing his arms out in an exaggerated motion. "But this time it's not my fault. It was your wish that caused this."
"What are you talking about? I never made a…" It hit me suddenly, the careless words I'd blurted out to shut Shuichi up. I wish I never met you! "That's ridiculous," I cynically exclaimed. "You don't expect me to believe all of that 'magic crystal' bullshit!"
"Oh, you don't HAVE to believe me," he replied in an overly sweet and mockingly innocent tone. "But eventually you're gonna have to believe your eyes. This ramen shop is just the first of many changes that are in store for you from now on!"
"I don't give a damn about your supposed changes! I just want to find Shuichi and go home."
"You needn't waste your time with Shuichi," he replied with obvious amusement. "He doesn't even know you exist."
"What are you talking about?"
"You know exactly what I'm talking about, but since you're too stubborn to admit it, I will graciously offer an explanation." He sat down at the first available table and gestured for me to do likewise.
Eying him warily, I slipped into the chair across from him. "Spin me your yarn quickly. I'm in no mood for long, embellished fairy tales."
"My, but you are a cranky one, aren't you," he laughed heartily drawing the attention of everyone in the shop. "Shuichi said that you had a rotten disposition, but I thought he was exaggerating."
"Just get on with it," I growled through my clenched teeth.
"Temper, temper mon ami," he chided with that insufferable, smug smile. "Let's see now… where to begin… where to begin? Well, I could start at the very beginning, but…" He looked deeply into my eyes and I had the uneasy feeling that he was actually reading my soul. "You're not ready for that just yet, so I'll start with your wish. When you wished that you'd never met Shuichi…"
"You son-of-a-bitch… you were there the whole time!"
His full, sensuous lips spread into a wide smile revealing straight, blindingly white teeth. "I Didn't need to be. Your face tells me all I need to know."
"I don't have time for this," I jumped up abruptly, ignoring the uneasy feeling at the pit of my stomach, and took off toward my apartment. Shuichi is probably there by now sulking and inhaling a box of strawberry Pocky.
"You won't find Shuichi back at your apartment," Tsuneo called out casually as he trotted up behind me.
"Why don't you go back to whatever hole you crawled out of and leave me alone," I snapped angrily.
"I can't do that to you, mon ami. You need me much more than you know." He laughed conspiratorially. "Shuichi's not there."
"If he's not at my apartment, then where in the hell is he?"
"C'mon, Tsuneo will show you!"
He grabbed my arm and pulled me in the opposite direction. "What a lovely mess you've created," he exclaimed happily again as we walked through the ever increasing crowd.
A group of youngsters passed in their school uniforms making my stomach churn uncomfortably. I've got to find Shuichi before these kids tear him to shreds!
"You've got nothing to fear, mon ami," Tsuneo said casually smiling and sidestepping a beautiful young student who'd stopped suddenly riveted by his good looks.
"What are you talking about," I snapped warily. Is it possible that this person could actually read my mind? No… shit! What's come over me? I'm beginning to think like Shuichi!
"You don't understand," I growled in frustration purposely dismissing my embarrassing, illogical thoughts. I was angry that I'd let the afternoon get away from me like this. K's gonna kill me! "Bad Luck is one of the most popular bands in Japan! If they discover Shuichi wandering around here, they will tear him to pieces!"
He laughed at me! The bastard actually laughed in my face!
"There is no Bad Luck," Tsuneo replied gaily.
"What in the hell…?" I was seriously about to lose it. "That's Shuichi's band and they…"
"That used to be his band." Tsuneo interrupted suddenly serious.
"What do you mean by 'used to be?"
"It all happened because Shuichi never met you, and you never criticized his lyrics." He threw up his hand to silence my barrage of expletives. "It was Shuichi's desire to prove your criticism wrong that made him create such popular lyrics. After he fell in love with you… well you know the rest, but in this… time-line that never happened. In this time-line, you weren't there to criticize Shuichi, therefore; he was never compelled to become better. Without that crucial spark of inspiration, Shuichi was just another singer in one of the many bands struggling to make it big. I'm afraid that without your influence, Bad Luck never made it off the ground."
"You don't know what you're talking about," I exclaimed sprinting toward the newsstand we were fast approaching. I grabbed a copy of the latest pop magazine and turned to the page that had the latest top ten song hits. "Look right here at number one…" I gasped in shock. There was a different song from a group I'd never heard of before.
"You see mon ami? You weren't there to inspire Shuichi, so Bad Luck fizzled out and broke up."
"What happened to them? What happened to Shuichi? Where is he?" Still in shock, I dropped the magazine and followed Tsuneo down the street.
"Fujisaki Suguru never got the chance to work with Shuichi," Tsuneo said as we turned down yet another street. "He's the keyboardist for another band. It's not as successful as Bad Luck from your time-line, but they aren't doing too badly. Nakano Hiroshi was accepted into A University, and is working hard to become a physician."
We turned down another street. I hadn't really paid too much attention to where we were going, but as soon as I recognized the surroundings I grabbed Tsuneo's arm and jerked him to a stop. "W… we're in Ni-chome!* What in the hell are we doing here?"
"This is where you will find Shuichi," he gestured toward a bar with a large neon sign that garishly flashed in rainbow colors the words: PARADISE CLUB.
Just then a large, black limousine pulled up and to my immense shock, Shuichi climbed out of it. Wearing black slacks that were just tight enough to accentuate his adorable little ass and a lavender shirt unbuttoned almost to the point of displaying his tiny pink nipples, he looked good enough to stop several passersby in their tracks. His shoulder length hair was still bright pink with bangs that parted to the side making only one of his remarkable violet eyes visible.
Damn if he didn't look good enough to eat! "Oi, Shuichi!"
He merely looked in our direction questioningly as if he were trying to figure out who'd just called him. Before I could call out again, a tall, striking man climbed out of the limo, grabbed Shuichi possessively around the waist and maneuvered him quickly into the club.
"What the hell?" I dashed into the club after them only to be shoved roughly back into the street by an oversized, gorilla of a man.
"You got a membership card," he asked in a deep, gravelly voice.
"No, I'm not a member of this… establishment," I replied. Frankly, I was surprised this behemoth could talk.
"Then you ain't gettin' in the club!"
"No shit Tiny, I kind of figured that out already!" I charged back to Tsuneo who was by now nearly rolling on the pavement with laughter. "You dirty bastard! If you knew about all this why couldn't you just tell me? Why did you have to drag me here…"
Still laughing hysterically, he handed me a card. It was a Paradise Club membership card with my name on it. "How in the…"
"You… better get in there… Romeo," he taunted breathlessly.
I was torn between rescuing Shuichi and knocking those white teeth down Tsuneo's useless throat. I decided that Shuichi was more important. Clutching my 'passport into paradise,' I turned away from my tormentor, walked back into the club and shoved the card into Tiny's face.
"You're a bad man," he growled as I walked triumphantly past him. "Kuma will be watching you!"
"You do that Tiny," I called over my shoulder.
I was pleasantly surprised by the interior of the place. It looked like a quaint, tropical resort with its light bamboo furniture and accents blending nicely with the taupe paneling and lush, sand colored carpet. At the rear of the establishment, there was a mural of a crystal blue lagoon that spanned the entire length of the back wall giving the place an exotic touch. There was a bar to my left that was stocked with every multicolored, alcoholic beverage imaginable, and to my right there was another bar of sorts which was stocked with condoms, lubricants in a variety of different flavors, and a rather impressive supply of sex toys.
Shit Shuichi, just look at the mess you've stumbled into this time!
"Looking for someone," the guy at the sex toy bar asked.
"I'm looking for Shindou Shuichi."
"Ha, isn't everyone."
"What's that supposed to mean," I asked trying hard to control my irritation.
"He's the most popular host here," he replied as he handed me a pamphlet. My heart dropped as I noticed his picture at the top of the page. "H… he works here! But what about the guy he came in here with?"
"That's Takahashi Akihito. He's the owner of this club and Shuichi's lover."
The quiet rage that had been building with every shocking revelation I'd been hit with today was becoming increasingly difficult for me to control. "Where are they now," I somehow managed to ask through my gritted teeth.
"Today is Friday, so they should be in the large booth right over there." Either completely oblivious to or blatantly ignoring my irritation, he pointed toward the far left hand corner of the club.
Sure enough, that's where they were. Slowly, still in shocked disbelief I made my way toward them. Although it was still pretty early in the afternoon, the place was filling up quickly with a wide range of men. From young guys who looked like they'd just come from the local high school to middle-aged business men and everything in between, they were all here for the illusion of love, sex, or possibly the combination of both.
As I neared the booth, I appraised Takahashi – my rival – with what I'd hoped was an air of indifference. He was handsome in a smug, superior sort of way. His short, jet black hair was artistically mussed as per the current style, and it looked like he had a well muscled physique under the forest green Armani suit he was sporting. He sat nonchalantly scanning the crowd with his arm draped carelessly over Shuichi's shoulder. Evidently he was used to people staring at him, or more appropriately at Shuichi for he seemed to be annoyingly unconcerned by the handful of us who were gaping in their direction.
Shuichi on the other hand, sat stiffly at his side. Although he was trying his best to look happy and relaxed, I could tell he was miserable. He wore that very same expression whenever I would put broccoli in his food. It was unmistakably the same fake smile that said 'I really hate this, but because you made it for me, I'll choke it down.' Just what is that bastard trying to make you choke down? It didn't take me long to figure out what it was.
"Looks like your first guest is here Shu-chan," Takahashi sneered smacking Shuichi's ass as he reluctantly rose up.
It took every ounce of my will power to keep myself from flying over the table and ripping his face off. After all, I could see Tiny out of the corner of my eye still watching me doggedly. Biting my tongue, I watched as one of the middle-aged businessmen approached Shuichi. He wrapped a meaty arm around the Paradise Club's number one host and with his bloated, disgusting hand he grabbed Shuichi's ass.
"Come on Shu-chan," the he chuckled lustily. "Take me to paradise."
I felt like I would be sick. That perverted bastard was taking Shuichi – my Shuichi – to some tawdry back room and do… I couldn't even bring myself to imagine what, and all the while Takahashi, that fucking bastard, sat there smiling as if there was nothing wrong! In a helpless, silent fury, I watched that son-of-a-bitch disappear with Shuichi. I would have liked nothing better than to beat the hell out of Takahashi, but I knew Tiny would never allow that to happen.
So I did the next best thing. I stormed out of the club to take my wrath out on the bastard that had started it all. But Tsuneo was long gone by the time I emerged from 'paradise.' A sudden inspiration sent me sprinting back into the club.
"Back so soon," the man behind the sex toy bar questioned with mock innocence. Damn that bastard! Like Tiny, he'd been watching me the entire time.
"Who do I need to see to… buy some time with Shuichi," I asked trying desperately to control my temper.
"Let me see," he said walking over to a large appointment book. "His next available opening is 2:00 AM on Tuesday."
"Th… that's four days from now," I stammered incredulously.
"Yeah, he's been in a bit of a slump lately. It usually takes at least a week to book some time with him!"
"Couldn't you squeeze me in tonight," I asked struggling to keep the anger out of my voice.
"Are you kidding me," he shot back indignantly. "If tried to do that, the boss would have my head!"
"Are you alright, Teijo-san?"
I felt my old friend, Tiny breathing uncomfortably down my neck.
"I'll be fine Kuma-kun," Teijo smiled reassuringly. "You can go back to your post."
As soon as I felt his overbearing presence dwindle, I turned my attention back to Teijo. "Put me down for 2:00 AM on Tuesday," I muttered in defeat.
Without a word to anyone, I left the artificial beach within the Paradise Club and walked woodenly home. Although I'd gotten exactly what I'd wished for, I couldn't help but feel empty. For a little more than a year, my entire life had reluctantly revolved around Shuichi. Whether living under the same roof, or trying desperately to distance myself from him, the result had been the same. Shuichi had gotten under my skin more than any other person, including my once beloved tutor.
All of that is over now. I shook my head as if that could ease the uncomfortable pain that had settled in my chest. I don't have to worry about that brat anymore. I'm finally free. I knew I should be happy, I wanted to be happy, but I just couldn't stop thinking about that miserable look on Shuichi's face.
How could I possibly leave him in that awful place with that rotten, fucking bastard? It's obvious that he hates what he's doing. But what can I do about it? I couldn't even begin to understand how we'd got into this mess in the first place, and it didn't look as though I'd get any kind of a straight answer from Tsuneo. Still wrestling with my aching heart, I slowly went home to my lonely apartment.
* - Shinjuku Ni-chōme (新宿二丁目), referred to colloquially as Ni-chōme or simply Nichō, is Area 2 in the Shinjuku District of the Shinjuku Special Ward of Tokyo, Japan. With Tokyo home to over 8.2 million people, and Shinjuku known as the noisiest and most crowded of its 23 special wards, Ni-chōme further distinguishes itself as Tokyo's hub of gay subculture, housing the world's highest concentration of gay bars. - Wikipedia