It felt more like a chilly October night than a June afternoon. The gloomy weather reflected well on his mood and the hallow sound his stomach made as the scents of freshly baked bread wafted over him. He cursed the bakery for being next door to the theatre.
Summer in the slums of Manhattan was usually equivalent to winter in the tropics, with the smog from high rise buildings and fumes from everyone's cars. It was home to Watanuki, but it didn't mean he had to like it. He always dreamed of living in one of the residential neighborhoods near the border to the North, the suburbs for cookie cutter families and so on. He wasn't naive enough to believe that a change of scenery would solve his problems, but they did something for his frazzled nerves.
There was only one problem.
Watanuki, like the rest of the state, grew up on welfare money. Money that could only be given up until he turned eighteen.
He went to a private school on a scholarship, joined a music program but these weren't things that helped him on a resume. He always wanted to go to culinary school, but there was no way to make ends meet. He lived in the dank apartment for one, where it got bone chilling in winter and sweltering in summer. After he turned nineteen he gave up paying the electricity and hydro. The theatre had showers and a bed. He could make it through another year.
Money was tight. The theatre hadn't played shows in a while and what little he had went into the maintenance of his clarinet. The landlord, usually lenient, wasn't getting jack off of anybody. He had been seeing a bunch of eviction notices lately and thanked god he didn't have one yet.
Oh yeah, that problem!
He suffered from psychogenic hallucinations.
If money was not already sparse between the apartment and his instrument, it was the drugs.
Ever since he was young, he would get violent seizures that could only be moderated by presciption drugs. He had fared well when the government gave him a discount in his younger years, but the threat of him swallowing his tongue and getting a stroke was only more elevated than ever before. The only side effect was the emptiness in his gut and the ghosts.
He named them that because they were too horrific to be considered things. He had a psychologist evaluate him and tell him that the growing miasmas he saw around people were a manifestation of his judgement of other people. It sickened him, but it couldn't be closer to the truth.
"Hey guys, what's up?"
Watanuki had come a bit earlier today, which explained why only the winds and woodwinds were there.
A girl stopped playing her flute and stared at him with a very complicated expression, like she was confused but at the same time knew something he didn't.
Another girl came off her saxophone. "Watanuki, why are you here?"
He furrowed his brows quizzically. "Um, practice? Why, did something happen?"
He didn't really have a land-line or a cellphone so he usually just made the short walk from the apartment to the theatre to be told news and somewhat. Usually they sent him a newsletter, but the mail had been overflowing and he figured he could go in person to find out what it was.
Watanuki instantly realized the expression she wore. It was one he had seen several times before growing up. The look of pity.
He knew what was coming long before she said anything.
"You may want to check your mail."
he gripped the black case with the knuckles burning bright with tension and ran the kilometre back to his apartment and stared in disbelief.
An eviction notice was pasted on the door. He scrambled through the sea of envelopes jammed into the door and read the one labeled with the stamp of the theatre.
He crushed the letter in his hands. A slip of paper fell from the envelope.
A cheque for one grand It felt more like a chilly October night than a June afternoon. The gloomy weather reflected well on his mood and the hallow sound his stomach made as the scents of freshly baked bread wafted over him. He cursed the bakery for being next door to the theatre.
A cheque was made out to him, but it made no difference. He glance at the window, it was going to rain tonight.
He jogged three floors down (the elevator was down again) to the landlord's office. Normally, he would have had the patience to knock on the door calmly, but in his frenzied state he banged down on the door, could feel another seizure coming. His meds were in the apartment, and it was being taken away for no good reason.
The woman had curlers in his hair and wore a bathrobe. He could have laughed if he were in a better mood.
"I paid the rent. I don't understand why-"
The landlady wore that same expression of pity as the flute player back in the theatre.
"It's not you. Did you get the memo? This apartment is going to be turned into an office. No one here is paying jack to stay here, except for you. I can't let one person live here. You have to understand. If you need more time all I can give you is two weeks."
It was like the ground had been swept up from under him.
"If you need a place to stay you can stay with me."
The famed miasma grew thicker around her, her pupils blown in silent excitement. He knew what she did to the younger residents who hadn't paid rent on time. They went over and didn't come back until the morning after, came back with messed up hair and clothes barely hanging off of them. It was worse when they came to him after, the ones that begged him to call the police or get them through the night. Watanuki wasn't on bad terms with the police, but there was always the dissonance between the untouchables of this city and the justice department, and down here, there was only a fine line separating the two.
He backed away and her fingers twitched.
"I'll figure something out." He attempted a reassuring smile but it came out weird. She frowned in disappointment and handed him the key without another word.
He turned the key into the lock and marched right too the medicine cabinet with only the slightest hesitation. The pounding at his temple grew frantic.
The cabinet was bare.
There had to be a limit to the misfortune he could encounter in one day. There was only person to call.
The rain came in icy sheets down his back as he jogged to the payphone at the end of the street. He was down to his last coins.
The phone only rang once, and for that he was glad.
"I need you," he whispered into the receiver, voice hoarse with pent up emotion.
There was no silence on the other end. "I'll be right over."
He nodded even though he knew she wouldn't be able to see it and went down to the bakery.
They usually met up here. She always ended up buying him a meal on cold days and offered her bed on sleepless nights. Although he was loathe to admit it, there was a reason for this.
Yuuko was his girlfriend.
Twelve years older than him and a drug dealer. Yeah, it doesn't get any worse than that.
Like usual, the only two tables in the establishment were empty and obscenely pink colored. The interior of the shop gave off waves of pastel colors which was strange because if he could recall two grown men were the owners.
"Here you go," Sakura set something down in front of him, as polite and cheery as ever. "Am I putting this on Yuuko's tab?"
I nodded silently in affirmation and the brunette bowed, the frilly apron falling over her ankles.
Another thing, what kind of bakery dresses their employees in maid costumes?
I was counting the cracks in the wall when Yuuko came storming in.
When Yuuko stormed in, instantly the lights seemed dimmer and the pastels not as bright. No matter where it was, whenever Yuuko walked into a room, the mood instantly changed into a serious "lets-take-business" fashion. Which seemed, if anything, more amplified than usual.
Yuuko was slender and towered over me, had long flowing black hair and eyes that were almost red, and resembled a god. You know, if deity's dressed like they walked off a Lady Gaga photoshoot. It was pouring in sheets but she looked absolutely dry, and saw no trace of an umbrella with him.
"I'm breaking up with you." She said without breaking stride, and pulled up a chair in front of me.
Watanuki sized her up, tempted to ask her how exactly she got off doing these things. He didn't bother doing though.
"I'm being evicted."
She cocked a brow at this.
"On what terms?"
"Not eating her out."
Yuuko spit out the coffee Sakura has placed in front off her. She smiled at this.
"What else is new?"
I'm sure she meant it jokingly but I was sort of an a roll.
"And I got fired."
Yuuko went silent for a bit. "Is that why you called?"
In the moment of desperation I forgot why exactly I did.
"I don't know."
Yuuko passed me a donut. Sakura had given me some soup. It looked like a full dinner for once.
"You know you can always-"
Her lips pressed into a thin line but she didn't persist further.
When Watanuki finished he leaned back. "So is this break-up your way of telling me you're not paying for my meals anymore."
"Don't be ridiculous. If I did that you wouldn't cook me dinner any more!"
"So..what does it mean? I'm out right now."
Yuuko knew instantly what he meant.
"My guy can't find any compounders right now, so you'll have to make do with some epileptic knock-offs."
He flashed a nervous glance over his shoulder. While Sakura wasn't a nosy person, her boss, a burly and surly man by nature wouldn't hesitate to turn them in.
"Thanks, I appreciate it."
"So, what are you going to do now? Have you considered any other options?"
"I was reimbursed for one grand. I can at least stay in one place for a couple months but after that I need to get a job, the deadline for financial aid for culinary school was supposed to come sometime this week, but now..."
He needed an addressee, and Yuuko's wasn't even recognized by the state.
"Are you staying with a friend?"
The instant Yuuko said the words, she regretted them from the look on her face. It went without saying that the only friend he had was a grown woman he occasionally slept with in order to get a hot meal. He wasn't even attracted to the woman, and his proverbial ship had already sailed when it came to sex in general.
"Want to come over?"
Knowing the implications long before she said them, he winced.
"No, just...not today Yuuko. I'm not some boy toy."
The woman looked offended and opened her mouth (to probably refute it, but he really wasn't in the mood) and closed it in resignation as the chair from across her was pulled back and slammed into the table. The bell chimed on his way out.
The rain fell heavier than he remembered, but it may have been snow for all he cared. The stress of the day was...wearing on him.
His shoes filled with water, the fabric of his shirt clung to him as the storm raged around him, as if spurred on by his agitation. He propelled himself further, the streets of Manhattan a blur.
This side never had any cars except for the one or two that drove by mistakenly every once in a while. He was thankful for it at the moment.
"Playin' on his slide-trombone. In a certain monotone."
His steps slowed as the sound of a distant jazz tune filtered through the streets. He turned around, urged on by his own curiosity.
"He was known as Mr. Monotony."
A brass instrument (trombone) gave a wallop at this, the whole band going wild with it.
He stepped closer to the back door, stupidly open and peered in.
A girl-no, women, she couldn't have been any older than he was strut across the stage, the spotlights catching on her slinky gold sequined dress.
"Any pleasant interlude-that would mean a change of mood. Didn't go with Mr. Monotony. Sometimes he would change the key, But the same dull melody, would emerge from Mr. Monotony. "
Her eyes were wide and olive, and her long black curls billowed out behind her as she threw her head back in fevered passion. As captivating as the temptress was, there was a strange innocence permeating her seductive dance. Creaks in the stage surfaced where her miasma was thickest. Had he been any closer, he was sure he would have choked thickly on the smoke she gave out.
By her side, as if to contrast, stood a pure soul.
By default, the two were polar opposites. Where the temptress had been eye-catching and riveting, the trombone player wore muted colors and wore no expression, as expected. His eyes were almost the same shade as the brass he toted. When he stepped near the singer, her miasma seemed to dissipate just the slightest bit. It helped that he was easy on the eyes.
"That was great Himawari! Good work on the trombone Doumeki."
The director and small group gave a standing ovation, and Watanuki realized he had been standing in the rain for a while. As if noticing this, a stage hand politely asked him to close the door and come in.
He shook his hair and sat near the back, watching the pair bow impassively.
"But, would it not have been more effective to use a song from the musical, perhaps?"
The director's tone of voice didn't sound like it was on the sarcastic side, but Watanuki was well acquainted with the tones of people's voices, and he could hear it then.
He felt disappointment sink in the pit of his stomach. He was sure other performers would be just as talented, but there was something about the pair that...
Speak of the devil, the trombone player marched up towards his seat.
Watanuki froze when he saw the almost bored looking man promptly drop down to the seat beside him. He shivered at the feel of a warm body next to his. Watanuki stared at the trombone player in awe, until he opened his mouth.
"You're getting the seats wet, idiot."
His stoic tone of voice punctuated the insult more effectively than he would have thought. As if it was so matter of fact. Watanuki bristled at this, but steeled himself to be polite. There was nothing to gain from angering someone he had just met.
"Um...aren't you supposed to be up there with her?"
The trombone player shook his head. "No, I'm just the accompaniment."
Conversation dropped as the two watched the mini-interview the director was conducting in front of the others who looked constipated. It was easy to tell who exactly the favorites were.
In reality, Watanuki hated it. He found it unfair that the talent of withdrawn people was overlooked due to their modesty. While Watanuki was no saint. Cross Private's orchestra treated their players as equals, as did the theatre he previously worked at. He liked Himawari, and from what he could see, she wasn't putting on airs. Watanuki was conflicted. Without the trombone player beside her, the singer was engulfed in flames. He could only make out her light green dress and white flats from his viewing point. It was a bizarre sight, had Watanuki grown used to it.
His lungs hadn't, because his persistent cough would not disapear. Doumeki glanced at him from the corner of his eye.
"Are you alright?" He said coolly, his tone merely neutral.
Tears swam through the clarinet player's eyes, and he dismissively waved at his neighbour.
"Oh, I've always been like this. Sorry if I'm bothering you."
The two only shared a brief moment of silence before the other snatched his wrist and pulled him up.
"Hey!" He stumbled in surprise, awkwardly landing on the trombone player's side. "Let go of me! What are you doing?"
The other didn't look back at him. "You need to dry off, your going to catch a cold."
"By going back outside?"
"My place is a block away."
Watanuki said nothing at this. He could probably play the sick kid and have a place to stay if he pulled it off right.
"So...what's your name?"
The taller of the two glanced back at him, opening up and umbrella over them.
"Shizuka Doumeki. You?"
"Watanuki." He stared forward, 'accidentally' pressing against Doumeki's side.
He was pretty sure he imagined the arm that wrapped around his waist.
True to his word, the walk only lasted a couple minutes long, and in that time, Watanuki learned a few things.
1) Shizuka Doumeki was an ass.
2) Shizuka Doumeki was insufferable.
3) Come to think of it he also had a great ass.
He wasn't going to take back the third one, he was aware how prostitutuional his actions were. It was either go down on Yuuko or go down on the landlady. His options weren't getting any better.
Doumeki peeled off his sweater and it only added to the impression that he was going to get laid tonight. His sopping jacket didn't come off at the wrist, because he was still clenching the clarinet case in anticipation. Doumeki pulled up short.
He put the instrument down on the coffee table and the the fabric slid off like a second skin. Goose flesh pricked from his skin at the feel of cold around him.
Doumeki sat down and looked thoughtful. Well, he didn't really look like anything, but thoughtful was a start.
"You should play."
Watanuki was prepared to do that, to avoid the inevitable. It was funny though, one moment he was prepared to play the instrument, and than it morphed into something else. What once brought him joy, helped him through hard times, his friend even, now represented the root of all his problems. Why had he become an instrument player? A regular job would have been manageable. More concrete in its standing, and would have paid the bills more than delay them. He no longer saw a gift, but a curse.
He shrugged off-handily, when inside it was nothing of the sort. "Can't."
He paused for a moment. "I don't recall you asking politely." He smiled and crossed his arms, suddenly feeling self-conscious.
As if sensing this, Doumeki got up and went down the hall.
Watanuki paced, his palms sweaty and heart racing. Doumeki was shuffling for something in the washroom. How was this going to go? Could two guys even do it? The questions only served to make him more anxious.
"Here." He let out an undignified screech as a towel was tossed at his face.
Doumeki looked even more intimidating up close and stared deeply at him. The look was akin to 'soul searching' and 'the eyes are the window to the soul' rather than 'hey babe, let's fuck!'
He was starting to doubt himself. It was entirely possible that the trombone player had solely invited him out of...concern.
He spotted something in the corner that caught his eye. "You play guitar?"
The towel was rubbed harshly through his scalp and Doumeki hummed at him, eyes akin to brass trained on him.
He would be lying if he said that he actually wasn't the slightest bit disspointed that he wasn't going to be sleeping with the trombone player.
When Doumeki deemed his hair dry enough to pulled back and turned the small TV on, a fixture he had noticed before. The other unzipped the bag and pulled out a cherry wood toned guitar. It was medium sized and had the standard curve on one side meant for professionals. Most of all, it looked really expensive. He watched Doumeki pluck some strings absently. Doumeki's expressions were getting easier to discern and he was almost positive that the look on his face was absent minded, with his brows furrowed in concentration and mouth shaped like an 'o.'
Doumeki's voice was nothing like he would have expected.
"Never too soon, oh reckless abandon like no one's watching you."
"a moment, a love, a dream, aloud a kiss, a cry our rights, our wrongs. A moment, a love a dream aloud."
Doumeki's eyes were shut and brows knit, his voice clear and something beautiful.
"Live like no one's watching you."
Watanuki involuntarily closed his eyes and leaned, feeling the pleasant vibrations of the guitar resonate through his legs.
"Can I stay the night?" He asked softly, for once his thoughts not bogged down with suspicion.
The other was nearly silent. "Sure."
Yuuko took a drag and put it out against the window. He could almost hear Sakura's sound of desperation at the action. Yuuko was staring at the street, eyes unreadable. He knew instantly that something was wrong. Yuuko only ever avoided eye contact when she was mad. It was like one was not allowed to see her true emotions at any given time.
"You didn't go home last night."
He shivered, spine bristling. One of Yuuko's talents, if not a curse, was her intuition. Much like the expression, there was never a doubt that her predictions were ever false. He looked down in shame, he could still smell the shampoo in his hair, and he was pretty sure she could smell it too. Which had only meant one thing.
"Thought you went to eat out the landlady for a morning shower." Yuuko took another drag, her knuckles trembling. "Which was rich considering you didn't want to be my 'boy toy' last night. "
He winced at that. "I'm sorr-"
"No, you're not." She said coolly, her tone firm. "So, whose place was it? Because I went to give that bitch an earful and she called me 'an assuming whore' and how I didn't have any business making accusations dressed as I was."
Had the atmosphere not been as tense as it was, he would have laughed a bit at that.
She gave him an expectant look. He needed a second to collect his thoughts.
She gave him an expression that clearly stated 'bullshit.'
"Ok, not a close friend."
The look persisted.
"OKAY! A stranger. Who let me stay over."
Yuuko's expression was disapproving. "What if they had been a rapist/axe murderer? You felt more safe with a complete stranger than your girlfriend."
Watanuki held up a finger at this. "Ex." He corrected, "Well, I thought you made yourself pretty clear last night."
To his astonishment, the women's skin reddened at that. She shifted in her seat uncomfortably as if he had embarrassed her.
"Oh, yeah. I guess. So whats he like?"
"How do you know hes a guy?"
"I'm starting to think you follow me around."
He let his hand rest on the teacup, bringing the hot nectar to his lips. Yuuko loved contemplative.
"Hmm, well, not me directly."
The tea went down the wrong pipe and he beat down on his chest, tears springing to his eyes.
"What?" he asked in amazement, voice hoarse.
"Mokona trailed you to the theatre. I may not worry, but he does."
Mokona, the small boy Yuuko employed that liked to stay in the shadows, only visible of him was a small black rabbit with a blue jewel lodged into its forehead. He didn't pretend that he knew what his girl- ex-girlfriend did for a living.
"And why did he think that was appropriate." his eyes narrowed into slits. "Yuukooo." he hissed in warning, the witch's face blank.
"What, just because I'm not your girlfriend I can't be worried about you? This Doumeki has got to be something if you have the gall to borrow a shower.
His mind reeled.
"How do you know his name?"
Yuuko didn't falter, re-lighting her smoke.
'I asked you a question."
"Never doubt a woman's intuition."
His temper flared at this, and he calmed himself down, counting backwards in his head, breathing in and out.
"Im flattered by your concern-"
"-but I don't need it. I can take care of myself."
Yuuko stared at his teacup, clenching her fists.
"I think you've made it clear that you need help. Its not a crime to ask for it every once in a while."
He shook his head at this.
"I've made it clear that I depend on you way too often and you let me. I don't want it to go on any longer than you do."
"Thats a lie."
"No, I mean it-"
"I never said anything about not wanting you to depend on me."
Yuuko reached out for his head, lacing her fingers with his. He held his breath. Despite the fact they had sex, this sort of intimacy was never breached.
"I care about you. " she paused. "Probably more than you realize. I want the best for you, and I know that you won't get it all the time. It seems that you only come to realize it when I have to shove it down your throat like a cold hearted bitch."
"That...doesn't make any sense."
She sighed. "Let me rephrase that, when you're giving it to me in bed after I give your your drug money."
"That..." Watanuki slumped, pulling his hand away.
She was right, He could play victim all he wanted, but everything was his own design. He was the one who 're-payed' her for her care, asked her to be his girlfriend to soothe his guilty mind.
"Sorry." he whispered.
'Don't be!" She smiled. 'Can I get some sake over here?"
Sakura was there so fast it was like she apparated. "We don't sell alcohol here! This is the fifth time you have asked that." the brunette pouted, dusting flour onto her apron.
"I know! I actually wanted to call you over here..." Yuuko smiled cheekily, and jerked a thumb at him. " because this guy needs a job over here, and he happens to be very skilled in the kitchen."
He didn't know what to say. He recalled the job posting at the window.
Sakura brightened. "Oh, I know! I was actually hoping he'd apply. Let me get !"
The girl disappeared as quickly as she came and Watanuki sighed in defeat.
'Will I ever stop being in your debt?" he muttered sullenly. Yuuko's burgundy eyes glittered.