Warning: Strong language, snark and some sexual references.
With an ambient morning light filtering through the blinds, he woke up to pools of lilac every day. "Hi, baby. Happy birthday."
Sleepy eyes half closed, she grinned and rest a hand on his face. "Hi…"
He cracked a smile upon seeing the silver band on her finger; the one she finally put on after years of insisting that marriage was "just an archaic façade" and a "sexist societal shit-parade". Ryo had played along at first, commending her on her use of alliteration—at least her 'fuck society' rants were catchier than they used to be. She was vehemently unrelenting at first, only to reveal later that she had actually secretly wanted to marry him, denying it for so long because apparently, marriage was like, so mainstream. After turning down Ryo's persistent proposals amidst her rage against The Man, she eventually grew to realise a simple truth; she wanted to marry him because the heart wanted what it wanted, despite her mother's heartfelt warning that her biological clock was "ticking at the speed of light".
Besides, she added as an afterthought, after the news of her engagement had circulated among the neighbourhood soccer mums, the constant scrutiny of the barren wasteland that was her ovaries had suddenly stopped. Ruki then decided that she liked the idea of marriage.
He cupped her hand that was lingering on his cheek, and for a moment, there was warmth. "…Fuck, 6:30?" Moment over.
"That's right," he said, edging closer to her under the sheets. "It's a beautiful Sunday morning! Doesn't thirty feel great?" He was awfully chirpy in the mornings—something she still couldn't handle, even after a year of marriage.
"…Go fuck yourself."
"Naughty girl," he taunted, "you shouldn't cuss on the Lord's day—"
"Oh I'm sorry, where are my manners? I meant to say 'please go fuck yourself'."
"Are you asking me to fuck myself, or fuck your—"
Dismissing her attitude, he replied, chuckling, "But pumpkin, instead of staying grouchy…" He folded a masculine leg around her frame, and sensually ran his fingers up and down her bare chest and stomach. "Let's have another go—"
She smacked his hand away. "Urnngghh lemme sleep," she groaned.
Ryo immediately turned over to the other side of the bed, sulking. "Fuck my life."
She emerged from the bathroom later that afternoon clad in just a towel, shrouded in the steam escaping out the open door. Their modest studio apartment left little room for movement, and certainly little room for decency. After Ryo's child-star status faded in his early twenties, he had moved to Tokyo from Kyushu to advance as a moderately successful author, and officially begin a relationship with Ruki. He bought the apartment a few years later to surprise Ruki before asking her to move in with him, and though the polished floorboards and white plasterboard walls were standard, he was finally sure that they had a place they could call 'their' home. He was nervous, however, and he'd assure her over and over that it "wasn't much", and that he "wasn't sure" if she would like it, and although it wasn't comparable to the multi-billion yen estate she was used to, a simple "it's cute," from her was enough to ease his anxiety. Ruki was not a woman of compliments nor superlatives, and he knew that.
Ryo breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank God…"
"Why were you so worried?" she asked amusedly, wandering around.
"I didn't think you'd like it. I couldn't afford anything bigger…"
She laughed at him. "But you know I hate my house, right?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean my grandma's always home but I never see her. I can't freaking see anyone in that house because it's just so damn big. I mean, here," she walked further into the centre of the empty unit, "I'd be able to see you while I'm cooking over there," she pointed at the kitchenette, "or reading over there, or watching TV over there."
"That's a little bit creepy but…" Before he could finish, Ryo looked at his girlfriend's face and then trailed off in his speech, dumbfounded. He decided not to disrupt the rare and uncharacteristic gentleness she was displaying with any smartass comment this time. "…I like the sound of that."
She smiled at him—a small smile—but with eyes so soft that it weakened his knees. "Me too."
"So I was thinking," Ryo casually began, "for your dinner party tonight—"
"Dinner," she corrected, "it's a dinner, not a party. I don't want to make this some big fucking deal, I'm not a Kardashian."
"Okay, relax, for your 'dinner', I've—"
"—don't put air-quotes around 'dinner'—"
"Okay. For dinner, I've invited everyone—you know, Takato, Juri, Henry, Suzie—but, I was thinking—"
"Oh God. Nothing good ever comes out of you thinking…"
"I was thinking, since it's your thirtieth and it's a special day…"
"It's not that special—"
"I think we should invite Hirokazu."
"What?" She stopped what she was doing to face him completely. "No, that is a bad idea. A bad fucking idea. Henry's getting divorced, and you know Kazu was in love with Alice for a really long time. Somehow I don't think Henry's divorce is going to bring them together."
"God, I know, but poor Henry… Alice is even taking Tomo back to Ireland with her because she won't have citizenship—could you imagine having your son taken away from you like that?" he murmured.
The group of childhood friends hadn't been as close since Henry's falling out with Hirokazu. Alice, Hirokazu's college sweetheart, ended up moving onto Henry after graduation followed by a speedy marriage, because nothing was more romantic to the Japanese than an unplanned pregnancy. Between Henry's wedding and Juri having the baby sometime later, they mostly went their separate ways, meeting only a few times a year during birthdays and anniversaries or the odd coffee date—usually futile attempts to honour their early years spent together as a tight-knit group. Suzie still came around, and Takato and Juri would occasionally drop by with their four-year-old, as would Kenta during his visits back home from the US where his lab-work was now based. Henry, however, avoided their apartment building like the plague upon hearing that Hirokazu had moved in next door to the Makino-Akiyamas. Instead, they'd have dinner, coffee, or meet at the park while Henry would watch his eight-year-old on the swings. Everyone was living quiet lives, devoid of conflict, scandal… and meaningful companionship.
Ruki suffered in particular; it was already hard for her to make friends, and not having the stability of the old group set off a different kind of anxiety than she'd ever experienced before.
Albeit quietly, she was the most desperate to have everyone back to the way they were.
She plopped herself onto the couch. "Look, Akiyama…" Even as an adult, she still struggled with words of comfort, hope, or gratitude, "It's… Um…" and she would search for the right words with her brows furrowed and lips tightly pursed. She was cutest under concentration, he thought. "I know you're trying to get everybody, you know, back together. For me. And it's… You know. Thanks." He offered her a gentle smile. "But you're risking a lot of shit hitting the fan tonight if you invite them both. I don't want my transition into old-maidery to be remembered as a shit storm of petulance and testosterone."
"Look, we're not in our twenties anymore—"
"Yeap, don't stop reminding me…"
"We're adults. They can handle being civil. I mean, we do it all the time—it's what this goddamn country is all about, isn't it?"
She sighed exasperatedly. "Fine, okay, we'll ask him, but you know that he never says yes."
"It's your birthday."
"Every other time was my birthday too."
"But it wasn't the big 3-0," he said, beaming.
"Stop saying that," she snapped.
"Okay, seriously, what is this huge fixation on your age? 'Stop reminding me'? 'Old-maidery'?"
She groaned. "Look, I'm thirty today. Do you know what people say about childless thirty year olds? My 'biological clock' is apparently out of fucking control and in five years my ovaries are supposed to turn into mush. All my friends are getting pregnant and having babies, but mum still expects me to shoot those babies out A.S.A.P while keeping my waistline, and I quote, 'super svelte'—I mean she did, of course. But what was she doing while keeping fit? Not raising me if that's what you were wondering."
Tense and up-in-arms she huffed her aggravation and tossed a defiant foot on the end table. Ryo had dealt with a lot of things before—Ruki was an angry girl by nature—but he hardly ever saw her worry about… girl things.
"Wow, um, okay." He paused, unsure of what to say. He planned an inspiring pep-talk to bring her spirits back up, until he realised that he had been away from 'normal' women for so long he'd forgotten how to treat one.
"…Well, hey, honey, look on the bright side; I'm 34 and I'm okay?"
She rolled her eyes with scorn even fouler than usual. "God." Snatching a magazine from the end table, she insolently brought it up to her face and aggressively jerked it open.
Ryo, still confused, just got up and left without even knowing what he did wrong.
Things had calmed down by the next hour, when Ruki found herself accidentally immersed in the magazine article she had randomly opened up to in her strife. Ryo, used to her frequent hissy fits by now, went about his business as usual, settling on the pile of brochures on their dining table.
"…Hey do you guys have a hairdryer I could borrow I need to—woah, hel-lo Ruki! Happy birthday, indeed!"
Hirokazu Shiota, with his head poking through the door, couldn't stop himself from gawking at the towel-clad redhed on the sofa. "I'm sorry dude, I know she's your wife but damn."
"What the fuck!" she cried, clutching the towel closer to her exposed body, and then promptly leaping up to disappear into the bathroom.
Ryo, indignant, got up. "I told you that spare key was for emergencies only, not so you could barge in for a hairdryer every time you watch a hair tutorial on YouTube."
"I'm sorry but I've got a date tonight and I'm trying out some new hairstyles…"
"Well, you better cancel that date, man."
Hirokazu huffily turned to him. "What do you mean? Why—no—I—" He took a deep breath, and exhaled in a sigh, knowing exactly what was coming. "Look… I've told you guys, I don't go to these things…"
"I know, I know it's her birthday but… Look, I'll celebrate with you guys and your other friends tomorrow night like I always do."
"No, you won't." Ryo and Hirokazu both turned to face the now-clothed Ruki at the bathroom door. "Tomorrow will be May the 10th, and there will be nothing to celebrate, because it won't be my birthday."
"Henry's getting divorced."
"He's losing his son," she added quietly.
Ryo quickly shot his wife a disapproving look, an unsaid 'you shouldn't have said that'. Hirokazu, on a rare occasion, was silent, likely contemplating over what to say next—also rare.
They both watched him warily for his next words.
Despite knowing how petty he sounded, and his best friends' evident disappointment, it was all Hirokazu could muster.
"Kazu, you shouldn't…"
He interrupted, "I'll think about it, okay?" He walked over to the kitchenette and opened the fridge. "But I'm letting you guys know that it's probably a no."
Ryo replied. "Ruki will be angry at you for a really long time," he warned, albeit half-jokingly.
"I will," she complied.
"Well," Hirokazu snickered. "We're all used to that by now," he said, eliciting in a hearty laugh from his buddy.
"Ha, ha. Fucking hilarious," she responded dryly.
As Ruki went back to the sofa and Ryo to the table, Hirokazu remained at the fridge, rummaging. "Man, what is this?"
"All your food's organic or brown or… Rice based milk? What is this shit? Where's all the cow's milk like God intended?" The rummaging continued, not at all reserved at the home of his childhood friends.
"…I'm lactose intolerant."
Hirokazu immediately craned his neck to look back at Ruki. "What? No you're not."
"Yes… I am."
"I've known you for like… Twenty years. You're not."
Ryo and Ruki exchanged glances. "Yes," she persisted, "I am."
He didn't say anything for a while and then… "Oh… That explains the tiny breasts… Fuck, I'm a bad friend."
He laughed, eventually leaving the fridge empty-handed after finding nothing interesting. When he returned face them, Hirokazu watched the two—Ruki stretched out on the couch, and Ryo at the table, pamphlets in hand. "Wow," he said, leaning against their kitchen counter.
"You guys are like, so married."
"Married. You guys are so married. Look at you two—she was naked under that towel and you guys were just sitting around reading, and being quiet, and not having sex."
Ryo chuckled. "We were apparently mad at each other."
"Exactly!" Perplexed, they glanced at each other, then back at Hirokazu. "Look—okay—Ryo, what does it say in there about uhhh, dwindling sex lives?"
"First of all, dude, I was reading travel brochures, not fucking Cosmo. Second of all, our sex life is not dwindling." He made sure to air-quote 'dwindling'. "It's evolved. We don't just 'have sex'; we make love…"
"Oh God," she interrupted.
"What?" That was rude! He didn't appreciate that.
"Is your dick made out of cheese? And don't say 'make love'. Ever. It makes me, like, nauseous."
Hirokazu couldn't contain his laughter as the words rolled out of her mouth. Offended and incredulous, Ryo, with all his might, hurled a pamphlet at her to attempt some sort of establishment of authority. "Baby, I was in the middle of a heartfelt speech!"
"Right. The point was to let him know that marriage doesn't automatically destroy passionate relationships. What you just did, honey, was instead confirm dear Kazu's presumptions."
Ryo would time and time again be proven wrong by his own wife, and it would piss him off. But then the word 'wife' would get him all giggly inside again. "Well, okay, I mean, our sex is pretty wild," He looked to Ruki for approval. "isn't it?"
"'Wild' isn't exactly the word…"
Decency wasn't the only thing lost on the smallness of their home; creativity with positions was limited too. Thin walls were commonplace in Japanese apartments, and they weren't favourable with pervy neighbours like Hirokazu.
"But it's good, right?"
"Well," she started, "I don't lie, Akiyama; my grin in the mornings isn't because I love the fucking mornings." She shot him a cheeky smile. "It also helps that you were, you know, abundantly blessed."
"Oh my God." Hirokazu's face scrunched up into what could only be described as a hybrid of horror and disgust. "Don't say that. Not while I'm in this conversation. I don't want to know about my buddy's thing, okay."
"You mean his giant penis—"
"You brought it up, dude."
"I didn't wanna go into 'intimate details'!"
While Hirokazu was visibly cringing, Ruki turned to Ryo, biting her lip. "I dunno, now I kinda do."
Ryo's lusty gaze mirrored hers. "How intimate, baby?"
"As much as you want—"
"—I'm leaving! If anyone cares." Hirokazu, ever the timely one, bolted out the door at the speed of his discomfort.
"…We better be seeing you tonight! Or else!"
Hirokazu, already out the door, heard the call and promptly checked his watch.
He hadn't seen the others for three or so years, and Henry for a good eight. At that instant, he had a brief flashback of their high school years together—lunch on the rooftop, laughing, fooling around—and was momentarily struck with nostalgia.
2:20pm. It wouldn't be too late to cancel his date, would it?
To be continued
Coming soon – Chapter II: "The Dinner"
A/N: Reviews are always appreciated!